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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Artsy Fartsy

BY Sonny Orr Jun 7, 2019

The stained cloth to clean up my watercolours had taken a beating again. The art teacher was complaining that the colours don’t mix. The paintbrushes needed rigorously washed after every lesson. Then a little while later, we learned how to mix them all into different colours.

Art was fun and kept us focused on what we considered to be works of beauty and ingenuity. We thought at one point that abstract art was made by dummies, but soon learned of the message in the bottle of paint. A message so powerful that shortly after you die, your work either dies with you or becomes a sought-after masterpiece.

Alas, our works died before we did. I don’t know what happened to that whole year of artwork we did in school. Perhaps one day they will be unearthed and the world will wonder who these animal-loving people were. The land and life on the land inspired most of our art. It expressed those students’ need to reconnect and go back home, as most of my classmates were residential school kids.

When we started getting into modern art, the ruler and protractor came out and dimensional pictures were visually stimulating, reminding us of the peace and love movement going on at that time, when a tie-dyed t-shirt was to die for. After the factorization of our reality became expressed on paper, we wondered to ourselves what it meant, except for the eternal peace symbol and dove. 

Back in the day, we watched our Inuit uncle carve art from soapstone. The sweat and the constant angling for a good view, always the perfect stroke, always well thought-out as the shape emerged as desired. The money paid for this art depended on its size, and after a few decades our artists discovered that bigger carvings meant bigger pay and bigger pay meant better lifestyle.

Meanwhile the paper artists struggled along with spurts of popularity, and a few became recognized. And when they did, they produced magnificent pieces that awed their admirers. It is always a good feeling to appreciate the fine efforts of a talented artist. Check out Michelangelo and you will see centuries-old works still admired for their extreme talents. For our peoples, our works are inspired from everything around us – past, present and future – and those artists are coming up with fine quality work – work that is often copied en masse and sold for huge profits each year by huge manufacturing companies. No other culture is copied as much as our peoples are. It just goes to show that our works are fine indeed. 

The rest of the modern art you see today is based on toys and new idols. If you notice, the artistic stuff sells more. The same for everything in your living room, your kitchen, your bedroom and bathroom, just about everything was made by some artist. So artists do live, but are hidden in the cultures that we see every day, like The Simpsons, et al. In the meantime, our culture stands strong and kept unchanged and resilient with our colours.

So when you see a young one taking interest in turning your freshly painted wall into a bingo dabber masterpiece, step back and take a picture of it before you scrub it off. It’s the most valuable piece of artwork you will most likely cherish. Who can afford the Mona Lisa anyways?

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.