My Daughter made a scholastic career out of this question. To my knowledge she never came up with a final answer leaving the door open for the same essay in the following year. This continued right into the Masters program and is bound to be a big part of any Doctorate…
For the Group of Seven and their contemporaries “art” was a way to brand a nation and its people. Prior to the Group, art in Canada was dominated by European influences. Canada was painted in the style of the masters from the “Old Country”. Canadian scenes could have been anywhere in England or Europe.
Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven saw Canada very differently and felt that Canada and Canadian culture were uniquely shaped by the land, weather and climate. Their goal was to create a distinctly Canadian art culture that better represented the new nation. Canada was also in search of its identity - exactly like any young kid. That Tom and the Group succeeded in creating a Canadian artistic culture is witnessed by the fact that we still admire their creations 100 years later. They became the Canadian Masters of art.
In 1964 and 1965 the minority Liberal government wanted to achieve a similar Holy Grail – to create a flag that would be uniquely Canadian and recognized around the world. They were searching for a distinct design that would represent the unique Canadian identit. The flag since the 1867 Confederation had gone through eight iterations and all featured the Union Jack in the upper left. The Red and Blue Ensigns better reflected England than Canada. The Canadian national identify was still in limbo in 1964 just like Canadian art prior to 1920.
Lester B. Pearson ran the 1963 election campaign promising “a national flag within two years of his election”. The Liberal government set the goal to find a flag that would be “Canada’s own and only Canada’s”. The task was assigned to “The Flag Committee” but John Ross Matheson was by far the key architect to design the series of events that would achieve what had been very elusive in two previous attempts. The Flag Committee vote was unanimous on the choice of the current Canadian Flag. Lester B. Pearson beamed that no one was more responsible for success in establishing the Canadian Flag than Brockvillian John Ross Matheson!
The painting that I am working on wraps the Canadian Flag in Canadian art. I am simply the “Group of One”. I am not Tom Thomson or any of the Group of Seven. I am just “Phil the Forecaster”, a passionate Brockvillian who relied on meteorology to make a living. That I paint in a style reminiscent of the Group of Seven is no accident. We were and are inspired by the same land, weather and climate that make Canada unique. To paint “en plein air” (outside), surrounded by inspiration compels one to paint with bold strokes and lots of colour. In the past 50 years since I first took art lessons from Old World Master Mario Airomi at his river side cottage east of Brockville, my style has evolved into bold and colourful strokes as well. Perhaps I have been painting my entire life to prepare me for this effort. The 50 Years of Our Flag Project has given me the rare opportunity to wrap the Canadian flag in Canadian art that might make viewers remember the other bold Canadians who created a Canadian artistic culture.
What is art? I still don’t have the answer but it defines a culture. Life is good!