“Perfectly ordered disorder designed with a helter-skelter magnificence.”
That is how Emily Carr lived her life. From her first clear memory to her last moments she embraced her life to the fullest and lived regardless of the social norms of the time. She exemplified what it means to be a Canadian in today’s terms in stark contrast with what was expected of her in the Early 20th century. Her Autobiography Growing Pains describes her life in the vivid detail only found in the mind of a true artist, and every page of her story exudes a strong sense of self and a passion for who she wanted to be.
Born in Victoria in 1871, Emily Carr grew up in an orthodox, traditionally British household alongside 8 siblings. Her early life consisted of being overlooked and then scolded when she was noticed. After the death of both of her parents, Carr fell into an even stricter regime run by her eldest sister. However, after this Carr became even more insistent on following her passion by attending the San Francisco Art institute. Emily Carr’s strength of willpower and ability to stay resilient when not in a position of power displays the Canadian trait of hard work, which has always been part of the collective Canadian culture.
After the San Francisco Art institute, Emily Carr spent decades travelling to learn more about her craft. Studying at both the Westminster School of Art in England and the Académie Colarossi in France. Yet no matter where she went in her journey, Carr was made to feel ashamed of who she was.
For being a woman
For refusing to marry.
For choosing to be an artist.
And surprisingly often, for being Canadian.
However, Carr never let this stand in her way. Growing Pains tells of many instances where Carr stood up to those who put her down and dismissed their criticisms, allowing them to enter the narrative of her life without changing it’s trajectory. Such as a time where a mentor in London told her that being there would solve the “issue” of her Canadian background, to which Carr said simply “I am Canadian, I am not English, I do not want Canada polished out of me.” Her entire life was spent celebrating where she came from because she was proud.
Emily Carr is most known today for her writing and her works of art depicting Haida Gwaii and Canada’s Pacific Northwest region. By reading her autobiography, you are able to watch her come to the idea of painting the beauty and culture that she experienced there. Despite that she would be the first to do so. Growing Pains follows Carr through countless journeys surrounding the indigenous peoples of the region, and the thought process that led to her finding her true passion. Her love for Canada’s wilderness is represented in her artwork which would later become some of the best known across Canada.
Emily Carr’s Growing Pains tells the story of the life of a unique and brilliant woman who’s art changed how people viewed the culture of western Canada, but above all that, it is the inspirational memoir of someone who faced every opposition that was placed in her way with new hope and positivity, for she was determined to stay true to herself. This willingness to be proud of who you are is a defining aspect of Canadian identity which proves that Emily Carr lived by the values of today while facing those of the past.
This is why we should admire and emulate Emily Carr. Because it is always difficult to be the first brushstroke on a blank canvas, but sometimes, that becomes a masterpiece.