July 24, 2001

Ron Shuebrook, President
Via Fax: 416-977-6006
Ontario College of Art & Design
100 McCaul Street
Toronto, Ontario
M5T 1W1

Re: Case of Animal Cruelty Against OCAD Student
Official Position Statement of OCAD?

Dear President Shuebrook:

While I have not formally studied art, I am a lover of art. One of my close friends is a painter and sculptor who works for the Cleveland Institute of Art in Ohio. I endeavor myself to create art in the folk art tradition, but also have a diverse artistic taste, which includes realism, surrealism, and cubism. I especially have a great fondness for the works of Edward Hopper; I like the way he represents the human form in his works—both in subject (context) and style. They are haunting images to me and represent almost a lonely part of humanity—an isolationist perspective—that we all seem to experience at one time or another while going about our daily lives.

I believe that most every artist and patron would agree that nature and animals are some of the most beautiful subjects of art. While I am aware that modern, experimental and/or performance artists often use live models "as art," I cannot believe that any artist, art patron, critic or instructor would condone the live skinning and gruesome, painful killing of a living being against his or her will for the purposes of art—even as an expression of outrage against or condemnation of an industry that routinely perpetrates similar inhumanities in the name of food production. As the old saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right.

Sadly, I have learned that a student of the Ontario College of Art & Design, Jesse Power has been arrested with another accomplice (while a third is being sought) and await trial for just such a thing—not only committing this heinous act and video taping it but attempting to excuse this action under the ideology that is art and self-expression and had proposed it as a possible exhibition in a gallery, which is supported by OCAD’s student activities fund. I understand from an article in The National Post that while the Gallery’s directors will not exhibit the piece, they also will not denounce those who committed this act or call into question whether or not such an atrocious act should be labeled “art.” Even if it could be considered art, that alone does not justify or excuse the action--they should be held accountable for their questionable judgment and the deliberate cruelty and suffering inflicted upon an unwilling participant.

I understand art is subjective and that a creation need not be beautiful or even liked to be a powerful and artistic statement. I also realize that suffering for art is a long accepted cliché, however, I do not believe this to mean art should be a cause of suffering nor should it be void of compassion turning a deaf ear to the cries of non-consensual parties suffering for art’s sake. Therefore, I beseech you to speak out. To make an equally powerful statement on behalf of the college and the art community that this type of behavior under the guise of artistic freedom is inexcusable—that art, while useful to provoke discussion and reveal injustices often hidden, should cross the line from evocativeness into cruelness. That murder is not an acceptable medium for the artist, and that enlightenment and thoughtfulness should also be a goal in free expression.

I thank you kindly for taking the time to read my letter.

Leigh-Anne Dennison

OCAD's Prompt Response - Ontario College of Art & Design Does Not Condone Act of Cruelty

My Follow-up Response/Email:

Dear Ms. Matthews:

Thank you for your timely response. I was quite glad and relieved to receive your email with the confirmation that OCAD does not condone such acts of cruelty even if the perpetrator(s) claim them to be artistically inspired and motivated.

You may rest assured that I will share your email message with others and post it on my website prominently so visitors to the site and follows of this sad case know that OCAD is not connected with nor approves of this student's (and his friends) actions in this alleged "creation" for the sake of art.

I would like to note that while there are few incidents of animal cruelty attributed to artistic license, freedom or expression (of which I am aware, at least), animal abuse, neglect and cruelty are a problem. Incidents are not nearly so isolated or as "few and far between" as we as a civilized society would like to believe. Further, due to the seriously of these abuses, reputable newspapers, television and online news sources are now reporting more of the incidents which are occuring in the States, in Canada and in other countries abroad.

Scholars have long hypothesized and studies proven the connection between the abuse of animals by individuals and violence and abuse against fellow human beings; perpetrators of one type of abuse tend to graduate and gravitate to the other later in life. Besides protecting animals which can neither understand nor adequately defend themselves in a legal sense, I (and others who share my philosophies and beliefs) seek to provide individuals who have abused animals with psychologically evaluations and treatment, if necessary, to prevent possible future violence and abuse of both animals and people.

Again, I thank you sincerely for your time and attention as well as your prompt response to my inquiry about OCAD's position on this case.

Leigh-Anne Dennison