I’ve had a number of interesting discussions recently about Welsh art in the context of how it’s perceived by, and in relation to, England. One of the points made was that there are so many artists (across all disciplines) who are well respected in Wales yet nobody has heard of, or is interested in, them outside of Wales. I’ve previously put this down to English myopia or arrogance, especially from London (the same has been said for Cardiff attitudes to north Wales).
In one of the conversations a point was raised I hadn’t considered before – that chronology plays a large part. Art is progressive, moving forward, and chronologically speaking Wales is seen as ‘in the past’ – nobody wants to feel backward-looking.
Is this right? I keep mulling this over – is that how Welsh art is viewed? I think of Cate Le Bon, Meirion Ginsberg, Gwenno, Zoë Skoulding or The Super Furry Animals and can’t believe that’s how we’re seen. Or perhaps these artists are considered the exception to the rule?
I do believe an ‘invisible barrier’ exists between Welsh artists and England. There is a view that we have to leave north Wales for Cardiff, then Cardiff for London if we want to ‘make it’. I’ve also been told, from an outsider’s perspective, that Wales spends too much time arguing with itself both culturally and artistically so people shut off from us.
Is this true?
When I’ve visited London and Manchester recently I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of creative people, by how many ridiculously talented writers there are in such a small space. It’s had me reflecting on how they would even find time to see what’s happening in Wales, especially if we are viewed as ‘chronologically challenged’.
It’s also got me realising just how much I value the audiences we have in north Wales – it takes a lot of commitment to see a gig in such a geographically and culturally fragmented area, and audiences are so very much appreciated for that reason (as is everyone who organises events, or who travels miles to perform/read/exhibit).
We have a beautifully supportive and unique arts scene in Y Gogs and I love being a small part of that. Yes we all have to put in a lot of extra effort to perform or see an event, but that’s often rewarded with an exclusive performance or gathering. Perhaps this is what is leading artists here to the understanding that we are also the potential audience for someone else.
Anybody who tells you that ‘in order to be a relevant artist these days you need to forget everything else and focus solely on your art’ is talking shit. We are awash with creativity, the bigger cities are drowning in it and yet they still struggle to get audiences. Imagine if all of those artists undertake to be the audience for other artists, rather than just doing ‘their slot’ then disappearing to the pub? Imagine everybody putting into the arts scene everything they expect back out of it in terms of attending events and buying books/albums/art. We’d all be doing pretty well for ourselves.
Visiting cities and meeting their artists is also helping me better understand the importance of nurturing the arts and audiences on our own doorstep. I am appreciating more and more the value of our multifaceted, divergent and wonderfully disparate arts scene (that has existed in north Wales for as long as people have lived here) and am beginning to fully understand how important it is to feed into that instead of chasing somebody else’s dream.