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Arts, Writers, Artists, and Musicians

Hugh Maclennan, Anne Hebert, Gabrielle Roy, abstract painting style, Irving Layton

The field of Canadian literature is large and complex, and includes voices from the various regions and many cultural groups of the country. Notable Canadian poets include Irving Layton, active since the 1940s, and Dorothy Livesay, who was most prolific in the 1970s and 1980s. Children around the world have enjoyed Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery, a 1908 classic set in rural Prince Edward Island. Hugh Maclennan, Robertson Davies, and Margaret Laurence set new standards for Canadian fiction in the mid-20th century. Other important writers have followed, such as Margaret Atwood (novelist and poet), Gabrielle Roy, Anne Hebert, Marie Claire Blais, and Alice Munro. Many have drawn on their experiences as immigrants or members of minority groups in their fiction: Mordecai Richler (Jewish), Michael Ondaatje (Sri Lankan), and Neil Bissoondath (Caribbean) are just a few examples.

The earliest works of visual art in North America were produced by indigenous groups. European colonists introduced their artistic traditions almost as soon as they settled in the land that became Canada. The defining moment for post-Confederation Canadian art, however, is generally acknowledged to have been the formation of the Group of Seven in Toronto during the 1910s and 1920s. The post-Impressionist images of elemental nature created by these painters have inspired generations of Canadian artists.

Other distinctly Canadian schools were the Canadian Group, the Contemporary Art Society, Les Automatistes, and Painters Eleven. The Canadian Group, formed in Toronto in 1933, practiced regionalist painting, which took daily life as its subject matter. The Contemporary Art Society was formed in Montreal in 1940 to produce experimental work based on Parisian models. Among this group was Paul-Emile Borduas, who developed a spontaneous, abstract painting style. Les Automatistes, who emulated his style, formed around him after 1945; they included the renowned abstract expressionist painter Jean Paul Riopelle. Painters Eleven, including Jock Macdonald, William Ronald, and Harold Town, was formed in Toronto in 1953 to produce abstract works in the cubist tradition. There are thousands of artists now at work in Canada, producing paintings, sculptures, and other media of great variety. Among the best-known are Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland, Greg Curnoe, and Bill Reid.

Pianist Glenn Gould is probably Canada’s most widely recognized classical musician, particularly for his innovative interpretations of Bach. In the 1990s, guitarist Leona Boyd and opera tenor Ben Hoeppner were among the more visible Canadians on the international stage. In the past, Canadian popular-music artists looked to the United States as the primary market for their music; in fact, several, such as Paul Anka, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell, immigrated to the United States. By the 1970s, however, Leonard Cohen, Anne Murray, and other artists demonstrated that it was possible to reach an international audience from a Canadian base. In part, this was made possible by the CRTC requirement of 30 percent Canadian content on all radio stations operating in Canada. A thriving Canadian popular-music industry emerged in the 1980s and 1990s; a few particularly well-known Canadian performers are Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, k.d. lang, Shania Twain, and Alanis Morissette.

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