- From Drawing to Visual Culture: A History of Art Education in Canada
Harold Pearse, well-known Canadian art educator, artist, and past president of the Canadian Society of Art Education, has managed a labour of love over the past ten years by bringing together a collection of essays that effectively lay the groundwork for a history of art education in Canada. In the introduction Pearse provides a lay of the land, anchoring his history in a number of definable periods that take us from early vocational drawing, which lasted until the turn of the twentieth century, through the next thirty years under the influence of Walter Smith, toward the introduction of visual art as its supplement, leading up to the era of child art as influenced by the charismatic figure of Arthur Lismer. The modern period (postwar period to the 1980s) of school-based art education was consolidated by the tireless work of Ontario's director of art C.D. Gaitskell, whose efforts grounded the Canadian Society for Education through Art in 1955. Influenced by artists, art criticism, and art history, this period saw the growth of art in schools across the provinces and the establishment of museum education. Pearse ends his overview with the late and postmodern era by pointing to the political need to advocate art education as a compulsory subject. He ends by describing its current state of hybridity, culminating in what many take to be a need for art education to move into 'visual culture.' Despite the lack of a national art education program, Pearse manages to treat all provinces fairly, interweaving a complex rhizomatic narrative of intertwining details and names that provide a rich tapestry of connections and details that only someone with over thirty years of experience and knowledge of the Canadian art context could have done.
The nine essays follow the timeline of the introduction. The first three essays examine in detail the significance of mechanical drawing in nineteenth-century Canada with the rise of vocational education. Graeme Chalmers's essay provides a detailed account of the Mechanics' Institute in Barrie, Ontario, in the 1850s as a generic model of adult education at the time, followed by back-to-back essays by Craig Stirling who continues the narrative by looking at these developments in Quebec and then Ontario from 1870s to the 1920s. [End Page 134] Both authors make us aware of the religious and political ideology that lay behind such vocational training, especially the British influence of Henry Cole's South Kensington system of vocational drawing, which had made Great Britain a leader in industrial design. Harold Pease follows with an essay that brings the history into the twentieth century, when mechanical drawing is supplemented with art mostly along gendered lines though the influences of 'picture study' (as a form of cultural cultivation) and 'child art.' Pease examines these developments in three provinces (Nova Scotia, Ontario, and British Columbia) by focusing on key figures: Alexander McKay, Jessie P. Semple, and Winifred Gabriel, respectively. Suzanne Lemersie and Leah Sherman provide an account of how 'child art' became associated with modern art, especially in Quebec in the 1920s. They provide the history of the turn away from mechanical drawing to art education proper as influenced especially by Arthur Lismer.
With this background it becomes possible to see how the Arts and Crafts Movement and the cultivation of art for moral and democratic citizenship could be used for ideological ends. Lisa Panayotidis does a remarkable job of demonstrating this in the context of the social reconstruction that took place in the pre- and postwar era. Wendy Stephenson follows with a detailed examination of Kitsilano Junior/Senior High School, charting its art curricular developments from the 1920s up to the 1950s. The last two essays bring us to the new millennium. Roger Clark's biting and often ironic essay gives us an insight as to why Ontario's full potential to become a leader in graduate art education was not realized, despite its solid historical foundation established by...