didn’t accept female members till 1985 wtf, so focusing an entire essay on Joan MacDonald, a woman within this male-oriented area of scholarship, was really important to me, and also already touches on the second part of your question about the negativity/pressure in this field, but I’ll come back to that!
eyond Emily Carr, the Group of Seven’s historiography is unarguably a male-driven sphere of artistic influence and output, without ever mentioning their female contemporaries, like Mary Wrinch and Doris Speirs. Even the Arts & Letters Club, which is generally regarded as a centerpiece of J.E.H. MacDonald’s life,
This thesis is being almost completely written from scratch. Because this is only the second text about Joan, I’m dealing with primary sources, first-hand accounts of Joan from her family, city directories to try and construct a timeline of her academic and professional career, and all that. So from a theoretical point of view, another thing this thesis does is consider the subjectivity of biographical writing (since I am an English MA student). For example, I might find explicit connections between two texts twenty years apart: one a journal entry from Joan, another a published, autobiographical anecdote by her son. So the question becomes, are these personalized accounts? Or collective idealizations of Canadians living in a rural region being taken over by a rapidly increasing population, as an echo of the times? So while I am presenting Joan MacDonald to my readership there is another more explicitly academic conversation going on.
2. My experiences with CanCon attitudes has been a bit different from, say, Ryan Edwardson’s thoughts on the music and entertainment industries, because J.E.H. MacDonald and the Group of Seven are so engrained into the national consciousness, and have been for almost one hundred years. A popular response to my work is that they are cliche and out-dated, though their paintings are still amongst the highest earning in the nation, and there is still a considerable amount of interest in books and documentaries, but what irks me is the fact that the Group of Seven are virtually uncontested cultural territory. As soon as someone mentions John A. Macdonald or the Canadian Pacific Railway there are debates about the implementation of residential schools, and the maltreatment of Chinese labourers, but somehow the Group of Seven escape the 21st-century scrutinies. While all the other symbols born out of the Confederation and Centennial eras are taking a shit-kicking as the national social landscape changes, the Group of Seven remain the same. There are no angry Huffington Post articles about them being a bunch of misogynists, hardly any noise about the possibility of Indigenous erasure in their work. Why? That’s sort of where my PhD thesis comes in, as a return directly to J.E.H. MacDonald. MacDonald was sort of the publicity guy behind the Group of Seven, and Tom Thomson, so I want to explore exactly why MacDonald’s words and legacy have had such staying power.
So, I would say that I do feel discouraged sometimes, often because I feel like even though I am taking a progressive stance on the Group of Seven, I might ultimately just be drawing more attention to the white English guys. But a lot of the courses I take are about considering white normativity as a component of racism, about post-colonial studies, and Indigenous studies, so that I don’t box myself in, or fool myself into thinking the Group of Seven speak for an entire nation. I don’t hold much stock on the idea of a “national identity” these days just because my research and writings have become so refined that I can’t possibly expect to connect it to everyone, everywhere. That said, my work is hospitably open-ended, so that there is a lot of leg room for debate and discussion.
I hope this at least begins to answer your questions! And if you have anymore, don’t hesitate. :-)