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The Visual Arts in Canada: A Synthesis and Critical Analysis of Recent Research

November 26, 201426 November 2014

Visual arts and museums

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Commissioned by the Visual Arts Alliance with a financial contribution from the Canada Council for the Arts, this literature review attempts to provide a synthesis of existing research in the visual arts in Canada and to identify gaps in this research. The report notes that the goal was not to outline the state of the visual arts sector in Canada but rather the state of research into the visual arts in the country.

The report acknowledges the difficulty in defining and circumscribing the visual arts: “The very concept of the visual arts is … continually changing, and presently there is disagreement as to what constitutes the field.” Despite this challenge, the report offers a “working definition” of the visual arts as “a sector of professional practices intended to facilitate the production of works of visual art”.

The report identifies five key mechanisms involved in the visual arts sector and examines existing research in each area:

  • “The school as a mechanism of professional training and visual arts education”.
  • Public funding agencies that provide “grants to individual artists and arts organizations”.
  • “Museums as mechanisms for collecting and exhibiting Canadian works of art.”
  • “The art market as a mechanism for selling artworks.”
  • “Professional groups as mechanisms for bringing together sector stakeholders.”

Overall, the report found there to be a “lack of studies designed to provide an overall analysis of the visual arts sector in Canada”. Research that does exist tends to be “episodic, fragmentary and without an overall trajectory”. Within each of the five key mechanisms, there are many research gaps.

To help close some of the gaps, the report recommends that there be:

  • “More effective, nationwide professional training and arts education data gathering”.
  • “The development of a body of independent expertise on the state of the school system”, including masters’ programs in the visual arts as well as analyses of the time and content of visual arts programs from elementary school through graduate-level university education.
  • “An inventory of professional training opportunities” that are offered outside of the formal school system.

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