Cutting edgers


Dear Artist,

In a roaring heat-wave, I’m walking down Queen St. in Toronto, Canada. It’s a run down, low-rent area full of decaying storefronts, pizza joints, print shops, art stores, alfalfa bars. Every few doors there’s an art gallery. “Alternate,” artist-run, as well as pricey satellites from up-town. I’m people-watching. The smart and the not-so-smart. Panhandlers. Street meat. Smoothies. A woman in low-rider shorts, bare midriff, lip and brow rings, pedals slowly by. She’s balancing a huge virgin canvas as she rides. A sleepy guy in torn pajamas is trying to get one more canvas into the trunk of his Volvo.


“Accumulus” (detail)
approx 16 x 20 x 27 feet
5,000 plastic trash can liners (thrown out each day in the building)
2010 installation by Aurora Robson

Recent worldwide studies undertaken by Co-Sight, a Paris-based media company, have uncovered some demographics that affect artists and the future of art. The study looked at what they called “cutting edgers” — the 15 percent of the population who are known as early adopters of technology, aesthetics, food, drink, personal care, health, etc. Statistically these folks are less likely to vote, go to church, join a club, or have kids. But they are a focused bunch, a bit self-indulgent, even hedonistic. They don’t care for hierarchies, but they love to network. Above all they like things that stimulate, alter and extend their intellects and senses.


6.5 x 5.5 x 5 feet, plastic debris, rivets, tinted polycrylic, + mica powder
2014 sculpture by Aurora Robson

Looking into the future is a risky business. Only last year I was privately predicting the demise of shopping. “Shopping is a religion that has run its course,” I was saying to my closest friends. Right now I’m watching a well-dressed woman carrying a loose penile painting out of a gallery. “Thanks,” she shouts over her shoulder. The cool proprietor gently closes the white door of his refrigerated gallery.

What’s happening? Because of the potential independence, self-realization and non-hierarchical nature of the artist’s life, millions now see art as a desirable vocation. Furthermore, art connoisseurship has democratized. Art collecting these days often aligns with personal passions. (Have you been in a motor-sport gallery lately?) With the cutting edgers, decoration, life enhancement and individual aggrandizement rule the roost. Every quirky, kinky, funky and kitschy indulgence is honoured. Oh, and retro has re-returned. It’s life on the cutting edge.


30 x 30 x 45 feet, plastic debris, tinted polycrylic, hardware, LEDs, orange plastic debris: taken from decommissioned highway safety drums
2017 installation by Aurora Robson

Best regards,


PS: “And this too will change.” (Arabian saying)

Esoterica: “Alternate,” is abuzz in our cities. Media loves junk chic. Detritus art prevails as the cutting edgers reinforce the anti-establishment. Individualism prevails as art schools and universities continue to launch the artistically literate who then feed the system.

This letter was originally published as “Cutting edgers” on June 27, 2003.


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“An artist is an explorer. He has to begin by self-discovery and by observation of his own procedure. After that he must not feel under any constraint.” (Henri Matisse)



  1. Accumulus is brilliant but the message has not been acted upon. We multiply our sins against our Earth daily as does our own government! What do we learn? It is overwhelming! The well dressed woman on Queen Street is everywhere and sadly she pays the Bread and Butter of poor artists. She will continue to use plastic garbage bags and buy gloves made out of cats from China and will ride chained elephants in Chang Mai without guilt. An irony of some magnitude! And artists will continue to struggle, some with an environmental conscience, too many without any concern but how to buy more paint.

    • at least plastic will never biodegrade, so if an artist uses this medium they won’t have to worry about conservation . Just a thought.

  2. On May 27 in New Westminster I did the Heritage Home Tour and was delighted to come across a Robert Genn original in one of the homes — the first original I’d ever seen of his and on the 4th anniversary of his passing.
    Later in the day, I stopped in at the Queen’s Park Art Gallery where the work on display was that of the Queen’s Park Pre-school students. Part of their exhibit was a protest against the use of plastic straws: the 3 and 4 year olds made sculptures that bound together plastic straws with twigs, tiny pine cones and other treasures from nature. Little “cutting edgers” :)

  3. Steve Clement on

    When I was a child (ancient…born in 1950), all I ever wanted to be was a painter and sculptor. It seemed like a hopeless dream. During all my early years, art was nothing I felt I could connect with. One common topic in periodicals during those long years was, “Is painting dead?” The prognosticators assured us that it was, and the artistic powers chimed in to concur. That was almost 60 years ago. Guess what? People still paint, and paintings still sell. For how long with they continue to sell? No idea. Are we nearing the end of any meaningful representational art? Possibly, but I doubt it. One thing has not changed. The avant-garde show up in every generation, concerned far more with being novel than with being good at their craft. I am not the least concerned with being a modern-day Greek oracle, but rather with producing beauty that rings true in my heart and in the hearts of those who collect my paintings and sculptures. This is one of many reasons I so appreciate this fine work of Robert and Sara in producing this column. If there is anything Robert has championed over the years, it is excelling at your craft, not constantly seeking the new. Thank you, Robert and Sara.

  4. John Francis on

    The Robert Genn folder on my PC has well over 500 letters saved. Ok, I admit that I haven’t kept every single one I’ve received since I first began my subscription which was late November 2K4. That’s about 18 months after today’s letter was actually written, which accounts for why I hadn’t seen it before now. I also must admit that I haven’t read the whole letter yet. I will probably do so tomorrow. Perhaps before I go for my daily walk. Along Queen Street in Toronto which is about five minutes from where I live. I’ve lived in this part of Toronto for roughly three decades. My first exhibit in 2K3 was in a modest bistro with a cosy patio on Queen Street. I sold seven works in the first week. Abstract Expressionism. The section of Queen Street West that Robert describes is at the western end of ‘Queen West’. If you take the Queen streetcar from that neighbourhood heading East, it will take you right through the downtown core and if the traffic is reasonable it will take about 30 minutes to Yonge Street where the streetcar continues along Queen Street East for several miles. The section of ‘Queen Street’ that Robert describes in the first paragraph is one of the few parts of downtown Toronto that has not fallen prey to developers, condos and the destruction of historic buildings. The neighbourhood he describes is known as Parkdale. I don’t go there often. Yes, it is rundown and there are many galleries along that strip. For Toronto, real estate values are quite reasonable. Alongside this neighbourhood there is Bellwoods Park. It’s huge and has tennis courts which are free to the public. Of course, I’m responding to Robert’s description of ‘Queen Street’ because it really gives one the wrong impression.

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