Arthur Lismer, Visionary Art Educator

Arthur Lismer, Visionary Art Educator

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 472
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  • Book Info
    Arthur Lismer, Visionary Art Educator
    Book Description:

    Arthur Lismer, well-known member of the Group of Seven, was also one of Canada's most innovative educators. Using previously untapped correspondence and papers as well as interviews with Lismer's teaching colleagues, child students, and art students, Angela Nairne Grigor examines Lismer's Arts and Crafts Movement background in his native England, the evolution of the humanistic ideas and ideals that guided his work as both an artist and a teacher, and his international influence as an educator. She gives a vivid portrait of his approach to teaching in an illustrious fifty-year career that took him from Toronto to Halifax, Montreal, New York, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and during which he played a pivotal role in the development of some of Canada's most important art schools and museums.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6981-2
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-4)

    Any account of Arthur Lismer’s life is essentially the story of his work. Even painting, his first passion, would eventually come second to his vocation as a museum educator. Most of his time and energy was concentrated on his teaching, and having found a role that exactly suited his personality, this generous and talented artist poured all his enthusiasm and vitality into educating the Canadian public. He had prodigious energy and intense interest in the present moment, focusing all his attention on whatever task was at hand. Lismer’s love of art, his social concerns, his affection for children and young...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Early Years: Sheffield, 1885–1911
      (pp. 7-19)

      Arthur Lismer was born in Sheffield, England, in 1885 – into a modest middle-cass family. His birth coincided with a period of social, cultural and political change that inevitably shaped his complex and often contradictory personality. These forces, which had a considerable impact on his work as an artist and educator, should therefore be examined more closely. As Lismer himself said, “The past is not behind us. It is within us.”¹

      His early life in England followed a time of rapid industrial development. Britain’s continuing role as a world power was based on long years of peace and security, the...

    • CHAPTER 2 “The First Step on the Ladder”: Toronto, 1911–1916
      (pp. 20-32)

      Lismer arrived in Halifax on 28 January 1911, after a stormy crossing, and disembarked the following day.¹ Having little money in his pocket, he was anxious to reach his destination and took the first train to Toronto. The snowy Canadian landscape fascinated him after the drab winters of northern England, and the brilliance of the scene took his breath away: “The amplitude of space and light and colour … I think that stayed with me ever since. It’s hard to go back to England – you find distances close in on you.”² He spent the long journey staring out of...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Victoria School of Art and Design, Halifax, 1916–1919
      (pp. 33-44)

      Given that Arthur Lismer had only a few months of teaching experience and almost no knowledge of administration, it is interesting to speculate why he was chosen to head the Victoria School of Art and Design in 1916. No doubt his skills as an organizer and promoter of the Graphic Arts Club and his work at the teachers’ summer course had been noticed by influential members at the Arts and Letters Club, including George Reid. But the selection of a little-known artist by the conservative directors of the school was an uncharacteristically daring choice, even though they could not have...

    • CHAPTER 4 Toronto, 1919–1927
      (pp. 45-81)

      The euphoria over winning the war soon dissipated, and the aftereffects were still noticeable in 1919 when the Lismers returned to Toronto. But this mood failed to dampen Lismer’s pleasure at being among old friends again. He was soon involved with the remnants of his old painting group, although mourning the loss of Thomson and missing Varley and Jackson, both still in the army, as demobilization progressed slowly. The knowledge that many others would never return added a sombre note to the generally depressed atmosphere.

      The change from a wartime to a peacetime economy was a painful process, and the...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Art Gallery of Toronto, 1927–1938
      (pp. 82-132)

      The close proximity of the Ontario College of Art to the Art Gallery of Toronto¹ undoubtedly shaped the course of Arthur Lismer’s career. From 1919, when he began work at the college, he was constantly in the gallery with his students and acted as a volunteer guide and lecturer to other groups.² He began to influence gallery policy in 1926 when he was invited to join the newly formed Education Committee by the chairman, Dr Tovell, who was looking for someone to animate the gallery program. Lismer became the secretary of the committee, and in September 1927, after he had...

    • CHAPTER 6 Educational Touring, 1936–1940
      (pp. 133-168)

      Arthur Lismer saw his trip to South Africa as a big adventure,¹ and although apprehensive about leaving his work at the Art Gallery of Toronto, he was, as always, eager for new experiences. His first challenge was to breathe new life into the rigid traditions of art education in white South African schools. But his travels would also include spending time with Native teachers and villagers, and this prospect was immensely appealing to him. After his year in South Africa Lismer was scheduled to join the New Education Fellowship Conference to be held in Australia and New Zealand in 1937....

    • CHAPTER 7 Montreal, 1940–1969
      (pp. 169-216)

      It had been arranged that Arthur Lismer would start work at the Art Association of Montreal on the first of January 1941, but he arrived earlier than expected in November 1940. Understandably, he was anxious to settle into his new surroundings after the constant moves of the previous four years. With Esther he found a roomy apartment on the top floor at 2055 Fort Street, in a long narrow three-storey building with a large garden.¹ An extra room at the back was earmarked as a studio for Lismer, his first since leaving Bedford Park Avenue in Toronto. The garden on...

    • Epilogue
      (pp. 217-218)

      In 1968 the Lismers were still physically active and made their annual summer trek to British Columbia, and the following year, although Lismer had lapses of memory, he continued to turn up at the museum on most mornings. Early that year, however, he became unwell; he resisted going to hospital, but he was finally persuaded by Marjorie and his doctor that it was necessary. Hardening of the arteries and circulation problems caused the breakdown of his system, and he soon lost consciousness. He died peacefully on 23 March 1969.

      A service was held at the Unitarian Church on Sherbrook Street....

    • CHAPTER 8 Lismer’s Education in Art, 1890–1905
      (pp. 221-233)

      Arthur Lismer’s formal schooling began in 1890 when he was five years old and able to walk the mile and a half to the Sharrow Lane Board School.¹ From the 1860s to the last decade of the century, drawing was a compulsory subject for all children and considered an important part of their training. As a subject in the nineteenth-century school, it answered a social need, providing useful skills with the vocational goal of possible employment as a draftsman or industrial designer. The aim of the Drawing program had nothing to do with making art, but was designed to foster...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Ontario Teachers Summer Courses in Art, 1915–1916
      (pp. 234-236)

      In 1915 Lismer was appointed to his first teaching position in Toronto at the Teachers Summer Courses in Art. These were held at the Ontario College of Art, which at that time occupied the third floor of the Normal School building on Gould Street.¹ In 1904 a new art curriculum for Ontario schools had been introduced, replacing the one designed by Egerton Ryerson in the late nineteenth century. Roy Fleming, an art instructor in the Ottawa Normal School, was one of the principal authors of the new Ontario art manual. Although he emphasized that the program gave students a means...

    • CHAPTER 10 Lismer’s Early Philosophy of Education, 1916–1919
      (pp. 237-247)

      Prior to Lismer’s tenure as principal, and in spite of a distinguished past, the Victoria School of Art and Design in Halifax had become a backwater lacking in ambition or direction. The emphasis on fine arts fostered by the previous administration¹ had, in his opinion, focused on the “favoured few,”² “amateurs of greater or lesser merit,”³ and by doing so, the school was not fulfilling its social function.⁴ He was critical of the type of art education previously offered at the school, which he said was limited to “a little painting of portraits and still life, an attempt at academic...

    • CHAPTER 11 Lismer’s Development as an Educator, 1919–1927
      (pp. 248-278)

      Prior to and during the 1920s, Lismer’s work as an artist and educator was influenced as much by reading Arthur Wesley Dow as it was by his association with the Group of Seven. Dow was mainly responsible for his change in direction from mimetic and technical methods to finding personal solutions to the problems of design. Dow emphasized the inner creative power of the individual but limited total freedom of expression, and this viewpoint had some influence on Lismer’s new goals in teaching art.¹ It was a tremendous shift in outlook which, in combination with the influence of the Group...

    • CHAPTER 12 Museum Education, 1927–1938
      (pp. 279-304)

      Although Lismer had regrets about leaving his position at the Ontario College of Art, where he had been involved with teaching art as a profession, he was excited at the prospect of entering a new field. The Art Gallery of Toronto offered him the opportunity to become more socially active and to broaden his sphere of influence, and he was eager to begin his self-imposed mandate to educate the people of Toronto in art appreciation. At the college he had been concerned with training artists, and even his approach to teachers had been based on an earlier perception of professional...

    • CHAPTER 13 Educator in Transition, 1936–1940
      (pp. 305-320)

      Lismer arrived in South Africa in 1936 fresh from six years of discovery and experience in progressive methods at the Art Gallery of Toronto. On his previous trip he had noticed the rigidity of the South African system of education, which he hoped to challenge, but he had little idea how deeply entrenched it was in the roots of British and Afrikaner colonialism. In art education for white people he detected the long arm of the Department of Science and Art in South Kensington, which had dominated his own training fifty years earlier. Writing to A.Y. Jackson, he complained: “This...

    • CHAPTER 14 Lismer’s Mature Pedagogy in the Field of Art Education, 1940–1969
      (pp. 321-346)

      World war II presented special difficulties for all educators. Staff left to join the armed services, inflation was on the rise, budgets were cut, and buildings and facilities fell into disrepair. Nevertheless, it was during these challenging times that museum education gained increased respect in the United States and in Canada. In the United States this development was largely the result of Roosevelt’s far-sighted commitment to the arts during the Depression; in Canada Arthur Lismer’s work with teachers, children, and the public was principally responsible for raising national consciousness about the benefits of education in the arts. The creation of...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 347-350)

    Arthur Lismer was a twentieth-century man, an innovator, and in some ways an intellectual explorer open to new ideas and willing to experiment with them. His well-integrated philosophy of life and art was based on his belief in a universe ruled by a benevolent system. By observing the interrelated quality of nature, he subscribed to the view that the world owed its order and design to an overarching power and that human art was a reflection of this formative spirit. From this position he believed that everyone was potentially an artist, and he felt the need to inspire and reactivate...

  10. Appendix: A Chronology of Arthur Lismer’s Life
    (pp. 351-356)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 357-420)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 421-439)
  13. Credits for Drawings Used at Beginning and End of Chapters
    (pp. 441-442)
  14. Index
    (pp. 443-447)