From the wandering bards of the Middle Ages, to the contemporary artistic scene in both languages, creative expression has always been centre stage in Welsh life.
The most celebrated forms of Welsh cultural output have long been the written word and music, with a pedigree that stretches back centuries. There's plenty of other artistic activity here too though. Some highlights include:
- The Written Word: Wales' love affair with words goes back thousands of years. The highest honour in Welsh life is to be crowned or chaired for poetry at the National Eisteddfod, itself a festival whose history can be traced back to the twelfth century. Welsh language writing has been joined more recently by a distinctive English language literature that includes some startlingly original fiction, poetry and journalism being published by the country's numerous independent periodicals (try Planet, the New Welsh Review or Cambria) and publishing houses.
- Music: "Praise the Lord! We are a musical nation" booms the Rev Eli Jenkins in Dylan Thomas' masterpiece, Under Milk Wood. He's right. From the internationally-renowned male voice choirs of the Valleys to the bright young divas, Charlotte Church and Katharine Jenkins, the Welsh ability to belt out a good tune is legendary. The Welsh rock and pop scene, in both languages, is thriving and covers every genre you could think of - and a fair few you probably wouldn't.
- Film: The saccharine Hollywood version of Wales (How Green Was My Valley, 1941) is, thankfully, a thing of the past, and there are plenty of contemporary movies both about and set in Wales to help redress the balance. Two Welsh language films (Hedd Wyn, 1991, and Solomon a Gaenor, 1999) have been nominated for Oscars (in the Best Foreign Language Movie category). Recent successes in English tend towards the hilariously scabrous or oddball: try Twin Town (1997), Human Traffic (1999) or Very Annie Mary (2001).
- Visual arts and architecture: Not surprisingly, it was eighteenth century Picturesque landscape painting that first brought Wales and Welsh artists to the fore. Landscapes still play a major part, from the chunky north Wales scenes of Sir Kyffin Williams to the unique light of Pembrokeshire, as caught by John Piper, Graham Sutherland and many others. Contemporary art is breaking out all over - the world's largest prize, the Artes Mundi, is a biennial Welsh competition. Stylish new architecture, from Cardiff Bay to Caernarfon, has a fine tradition of mixing traditional Welsh materials in mesmerising new ways.
Where to find Welsh culture
- TV and radio: There's lots of good Wales-only TV and radio, in Welsh and English. The Radio Times and the Western Mail's Saturday magazine are the best places to find details.
- Newspapers: Wales' main daily paper is the Western Mail; its Sunday sibling is Wales on Sunday. In north Wales, pick up a Daily Post. Every area has its weekly paper, and most have a papur bro, a community news-sheet in Welsh: you'll find details of all sorts of local events in both.
- Bookshops: Most decent-sized towns have a siop Gymraeg (Welsh shop), where you'll be able to pick up magazines, papers and a huge variety of Welsh-interest books in both languages.
- Venues: There are many grand arts venues in Wales, none more so than Cardiff's magnificent new Wales Millennium Centre.
- Festivals: The roving National Eisteddfod is a wondrous, and thoroughly Welsh, spectacle. There are also local and regional eisteddfodau, rock festivals, agricultural shows (the annual Royal Welsh at Builth Wells is a must) and a whirl of strange and exotic annual events.
- Internet: There is a stack of Welsh-interest material online.
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