I am currently writing my Ph.D. dissertation on the cultural role and impact of Canadian illustrators on national identity in Canadian and American periodicals, 1880-1960.
As part of my work I am compiling an Index of Canadian Illustrators. Additions and amendments to it are very welcome.
A Cultural Trade: Canadian Illustrators at Home and in the United States, 1880-1960
Overview: This dissertation examines how mass magazine illustration in two ubiquitous genres—outdoor adventure and pretty-girl—by Anglophone Canadian illustrators established national identity in similar (but not identical) aesthetic terms in American and Canadian visual culture, 1880 - 1960. During much of this period, illustration (fiction, editorial, and advertising) was the most prevalent visual medium in color.
Concurrently, the United States became a superpower, while Canada developed its self-image as not-American and became increasingly suspicious of American print media. In Canadian art, the development of a nationalist aesthetic in painterly landscapes occurred at the expense of illustration, which was thought by elites to be “Americanized” and degenerate. The result is that Canadian illustration history has not been much studied—despite it being more pervasive and influential on the public than fine art.
Illustration was similarly neglected by American art historians, although that has changed recently. Still, as Schneirov (1994) observes, much research on magazines has been influenced by Frankfurt School theorists (e.g. Adorno, Greenberg, Ohmann) who position the viewer as a hapless or mindless victim and fail to account for the role of conscious pleasure and consumer agency in the ongoing growth of culture industries. Because illustration was assumed by such critics a priori to have no true aesthetic value, the aesthetic engagement of illustrators and consumers has been little explored for its part in explaining why mass culture persists; and by extension, why Canada has had such difficulty countering American culture.
This dissertation is intended to fill these gaps by theorizing how illustration works aesthetically, analyzing illustration’s positive and negative effects, and critiquing the neglect of illustration in official Canadian cultural theory. In doing so, it responds to the 2010 manifesto of the U.K.-based Illustration Research Group setting out illustration scholarship as a critical and theoretical discipline, by approaching illustration from a practice-based perspective (I am a practicing illustrator and consumer myself), thus bridging theory and practice.
Accordingly, the primary research question is: what is the aesthetic impact of illustration on the construction of Anglophone Canadian nationalism 1880 - 1960? Related questions include: who made and consumed illustration, how, and under what circumstances? In what ways is illustration aesthetic, or not? How did American visual culture affect Anglo-Canadian visual culture, and vice versa? How are the chief characteristics of Canadian national identity determined? If “Americanized” Canadian illustration has aesthetic import, what are the ramifications for Canadian art and cultural theory?
Work is leading to the following thesis: Illustration by Anglophone Canadians 1880-1960 affected the construction of Canadian nationalism by bringing an emerging national identity into citizens’ everyday life through an affective, material, practical aesthetic experience that was different from the privileged, learned contemplation of nationalistic fine art. American-influenced illustration bound Canada and the United States in a common continental visual language even when delivering Canadian messages. While Canadian art and cultural theory has customarily argued that illustration therefore eroded Canadian cultural sovereignty and artistic sophistication, in fact this continental culture assured Canadian sovereignty dialectically, by helping Canada differentiate from English culture, by provoking Canadians to define their exception to the joint continental culture, and by providing individual Canadians with the necessary cultural capital to participate as trend-setters—sometimes subversively but more often complementarily—in the United States. Mass magazines therefore served a role in forming a national identity that was always hybridized, but strong, since actually practiced and integrated into everyday life through magazine use.