*Warning* rant follows:
Why does this federal government have such a narrow view of nationhood? It plans to spend a fortune on patrol ships to assert our physical dominion over our arctic territories (which may contain vast reservoirs of oil) while removing the possibility of a physical portrait gallery to tap the vast reservoir of our cultural heritage. Most Canadians will never visit the arctic, but it looms large in our collective consciousness and forms a critical part of our identity here and abroad. A nation's cultural heritage can do the same. The national archives should have a physical presence in the form of a publicly accessible portrait gallery in our nation's capital. The knowledge that the gallery exists will inform our sense of identity and serve as the tangible backbone--the actual destination that Canadians and others can think of and aspire to visit when they view the virtual gallery online. I've heard so many times that there is no substitute for visiting the arctic in person. As any art lover knows, there is no substitute for standing in the presence of a work of art rather than viewing it in print or online reproductions. The vast archive of portraits of Canadian citizens--the very people who have made this country--should not be reduced to digitized ephemera. There is a wealth to be mined, and not just in the arctic. From their beginnings great nations have propped up their identities with their art and artists' depictions of their history. Let's get some recognition for our culture--for what we've cultivated--not just for our natural assets. Canadians need to know that should we choose, we can experience in the flesh the portraits that appear only as images on our computers. The arctic exerts a pull on our consciousness. A Portrait Gallery of Canada could do the same. In Britain, the National Portrait Gallery is a monument to British culture past and present, a huge pull for foreign and British visitors, and a beacon for artists everywhere. Canadians too should have a place to come face to face with portraits of the people who have shaped and continue to shape our history.
p.s. To those who think they know what portraiture is, and that it is a stodgy, old-fashioned art, I would say that portraiture dictates only the subject, but neither the medium nor the method, and can be as radical and thought provoking as any other art form. Portraiture will endure because nothing comes closer to a shared common experience than one person encountering another through the eyes, mind, and hands of another. Portraiture is vitally alive and always relevant.
Click here to read a CBC article about senator Jerry Grafstein's attempts to champion the Portrait Gallery of Canada.
Posted by Shannon Reynolds at Wednesday, September 16, 2009