Sunday, August 18, 2019

Review - Meet the Group of Seven

Meet the Group of Seven
by David Wistow & Kelly McKinley
Date: 1999
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

In the early twentieth century, a group of Toronto artists became friends. They shared a love of traveling and exploring Canada's landscape. Their paintings were very different from the art of the time, capturing not just how the landscape looked, but how it made the artists feel as well. In 1920, they exhibited their work together for the first time, calling themselves the Group of Seven. While some people were excited by their use of bright colors and rough brushstrokes, others were horrified by their strange styles. It took years for appreciation of their work to grow. But today, the Group of Seven are some of Canada's best-loved artists.

Just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven's first exhibition, here's a reissue of a must-have reference, produced in collaboration with the Art Gallery of Ontario. Filled with illustrations, photographs and stunning reproductions of more than forty masterpieces, the book describes how the group formed, how and where they painted, their influence on Canadian art and more. It offers a perfect introduction to critical thinking about visual arts and biographies of artists. It's also an excellent social studies resource on Canadian heritage and history.

Original Group of Seven artists: Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald and Frederick H. Varley.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I thought this looked like an interesting non-fiction picture book. Unfortunately, I found it to be an utter bore. It reads very "young", and yet I don't know how many children in that age group are going to find this book of dry facts and art criticism very entertaining.

By far, the most interesting parts of this book are the bit about Tom Thomson's untimely death and the theories surrounding it (ironic, since he wasn't even an official member of the Group) and the brief examples of other non-Group art that was being done at the time as well as after. Aside from the short bios of the men, most of the rest of the book is taken up by reproductions of their work and--most annoyingly--explanations of what the paintings mean. Unfortunately, these interpretations are undermined by the section that talks about how everyone interprets art differently. (This is part of why the book seems "young" to me. There's almost a hand-holding aspect throughout much of it, where the authors have to tell the reader what the paintings mean. Why bother, if everything's open to interpretation?)

I think part of the problem is that I don't really like most of the Group's work. When I mentioned to my mom that I was reading this book, she told me that I'd been to see a Group of Seven exhibit. (She was partly joking. I was an infant at the time, so I obviously don't remember it!) She also said she wasn't that impressed with the paintings, and that she preferred Emily Carr's work instead. Carr is mentioned in this book, as she was acquainted with some of the Group, and her art is in the same sort of vein. But I must admit, I'm of the same opinion as my mom; Carr's work is much more pleasing to the eye, and I think I would've rather read a book about her.

Unless someone really loves the aesthetic of the Group of Seven, they're probably going to have a hard time engaging with this book. It's dry, pedantic, and a little condescending. The layout and look of the book are fine... but if you're not all that interested in the subject matter, none of that's going to make much of a difference.

Thank you to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

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