Canada Abroad

The Canadian Art World


The Canadian Art World –

When you hear the word “art”, what comes to mind first? The Renaissance, Paris, Florence?  Do you think of Leonardo da Vinci or Rembrandt or Picasso? It would be a safe bet to say that you do not think “Canada”, right? And who would blame you? Most of the art history that people are familiar with is that of the European arts. Europe is the continent that is well known for its art galleries, like the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery in London and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The list goes on and on… How can any country or even continent compete against the European art scene? Can Canadian art compare? Is there even a Canadian art scene? You’ll be surprised when you see the list of modern Canadian artists out there! So keep reading.

What is Art?

Before we continue on our journey into the Canadian art world, let’s define art first. And this is a tough subject to be sure. The Oxford Complete Wordfinder dedicates a quarter of a page to this word. Judging by that alone it is quite obvious that the word “art” is not an easy one to describe. Many artists will probably scoff at our basic explanation of what art is, but here goes: According to the Oxford Complete Wordfinder, art is “the various branches of creative activity concerned with the production of imaginative designs, sounds, or ideas, e.g. painting, music, writing, considered collectively”. That is one small piece that we extracted from the quarter page explanation of what art is.

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford coined the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” in her 1878 book titled Molly Bawn. Even though the modern use of this phrase originated with her, the essence of the phrase has been around for more than two millennia. But what does this have to do with art or the Canadian art scene? Simply this; art is a very ambiguous concept and what certain people find amusing or beautiful is horrible to others. And if that is the case, how can we ever truly conceptualise art? Well, for today’s blog post we will keep it simple. Anyone that produced or is still producing objects or concepts with entertainment value will be considered an artist. Whether that entertainment comes in the form of a painting, a movie, a song or a photograph. We’ll also talk a bit on art galleries and theatres in Canada.

Canadian Actors/Actresses

Yes, acting is also considered art. And there are some big names when it comes to the Canadian art of acting!

Cobie Smulders

Most of you have probably seen How I Met Your Mother, right? If you have, you will know that Robin Scherbatsky (the girl with who Ted Mosby falls madly in love in season one of the series) comes from Canada. But what a lot of you might not know is that the actress who portrays Robin in the show, Cobie Smulders, is in actual fact, a Canadian. Smulders was born in Vancouver and started her career in the modelling world, from where she went over to the acting industry.

Jim Carrey

Then there is Jim Carrey. Born in Newmarket, Ontario, Carrey is definitely a big name in the Canadian art world! He rose to fame starring in comedy films like Dumb & Dumber and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Later on in his career, he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama for his brilliant performance in the Truman Show. In 2004 Carrey was inducted to the Canadian Walk of Fame – a Toronto walkway that acknowledges Canadians who have excelled in their respective fields of expertise.

Keany Reeves

We can’t leave out Keanu Reeves, now can we? We can thank Canada for giving Morpheus the One. Reeves starred in many action movies like Point Break, Speed, John Wick and The Matrix.

And many more…

There are a myriad more actors and actresses that give the Canadian art scene a good name, but we don’t have time to discuss them all. However, it will not hurt to at least mention some of them by name. Why not play a game and check yourself to see if you knew that all of these actors/actresses hail from Canada (in alphabetical order by name):

Catherine O’Hara
Christopher Plummer
Donald Sutherland
Elisha Cuthbert
Ellen Page
Eugene Levy
Hayden Christensen
Jay Baruchel
Joshua Jackson
Kiefer Sutherland
Leslie Nielsen
Michael Cera
Michael J. Fox
Mike Myers
Nathan Fillion
Neve Cambell
Pamela Anderson
Rachel McAdams
Ryan Gosling
Ryan Reynolds
Seth Rogen
William Shatner

Canadian Musicians

Canada has produced some of the most influential musicians of the last century. Have you perhaps heard of Leonard Cohen before? Does Neil Young ring a bell? How about Bryan Adams or Celine Dion?


Leonard Cohen released an astounding 26 albums over his career. But what a lot of people don’t know is that Cohen was also a novelist. He published a total of 13 books during his lifetime, which is quite a mean feat if you take into account the number of albums he produced! Born in Westmount, Canada, Cohen obtained basically every award that a Canadian citizen can. Cohen clearly did a lot for the Canadian art scene, as he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, he won a Glenn Gould Prize and he was also invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada. Apart from his Canadian awards, Cohen was also inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received a Prince of Asturias Award for literature.

Rockin’ In The Free World

Neil Young started out his singing career with Buffalo Springfield in 1966. Over his illustrious career, Neil Young took part in the production of 38 albums. Most of these were solo albums, but he also released albums with his backing band, Crazy Horse, as well as with Buffalo Springfield and with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Apart from making some fantastic music, Young also wrote screenplay and directed a couple of movies.

Born in Toronto, he moved to Los Angeles in 1966 where he quickly became a hit! According to the Rolling Stones, Buffalo Springfield played a big role in the creation of folk rock. Neil Young was indicted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Both as a solo artist and for the part he played in Buffalo Springfield. He was awarded the Order of Manitoba and inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada. The Canadian art world should be grateful for what Neil Young achieved! And he is still going strong.

Never Say Never

For the younger generation (nothing to do with Mr Young), did you know that Justin Bieber is from Canada? Bieber has been active in the music world for the past decade and has made some serious waves in such a short time. His first album released in 2010 and came out with hit single “Baby”. He sold more than 12 million copies of this single and who knows how many more million were illegally downloaded? Up to this point, Bieber has sold way over 100 million records and is seen as one of the top-selling musicians of all times. Even though he didn’t produce the number of albums that his predecessors did, he is still definitely worth a mention whenever anyone talks about the Canadian art scene.

Summer of 69

And then, of course, there is Bryan Adams. Another Canadian artist that made big waves in the music industry. Adams is a songwriter, producer, photographer and philanthropist. He became popular after he released his first album, Cuts Like a Knife. Everyone knows Summer of ’69, which was released on his second album, Reckless. From there he went on to become one of the highest-selling musicians of all times, selling more than 100 million records. Bryan Adams also won numerous awards for his contribution to the Canadian art scene, as well as for his humanitarian contribution to worldwide education through the Bryan Adams Foundation. His name is included in the Hollywood Hall of Fame, Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame.

All By Myself

Before we end off with a list of famous Canadian musicians, we have to mention Celine Dion. She is Canada’s number one selling artist and one of the best-selling artists of all times with sales of over 200 million records worldwide. In Europe alone, she has sold more than 50 million records and she also holds the record for the female musician that has the most radio number one hits. Although most of us know her for her English music, Dion initially became famous for her French repertoire. Moreover, she kept on producing French albums throughout her illustrious career. Celine Dion is one of the most influential voices in the pop music industry. She’s won so many awards (including five Grammy’s) that we can write an essay about it!

And Many More…

We can keep on talking about Canadian songwriters and singers all day. But we probably have to move on to the other art forms as well, don’t you think? So to finish off the music section of the Canadian art world, we’d like to mention a few bands without going into too much detail. Our Lady Peace is definitely worth a mention for their hit singles Clumsy and Innocent. An alternative rock band from Toronto, their music is definitely worth listening to. Another alternative/indie band from Toronto, Metric, is also worth a mention. With singles Help I’m Alive and Gold Guns and Girls, they produced some pretty dope music.

Here is a list of Canadian musicians that you might have heard of in passing…

Alanis Morissette
Avril Lavigne
Carly Rae Jepsen
Joni Mitchell
k.d. lang
Michael Bublé
Nelly Furtado
Sarah McLachlan
Shania Twain

Canadian Painters

At last we come to what people commonly refer to as artists. Painters, sculptors and sketch artists. Even though Canada produced more actors and musicians than “traditional artists”, there are still a few of these traditional artists that we’d like to discuss.

Jean-Paul Riopelle is known for his works in the Surrealist and Abstraction painting styles. The only Canadian to ever exhibit with the French Surrealists in Paris, Riopelle was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, as well as an Officer of the Order of Quebec. After his brief stint with the Surrealists, Riopelle turned to more abstract art. In his later works, Riopelle didn’t make use of conventional paintbrushes but used palette knives and spatulas to create his abstract art.

Emily Carr was not a super well-known artist during her lifetime. Only in her 50’s did she really start to become popular in the Canadian art world. Her early works focussed on the indigenous peoples of Canada, whereas her later work was more focused on landscapes and scenery. Carr was one of the first Canadian painters to introduce the Modernist and Post-impressionist painting styles in Canada. Moreover, she did a lot of research on the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest. She travelled throughout native lands and wrote books on native customs. Carr did not receive a lot of honours during her life, but the Emily Carr University of Art and Design was established in her honour. That in itself says enough about how influential her work was.

Canadian Art Galleries

So now that you know a bit more about the Canadian art world, let’s take a quick peek at some artsy places to add to your travel itinerary when you visit Canada.

  • Art Gallery of Alberta is definitely a must see! The building in itself is a piece of art, so even if you don’t get to go inside, you can still get your daily art fix. With over 6000 works on display, this gallery is a must-see for art lovers.
  • Vancouver Art Gallery is home to some of Mary Carr’s works. Within the gallery you will find historical and contemporary paintings, so combined with the beautiful old courthouse that plays home to this gallery, it is a must see!
  • The National Gallery of Canada, situated in Ottawa is also a must if you want to see art! The gallery hosts a selection of international and local artists, ranging from 15th century grand masters to contemporary artists. Works by Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol can be seen here.

We hope that you now have a more comprehensive understanding of how Canadian art has changed the world! Happy holiday planning!