For the sake of argument

We’re on the wrong track in our culture quest

For the sake of argument

We’re on the wrong track in our culture quest


We’re on the wrong track in our culture quest

For the sake of argument


Now that the members of the Canada Council have been named it is time for some plain talking about the background and direction of their work as it was revealed by their sponsors in parliament. The members seem to have been chosen for their solid sober qualities; an excellent board of regents; and splendidly geographical too. Administrators from the field of education . . . industrialists ... a man of music and a man of letters from abroad.

We have to accept the fact, first of all, that the Council provided an interesting structure that can be used to provide federal grants to provincial universities. That’s fine. It was this objective that won most applause, most agreement and most understanding from members of the House who had anything to say on the subject. Everybody is in favor of education. So the Council will administer fifty million in grants to universities.

Do we know what culture is?

The income of another fifty million is to be set aside for the encouragement of the arts, humanities and social sciences. This is the part of the scheme that could be imaginative and creative, for in here the living creative artist, as opposed to the dead one who will be studied at college, could get his handout. But in all the talk in parliament no one had anything to say about the creative man. He was forgotten. If he is to be lumped in vaguely in the general plan for education, or regarded as the least important figure in the whole scheme, then the Council should more properly be called the Canada Council for Education.

Yet there was so much talk about making money available for assistance in the development of a Canadian culture! Can it be that the Council’s sponsors are confused about the difference between

an education and a culture? Do I have to point out that you can have a country full of educated cultivated men and that country may still have no culture of its own?

A culture is an indigenous growth. There are cultural objects such as a Chinese figurine, a piece of Mayan pottery, the score of a German symphony, or for that matter a violin, a flute, a piece of wood carving from Africa, a kitchen plate from Naples, all of which may be loaded in a suitcase and brought home by any cultural carpetbagger. The man may have no culture of his own, and his country, with its store windows full of fine imported artistic objects, may also have no culture of its own.

If the money is there to be spent we can build more great museums, build them all over the country so the living can see what the dead did so well. There is always the hope that the dust of the dead will rub off on the living whose imaginations will be stirred enough to want to do something of their own. You can also have symphony orchestras demonstrating once a week how beautiful was the music of other countries, and grand art galleries full of expensive old masters. Admirable people could go in droves to these shows and afterward be full of good civilized talk along well-worn channels, yet live their whole lives without participating in any living culture.

Of one thing you may be sure: the Canada Council will have some plans for a national theatre. There should be two or three buildings; they are badly needed. But you could have at Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal the handsomest theatrical palace in the world wherein are performed the works of Shakespeare, Molière, Racine, Ibsen, Chekhov and O'Neill, and the country would still have no theatre of its continued on page 86


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“A yoisng and poor artist is never respectable. That’s why he’ll be low man on the totem pole”

own. It would only have what rich men can buy in the way of theatrical fare.

The Stratford Festival is cited at Ottawa as the kind of organization that should be supported. Of course it should he supported. It is a triumph of Canadian energy and planning. But when Tyrone Guthrie does Oedipus with the characters wearing masks, just as he thinks the Greeks would have done it twenty-five hundred years ago, it is museum theatre. Shakespeare is presented on an Elizabethan stage and the production is dressed and directed from abroad. But what about Canadian theatre? Where is it going to come from? Only the Canadian dramatist can give LIS a theatre, but he s not a cultural organization. If I have my finger up to the wind it s the respectable organizations that are going to get the money.

It is much safer to offer gifts of money to organizations than to individual artists, because organizations, if they are supported at all, are always respectable, and the artist nine times out of ten when he is young and making his way and desperately in need of financial assistance is never respectable. I have a hunch that those who are launching the Canada Council gravy train have got wind of this fact, and that is why the artist is to be the low man on the totem pole.

To come back to the theatre: the historian who tells the tale of the American theatre in the last thirty years will not bother mentioning the fine imported plays. The doings at Stratford, Connecticut, will not be worth a line. The American theatre belongs to O’Neill, Rice, Anderson, Odets, Saroyan, Miller.

Now here’s the rub. Supposing the young O’Neill before he scored his small success with the little Provincetown Theatre, had gone to Washington. Assuming they had had there a public purse for culture, such as we are going to have at Ottawa, would he have got a handout? Not very likely, being the kind of brutally direct writer he was; and if he had been turned down what would you say about the directors of the purse who turned him down?

Some who have been working tirelessly, backing the Canada Council, tell me that I am stubbornly unaware of the possibilities offered by the proposed scholarships. If a man of high talent comes after one of these scholarships, discerning experts will be at hand to make recommendations. I know that the Guggenheim scholarships in the United States have been a godsend to many an artist, but the situation is a little different here. The writer, for example, who gets a Guggenheim has usually been launched by someone else. The difficulty in Canada, for any kind of a distinguished artist, is to get launched at all. I’d like to think funds from the Canada Council would be there to help him. If such help were available it could only come from very discerning men doing a full-time job, and there aren’t to be such full-time jobs on the Canada Council. The advisors. the ones who really know, aren't to get paid, so one has to assume they will not be too deeply involved, or involved only as amateurs. Yet it is only

in this area of the scholarship for the creative artist that the whole project can have much meaning as far as producing something indigenous to the country is concerned. It is the root of the whole matter. T he greatest pressure should be brought to bear on the Council to make this clear.

Admittedly it is hard to help the authentic artist who insists on seeing the world out of his own eyes. It takes a while for others to get used to his vision. It is always strictly unacademic. The respectable, the people who think of themselves as cultured, and who are always boosting culture, are dead set against the new man with his new disturbing vision.

Take a small country like Ireland. It can be seen now that the glory of modern Irish culture belongs to men like James Joyce, W. B. Yeats and Sean O’Casey. Well, Joyce couldn't get his first book, Dubliners, published in Ireland. The printer refused to print it. An O'Casey play was apt to provoke a riot, just as Synge’s Playboy of the West-

ern World provoked a riot. Would a national cultural fund have been used to support these men? Not on your life. They were going against the common grain, for the real artist by his nature is a kind of a wild goose.

Better still, here’s an example too of what the distributors of government money are apt to be up against when they give it to men of talent whose work is not conventionally respectable. John O'Hara is a fine American novelist, whose book. Ten North Frederick, won the National Book Award. Suppose O’Hara had been a Canadian and had been assisted in the writing of that book by a scholarship from the Canada Council. Well, one day in the House. George Hees rose with Ten North Frederick in his hand, and indignant concern in his heart, as a member, an elected person, to ask the Hon. Mr. McCann if he was aware that such a book was for sale in the bookstores. The distributors of the book have since been brought into court. Now supposing some of the taxpayers’ money, by way of a scholarship, had been used to help Mr. O'Hara get the book written. Would some minister have to promise that he would look into the matter? I'm not suggesting there w'ould be government interference in granting scholarships to the creative men. Mr. St. Laurent has made it clear that the Council is to be kept out of politics— but the fact is that the taxpayers’ money is involved. It will need heroic resolution on the part of those handling the scholarships to resist the natural public pressure to keep the awards respectable, for this country, as it is. literally quivers with respectability.

Do scholars produce culture?

In all fairness it should be pointed out that the Arts Council of Great Britain helped very good men; its strength, as I understand it, lies in the advice they get from men like T. S. Eliot. On the other hand, in the British House of Commons honorable members do not stand up waving books at the government benches.

When I have talked to those who are enthusiastic about the proposed scholarships I have discovered usually that I am at cross-purposes with them. They are happy in the contemplation of many academic scholarships. I, too. would like to see every bright boy in the country given the means to go to a university and become a great scholar. But what are we concerned with here? Scholarship or contributions to a national culture? You could have a nation full of scholars and no national culture, because the scholar is one who has mastered the mind of another; his distinction doesn’t lie in his ability to create something new, but in his surefooted knowledge of what has been done in his field. The academic temperament tends even to resist anything fresh and strange, until it has been accepted and can be dealt with as part of a tradition.

I’m not talking about the research men. Research rules and methods are impersonal and international. The Canada Council is supposed to have for its purpose the development of a national culture, not an academic concentration on past cultures. It may be truly argued that a man can’t be exposed for four or five years to the wisdom of the past without having some of this culture rub off on him. Of course he can’t. But as I said in the beginning, you can have a nation of very cultivated fellows, all saying the wise right things to each other about Shakespeare and Sophocles and Molière and Racine and Tolstoy, and the

nation may still have no culture of its own. The academic mind, at its worst, may even be a barrier to what we're supposed to be after here, something of our own soil, growing into a culture.

So I’m not very concerned about the scholarships for the academic man. Education is very respectable. Bank presidents, industrialists and ladies' clubs applaud any kind of a grant to a university. What worries me is that the Canada Council, with handouts to organizations, and its concentration on education, the safe and easy and barren

thing to do to win the approval of the conventional minded, may neglect the individual creative artist, the only one who can give us what we say we want.

The artist should not be apologetic about taking any handout that comes his way. The artist will do what he has to do anyway. A subsidy may even spoil him and make him feel as timid as a civil servant; it may clip his wings. But what man in a state is more entitled than the artist to dip into the public purse? He gives the state whatever color it has in international spiritual prestige.

Possibly the Canada Council will welcome a suggestion from me. It is this; if we have about two million a year to spend on developing a culture—the word itself makes me uneasy—let us make sure that one half the sum goes to the artist doing something new. or the organization or group, like a theatre group, or a publisher, or a group of painters, trying to do something indigenous to the country. It is in this field that the Canada Council, unless it is to be just an educational organization, will succeed or fail. ★