(June 5, 1997, Gazette)
I would like to thank your college for the honor it has conferred upon me. I find it extremely telling that I am receiving this doctorate on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of John Cabot's voyage.
For like Cabot, the artist is an explorer, a discoverer, an innovator. Like him, the artist is a dreamer, a dreamer of impossible dreams, a dreamer of things that are still to come. Yet John Cabot fulfilled his dream, he convinced his financiers, he organized his crew, he crossed the ocean, he sailed against fierce winds and succeeded in reaching the shores of Newfoundland. He achieved his dream because he was an artist, and artists are those who carry out their dreams so they can share them with society. Dear students, you have chosen the arts because you are following a dream. I know that you have not chosen the arts to escape reality -- for the arts are not a way of evading real life. On the contrary, the arts are a voyage into the most secret, mysterious heart of reality. The arts are a flight into that place where the past, which nourishes reality, meets the future, where reality is transformed through the forces of creativity. The artist is a voyager who explores the lives of humans as well as of animals and objects. The artist seeks to reveal the secrets of the unknown and the familiar, of the subconscious and conscious worlds. The artist imitates nature which seeks constantly to renew itself in the wealth and variety of its forms and colors. While a modern manager, enamored of downsizing and streamlining, would be perfectly happy with three species of birds (small, medium and large), and with three colors (white, black and grey), nature has produced and continues to produce hundreds and thousands of species. The artist is never satisfied -- at the end of his adventure, he still wants to add to the dizzying variety of what has already been expressed, and what is part and parcel of our human heritage.
Because he is a dreamer, the artist is also a person who has a very strong sense of reality. John Cabot was able to collect the material means to organize his expedition. Artists must learn to acquire the material conditions that will allow them to make tangible their visions. This is one of the most difficult challenges they face.
To say this is not an attempt to downplay the role of the artist -- it is merely being honest. In the contemporary world, people are subjected to a constant barrage of distraction: sports, politics, gurus and soothsayers of every stripe imaginable...and the artist, whether he wants to or not, has to compete with all of this noisy chatter. The artist must make himself heard within this universal cacophony -- he has to make himself heard, for his voice is essential.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the work of the artist is perhaps even more important than elsewhere, and I congratulate this college for the work it has done for the arts.
Every time that I travel here, people tell me how concerned they are for the culture of your province. They give me detailed explanations of how life has changed, and how they fear that your profound and beautiful cultural tradition may be lost. They also voice their fears that your cultural tradition could be irrevocably damaged, or discarded, or done away with entirely by the new values of a changing economy.
Your identity, the conservation of your identity, its affirmation, its metamorphosis and its representation: these are honorable goals for the artists of this province.
Dear students, you are fortunate to have grown up surrounded by a popular culture that is deeply rooted in your society, that is enduring and strong, born of the life and work experience of your fathers and mothers. This is a great treasure indeed. This is the material with which you will build your dreams. You will celebrate this culture even as you rebel against it -- for it is normal for young people to reject the past and look to the future -- you will deconstruct it, as the modernists would say, you will transcend it -- and in the end, you will add your own mark to it. You are the inheritors of a uniquely authentic culture, and this is your strength. When you look out upon the world from the vantage point of your island, never forget that you are seeing it from a perspective that is your own, and no one else's. This originality that is inherent in your gaze, your intelligence and your sensibility will be the guarantee of your success.
My dear friends, you began the studies that you have now completed because you had a dream. Don't stop dreaming. Societies change and will continue to change, they undergo periods of difficulty and they wonder what the future holds -- these societies need dreamers. Our societies need dreams, for they cannot evolve without a vision. If nobody had ever dreamt of flying like a bird, we would never have invented airplanes. If nobody had ever dreamt of swimming like the fish in the sea, Cabot would never have come -- he would never have had a ship to man and would never have come to Newfoundland, which would never have existed. Dreamers are the architects of the future. Our changing society needs them, and they need you. In order to recognize themselves, societies need the image in the mirror that is given them in the dreams of artists.
Dear students, you have a role to play. Your undertakings in the arts will never be easy, but I can ensure you that there is no role that is finer, or more rewarding, or more important. Enter into your new lives with passion and conviction -- your adventure will be every bit as exciting and important as was John Cabot's, for like him, you will be the authors of the future.