Life imitates art.
The reverse is true, too. But what does it mean when those who promote art – those who are supposed to know a great deal about art – are engaged in actual lies?
What happens when all that they are “imitating“ is woke stupidity?
It’s a fair question, this week, because the Canada Council for the Arts – a federal government cultural agency that is entirely paid for by you and me – this week actually issued the following statement on Twitter:
“Let’s liberate the Canadian landscape from the Group of Seven and their nationalist mythmaking: By erasing Indigenous perspectives, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven painted a new nation into being.”
That is a quote. That is real. That is an actual tweet by an actual government agency. And it is madness. Insanity.
The government of Canada’s principal cultural agency is saying, in effect, that the Group of Seven – among our greatest artists in our history – were crypto-Nazi nationalists. That they consciously “erased“ Indigenous culture – and, one presumes, Indigenous people along the way.
They didn’t. In no way, whatsoever, did the Group of Seven “erase“ Indigenous culture. In no way, whatsoever, were they “nationalists” – in the way that Hitler’s filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, assuredly was.
The basis for the Canada Council tweet? An op-ed that had been published online – surprise, surprise – by the CBCs elflords. The op-ed‘s author is Indigenous, and he is absolutely entitled to his (misguided) perspective.
But the Canada Council is not entitled to state, as a fact, that some of our greatest-ever painters were “nationalists” who “eliminated” Indigenous culture. Because that is offensive and a lie.
But don’t just asked me, a privileged white guy who knows a little bit about Indigenous art. Don’t ask me.
Ask Norval Moriseau, arguably the greatest Canadian Indigenous artist, the Picasso of the North, who literally took up residence in Tom Thomson’s shack in Algonquin Park for weeks on end, painting. When Morriseau did that, does the Canada Council think that he was participating in the elimination of his own culture?
Or ask Emily Carr, who Lawren Harris said was indeed a member of the Group of Seven, and who painted astonishingly beautiful scenes of West Coast Indigenous life – and whose works have been showcased alongside that of the other greatest Canadian Indigenous artist, Haida Bill Reid?
Oh, wait. We can’t ask Morriseau or Reid or Carr or Harris, because they are all dead. So, perhaps, the Canada Council thought it was safe to defame them.
The best person to quote, here, is not some conservative who reflexively hates taxpayer-funded culture, or institutions like the Canada Council. The best person to quote is a person of color named Barack Obama.
“I get a sense among certain young people on social media that the way of making change is to be as judgemental as possible about other people.
“If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because ‘Man did you see how woke I was? I called you out!'”
“That’s enough,” Obama said. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far.”
After the Canada Council published their tweet, and cast stones at the Group of Seven for something they never did, this writer got in touch with the Council’s media representatives. I asked them questions. They didn’t respond.
Their tweet, however, silently disappeared.
Ironic, isn’t it? The Canada Council alleged that the Group of Seven “eliminated“ Indigenous culture.
And then, when called out on their woke lie, went and “eliminated” their own tweet.
[Kinsella is a painter who represents first Nations across Canada.]