A recent trip to Toronto has me considering the place of art in our lives. I was staying close to downtown in Little Portugal. You didn’t venture far before running smack into street art. That street art caught aspects of nature, reflected people living in the city, memories of friends, caricatures, cartoons, messages, tags with hidden meanings, a whole alley dedicated to graffiti, statues of the Portugal chicken, immigrants, and even Jack Layton willing to share his bicycle built for two. The lived experience of Toronto was very much captured in art that is accessible, free, and part of daily life.
Of course, more high-brow art is also readily available. My trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario was during Spring Break and that could account for the fact that it was packed. It is big and the architecture is very intriguing with spirals leading upward. It also is big enough to accommodate multiple exhibitions including Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows, the many reclining women statues by Henry Moore and bountiful collection of paintings by William Kurelek. Unfortunately, I missed Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room – Let’s Survive Forever, because I didn’t make the required timed reservation and they were gone for the day. Business was good. Was it Spring Break? The number of tourists in town? Of the fact that people see art as part of their lives due to the amount of art they are surround with. You do not need to have a lot of money see or purchase your own art.
The trip to the Power Plant Contemporary Gallery located in Harbourfront Centre down by the waterfront in Toronto had steady foot traffic and free admission to exhibitions by Brenda Draney: Drink from the river; In Parallel – a group exhibition by Rouzbeh Akhbari, Joi T. Arcand, Aylan Couchie, Simon Fuh, Anique Jordan, and Julia Rose Sutherland; Amartey Golding: In the comfort of embers which included video works, garments, and photography by the artist. Golding’s imagery of “the innocent Being” traveling through the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was haunting and has stayed with me. The tears traveling down his face while experiencing the brutally violent images of depicting European history left me with the realization of our disconnect in experiencing the travesty of the times reflected in the art we view in galleries. We are critical of the desensitizing impact of video but the impact can be similar without the conversation about the art we are viewing.
Today took me to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Although not as large as the AGO, the VAG is well worth purchasing a membership. I like to visit an exhibit more than once because it allows me to form layers of understanding by focussing on different aspects. It also provides the invite to events like the book signing with Robert Davidson and the opening of new exhibits which are as fun for the people watching as for the art. However, today it was still spring break. Not as busy as the AGO but the effort to draw in and engage school aged students was commendable. The decision to make the art gallery free for children – also inspired.
I was fortunate to be with a young art enthusiast so I could directly observe the impact of the efforts of the VAG staff. The laminated pictures of paintings to find was a hit. Where’s WALDO in real life. The sketchbook, doodle pad, and book connecting authors to artistic techniques opened multiple entry points into the art. The piece de resistance was the pocket-sized kaleidoscope. It has us retracing the Hard Edges exhibition back to the beginning to take a better look at the transformations in colour, line, form, and the impact of movement. There is no doubt the child was engaged and so were the adults with her. Kudos to the VAG. That was one little person with a very clear understanding that art was not something out there but something that was part of her experience.
In Vancouver, East of Main Street, has been the best at tapping into the potential of street art to connect with residents. Perhaps that is also why the Art Walk draws in so many people each year and that cafes are filled with work of local artists. When people can personally experience art, they are more likely to see it as relevant to their own lives and appreciate what art brings into our lives. Art that fills our lives and homes becomes personal and an expression of our life. It fuels the creative impulse to create whether in paint, clay, marble, multi-media, dance, or writing. And it feeds the conversation about life as art, and art as life. Art as investment or status misses the mark in contributing to and the conversation and inspiration in one form or another. Isn’t that the real purpose of art?
Saturday Stance on Learning by Carrie Froese, Inquire2Empower Consulting