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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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1. Painting, then, is generally regarded as the most advanced and at the same time as the most immediately communicable expression of the spirit of Canada. Painting is, of course, independent of any difference of language; its products can be readily moved about and can be exhibited in any desired locality; most important, painting in Canada has achieved a renown not yet attained by the other arts.

2. We come now to the consideration of sculpture, an art less widely accepted than painting as a characteristic expression of Canada; it enjoys all the advantages of the universal appeal of painting, but it is less flexible, less varied and less mobile.

3. We were much interested in the suggestion of the Sculptors' Society of Canada that sculpture is in some measure, if not a cause, at least a symptom of permanence in society:

"A sculptor's conception of a complete town and a complete national aesthetic expression includes the appreciation of monumental landmarks, fountains, avenues of sculpture and all the other manifestations of an art which marks the final possession of the land by a civilized people."1

It may be argued that architecture, the evidence of an intention to take permanent possession, is the sign which marks the beginning of civilization. Yet it is only when houses and public buildings are embellished with appropriate and significant decoration such as sculpture that a people indicates a fixed intention to dwell together in one place permanently and agreeably, and to express its character and its aspiration in appropriate and lasting symbols.

4. In a further comment in the brief of the Sculptors' Society it is observed that there is apparently

"a trend in this country toward over-emphasis on transient art, just as there is a trend toward transience in the population. The popularity of travelling exhibitions, radio and films, concerts and festivals is not unfortunate in itself, except in so far as it is symptomatic of a habit of thought which can never fully appreciate nor produce a complete culture."2

Sculpture has been and still is the most permanent of the arts although the perils of modern warfare have taken from works of sculpture the


immunity they formerly enjoyed. The use of sculpture has always been symptomatic of a mature society, and through its enduring character much that we know of past civilizations has been preserved for us.

5. We were interested therefore in the statement that there has been for some years in Canada a revival of interest in the art of sculpture and an increase in the number of Canadian sculptors. There are now, we learn, twenty-five Canadian professional sculptors, members of the Sculptors' Society of Canada, in addition to a considerable number of professional sculptors outside the society. A leading practitioner of this art who wrote in 1948, "For the first time in modern Canadian history the sculptors, even the little sculptors are not frustrated," apparently expressed a view commonly held.3

6. Our sculptors express themselves, as do those of other countries, both in single works of art as well as in sculpture in an architectural setting. The tendency of this art, we are told, is to be increasingly related to architecture, "to follow in the path of architecture, to be a consequence of architecture and to be, so to speak, a part of an edifice".4 We have been reminded of recent successful ventures in architectural sculpture in the Province of Quebec which show "the sense of intimacy given by the great decorative groups of former times; their power to inspire, their abundant life and their unity".5 There is, however, less of pure sculpture, that is, of single works recording an historical event or dealing simply with some subject complete in itself. The existence of certain great single works does not invalidate this general statement. We are informed, however, that although sculptors welcome the revival of interest in architectural sculpture for public buildings which has been particularly marked in the last decade, at the same time, they would like a wider field for purely individual single productions. They suffer as do artists in other fields from the dearth of private patrons.

7. In French-speaking Canada, wood has provided the material for much sculptural achievement. The parish church for long has been the generous patron of this form of art. The plaster-of-Paris adornments of the mid-nineteenth century, we were told, caused a serious decline in taste. Nevertheless a sturdy tradition was maintained and is exemplified in the fine carved calvaries at cross-roads and in the excellent wood-carving within the churches. Recently there has been a new and increasing activity in ecclesiastical wood-carving. There is nothing in Canada to match the wood-carving of Quebec apart from the dying tradition of the totem pole carvers of the Pacific Coast. Sculpture in stone was maintained for a time in the nineteenth century by commissions from commercial houses; it then lost its popularity until about a quarter of a century ago


when it shared in the general revival of sculpture in Canada to which we have already referred.

8. We have heard with concern of the problems of the Canadian sculptor. The sculptor experiences the universal difficulty of making his work known and appreciated, a necessary accompaniment of sustained effort. He has to face in addition the problems connected with his difficult and expensive materials and expensive tools, and with the comparative amount of time and effort which must be devoted to any one piece. Moreover, as one sculptor suggested, it is much harder for him than for other artists to make his work known through exhibitions. It was pointed out to us, however, that the exhibition does not normally mean quite so much to the sculptor as to the painter, since usually works of sculpture are on permanent exhibition in parks or avenues or elsewhere where they have been erected. This is of course particularly true of architectural sculpture. It is not at all true, however, of the very small pieces now produced for use in modern interiors. These are becoming important and, unlike the larger or the architectural pieces, they will not exhibit themselves.

9. As we have observed, the practice and the appreciation of the sculptor's art are both growing in Canada. We have had, however, from the Sculptors' Society a firm protest against the policy of the Federal Government as exemplified in the Capital Plan which makes no provision for sculpture or for any consultation with sculptors. "To the sculptor's mind this apparent apathy is a belittling of the talents of Canadian artists, and a denial to the Canadian people of a most tangible and permanent art form."6

10. Whether used as an integral part of the buildings or in relation to them, sculpture, it is suggested, should have an essential place in any such plan. It was stated to us, moreover, that the Federal Government has not only shown itself unaware of its opportunities as a patron, but is even neglectful of its obligations as a consumer. We have already mentioned a protest against the reproduction of works of art and their circulation or sale by government agencies without acknowledgement or remuneration to the artist. The Sculptors' Society in mentioning this matter was careful to explain that artists generally welcome such use of their work, but that they have a right to be consulted, to receive acknowledgement and, where there is commercial use, to be paid. The artist may be ready to work without reward, but we were not surprised to notice that he occasionally resents the cordial willingness of the public to allow him to do so.

11. What other encouragement might properly be given by the Federal Government to sculptors was a matter of some debate. Scholarships were recommended in this as in other fields. It was urged that Canadian sculptors at a variety of levels needed wider opportunities for travel and training. The Sculptors' Society, while accepting the principle, showed


some doubt: "The awarding of scholarships is an easy and fairly economical way of showing results quickly. But . . . educational facilities . . . are already out of all proportion to . . . opportunities for further development and mature work."7 This did not imply any objection to scholarships but expressed the opinion only that at the moment sculptors need a wider market more than increased opportunities for training.

12. We were much impressed by what we learned from the Sculptors' Society about the status and the practice of their art. We have already remarked upon the increased public appreciation of sculpture; but, just as other artists, sculptors must have a market for their products. The problem of the sculptor is related in a particularly intimate way to that of the architect of which we speak later. Both arts have now reached a new and important stage in their development in Canada. Sculptors insist that much as they may welcome architectural commissions their creative work will suffer if it is bound too closely to the demands of the architect. At the same time it is, we trust, not unreasonable to believe that without loss of independence to the sculptor both arts may profit from a close association.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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