- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 6 Dec 1956, p. 111-122
- Jarvis, Alan, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- A change in the entire climate of opinion in Canada between 1938 and now with regard to the Arts and financial support for the Arts. The importance of culture and cultural resources. Evidence of Canada's coming of age culturally. Some details of the art that can be seen and enjoyed in Canada at the National Gallery, the Art Gallery of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum, and elsewhere. What Canada should do next. The Canada Council. Misconceptions in the public mind and also in the minds of artists and art societies and art groups throughout Canada as to what a Canada Council can and should do. Some suggestions as to how the Canada Council should work. A practical example. What the National Gallery should be buying. Encouraging concern by citizens for community planning and the design of public buildings. Looking forward to a Canadian culture of which every single Canadian can be proud.
- Date of Original
- 6 Dec 1956
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- "A WORLD WITHOUT FRONTIERS"
An Address by ALAN JARVIS Director, The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Thursday, December 6th, 1956
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Donald H. Jupp.
MR. JUPP: The Empire Club of Canada is particularly happy today to welcome as our speaker Mr. Alan Jarvis whose appointment in May 1955 as Director of the National Gallery of Canada was widely welcomed. Mr. Charles P. Fell, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery when he announced the appointment expressed the satisfaction of the Trustees that a Canadian should have the opportunity to assume these important duties at a time when the National Gallery affairs are expanding so rapidly.
Mr. Jarvis is a graduate of the University of Toronto and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford where he specialized in philosophy with emphasis on esthetics. He later held a fellowship in the Graduate School of Fine Arts of the New York University where his special fields were museology, early Christian art and the English 18th century. I think it is important to emphasize that Mr. Jarvis is a sculptor with works in several collections. In 1941 Mr. Jarvis went to England to work for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, later to become special assistant and then private secretary to Sir Stafford Cripps. He edited the collected speeches of Sir Stafford which were published under the title Democracy Alive. He was also editor of the Penguin series, The Things We See.
Another facet of our speakers background is demonstrated by the fact that he was one of the first to join the staff of the Council of Industrial Design and was one of the principal organizers of the great post-war exhibition, Britain Can Make It. Later he was actively connected with the Festival of Britain in which he arranged the participation of the national voluntary youth movement. In 1950 Mr. Jarvis had become head of Oxford House in London which gave him a deep experience of popular education and recreation, and enabled him to conduct a a sociological research project for the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust.
I should like to mention in passing that art has been the subject of all too infrequent speeches at the Empire Club and I find on consulting the index of subjects 1903 to 1953 in the 50-year index to our Year Book that on the occasion when this subject was discussed by Mr. W. G. Constable in 1938 his title was "Why Waste Money on Art Galleries?". Needless to say this deliberately shocking title produced a vigorous defence.
Mr. Jarvis has chosen what is perhaps a deceptively positive and reassuring title "A World Without Frontiers". MR. JARVIS: I hope my title is not too deceptive. I am not going to talk about politics; history and particularly current events have a way of catching up with you, and I think it would be a rare Gallery Director who would talk about worlds without frontiers in a political sense just at this stage in history.
I am interested, Mr. President, to hear that in 1938 Mr. W. G. Constable spoke on "Why Waste Money on Art Galleries?" I think it is a fair comment on the change, in the entire climate of opinion in Canada between 1938 1 and now that I don't choose a title `Why Waste Money on Art Galleries?" I have in the last eighteen months, in the course of a coast to coast lecture tour, very often used the title "Is Art Necessary?" I have always presupposed in using that title that my audience nowadays would agree
with me. (Incidentally some of you will probably recognize my title "Is Art Necessary?" I took it from the work of that great American humorist and philosopher, James Thurber, who wrote a most distinguished book called "Is Sex Necessary?" You may remember that the opening sentence of that great work begins "Sex should be faced fearlessly and frequently", a point of view that I hold about art, this world without frontiers-the world that I want to talk about and that I begin right away to talk about without saying "Is it necessary to spend money on art galleries? Is it a waste of time?" I assume this audience will agree with me that we need art galleries, museums and we need private collectors, such as we have several distinguished examples here at the head table. I will come back to that in a moment.
Quite seriously, now in 1956, someone like myself can get up in the House of Commons these days and say "I want $885,000 with which to buy four pictures." My trustees in fact did that this spring and the consensus of the debate in the Federal House was overwhelmingly in favour of Canada acquiring great works of the past and of other countries on behalf of the nation.
I think this symbol or symptom of Canada's coming of age is most gratifying now that the Canadian public and our legislators are so willing to support the arts and culture generally. Further evidence of that has just occurred recently in the Prime Ministers announcement of giving $100,000,000 to the forming of a Canada Council for the promotion of the arts, the humanities and sciences and for university scholarships in Canada. As far as I can see there has been no public outcry that this is a waste of public funds or that this is a wrong thing for a federal government to do. The climate, as I say, in Canada has changed so completely since 1938 that the very contrast is there between W. G. Constables then title and the kind of title that I have myself chosen for today.
I think there is no arguing that any country that wishes to call itself civilized will want to have as part of its cultural resources, as part of our national storehouses of what we regard as things of value, not just gold in the basement of the Bank of Canada, but that we should have a great national archive of the cultural history of our own nation. We are indebted, as a nation, to individual men like Dr. Sigmund Samuel, here on my right, who has created this monument of Canadiana here in Toronto. We must have these documents, these records, these works of art from the past and from other countries if we are to be truly citizens of the world, because these are the windows through which we can in our imaginations, in our minds, participate in a world without frontiers either in terms of time or space. We can participate, backwards in time, in the arts of classical antiquity at the Royal Ontario Museum or the High Renaissance in the Art Gallery here in Toronto or in Ottawa. We can imaginatively share in the life of another century or another country through art. I will not necessarily be referring to works of visual art, although that is my profession to be concerned with painting, sculpture and drawing,-that field. I think this holds true of the drama, of music, literature, of the whole thing we call culture. Anyone who has had the privilege, as we gallery directors or collectors have had, of living with a great work of art for any length of time, will agree that it is an experience that can take you out of the twentieth century back say to the eighteenth century in time and into an entirely new imaginative world. For example, it has been my pleasure to look literally daily for quite a long time at the two Chardins that we bought this spring from the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein. It is an inestimable privilege to be able to live daily with works of art of that quality because the meaning that they contain develops day by day as you participate in looking at them. They are new each day; each day you find some new facet of that individual work and some new facet of the painter Chardin, himself. This holds true imaginatively of any experience that you may have living daily with a work of art.
It is equally true of contemporary works of art. We have in the National Gallery at the moment a very fine collection built up by Sam and Ayala Zacks of contemporary European painting and drawing. A most distinguished collection and, living with that collection, not only have I become more familiar with all kinds of new facets of modern European painting, but I feel I have become much more familiar with Sam and Ayala Zacks, the reflection of their personalities, and how they have formed these collections.
Although we have not a great deal of great works of art in Canada, the National Gallery, the Art Gallery of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum (which is a world famous museum and contains among other things one of the great collections of Oriental Art in North America) are now well established. What should we do next? I mentioned the Canada Council and it is something on which I am afraid I have been misquoted in the recent past, so it is something that I would like to say quite a lot of things about here and now. Clearly it is implied that I am a believer that governments should support the arts. I would not have my job if the Government were not supporting the arts to the extent of giving the National Gallery an extremely generous grant per annum for its running operations and a very generous grant indeed for purchases, and, when special purchases crop up like the one from the Prince of Liechtenstein, further parliamentary votes. Obviously I believe this is a good thing. Secondly, I firmly believe that the time has long been overdue for the formation of a Canada Council; that Mr. Massey's 1951 Report, the Report of the Royal Commission on the Arts, Letters and Sciences, which rightly came to be known as the "Massey Commission" under his leadership, should by now be implemented. It was a right move on the part of the Federal Government to give this grant of $100,000,000 for a Canada Council which, to put it very briefly, is intended to foster the arts here at home and, in addition, to "project" Canada abroad.
I believe this is a good thing, but I fear that there are a great many misconceptions in the public mind and also in the minds of artists and art societies and art groups throughout Canada as to what a Canada Council can and should do. I am afraid those people who have been propaganding in favour of a Canada Council have spent rather too much time in saying that there should be a Canada Council and far too little time in thinking out how in fact it should work. I hope widespread misconceptions are not growing up that a Canada Council has nothing to do but just give away money, that it is money somehow that makes art develop in a country. That I do not believe to be true. The vital thing is the local art society, the local community in which there is a lively interest in the arts, and the local music club or dramatic society with its circle of audience and friends. In other words, the "grass roots" is what is important is a country like ours. No amount of legislation and no amount of money, however generously distributed on the part of the Federal Government, is going to make the arts increase or flourish. That cannot happen. I believe that the arts in Canada are flourishing; that I have seen at first hand. From coast to coast wherever I have gone, there has been this fantastic "boom" in the arts. The number of local art societies developing, attendance at local art galleries, the growth of local art centres of all kinds, the number of people painting as a pastime, all this quite clearly indicates that there is a real boom in the arts in Canada, and out of this are growing more and more artists of fine quality. The vital thing in society is the growth of the arts out of the community and nothing that any federal government, however much money it might have, however widespread it might make grants and donations and so on, can do can alter the real nature or the character of the arts in our kind of democracy. As I say, they must grow up out of grass roots.
How the Canada Council should work, as I see it, is not (as I am afraid a great many artists hope) that it will hand out money lavishly to anyone who comes along and says "I think I could be a better painter" or "I have an unwritten novel inside me." Hundreds of people, you know, feel that they could write a good book if someone would only give them $10,000 and two years off. They claim they have "promise": "If only I were given a chance, I could do XY and Z." I am afraid that all the Canada Council can and should do is to behave rather like a bank. I have said this once before and have been misquoted. I don't mean this in any pusillanimous sense at all, but, in realistic banking, you go to your banker and say, "I want $10,000', and the banker says to you "Have you got $10,000 worth of security?" In other words, you have got to have $10,000 before you can borrow $10,000. And the analogy in the arts I think is exact. With the Canada Council, if someone 'comes along and says, "I feel I could write a great book if you would only give me $10,000 and a year off", that person must be turned down fiat, just as a banker would turn you down if you had no security.
What the Canada Council can help is the man or the society, the ballet group, the theatre group or whatever, that has proved that they are worth support. Now this may sound ironic, but I think it could successfully function only on this kind of basis. The individual artist comes to the Canada Council and says, "Here is the work I have done to date. I feel that I need the refreshment of travel or scholarship abroad," (an incidentally the Government has been doing this quite a lot in the past-sending artists abroad) "I think my work is worth $5,000. Will you advance me a $5,000 scholarship?" And it is up to the people in the Canada Council to assess this work and say, "Yes, this man is worth our investing so much money". Equally, a theatre company comes along and says, "We really have not done anything except a few little amateur productions in the local church hall, but I, John Smith, the Director, I feel I am a genius, and if you will give me $50,000 to start my theatre company, I feel that I might do a wonderful job." There again, I am afraid that the attitude must be that you say, "No, you have got to prove the hard way that you are capable of directing fine productions, then we might help your company." In other words, you cruelly wait until say the Stratford Company has proved itself, as it has now, and then you say, "This company is worth support; this company is worth sending on the road; this company is of such a quality that we should make its work available to audiences right across the country or indeed send this company abroad." But it would be disaster if the Canada Council or federal funds were used as a kind of benevolent institution to help the struggling people who might or might not show promise one day. In other words, to put it briefly, it will be the duty of the Canada Council to foster and support only work of fine quality, and you can only judge that work when it has actually been produced. As I say, this may sound hard-headed and cruel, but I am sure that anyone experienced in the business world would entirely agree that you have got to back what you believe shows real promise. After all, exactly the same thing applies to scientific research. No intelligent company or government is just backing research-in-general; you are backing the individual men whom you believe will, if supported and given the laboratory equipment and so on, arrive at the right results in the end. The Canada Council should only support quality. This has been an unending refrain in every speech that I have made from coast to coast, that it is our responsibility-and I am sure the other gallery directors, museum directors, and collectors here at the head table, agree with me-and it is our duty in a country like Canada, where these cultural matters are still at, if not a youthful, certainly not at a fully mature stage, to insist on the highest possible standards of artistic enterprise, whatever it is.
Let me quote one entirely practical example. When we were asking the House of Commons last spring for this large sum of money, $885,000, with which to buy four old master paintings from the Prince of Liechtenstein, there was a faint undertone in the House of Commons that perhaps we were spending too much money on paintings of the past, old master works, and from other countries, and was the National Gallery spending enough money on Canadian art itself? Well, I believe we are, and I would shudder to think of a day arriving when an institution like ours, the National Gallery of Canada, is in any way forced by federal legislation, or indeed public opinion, to spend some fixed sum of money on Canadian art, for this simple reason: This year might be a very lean year. We might find comparatively few works of art, paintings, drawings, sculpture, or whatever, by Canadians that we regard as worthy of a place in the National collection. Next year might be a very fat year; we may find many many more, m fact next year we hope we will. (We are organizing the Second Biennial of Painting. and we hope that the whole of that exhibition will be of such quality that we can buy virtually the entire exhibition for the National Gallery.) As I say, next year might be a fat year, and I see no reason why we should not spend the whole of our annual appropriation on Canadian pictures; but where it would be disaster would be if we had to spend say $25,000 or $50,000 a year every year on Canadian art. What would happen? This year is a lean year and we look around the galleries, the exhibitions, the studios of the artists, and do not find very much top quality work, but we say we have got to spend the money anyway, so very cynically we stick our tongues in our cheeks and say, "We have got to spend the money, we will buy this fourth-rate stuff by Mr. X and put it in the basement." I think if you tried to operate on that kind of double standard, wanting to buy only the best and being forced through federal legislation to make a certain fixed expenditure, you would get a vicious downward spiral and all standards would disappear.
I have said this over and over again to audiences of artists in Canada and they entirely agree that the National Gallery should be buying only great works of art of the past, and, when it comes to buying Canadian works, we should buy only what we believe to be worthy of a place in the National collection. The artists themselves want that the National Gallery purchases should be a sign of prestige, a cachet to the artists. It would be, to put it quite simply, insulting if we were going around saying, "Well, we have got so many thousands of dollars to spend on Canadian art, lets dish it out and treat the artists contemptuously, as if we were some kind of benevolent society." This attitude must not happen. We must never, in other words, slip into the position that we were in in the days when W. G. Constable was talking in Canada, the position of saying, "Well, it isn't bad for a Canadian. You know, it is not bad, and it is a native product." Whatever it is that we are doing in Canada from now on, whether it is painting or the theatre-as in Stratford--or music, or ballet, whatever it is we must never indulge in that outmoded, provincial and parochial way of thinking where we say, "Not bad for a Canadian", and subsidize or help something that if of indifferent quality, because, the moment that happens, a kind of Gresham's law in the arts does prevail.
One further thing that has been discussed publicly about a Canada Council I also want to mention. Last Saturday, in her column, Pearl McCarthy, writing about the Canada Council, suggested that it should be concerned with community planning and public building and architecture. I am not sure I agree with that, but this is again a topic about which I feel very strongly now that I am back in Canada. Traditionally, architecture is the mother of the arts and, if I read history aright, you can find no period in the past where painting, sculpture and the allied arts flourished if architecture itself did not flourish. And architecture is inseparable from the community in which the individual buildings sit; community planning therefore is equally important. I agree with Miss McCarthy very much that something more needs doing in Canada at this stage about the design and planning of our communities, of our public buildings, and of architecture generally. But I do not think that a Canada Council could or should do anything about it. Miss McCarthy said if only a Canada
Council could be giving "spiritual guidance." Well, perhaps it could go that far, perhaps the National Gallery should go at least that far in the fields of architecture and public planning and be trying to foster public opinion at least to the extent that it comes to believe that community planning and improved public building is necessary. Perhaps spiritual guidance could be given to that extent, but I do not see how a federal government or a federal agency like the Canada Council can or should interfere with local effort or initiative. Here again the vital thing is that your local citizenry-your local public here in Toronto or in the smaller communities, new communities that are going up in the mining areas or in the North Country, cities like Calgary and Edmonton that have doubled their population in ten years, that are expanding enormously-the vital thing is that the local citizens should care enough about their public buildings and the planning and beauty of their environment. They are the ones who should set the standards and the pace by criticizing local effort.
I hope that much more of this will happen in Canada, that community planning and the design of public buildings should become much more the concern of public opinion. The number of times you find a photograph of a new building or the drawing of a proposed new building and no mention is made of the architect's name! It is as if these things grow like mushrooms and are not the creation of individual men and individual men's imaginations. I need not go so far as to say that I wish every building put up was a subject of public controversy and that for ugly buildings the architect should be punished in some way. After all, you can fine people and put them in jail for committing a nuisance like having too much smoke or a factory that smells. Well, there are certain buildings going up--I won't say that they smell, but in a sense they certainly could be described as being a public nuisance-and somehow our citizens will certainly be outraged if a factory is polluting a river or the local atmosphere, and remain quite unmoved by some building that is going to be a terrible legacy for another generation, an eyesore that we are handing on to our children.
Here is a sphere in which I think Canada does lag behind, and here again I think the impetus to fresh creation must come from the ranks of the architects, city planners, town planners and industrial designers. There is nothing that we can do from above or from outside, whether it is through the National Gallery or the Canada Council or the National Industrial Design Council or whatever other agencies there are for helping to stimulate public opinion. As in any of the other arts, the really creative leadership must come from within the profession itself and, at the risk of sounding unkind to two distinguished architects here present, one of whom is not an architect in his day to day work, Martin Baldwin-he is a gallery director but he belongs to the profession-I pray that Canadian architects as a profession and as a whole should show more concern with promoting the interests of their own profession and the social needs of the Canadian people. Because we are building so fast and so much everywhere in Canada, if it is done without thought, without planning, without imagination, we are going to leave an appalling legacy to the next generation and generations after that. Our responsibilities in a once beautiful and unspoiled country, it seems to me, are double now that we are such a privileged and prosperous country. But, as in all of these things, government can do a great deal to help, but that never will be the whole story. In the long run, if we are to be a successfully civilized and cultured democracy, what really matters is public opinion and public response.
I began by saying that I am myself enormously heartened to find huge audiences all over Canada and particularly, I may say, in the smaller and newer towns, where they have not got all the attractions and diversions that exist in a metropolitan city like Toronto, come out to hear me or our travelling lecturers talk about the visual arts. The interest is there, infinitely more widespread and more profound an interest than in 1938 when I left Canada, and I hope that public opinion will become more articulate, that it will keep, first of all the National Gallery itself, and then the new Canada Council on its toes by being a vigilant and critical public opinion; that it will see to it that all the federal agencies, and indeed the local community agencies, are serving the public right. That is fundamental to health in any democracy-how much the ordinary people care and how much they will keep their leaders on their toes. If in Canada we can count on a vigilant and intelligently critical public opinion, those of us who have been privileged to acquire positions of influence and leadership in the field of the arts in Canada, can, I believe, look forward, not to a Canadian renaissance because it is not a rebirth, but the nascence of a Canadian culture of which every single one of us, as Canadians, can be proud.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Dr. Harold V. Cranfield.