The Proust Questionnaire: Freeman Patterson

Scroll down to view works by Freeman Patterson housed in the National Gallery of Canada's permanent collection.

The Proust Questionnaire started as a Late Victorian parlour game, aimed at revealing key aspects of a person’s character. While still in his teens, author Marcel Proust answered a similar series of questions with such enthusiasm that, when the manuscript containing his original answers was discovered in 1924, his name became permanently associated with this type of informal interview.


Photo © Leonard Segall

Freeman Patterson grew up in rural New Brunswick, attending one-room schoolhouses in childhood, followed by university studies at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. From 1962 to 1965, he was Dean of Religious Studies at Alberta College, Edmonton, and also began to work actively in photography.

Moving to Toronto in 1966, he worked for a year at Berkeley Studio—the United Church of Canada still photography and film production house—and, until the late 1970s, also completed numerous photographic assignments for the National Film Board of Canada.

He returned to New Brunswick in 1973 to pursue his personal artistic interests, and to establish a workshop of photography and visual design. He has taught classes there every year since and, commencing in 1984, in southern Africa as well, where he co-founded the Namaqualand Photographic Workshops. He has also given numerous workshops in the United States, Israel, New Zealand and Australia.

Patterson has written and illustrated four instructional books on photography and visual design, and has co-authored and illustrated two more. In 1996, he completed a CD-ROM entitled Creating Pictures: A Visual Design Workshop along with a major retrospective book of text and photographs, entitled ShadowLight: A Photographer's Life. This was followed by Odysseys: Meditations and Thoughts for a Life's Journey (1998) and The Garden (2003). In addition, he has written for various magazines, for CBC radio, and has been featured on CBC television's Man Alive, Sunday Arts And Entertainment, and Adrienne Clarkson Presents. In 1985, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada and in 2013 a Member of the Order of New Brunswick.

Freeman Patterson lives at Shamper’s Bluff, New Brunswick, near his childhood home. He is a former trustee of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and has donated the Shamper’s Bluff property to the Conservancy as an ecological reserve and educational area. 


Your earliest memory of art:

Our Christmas tree

When you knew this would become your vocation:

For certain, only after finishing my Master’s degree (theology) and teaching for two years (world religions, philosophy).

Your greatest influence:

My mother—an extremely hard-working farm wife who drew my attention to the curving lines of grasses bending in the wind, and to the sudden flash of light from the wings of birds when a flock suddenly changes direction.

Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):

Probably teaching at a university, which would have been a mistake.

Favourite pastime (other than art):

Reading (especially in-depth psychology, the importance of dreams, the implications of quantum physics for life and spirit, and novels) and gardening (especially with rhododendrons, azaleas, and native plants).

Favourite artist:

Jackson Pollock

Favourite writer: South African novelist André Brink and musician/composer: J.S. Bach

Favourite colour: Almost all desaturated secondary hues Flower: Rhododendrons and azaleas and bird: I’m in favour of all birds!

Favourite food: Vegetables and drink: A fine Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec

Favourite smell: Deciduous azaleas and sound: Pure silence (in all its complexity)

Favourite object:

Natural weaves or textures (of whatever material), and boulders

Favourite environment or landscape:

Rocky deserts (warm or cold) and tundra

Favourite weather or season:


Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:

The best place in the world to see well is wherever you are.

Pet peeve:

Sloppy linguistic and visual design! To put it another way, I believe good composition is essential to effective expression.

Best quality:

A sense of wonder

Worst flaw:

The tendency to bite off more than I can chew.

Your definition of happiness:

Being fully present wherever I am.

Ideal place to live:

Any place where the natural system is allowed to be whole.

A recurring dream:

Struggling through waist-high snow until masses of flowers begin to emerge from the drifts and carpet snowy hillsides.

One wish:

That my woodland garden of 700 rhododendrons and azaleas will come through the winter without much damage.

Aspirations before you die:

To spend significant time working with dreams, to become fully fluent in French, and to continue my regular long visits to South Africa and New Zealand.

To me art is: 

Telling our story symbolically.



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