Rant 15: Being critical in a regional art scene

Rant 15: Being critical in a regional art scene Toby Lloyd, Consumed, 2008. C-type photographic prints, mounted on dibond aluminium. 50cm x 50cm x 0.5cm

In regions where there are only a handful of opportunities it seems that in order to succeed you have to play the art world 'game'. As emerging artists it can often feel like it would be too risky to be wholly critical - but should you compromise your integrity as an artist by not saying how you feel, or risk the next opportunity by telling it how it really is?

Recently we have become increasingly aware of the problems of having a public opinion in the art world and its potential effect on our professional careers. Whether it’s about who represents Wales at the Venice Biennale, the newest public art piece or thoughts on an exhibition, often the expression of an opinion can have ramifications – but should it? 

Working within a smaller arts community such as Wales, you can risk the next opportunity to say or write what you really feel – even if it is in your best art-school-taught ‘Positive Criticism’. This can leave many things unsaid and the self-censorship can restrict the development of the larger creative community. The lack of critical discussion in our visual art world, either in the Welsh media or between artists creates a self-perpetuating cycle. This was touched upon recently at a seminar, facilitated by a vital new initiative for Wales, WARP (Welsh Artists Resource Program) and g39.

Are there ways we can change these existing structures? Shouldn’t we all be saying ‘actually I don’t agree with that’ in order to raise the level of contemporary practice in our area? We need to develop an ability to express an opinion independently of organised events and not feel like that we would be punished for having that view. Are we all, artists and art organisations alike, too sensitive? Is this an issue elsewhere? 

Contributed by Fern Thomas and Owen Griffiths

Fern Thomas and Owen Griffiths are both artists based in Swansea

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