Six of the Group of Seven, plus their friend Barker Fairley, at The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto in 1920. From left to right: Frederick Varley, A. Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, Fairley, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, and J. E. H. MacDonald. (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Can you name a Canadian visual artist, living or dead? (No, Drake doesn’t count.) If not, you have that in common with 54% of Canadians, according to a new Mainstreet Research poll. How about naming a Canadian hockey player? That should be a little easier: The same poll found that 97% of respondents can name three or more Canadian hockey players.

The poll, commissioned by Toronto-based advertising and design firm Key Gordon Communications, surveyed 1,500 Canadians via phone. Despite the poll’s results, Canadian artists do, in fact, exist! Wikipedia features an abridged list, and Artists in Canada maintains a huge database of more than 47,000 Canadian artists.

Of the artists a minority of respondents could name, most were affiliated with the Group of Seven, also known as the Algonquin School, a group of Canadian landscape painters who worked from 1920 to 1933. The top painters named were Emily Carr and Tom Thompson, at 20% and 19%, respectively. In Quebec, 41% named Jean-Paul Riopelle, a Québécois painter and sculptor considered the first Canadian artist to gain widespread international fame. In 2015, American actor Steve Martin curated an exhibit of work by Canadian painter Lawren Harris at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, but it apparently didn’t get the attention of many of California’s northern neighbors. 

“Why does it take Steve Martin to remind us that Lawren Harris is a great painter?” Grant Gordon, Key Gordon Communications president, said in a report on the poll. “Kim Dorland sells out his shows in Manhattan and Canadians have never even heard of him? There needs to be a stronger effort to ensure Canadian artists are known to Canadians. We have great artists — but sadly few Canadians know about them.” Specifically, 59% of survey respondents age 18–34 could not name a single Canadian painter. Only 16% of all people surveyed were able to name three or more Canadian artists. 

Not so for the country’s hockey players: Wayne Gretzky, who won 33% of the vote, is the country’s favorite hockey player, while Sidney Crosby, Maurice Richard, Bobby Orr and P.K. Subban followed. Only 3% of respondents couldn’t name a Canadian hockey player.

“It’s not simply a matter of more government funding — although that is always a good idea,” Gordon said. “We also need to ensure curricula and classroom learning focus on introducing the next generation to Canadian artists.” 

For the uninitiated, here are paintings by Emily Carr and Jean-Paul Riopelle. They were both Canadian.


Emily Carr, “Autumn in France” (1911), oil on board (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Jean-Paul Riopelle, “Untitled” (1948), oil on canvas, 97.5×130 cm (image via Wikimedia Commons)

And here is a picture of Wayne Gretzky playing hockey, in case you’re among the 3% who aren’t familiar. He is Canadian. 

Wayne Gretzky New York Rangers action hšjd portrŠtt

Wayne Gretzky (image via Wikimedia Commons)

You can read the results of “Canadian Painters Versus Canadian Hockey Players” here.

h/t National Post

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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

9 replies on “More Than Half of Canadians Can’t Name a Single Canadian Artist”

  1. Sad, a bit shocking and yet because there is so little media coverage of the visual arts it is not entirely unexpected…

  2. Not the most representative Emily Carr, I have to say. Sure, it’s one of her earlier “fauve” works, but what she’s really known for is the later, more iconic BC forests and totems. What the article doesn’t say is that at least twice as many people in Quebec can name a CDN artist. Is that because la belle province actually cares about culture in general while the rest are indifferent? I once asked the publishers of the World of Art series why there was a volume about Australian art and not one about Canadian art. After all, I said, Canada is bigger, has a longer history (in Eurocentric terms) and is a larger trading partner of the countries that consume such books. The answer was indifference. So the phenomenon is not just CDN.

  3. The Canadian art problem is like the American art problem. Most of the population know every relevant sports figure, what he weighs, his favorite food and to whom he’s married. Most all could care less about art (all of the arts) and therefore culture and history. This makes me sick.

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