A discussion of the ideological and cultural confrontations in the forum of, and the potential arising from: YSBRYDOLIAETH – R.S. THOMAS – INSPIRATION, an Exhibition of Poems by R.S.Thomas, with Paintings by Nineteen Welsh Artists, interviews with seven of the artists and and an interview with R.S.Thomas himself
This study is initially concerned with the spatial aspects of the exhibition space as a forum for the display, communication, and identification of art-forms. The art form’s capacity as constructed and socially delineated ties in with my examination of the exhibition ‘environment’ itself as an artificial meeting-point in general, and the traditions which make this coincidence possible..
Although the subject of the work is the marginalisation of a culture, this culturally specific ‘manufactured space’ can act as a ‘hypertext’ for universal models of cultural, linguistic, perceptual, historical, and literary identity (and, of course, location). During the course of the work, a dialectic between the concepts of produced and circumstantial ‘place’ is hoped to be fostered effectively, and shown to pertain to all aspects of the above, both in a visual, and literary context. Illustrations of these concerns will be linked to the dominant/marginal modes within a generally post-imperial framework.
In the context of the exhibition, I hope to bring to issue the objectivity of the phenomenon of ‘place’, both as a ‘found’ and as a ‘constructed’ entity. I intend to show how this objectivity is intertwined with the conscious objectification of language in R.S. Thomas’s poetry. Thus, the barrier of a ‘lesser-spoken’ European language which exists between the poet and the painters (the majority of them) is seen as fundamental to the understanding of the discussion, as indeed are the questions of ‘indigenous culture’ and ‘authentic art’. The comparison between translation from one culture to another, and transposition from one artistic medium to another is brought to issue, but the intention is not to reconcile the two, rather to create a new space for speculation and und99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999ipt is Peter Lord, who contributed energy and encouragement at an early stage, as did Dylan Iorwerth, editor of Golwg.
Belinda Humfrey gave me the opportunity to attend the M.A. course, and supervised this study with words of wisdom, and the European Social Fund which provided sponsorship. Ann Price-Owen also made initial suggestions for the structure of the research, but it was the help and support of the Davies family in Cardiff whose passionate selfhood introduced me to a world which I might never have known. Last, but by no means least, I return to a discussion in a certain tea shop in Aberystwyth, and to the initial suggestion for the subject which came from Catrin Meirion.
Table of Contents
Preface page vi
List of All Poems, Titles of All Paintings
(including page references) page x
Other Poems of Interest/Relevance page xii
Introduction page 1
The Exhibition Layout page 6
R.S. Thomas, and the Modern Poetic Vision
i) page 14
ii) page 15
iii) page 17
iv) page 19
Cultural Incrimination/Caught in ‘the Act’ page 21
The Moment of Mysticism;
the Post-Modern Denied and Enforced page 24
From Language to Culture:
The State of the Art, and The Practicalities page 26
Art and Literature Together
i) Tradition page 31
ii) The Modern Question page 34
The Poems and their Paintings
R.S.Thomas’s Poetry, and the ‘watching figure’ page 36
Time and Place; The Here and Now page 40
Proposals for the Improvement of the Plas Glyn-y-Weddw
Exhibition/An Alternative Way of Looking page 46
To Conclude page 48
The original idea for this research came from an article that was brought to my attention in a Summer issue of Golwg, the Welsh-language ‘magazine’. It was about the ailing financial state of Plas Glyn-y-Weddw, an independent gallery in Llanbedrog on Pen Llyn (Llyn Peninsula, N. Wales). The article covered the details both of the history of the gallery – the bank calling in the receivers and so on – and the current exhibition. It caught my attention, as I had for a long time been looking for a subject-matter which would combine my interests in firstly visual/literary theory, secondly twentieth-century literature, thirdly landscape politics, fourthly the cultural aspect of the Welsh Nation, and fifthly in exhibition environments. I wanted to produce something which would hold currency both inside and outside academia, as well as being significantly ‘contemporary’ to be dynamic. Previous research had led me to accounts either of ‘Tours in Wales’ whose specifically literary (as opposed to historical) merits are unrecognised, volumes by writers such as R.S.Thomas, but which lacked a ‘visual’ element, or finally illustrations of ‘tours’ into fantastical realms which had nothing to do with the ‘cultural studies’ approach which I enjoy.
Therefore, it was with some pleasure that I embarked upon the exploration into this exhibition, which seemed to act as a ‘hypertext’ for so many other fields of interest. There was this particular group of painters, their views on the arts in Wales, their attitudes towards R.S.Thomas’s poetry, their conception of ‘Ysbrydoliaeth’, or ‘Inspiration’, and their idiosyncrasies of expression, amongst the areas to explore. R.S.Thomas very kindly spared me a good hour from his amazingly busy schedule at the end of my research. His concept of ‘Ysbrydoliaeth’ confirmed the general structure of my argument. Thomas sees the correspondence of poetry with music or painting as ‘a kind of translation’. In the introduction to The New Poetry, A. Alvarez states that ‘The great moderns experimented not just to make it new formally, but to open poetry up to new areas of experience’. True enough to form, ‘making it new’ was a phrase which Thomas employed. He also talked a great deal about English/Welsh ‘translation’ and used it as a reference point when I asked him about his attitude towards cross-media experimentation (a topic, incidentally, of which he was wary to the point of cynicism).
I also had the good fortune of talking to the art critic Peter Lord (on the advice of various people, including Ivor Davies) at the start of the field research. He has for some time been employed by the University of Wales at their Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies for research into ‘The Visual Culture of Wales’. It soon became evident that Aesthetics of Relevance, as well as his previous work for the Arts Council of Wales, constitute a sufficiently eminent driving force in the arts in Wales for me to include in my list of questions: ‘What do you think of Peter Lord?’. I didn’t meet a single artist who was unfamiliar with him, which is a credit to his work.
My original purpose, which I explained to Lord, was to focus on individual poetic relationships within the exhibition. A possible structure, I told him, was to start from a type of ‘review’-style section, which would discuss how the exhibition was made up. Then I would raise the issue of the poet in the twentieth century, as well as the issue of modern literary, visual, and cultural theories. The third section would focus in on how the artists felt about the paintings and the poems together, how they felt about Wales and these cultural issues, and whether this was borne out by their work. I would attempt to arrive eventually at some end to do with the cultural location of this form of art in the community.
Peter Lord’s current project, it transpired, was a study of insider/outsider issues in the imaging of the landscape. Looking at the catalogue which I showed him, he mentioned the work of Selwyn Jones, Iwan Bala, and Leslie Jones as ‘insiders’. He compared these with David Woodford, ‘the classic outsider, who is an aggressive outsider, and denies any kind of cultural content in the landscape at all. He is like the new visual Right. There’s an interesting series of issues here.’ His wisest words were to warn me of the proportions which this work could take on, but he encouraged me to go ahead with what I was interested in all the same.
The foundation of my discussion was that, contrary to the old ideas of visual arts retaining some inherent meaning in the present century, they only hold semantic currency in relation to the participants themselves. Peter Lord was the first person I had read who had comprehensively brought twentieth century cultural criticism to bear on the Welsh culture, and I have ended up using his ideas on several occasions. He told me:
People like Donald Moore believe in the old view that the image (painted or literary) has a meaning which is fixed and inviable. So it carries its own value and meaning with it. I take the opposite view that the thing has no meaning except in terms of a relationship with the viewer… This argument is one that I think still needs to be addressed. People in places of power still have the old view, however obsolete, and they are the people who condition art in the cultural setting. I wouldn’t, in your paper, take it for granted that your view, which is broadly similar to mine, can be taken as read and is one which you can state as obvious.
So in this context, culture is located, and at play, within the products of a society, thus is manifest in artistic texts. The definition of an artistic text is one that includes everything which is a structured conception, and can encompass such socially-manufactured ideas as ‘the landscape’. Thus, according to modern human geographical opinion on how landscapes may be ‘described’, ‘written’, or ‘defined’ by society, be it contrived or circumstantial:
A landscape possesses a similar objective fixity to that of a written text. It also becomes detached from the intentions of its original authors, and in terms of social and psychological impact and material consequences the various readings of landscapes matter more than any authorial intentions.
List of All Poems, Titles of All Paintings
(including page references)
‘That’, 1968. Winter Valley, 1995.
‘The Minister'(extract), 1953. Marginal Land, 1995.
‘Welsh Landscape’, 1952. Welsh Landscape, 1995.
‘The Gap in the Hedge’, 1952. The Gap in the Hedge,
‘Cezanne. The Card Players’, 1981. The Card Players, 1995.
‘Sonata in X’, 1992. Group of Hikers,
‘Senior’, 1981. Senior, 1992-95.
[ ‘, 1952. Winter, 1995.
‘The Lonely Farmer’, 1952. The Lonely Farmer, 1995.
‘The Small Window’, 1968. The Small Window, 1995.
‘The Mountains’ (extract), 1968. LLanberis, 1995.(page 9)
‘Welsh Landscape’, 1952. Welsh Landscapes, 1995.
‘Out of the Hills’, 1946. Hill Farmer, 1995.
‘Barn Owl’, 1977. Barn Owl, 1995.
‘Ah!’, 1966. Ah!, 1995.(opp.page 23)
‘Girl’, 1966. Girl, 1995.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 1995.
from ‘The Mountains’), 1968.
‘The Moor’, 1966. The Moor, 1995.
‘Welsh Landscape’, 1952. Foothills of Tryfan 1,
‘Welsh Landscape’; 1952. Foothills of Tryfan 2,
‘The Welsh Hill Country’, 1952. The Welsh Hill Country
(at Bryn Glas),1995.
‘Winter’, 1992. Winter, 1995.
‘At The End’, 1995. At The End, 1995.
‘The Empty Church’, 1978. The Empty Church, 1995.
Other Poems of Interest/Relevance:
‘Hiraeth’, from The Stones of the Field, 1946.
‘Welsh History’, from An Acre of Land, 1952.
‘Priest and Peasant’, from Song at a Year’s Turning, 1955.
‘Absolution’, from Poetry for Supper, 1958.
‘Welsh’, from The Bread of Truth, 1963.
‘Nocturne by Ben Shahn’, from H’m, 1972.
‘The Gap’, from Laboratories of the Spirit, 1975.
‘Abercuawg’, from Frequencies, 1978.
‘The New Mariner’, from Between Here and Now, 1981.
‘Captain Cook’s Last Voyage’. Roland Penrose, from Ingrowing Thoughts, 1985.
‘Father and Child. Ben Shahn’, from Ingrowing Thoughts, 1985.
‘Looking Glass’, from Experimenting with an Amen, 1986.(page 1)
‘Their Canvasses Are’, from Experimenting with an Amen, 1986.
‘Saunders Lewis’, from Welsh Airs, 1987.
‘Annunciation’, from Mass for Hard Times, 1992.