Art and its Cities: Montreal

Art intrigues me. I will never be one of those people who look at a painting and attempt to decipher it. I’m interested in art because of its power to transmit a message almost immediately.  Two questions came to mind when I was thinking about this piece. Why create art and why is Montreal an inspiring city for artists? The first question bothers me deeply. I refuse to believe that people create art just because they love it. There must be more to it. The second one is simply because I am a Montrealer and I love the uniqueness of this city. I say this while sipping on a cortado in a douchey hipster café.

I know I know…. most definitions of art, though not meant to be, are pretentious and eye roll inducing.  Most of them will include a fancy reference to the soul or psyche. Personally, I think the people who create art are just people who are so dissatisfied with something that they get this massive urge for self-expression.  At the core artists understand that life is a tragedy, and this is where the creativity comes from. After your mundane tasks are done and you start to look inward, you will find your inner life. If there is nothing there, you find yourself in a dark place and dealing with that reality is hard. Going there takes a lot of bravery. I believe the artist is conscious of this painful inward journey and from this dissatisfaction or the understanding of it comes the artistic creativity. A creativity that many times cannot be expressed in words.

What is fascinating about Montréal is how there is an ingrained culture and taste for art. Culturally we were heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. Religion uses art to convey messages about divinity and its teachings.  Every church is plastered with art. Even ancient civilizations plastered their buildings with many types of drawings. The role of art in religion is as instrumental as the priests themselves. The church’s prominence is gone but its influences remain.

Modern day Montreal is an intersection of this classical art that takes shape in the city’s architecture and a new wave of art that comes from the city’s hip/bohemian flamboyance. Call me a romantic but my heart melts when I walk past a church and the next street has graffiti that captivates my imagination.  Montreal’s personality is vividly characterized by the scrappiness of its 90s architecture and whirling graffiti juxtaposed with its abundance of stony churches. It is one of the most striking things about it.

Finally, I think what binds this together is our sense of uniqueness. Look at Montréal and you will not find this in any other city in North America.  There are many things that, historically, have defined Montreal.   French influence coupled with Catholicism played a big role in setting the roots in the city. Then add the whole separatist movement that stems from feeling of being isolated from the rest of Canada and its whole political drama.  Finally, add the fact that Montreal is has the largest contingent of English speakers in Quebec and it’s easy to see why we feel different. 

Maybe the conclusion of all this is...vive la difference! (Especially when it comes to art).

Marcelo Taboada is a writer based in Montreal

cover photo by Mikael Cho on Unsplash