A­­n Ode­ to les Artistes

Celebrating International Artist Day

Graphic Ashley Opheim
Graphic Ashley Opheim

What would a world without art be like?

Whether we appreciate it or not, art is all around us. It is challenging our world, our identity and our consciousness—and just making things more beautiful.

On Oct. 25, International Artist Day is a chance to celebrate all the creators out there who care about our consciousness, our reasoning and who offer us ways to interpret the world and all of its strange and wonderful circumstances.

The creation and preservation of art have been essential to the ways in which we understand the past. Art characterizes a culture and allows us into the minds and imaginations of individuals. In its historical context, art paints a vibrant image that historical texts can’t.

Artists have, and always will, document the present times for future generations to pick at and attempt to understand.
Now, more than ever, art is important. Living requires a consciousness that has been undermined by myriad things like television dramas, gossip magazines and corporatized culture. On the other hand, successful art asks us to tune in, concentrate, be critical and ask questions. It asks us to participate with it.

There are 3,600 practising artists at Concordia, not to mention the creative-minded students who are in other programs. In addition, an evident glut of Montrealers work jobs they hate just to pay the bills and feed their artistic urges to create, break, transform or deform the world around us.

Last week, a makeshift gallery space was set up in the EV building’s staircase between the fifth and eighth floors. There were inspirational signs posted around the elevators that urged students to take the stairs, save energy and “get outside the box.” As I was weaving down the flights of stairs, I found myself transformed by what these students had done.

It wasn’t necessarily about the artwork as much as it was about the gesture.

Think about the guy making hearts in our coffee at Myriade; the artistic hand that transforms milk and espresso into a work of art. How it feels to take the first sip of that latte and have that heart break and disperse. Does that move you? Do you feel a bit sad that you just did that? Is that art? It’s up to you. Art does not tell you what to think of it. It allows you to come to that realization on your own.

Art is a universal language—one that trumps linguistic or cultural barriers. Art just is. It does not judge you or tell you what to do. There are no rules, no laws. It is a pivotal force in a world that is increasingly divided, a world that has millions of perspectives and things to disagree upon.

I could go on and on about the benefits that our world reaps from art. How a certain e. e. cummings poem entitled “if feeling is first” caused a love of words that sprouted into a degree in creative writing, or how a documentary on the Alberta tar sands entitled H2Oil, recently screened at Cinema Politica, had me terrified about the future of Canada. The film moved me in ways that made me question how I am living. How we, as a country, are living.

Simple things. Profound things. Yes, art in its many and endless forms has transformed all of us, grown with us, and made us more informed people.

Contemporary technologies have given artists an endless source of information and tools to work with. We are living in a fast-paced world right now, a world that is in constant transition and transformation. This has an affect on us, but it is artists who step back and try to understand this change, who seek to actualize it, explore it, make it tangible.

Artists ask good questions. Is this piece complete? What is it missing? How can I make it better and more profound? What don’t I like about it? What makes it good? These are questions we should all be asking. Not only of art but also of our communities, our cities and our governments.

So, thank you artists. Thank you for creating and breaking your brains to move and affect us all. Thank you for pushing our cultural consciousness, for documenting our times, for taking risks and for doing things not for fame or fortune, but for a cultural capital that we can all share.


“Art is a forum for communication and expressing ideas. It can influence emotions, provoke thought, reflect truth and tell stories about the time and place in which they were created. Artists help to shape and define the identity of their society, as well as reflect the time and place they come from.” —Mark James, Independent Student

“In the fifties, a can of soup was seen as beneficial in fighting a cold. In the sixties, Andy Warhol saw Campbell’s soup cans as worthy of being painted. In 2010, people are seeing mini-artworks in canned good aisles. In conclusion, ‘art is what you can get away with.’” —Sofia Gay, Journalism

“Artists and musicians are what make this city. The harsh winters would be enough to deter most from Montreal if it weren’t for the warmth of the city’s creative climate, which has cultivated some of the world’s finest music and art of every thinkable variety. Artists and musicians are what keep this city alive.” —Natasha Young, English Literature

“Artists are interpreters of the heart.” —Andrea Zoellner, Journalism

“We live in a city of integrated art—murals decorating building walls, live music from the bars, expressive culture at every turn. Art is tangible culture that will always be important, as long as we possess the freedom to create it.” —Colin Harris, Journalism

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 10, published October 19, 2010.