Monday, April 02, 2018

The Big Painting Challenge (2018) - The Issues

This is the first of my series of reviews of the BBC's new series of The Big Painting Challenge.  Each week I'll be reviewing the programme and highlighting what I perceived as:
  • issues (with the BBC format) and 
  • tips (what they said - and what I think!). 
People seem to have enjoyed these posts previously and I hope you do again!

CAUTION: I'm now going to get Four BIG BBC Format Issues out of my system in one fell swoop - before moving on to the actual programme (tomorrow) - which you can watch on demand on iPlayer - Big Painting Challenge - Still Life

It's a bit of a cathartic process for me!

Issue #1: How many series?

The participants in the BBC's Big Painting Challenge 2018 - a.k.a. Series 3 by me!

The first thing I learned when I sat down to write this blog post is that the BBC can't count.

So we have the programme websites for:
Huh?  Somehow the BBC seems to have decided to have amnesia and behave as if the 2015 series never happened.

I have news for the BBC.

Series reinvent themselves and change programme makers ALL THE TIME but IF you stick to the same title AND keep the same judges (even if you change the presenters) then you count the series consecutively.

Which makes this series 3!  However to avoid the problem with me knowing this is Series 3 and the dimwits in BBC programme commissioning calling this Series 2, I shall reference the year in the titles of future episodes.

Issue #2: Talent show or Edutainment?

The format is officially listed by the BBC as a "Talent Show". Which prompts my next issue with the format....

We know from shows like Sky Television's Portrait Artist of the Year that there are some very talented amateur artists out there.

However it seems as if there is a very BIG divide between the talented amateurs that turn up at:
  • the Wallace Collection for Sky and 
  • some interesting heritage property somewhere in the UK for the BBC.
Personally I find those on the BBC programme wholly representative of very many amateur artists in very many painting groups around the UK.

As such, I can completely understand that these participants must be much easier to relate to for the thousands out there watching the programme who want to improve their painting skills.

However, if that's the case then should this really be classed as a talent show (which is how it is officially classified by the BBC)? (You can picture my quizzical raised eyebrow as I write this!)

For me it's much easier to make the case for it being actually educational (hence the mentors) - or "edutainment" as I think it's called.  They could as easily keep all ten painters in to the end and then award a prize to the "most improved amateur painter on TV"!

I guess the point I'm making is that this programme is Educational - dressed up as "a talent competition" - rather than a genuine Talent Competition.

In a proper Talent Competition, when we have 10 contestants that means we've got to that bit of a series where we're down to the final 10 after "Judges Houses" and "Boot Camp" and the various Heats around the UK to find the best from the hundreds and thousands who entered.

But it's NOT THE BEST TEN - because we know there is much better amateur talent out there.

So it's neither one thing nor the other.  It's not pure education and it certainly isn't a genuine talent show as such.

The Reductive Drawing Exercise in Episode 1
- a great example of how to learn how to improve your tonal control

Which I think is why I now FINALLY understand why the Sky Artist of the Year Fans have always previously commented on my reviews of this programme to the effect that they much prefer the Sky programme - which does at least have a a better sense of being a talent show - even if the Judges do come up with some very odd decisions!

Having said that the programme makes the point at the beginning that the contestants were selected for "their ability to learn" - which is why this programme is more correctly classified as Edutainment and NOT a Talent Show.

Also why, in my opinion, they should just eliminate the elimination of a candidate each week and move to a notion of just having a Heat Winner each week and then, at the end of the series, have a "most improved painter over the whole series" prize.

Issue 3: Demographics and Diversity Rule

I KNOW the BBC has to be socially responsible and represent every last social demographic and diversity dimension of the viewing public - because it's been told off in the past for forgetting to do so. 

What appears to be a NOT very diverse set of people at the BPC Heats

However I watched Episode 1 last night and found myself starting to tick off the "representative caricature individuals" which somehow seem to get into programme makers heads when they make series like these.
  • the one with the disability
  • the one with an Afro-Caribbean heritage
  • the one with the Asian heritage
  • the immigrant who has made a success of their life
  • the middle class one from the home counties
  • the one who is incredibly old but still going
  • the one who has had a major health challenge
  • the one who is getting on with life after the death of a loved one
Not forgetting the fact that EVERYBODY always seems to have an interesting back story.

Do people with mundane lives - who get a lot of joy out of painting - never ever get a chance to be on television programmes like these?

The local art group of one of the participants

The thing for me is that:
  • it appears somewhat remote from the actual composition of most amateur painting groups around the country - most of whom are pensioners. Maybe the BBC could check the audience profile for this programme?
  • the profiles always seem to miss out the percentage needed to address the 'working class' element - for want of a better way of putting it.  This is a VERY middle class programme!
  • people who take up painting for a health reason always seem to have a disease or physical  health problem that people readily understand (eg the sight problems of one man and the breast cancer challenge which had been faced by one of the lady participants) - rather than recognising, for example, that art and painting is an activity very much promoted by those who work with people who have mental health problems.  I'm sure the Duchess of Cambridge could enlighten the BBC about her interests in both art and the need to make sure that those with mental health issues are treated equally and receive good support. One way to do this is to recognise their personal challenge when trying to reflect diversity in a positive way.
In other words the BBC's programme makers might be trying to do better in addressing ethnicity and physical disability - but they are still missing the point in relation to the actual reality of diversity within the population of people interested in painting.

Issue #4: The 4 Hour Rule

Why do so many contestants struggle with the 4 hour challenge?
I think I'm getting a bit fed up with participants in the programme having to face a major challenge which they have to complete in 4 hours - when it becomes very apparent very quickly that some of them have never painted anything in 4 hours in their life - and some have rarely if ever painted from life.

Judging the paintings after 4 hour challenge

How about a new version of the 4 Hour Challenge Rule?

I suggest that everybody wanting to have a go at appearing on the Challenge Programme MUST submit a painting which is:
  • painted from life NOT a photograph
  • completed within 4 hours (max.)
  • absolutely no exceptions allowed!
That way we'd at least know who was going to make a decent fist of facing the sorts of challenges the contestants have to grapple with in 4 hours.

As it is we are shown contestants in their home environment painting away - and producing paintings which are very often nothing like what they paint during the programme.

For me I really strenuously object to seeing people humiliated by very difficult challenges in a time scale they are not used to - because they never really appreciated just how difficult a four hour challenge was going to be.
  • I love people's optimism that they will cope. 
  • I hate producers who turn this into something which upsets people because they have not done their best - because they're not used to painting in 4 hours.
By all means put people under a time pressure! However please only do so if you know they are competent to meet it i.e. produce a decent painting within the time.  Otherwise it just looks really mean and cruel!

By creating one simple "sift" challenge at the beginning of the submission process, the programme makers would get a much better idea of who's going to be able to cope with the challenge embedded into the programme

Plus it would also achieve the ENORMOUS educational benefit of having hundreds (thousands?) of people have a go at painting from life in 4 hours - and that's got to be a good thing!


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Having written so much about the Issues - and it's great to get MY BIG NIGGLES out in the open - I feel the best thing to do is start again with a new post tomorrow for the Still Life Episode - in order to do that one justice!

So - what do you feel about the issues highlighted above?

Do you have any niggles about the programme that you'd like to air - either here or my Facebook Page?