Monday, July 09, 2012

Show Me the Monet - X factor for Artists?

This morning on Facebook, an artist I follow pointed out that Show Me the Monet had been moved to daytime television. (Don't switch off at this stage if you can't get BBC TV as you can access some aspects of this programme irrespective of where you live in the world - see links below)

After a brief discourse on its relative merits I was moved to watch the first episode in the second series this afternoon so I could comment on it.  There's a further four episodes this week and a further ten in the next two weeks.

For me it's the art version of the X factor with Chris Hollins, who normally fronts sports programmes and wins dancing competitions, taking the place of Ant and Dec. In short it's a talent show with a bit of artistic feedback thrown in.

This week's episodes of Show Me the Monet
I was trying to work out how to write about this show as I wrote my notes while watching it.  It's retrieved to some degree by some positive aspects - hence I've opted for a pros and cons approach.

But first some facts!

Who can enter what?

The key details are:
  • all work is reviewed according to the agreed judging criteria
    • originality, 
    • technical skill of the artist and 
    • the emotional response that the piece evokes.
  • only UK artists can enter the show 
  • applications from all artists, trained and untrained, professional and amateur, are welcome.
  • entry is limited to the first 3,000 applications (which seems like a very sensible move in the sense that it enables the organisers to have a manageable number to sift while allowing everybody the chance to be one of those 3,000)
  • 10% - approx. 300 works - are chosen for the first cut and the artists are interviewed by the show's prodiction team (in much the same way as operates for other talent shows where they need to see if you can perform in front of cameras as well as deliver the goods!). 
  • 150 artists are invited to attend a further screening in front of the judges at Eltham Palace.  You can read an account Show Me The Monet 2012 by photographer Andrew Florides of what it was like for an artist who made it through to the final 150 of the last series.
  • only totally original artwork is eligible for entry
  • the media of artwork is that which is conventionally seen in most art competitions/open exhibitions 
    • Painting: Oil, watercolour, acrylic, pastel, tempera (egg based), ink, encaustic (dried coloured wax)
    • Drawing: Oil, watercolour, acrylic, pastel, tempera (egg based), ink, encaustic (dried coloured wax)
    • Photography
    • Prints
    • Textile art: as hangings (tapestry) NOT textile design or fashion
    • Sculpture
  • images deemed unsuitable for daytime viewing are inadmissable
  • size limit
    • 2D art: maximum size must be 180cm x 120cm (6ft x 4ft)
    • 3D art: capable of being moved by the artist on their own
  • initial screening is based on a digital photo

    Who are "The Hanging Panel"?

    How to get Simon Cowell into a talent show without actually hiring him - call the selectors "The Hanging Panel". I kid you not.  Fortunately the Judges refer to themselves as The Hanging Committee which is the more usual term.

    One very much suspects that the Judges did not, as suggested, scour the country for artwork!  I suspect they had little involvement with the programme prior to the weeding of the final 150.  Indeed the credits at the end of the programme identify three "Art experts" which include William packer and I presume these are the people who actually selected the 150.  If anybody wants to tell me otherwise please feel free to leave a comment.

    You can read about the judges on the Judges and Presenter page.  A plus point for the series if that they do have serious credentials as judges.
    • Charlotte Mullins - is an art historian, critic, author and broadcaster. She studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art and Sotheby's Institute in London and is currently completing her PhD.  She tends to focus on contemporary art.  She has been a selector for a number of prestigious competitions including the BP Portrait Award (2009), Jerwood Sculpture Prize, the Hunting Art Prize and the Discerning Eye exhibition.
    • David Lee is an art critic and historian. In 2000, he founded the satirical art magazine The Jackdaw which is often very critical of the contemporary art world and contains the artbollocks column.  He both produces it single-handed and is its Editor. Prior to this he was editor of Art Review for eight years and has judged a number of national competitions.  
    • Roy Bolton is an art historian, writer and dealer. He used to be Head of Old Master & British Pictures at Christie's and has curated a number of exhibitions.  He's the least experienced judge when it comes to judging national competitions.

    The show's website has a comprehensive set of FAQs. There's many an art society which could learn a thing or two about how to brief artists about its open exhibition!

    There's no fee to enter - which I'm sure probably attracted a lot of "why not have a go?" entries

    Most of the artists entering the show appear to be amateurs.  It's great to see an opportunity for amateur artists to get their work seen.

    The feedback given to the artists who got to see The Hanging Panel was seen as a major plus factor by a number of those who submitted.  (I've had a theory for some time that a lot of artists would pay an extra fee to get proper feedback from a selection panel - it's such a pity that this isn't done better).  I reserve judgement on the quality of the feedback from the judges but it was nice to see both technical and relevant points of merit contributing to the critique of some artwork in the first episode.  I like expert judges to demonstrate their expertise!
    Competent is not good enough.
    The initial auditions of the 10% are conducted in regional locations thus limiting the amount of travel artists have to fund - which is good.

    Interestingly - and this wasn't at all evident from the programme - all the artwork and the reception it got features on the show's website on the Series Artwork page. There's a page for each episode and this is the page for the artwork seen in Episode 1.  It means if you also watched the programme you can also take a closer look at the artwork which was featured and discussed.

    The exhibition of the artwork was held at the Mall Galleries between 12th and 14th April - making the exhibition rather more accessible than the Royal College of Art which was the location of the show for the first series. (I also rather suspect the Royal College may have had second thoughts about its association with the show after seeing the first series!)

    It's interesting to see the valuations being placed by artists on their work.  I did wonder why the judges didn't ask them more pointedly as to whether they had sold work at that price.

    The blind bid system is neat and one which could usefully be copied in other exhibitions - with the artist's price acting as the auction reserve.  Artists getting bids which reflect the value other people attribute to their work is another good way of getting feedback.  I wasn't in the least bit surprised that a work in biro - Pic N Mix, 745 minutes by Lesley Halliwell got a lot of interest but no bids at exhibition. I think most people who buy art on paper would have some reservations about this work.  The coloured ink in biros is not archival and isn't meant to last over time - and yet this aspect attracted not one comment from the judges.  As limited edition giclee prints - presumably produced using archival inks - seen on her website, her spirograph works make a great deal more sense!

    Thank goodness the programme seems to avoid making ridicule of poor artwork by unskilled artists - or have I maybe spoken too soon? [UPDATE: I spoke too soon - having watched Episode 2 David Lee has obviously decided to cast himself in the role of Simon Cowell!]


    The show has a rather irritating punny title (which is not even original - it was pinched from Banksy!).  It's memorable but it's a clue to the soundbite 'gimmick over substance' mentality of the show

    The show is not original
    • despite insisting the artists' artwork be original, it's pinched its title from an artwork by Banksy - but lost the irreverent ethos!
    • it copies the standard format for a number of talent shows involving the public - including the incessant and boring film of people arriving at the face to face auditions (ie meeting with "The Hanging Panel")
    • but it does have some redeeming original features (see above!)
    Artists can only submit one work.  I can understand why this limitation applies from a practical sense.  However the undiscovered artist isn't always the best judge of their own work.  In my experience, seeing more than one work also gives a much stronger pointer as to the relative strengths of an artist's portfolio.  Bear in mind I search for and find the websites of artists selected for open competitions and I've been amazed at times by the calibre of some of the artists chosen for prestigious competitions.  It would be interesting to see whether the researchers would choose the same artists to go forward and agree with the artist as to which artwork should be submitted if they saw (say) three images of an artist's work.  

    In addition to uploading a photo of your artwork, artists also have to upload a photo of themselves.  I'm not entirely clear why this is necessary.  Surely they're not screening people to see whether or not they're photogenic?

    The amount of attention given to one work by the selectors is completely unrepresentative of the selection process for most open competitions/exhibitions.  I'm not saying that a final selection wouldn't involve a recall and closer look but the programme may mislead some amateur artists about the time allocated to selection in most competitions.  Think about it 3,000 works @1 minute each = 50 hours = 7 working days and nobody has this amount of time to devote to selection.  The vast majority of work in art competitions and open exhibitions gets assessed in seconds.

    "Emotional content" seems overhyped and extracted via interview rather than artwork.  It's one of the criteria but there appeared to be rather a lot of emphasis on the emotional content of a piece.  However the programme revealed that the emotional content of one of the pieces was only apparent after interviewing the artist - who is a breast cancer survivor.  It struck me that this information would not be apparent to most jurors if the same painting were entered into any other open competition.

    This show has been more or less ignored by the press and art blogs - according to Google!  I was rather surprised by this however [UPDATE:  Here's The Telegraph with a rundown on featured artists and their artwork - Show Me the Monet: the Apprentice for artists - however I'm absolutely convinced the model for the programme is the X Factor not the Apprentice]

    I am completely bemused by the amount of text and size of photo devoted to the presenter which if nothing else told me how much this programme was actually about art rather than ratings!

    Catch Up TV

    The show is being broadcast as daily episodes this week and Monday-Friday for the next two weeks  - there are 15 episodes in total. Anne Blankson-Hemans (Dancing with Crocodiles) features on 24th July - see Time to Show Some Monet!

    If you didn't watch it and would like to catch up using iPlayer:
    Competition for a spot at a grand exhibition at the Royal College of Art, contenders include a former costume designer, a forklift truck driver and a part-time university lecturer.
    I'm sure the Mall Galleries will love to know it's been promoted to being the Royal College of Art!

    In conclusion

    I wasn't overly impressed with the quality of the artwork featured in the first episode of the second series.  It made me wonder what was the quality of the art which didn't make the cut. [UPDATE: Apparently there is a Facebook Page called Show Me the Rejects which includes as many of the works that didn't make it as possible]

    I also wonder to what extent serious artists are taking this programme seriously.

    I do know that I see much better work by artists who are non-members at the Annual Exhibitions of National Art Societies - also held at the Mall Galleries - than the art presented in the programme.

    The aim of many of the artists was to get their work seen.  It seemed as if many make their art but don't attempt to show at a national level. I was left wondering why more of these artists had not submitted their work to the existing open exhibitions of the national art societies and the major art competitions in the UK.

    Maybe they just wanted their five minutes of fame on television?

    If you'd like to comment on whether or not you'd apply to the show and/or whether or not you enjoy it please leave a comment below