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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: tenth anniversary issue

Roditi, Edouard
[West coast art--Canada],   pp. [71]-78 PDF (10.0 MB)

Page 73

Most of the artists and gallery owners I met
in Vancouver sang the same song, bewailing
their isolation and the local public's
lack of interest in new and experimental
art styles. In such a situation, few people
now remember how many truly great
artists, even in relatively modern times,
have lived and worked in this kind of
isolation and have even deliberately sought
it: Cezanne, for instance, in Aix, Van Gogh
in Provence and in Auvers, Gauguin in
Brittany and the South Seas, Nolde on the
Baltic Coast of Germany, Morandi in a
very withdrawn life in Bologna, even Klee,
whether in Munich or elsewhere, in a
seclusion in which he seemed anxious
to avoid too many contacts with the art
world and the art market.
The many pressures of the busy art world of
Paris and New York can indeed destroy
artists as easily as they can encourage
them; in fact, they often destroy them by
encouraging them too much or in the
wrong way. In the hubbub and flattery of
an active art market, many an artist is
tempted to become novel rather than
profound, fashionable rather than serious,
competitive rather than creative. In a
metropolis like New York, which now has a
market for almost anything that can pass
muster as art or that can be publicized
for its mere novelty and news value, even
advance-guard art can soon develop many
of the characteristics of commercial art,
becoming dehumanized as an art of
presentation and display rather than of
self-expression and communication.
The art criticism of Paris and New York, on
which many artists seem to thrive,
has moreover degenerated, to a great
extent, into a form of abstruse flattery,
resembling in this respect the gushing
panegyrics that flow from the typewriters of
correspondents attending the seasonal
fashion-shows of the haute couture. Minor
artists who crave this kind of adulation
may well find Vancouver's isolation and
lack of interest discouraging, but no major
artist need necessarily feel frustrated there,
unless he happens to be a megalomaniac,
more interested in sales and in
flattering publicity than in creating work
that might satisfy his own aspirations.
Isolation imposes on the artist, however,
the need for a rare gift of self-criticism as
soon as he can no longer rely on the
frankly expressed opinions of his own
vagaries of taste or of judgement. When
Washington Allston returned from Europe to
Boston and could no longer associate
with artists of the calibre of those who
had been his masters, associates and
friends among the early Romantics in
London, Paris and Italy, he became the
victim of a strange and solitary
megalomania and worked all too long on an
ill-advised project that absorbed and
destroyed most of his talent. Provincialism
in art can thus be a direct consequence of
a lack of sophisticated criteria, whether
in the artist's own mind or in the minds
of those with whom he is able to discuss
his work. However gifted, many of
British Columbia's artists remain
provincial in this respect, though they
happen to be privileged in that they live
in the same area as George Woodcock, one
of our most perceptive critics of art and
literature and, at the University of
British Columbia, the editor of Canadian
Literature, an outstanding quarterly where
the problems of Canadian art are also
The University of British Columbia's
involvement in creative or experimental art
is moreover very real. For many years, the
gallery of its Art Department has been
promoting exhibits of a kind that might
well attract considerable attention even in
New York, though Vancouver's local press
has generally tended to ignore them or
even to deride them. On the occasion of
the 1967 Canadian Centennial of
Confederation, the University's Fine Arts
Gallery's able curator thus
devoted the whole summer to a very
cheerful and eclectic show of recent works
by younger local artists whose works are
generally scattered among a number of
small Vancouver and Victoria galleries, such
as, in Vancouver, the Douglas Gallery at
1724 Davis Street and the Bau-xi Gallery at
555 Hamilton Street.
Among these artists lain Baxter, who
presides over the destinies of his own
A.N. (Any) Thing Company, is one of the
very few whose work has so far attracted
much attention elsewhere. Early in 1967,
he exhibited a hilarious selection of his
"things" in Los Angeles, at the deciduous
and already defunct Rolf Nelson Gallery,
where they caused quite a flutter as mere
fun-art in the Los Angeles press, which is
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