How Dumb Are We? Kim Howells and Dougal

Penrhiwllythau by Paul Emmanuel

I did O level Maths at school, but I’d never set myself up as a mathematician for the purposes of punditry, so why did the Western Mail feel the need to ask Kim Howells, a politician who once went to art school, for a response to the winner of the Welsh Artist of the Year? And to do so by looking at Paul Emmanuel‘s winning work online.

That’s it. The final straw. I am so fed up with the way that the (admittedly tiny, circa 32,000) readership of the self-styled Newspaper of Wales are treated like unintelligent morons and that contemporary art is regularly denigrated, dismissed and misrepresented. It makes Wales look stupid and backward-looking and can’t, I am sure, do much to make the case for Wales as a lively, critically-engaged nation to which big companies would want to re-locate.

Of course my comments were taken out of context in the WM piece as, I suspect, were the quotes from Howells. I am sure that he would have been careful not to juxtapose his criticisms of the Turner Prize judges with a reference to my colleagues and I as the judging panel of the WAotY competition this year, as we’re skating towards libel here. Now, we didn’t all sit down and decide to come up with something controversial, to be seen as being ‘avant garde’ (a term that I don’t believe has been seriously used for many decades). We chose works that reflected current practice in Wales and rewarded artists at the top of their game in their areas of expertise. Paul Emmanuel was an obvious choice for winner. He’s taken seriously by those who really know about art and has carved himself an international reputation with his exhibitions in Taiwan, amongst other places. At home he’s been shown at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery , the opening show of the Mostyn and had a stunning solo show at Oriel Myrddin

I’m just back from Venice and the 54th Biennale of Art. There, even tiny, economically challenged nations take contemporary art seriously and present it as such to appreciative audiences. They know it’s important to present a forward-looking face and to champion their artists and the arts in general. Isn’t it about time we did the same?

You can make up your own mind about the Welsh Artist of the Year competition by seeing it in the flesh at St Davids Hall until 06 August 2011.

14 thoughts on “How Dumb Are We? Kim Howells and Dougal

  1. Bravo! I would aslo like Mr Howells to put his name to his preferred choice of winner (there’s a most competently executed study of a dragon flag in a hi-ball glass…)

  2. Couldn’t possibly put it any better. Does anyone out there in Facebook land have a contact number / e-mail for Dr Howells? I’d really like to invite him to come on our new weekly radio programme ‘Pitch’ to talk further about contemporary art in Wales. ‘Pitch’ can be found on Radio Cardiff at 98.7 FM and online at, 10 till 11 on tuesday mornings starting next tuesday 21st June

  3. Newspaper articles need to show both sides. That is how journalism works. Kim Howells provided one opinion and Lindsey Hughes provided another. The reader is then left to make their own mind up and as the article was spun suggesting controversy, I expect more people will visit the prize. Good publicity if you ask me.

  4. so someone has said something you dont agree with. he might not agree with you, especially ‘We chose works that reflected current practice in Wales’?? – ‘rewarded artists at the top of their game’??? that’s your opinion, and he said his. stop crying about it and engage with the press. there was a time when the western mail and other oily rags wouldnt ask for an opinion. now they do ask you got to make your case.

    howells is probably on speed dial because they know he’ll say something marginally more interesting and controversial (and get more people through the doors) than insipid arse licking from the arts.

    you have a point, but its blurred by your role as judge.

    • I’m not disagreeing with Kim Howells. He, like everyone, is entitled to an opnion. I am pointing out (I hope) that this kind of knee-jerk journalism gets no-one anywhere. Though of course my knee was jerking as I wrote, but I waited a week until I’d calmed down a bit. However Howells’s opinion on the (unseen in the flesh) work boils down to “it looks like Dougal” and speculation about the judges’ intent. That’s not art criticism, nor does it give the WM readers an opportunity to engage with the topic as intelligent human beings.

  5. ‘He’s taken seriously by those who really know about art ‘

    that really takes the biscuit. even if it was true, i’m sure you are all warm down there in the clique. talk about exclusivity

    • I’m sorry if that came across as patronising. I meant that there are many people in Wales: writers, curators, art historians and other artists, who could have responded to this decision. I don’t expect everyone to agree with our decision but to make an assessment based on an emailed age seems discourteous to the artist.

      • apology accepted 🙂

        reading WM’s piece again, it does have 3 people in the pro camp vs nice but dim kim. shame the dont say anything interesting

        thanks for the reply though

  6. Journalism can work in many ways, and newspapers are certainly not obliged to be impartial, the choice of what to deal with and how to deal with it is entirely up to the individual publication (or group or owner).

    What is problematic here is that there is every indication that someone at the Western Mail thought that the best way to deal with this particular arts story was to stir up controversy by contacting someone who would be willing to make a comment on something he had not seen in the flesh, so to speak.

    Had Dr Howells actually visited the exhibition and felt moved to contact the Western Mail with his musings on this work and its (slightly difficult to understand) comparrison with a particualr piece of jazz that he had been listening to, and had that comment caused controversy, i would say fair play.

    Now it may be, as you suggest, that controversy increases attendence, and this might be benificial for some artists, and if artists, their publicists, gallerists or someone else opperating on their behalf decides that this is the kind of marketing strategy that best represents their interests, well once again fair play.

    However, In this case those responsible for causing the controversy would appear to be whoever brought Dr Howells’ attantion to this piece. Now I might be entirely wrong, but as I said it appears to me that those responsible are the Western Mail, and if so, I question their motivation for creating controversy.

  7. Now that Kyffin Williams is dead the WM has fewer allies against contemporary art, which is probably why Mr Howells was asked for a comment. Not sure what that says about the Mr Howells. Perhaps he too hates new art. The WM has a track record of loathing for the new, it assumes and hopes its audience agrees with it because they buy the paper to reinforce their view.

    If the WM has an audience of 32000 then divide that by four because the paper assumes that an average house owner with a family of two adults and two children will read it; hence the mark up. (most papers / magazines do this)

    Ive tried countless times to engage with the arts correspondance over the years and have never had success. I think they really do have absolutely no idea about art and culture and its influence on tourism and self esteem. Massive shame and huge lost opportunity to promote Welsh culture.

  8. phew, mucho ill informed gnashing of teeth and throwing toys out of the pram.

    i’m not saying the WM is brilliant, by any stretch of the imagination, but all they are guilty of here is writing a news story that some people might want to read, agree with, or disagree with. News. Story.

    WM would have rang various people for quotes. They used to use Kyffin, Howells (kim and neale) and Iwan Bala almost exclusivley til i complained. They used to write about shoes and sex and the city in the art pages til i offered 4 reviews for free and started a column (good at first, awful at the end).

    The worst thing about the job was trawling through the piles of garbage that artists and galleries think is good writing, and getting a printable quote from anyone was near impossible.

    The piece has 3 tepid quotes from the arts, with one reactionary piece of gobbledegook from Kim. I’d rather read his. The piece is good copy (and follows a previous piece promoting the show).

    anyway, i’d rather read a story about who decided to call the show Welsh Artist of The Year, a much more damaging piece of pr to the arts in Wales than a WM story….but that’s just my opinion

  9. As someone who has been involved with the International Art world for 40 years,its really sad to see this level of discourse around Welsh art. I left Wales 40 years ago because of this and headed to New York. I don’t know Mr Emmanuel I am not familiar with his art until receiving the Arts Council News letter, however looking at pictures of his painting they appear very innovative, poetic and extends the discourse on painting on a very serious international level.
    Congratulations Mr Emmanuel well deserved.

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