Enriching the Arts

Modernism and the Early Alberta Society of Artists

Artistic differences caused major rift in early organization


A.C Leighton, painting in the mountains

A.C Leighton, painting in the mountains

Everyone has a different perspective on what makes good art, and the individuals that helped create the Alberta Society of Artists in the 1930s were no different in that respect. These different perspectives set up a conflict that divided the early Society into two factions with very different viewpoints.

A.C. Leighton played a pivotal role in generating enthusiasm for the Alberta Society of Artists, and provided the organizational skills to form the Society. Trained in the British tradition of technical excellence, he disapproved of any artwork deviating from the norm.

In a province considered a wasteland for the fine arts and culture, Leighton was determined to establish an artistic society that adhered to this technical tradition. His vision contained no room for modernism.

Modernism in the 1930s

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

Modernism is a term that encompasses styles of literature, theatre and music as well as visual art. In the visual arts it encourages freedom of

expression and experimentation, rejecting the restrictions of realism by favouring colour and shape over perspective and scale.

Beginning in the 1870s, Modernism really took off as a movement at the start of the 20th century. Artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse caused a stir with their non-traditional artwork, challenging dominant methods of representation and encouraging new forms of structure, where the subject of the artwork receives multiple representations.

 By the 1930s, Modernism had established itself as a legitimate art form. Many artists in the movement became prominent in society, and gained widespread recognition and approval of their works.

The Alberta Society of Artists Today

Local artist Harry Hunt also played a role in establishing the Alberta Society of Artists in the province, and had a favourable outlook towards modernism and experimentation in the art world. His approach to creating art actually resulted in his expulsion from the Calgary Sketch Club, along with several other members of the Alberta Society of Artists that practised modernism.

The two factions clashed several times over their different viewpoints during the beginning years of the Alberta Society of Artists. A notable incident involved the first exhibition displayed by the Alberta Society of Artists, where Leighton sat on the jury. Almost none of the artwork from Hunt’s group made it into the exhibit.

Eventually the two factions set aside their differences to work together to promote the creation of art and exhibits throughout the province. Today the Alberta Society of Artists accepts all types of artwork in its mission to represent and promote artistic expression in the province.

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