Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Artists: Ordinary or Extraordinary?

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I posted a video sent to me that was on YouTube which takes a swipe at Harper's comments that ordinary people were uninterested in art and implying that ordinary people weren't artists. Margaret Atwood has entered into the foray that has been spawned since, writing a column in the Globe and Mail and appearing live on on Tuesday October 6th. In both, she reiterates arguments about the economic impact of the arts in Canada (some 46 billion in 2007), the number of Canadians it employs (over 1 million). In her essay piece, she talks about creativity as integral to the Canadian identity. (

Atwood also argues the arts are essential to being human - that to create, express, perform, dance, sing, draw - are intrinsic to all cultures. Yet, she also argued, that artists were risk-takers and that artists embrace and enjoy their freedom of expression as well as dissent. As Atwood writes,

"Every budding dictatorship begins by muzzling the artists, because they're a mouthy lot and they don't line up and salute very easily. Of course, you can always get some tame artists to design the uniforms and flags and the documentary about you, and so forth - the only kind of art you might need - but individual voices must be silenced, because there shall be only One Voice: Our Master's Voice. Maybe that's why Mr. Harper began by shutting down funding for our artists abroad. He didn't like the competition for media space."

The description of artists' reluctance to conform to a dominant/authoritarian ideology and as risk-takers made me wonder whether the old motif of the Artist as Hero still has a role to play (at a time which many others have argued that art and artists have been folded into a consumerist, commmercially-driven dominant culture). Are artists our voices of freedom? Or, do they embrace human freedom more than others, taking a risk (and obviously, this risk is heightened in countries where freedom of speech and expression is curtailed or not recognized) in precisely the activities that Atwood describe as essential to being human - creating, performing, singing, dancing, etc? And, does this make them extraordinary?

Maybe the division is: who is willing to stand up and be counted and who is willing to "line up and salute," as Atwood put it, to the powerful doctrines of the day? Artists are ordinary people, but perhaps their willingness to take on Conservative policies and cuts and make it into an election issue is to become politically engaged in the public eye, which given our ever-falling vote turnout, is extraordinary in and of itself?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Nitin Deckha

Nitin Deckha is the author of Shopping for Sabzi (TSAR Publications, 2008) and a contributor to Once Upon a Time in Bollywood (TSAR Publications, 2007) and several other publications.

Go to Nitin Deckha ’s Author Page