Resisting perceptions of Canadian art

By Andrew Ross

If you’re looking for discussion of Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, this book is not for you.

Robert J. Belton, author of Sights of Resistance, wanted to get away from the typical book on Canadian art. As a result, you will not find a single work by Lawrence Harris or Tom Thompson.

"Most books on Canadian visual culture … read like a ‘greatest hits’ list of Canadian art," says Belton. "They say, ‘here’s what to think about, this is how you should think about it.’"

Belton takes a markedly different approach. Instead of imposing traditionally accepted ideas on the reader, he attempts to instill in his audience the basic skills required to think about art and draw one’s own conclusions. Then, he leaves them to do just that.

Also included with the book is a CD glossary. The glossary is intended, as Belton professes, to counteract the "deliberately highfalutin’" vocabulary used in the art world. The concern is that vocabulary may be preventing ordinary people from fully appreciating art.

Another supplementary resource is the Nickle Arts Gallery show Sights of Resistance. Rather than merely putting together a selection of works featured in the book, Belton assembled an entirely different collection. That is, save for one conscious exception–Belton included the piece featured on the cover of the book in the show.

The intent behind the inclusion of this work–entitled 1000 Rock River–in the book and show is to exemplify one of the ideas Belton describes in his text. Namely, the concept of "multiple locatedness." According to the glossary, it is the phenomenon by which "anything that exists is located as a constituent in many orders, which is to say that it belongs to many sets of categories of things." In other words, a painting belongs to the group "things that are painted," but also groups of "things that hang on a wall" and "things with flowers in them."

The show is arranged so that each work shares at least one group with the piece beside it–although this is not necessarily the same group it shares with the piece on the other side.

Of course, every piece in the show belongs to the group "works of art that are not by a member of the Group of Seven."

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