Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Art That a Philistine Can Appreciate

By Cam Mather

I used to live in suburbia, in a bedroom community of Toronto called Burlington. I escaped as often as possible by going on camping and canoe trips. Sometimes I went with Michelle and my daughters, and at other times I headed off with my cousin Dave. Many of the beautiful places that I camped in or canoed had been the setting for artwork by “The Group of Seven” painters, and so one day we took our young daughters to The McMichael Gallery ( in Kleinburg, Ontario where there is an extensive collection of art from The Group of Seven. I wanted to see the paintings of the places I’d been. I wanted to see how these artists had interpreted the beautiful places that I had seen in person. It kind of made standing on Silver Peak in Killarney Provincial Park like being in Times Square. Seeing the landscapes that I had seen with my own eyes reproduced in paintings, made them seem famous.

Tom Thomson's "The Jack Pine"

I also went to the art gallery because one of my favorite bands, The Tragically Hip, has a song about one of the Group of Seven painters, Tom Thomson. Thomson died under mysterious circumstances on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. Dave and I had tried canoeing on Canoe Lake one late spring day, but we turned back when we suddenly found ourselves in a snowstorm and huge waves began pounding the canoe. So both the song and Tom Thomson’s artwork had great meaning for me.

I liked the gallery and I enjoyed viewing the artwork, probably because it was an interpretation of places I’d been. I don’t really get some art, don’t go to art galleries very often and frankly I think that much of it is over-priced and I would rather own precious metals. At one point Michelle, our girls and I were sitting outside the gallery and a very well-groomed, wealthy-looking woman walked by ranting to the man that she was with about “all of these philistines who don’t understand art… blah blah blah…” This wasn’t a phrase that I was very familiar with but I knew she was using it in a pejorative sense (meaning disparaging, belittling or derogatory.) She wasn’t necessarily talking about me, but I took it personally and began to call myself a philistine. When I finally took the time to look up the word I discovered that it means “lacking in appreciation for art or culture.” I would hope that the fact that I took the time and spent the money to go to an art gallery would suggest that I DO appreciate art and culture.

Recently Michelle introduced me to a band from Burlington by pointing out their video on YouTube.

I play guitar so I thought it was pretty cool that the whole band played the one guitar for this song. I’d never heard of the band or the song, but I really liked it.

Then they got on the Ellen show! Hey, get 30 million hits on a YouTube video and you’re on your way. Ellen liked the song and gave them all Fender guitars. Given that the median income in Burlington is probably about $150,000 a year, I don’t think it was due to a lack of guitars that inspired them to all share just the one. They probably all tossed their new guitars into the back of their BMWs and thanked her. OK, that was a low blow. They are very talented and I’m sure struggling.

Then Michelle found the original artist who wrote the song. His name is Gotye and his version of the song is here;

What an infectious song! I can’t get it out of my head. One night as I was driving I heard it on our uppity, snobby public broadcaster, the CBC. Then later that night I heard it on the Queen’s University Independent New Wave Alternative Rock Station. It’s a phenomenon!

It’s bizarre to think that in today’s world Gotye could write and perform this song and 50 million people can watch and listen to it for free on YouTube. He might never make a penny. What a strange world we live in.

So I went to iTunes to buy it. I got totally confused by the iTunes website. It seemed to offer dozens of variations of the song and I had a heckuva time finding the original version by Gotye that I wanted. Eventually I found it and bought it and feel better, knowing that in my small way I am showing my appreciation for this song.

Yes, I do appreciate art and culture! That woman at the art gallery will have to find another philistine to pick on!


1 Comment

  1. Antoinette

    I watched “Walk off the Earth” on the Ellen Show and when interviewed, they said there was only one guitar in the house at the time of the recording of their song for Youtube, so they got creative and just shared it. Good on them!
    In regards to the art gallery, I have never “understood” art. When our first born takes me to a gallery (art student, we think her work is perfect) she and I sit on the floor and just look at the pretty pictures. Who cares if we are philistines, we like to do this!!

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