"Thank God we're surrounded
by water." This line from the chorus of a well-known
Newfoundland and Labrador song reflects a central theme in the
province's rich artistic tradition. Indeed, there is scarcely an
art form that has not been influenced in one way or another by
the sea and the seafaring life.
Here, as in most other places,
art and artists can be divided into two areas or groupsthe
amateur and the professional. In Newfoundland, however, amateur
arts long remained the dominant tradition. Through most of
Newfoundland and Labrador history, artists expressed themselves
primarily through the folk arts, including storytelling,
recitations, songs and ballads, traditional dance, and the music
of the accordion and the fiddle.
|An Array of Musical Instruments.
This music practice
room in Nain, Labrador contains various string instruments. The art of music is
strongly expressed throughout Newfoundland in both amateur and professional arts.
Photo courtesy of Ben Hansen, Newfoundland Gems (St. John's,
Newfoundland: Vinland Press, ©1996) 85.
Before confederation with Canada
in 1949, this tradition was mainly practised by amateurs in a
community setting. After 1949, the growth of government and
corporate sponsorship made it possible for a limited number of
individuals to make a living from the arts, with the result that
professional artists emerged in a number of fields.
In spite of the trend toward
professionalism in the arts, however, a strong folk tradition has
survived and has exercised a profound influence on the work of
professional artists. Themes from Newfoundland folklore and
folklife have furnished much of the subject matter for plays and
other theatrical performances. Novels, short stories, and other
literary forms have often dealt with the values and
characteristics associated with outport life.
||Bernice Morgan's novel, Random Passage.
The story of two families attempting to cope with the isolation of outport life during the 19th century.
Courtesy of Breakwater Books Ltd. and the Christina Parker Gallery, St. John's, Newfoundland. © 1992.
The dialects of the
region and local customs have been used to enliven many of these
same works. The divisive influences of religion and politics in
the province have also been favourite themes. The work of visual
artists has concentrated heavily on the majestic scenery of
Newfoundland and Labrador and on the depiction of objects,
ranging from fish and marine animals to fishing gear and rustic
houses, which are part of everyday life.
In the late 1960s and the 1970s,
the influence of mass media and the modernizing policies of the
government placed new pressures on Newfoundland and Labrador
traditions and values. Partly in response to these pressures, and
partly as a result of the influence of similar developments in
Europe and other parts of North America, a cultural revival
occurred. Led by artists and intellectuals, the revival explored
and celebrated the distinctive customs that had been a part of
the region's culture for centuries. The influence of this
cultural renaissance is still evident in contemporary artistic
expressions of all kinds, and has contributed to the national and
international recognition that Newfoundland and Labrador music,
literature, painting, printmaking, photography, and other art
forms have achieved.
|David Blackwood's "Gram Glover's Light". ©1985. Etching on paper.
Courtesy of David Blackwood. Memorial
University Permanent Collection, St. John's, Newfoundland.
©1997, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project
Revised March 2002.