Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Painting Show which should replace The Big Painting Challenge

This evening at 6pm is the televised Final of The Big Painting Challenge (BPC).  This post provides a critique of the series to date AND at near the end I set out the sort of programme I'd like to see replace the BPC.

In case anybody's interested, I think Oliver Freeston will win The Big Painting Challenge.
  • He's never been one of those considered for elimination 
  • he won the public vote last week 
  • he does seem to have made an effort to listen and improve his painting each week.
  • he's given his website a makeover! He just needs to do the same for the artwork displayed on it now. Most of it seems to be pre-BPC.
  • he's in the middle of the photo for their Chapter 10 Exhibition which opens this week (see the end of this post)

The Big Issues for the BPC

The BBC obviously does not consider The Big Painting Challenge as any sort of serious contribution to the arts in this country

How do I arrive at this conclusion?
  • I checked out the BBC Arts webpage this morning when I sat down to write this post. The Big Painting Challenge is nowhere to be seen. This presumably because the programme is not part of the Factual World which embraces the rest of the Arts, Culture & the Media Genre on the BBC.
  • Nor is the Programme to be found in Learning - and interestingly the BBC does not recognise or cater to Adult Learning
  • Instead The Big Painting Challenge is listed under Talent Shows!!! How "dumb" is that?
At the beginning of the series I wrote a post I called The Big Painting Challenge (2018) - The Issues in which I highlighted my niggles about this BBC programme - described thus by the BBC
Passionate amateur artists undertake an intensive, six-week, artistic boot camp in a bid to perfect their skills and be crowned the overall champion.
At the end - I just feel very sad.

This programme totally missed an amazing opportunity to EDUCATE as well as entertain - without making it a "lose a candidate every week" type of show.

If you are going to have a knock-out then you must start with the best you can find

As it was it wholly:
  • misrepresented and down-sized the nature of development in painting and 
  • dumbed-down the process. 
So let's revisit my issues identified at the outset of this series - before I identify the programme I hope they make next year.

Issue #1: How many series?

Well clearly we have had three - even if the current production company would like to pretend we have only had two!

Episode 1 of The Big Painting Challenge Series 1 in 2015
Episode 2 of The Big Painting Challenge Series 2 in 2017
Episode 1 of the Big Painting Challenge Series 3 in 2018

Issues: Demographics and Diversity Rule + Talent show or Edutainment?

This is a misleading advert - selection had absolutely nothing to do with identifying the best of Britain's amateur artists.

This was the BBC Advert in 2017

There's a fairly big gap between those who got selected compared to those who the BBC said they were seeking. 

I've also never been able to understand a programme with a time-limited process for the painting from life challenges which selects artists who

  • only paint from photos and have never ever painted from life. 
  • have never painted to a tight time limit
The transition from one to the other takes time and can be intense.  Or is this designed to "manufacture" the type of tension which "makes for good television". If so, I can only think those "behind the scenes" people making the programme have 

  • no understanding of art and 
  • no empathy for amateur artists

I've been sent paintings and seen others by those who attended the selection process. Very clearly at least some of the selection process was absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with finding the best of Britain's amateur artists

It was much more:
  • driven by an "interesting back story" which will make 'good television'.
  • "meeting diversity targets" and 
  • including people who were photogenic (i.e. one of the artists in the ten never applied for the series nor did he take part in the selection process)
I suspect there's rather a lot of painters out there who might feel justifiably annoyed at the change in thinking between what was said in the advertisment and the actual nature of the selection process. Indeed possibly even a case for making a report to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner. ASA Cap Code Misleading advertising
It's very clear the FORMAT for this programme is very heavily skewed towards "Talent Show" - with all the heavily structured editing that this implies - despite the fact that the BBC touts it as part of its "Get Creative" 2018 programme of activities

In terms of the programme's stated intention of having selected those with a potential to learn, there is very little evidence of how that criteria was assessed given:
  • what I've heard about the selection process from those who didn't make it through to the final 10; and
  • what we've seen happen from week to week. 
The selection process this year included attending a group audition. Out of the many thousands that applied for the show, I believe that over 200 artists were invited to these across the major cities of our country, approx 16-20 in each 'pool'. The audition was split between a 10 minute interview to camera, and a still life painting (no choice of topic or position).
So, the selectors KNOW that they can perform under pressure, without drying out (verbally) and being able to explain what their thinking is.
For example, we have a finalist whose one change during the whole series has been he has slowed down. Otherwise Anil has come across as stubbornly resistant to change - at least in terms of what the mentors were telling him. I rather think he's worked out they were not the people he needed to impress!

To my mind it thus completely misrepresents what it's about to both potential contestants and the viewing public i.e.
  • it's NOT about education
  • it's NOT about the best talent, 
  • it's painful to watch at times meaning it falls short on entertainment

The BPC vs other Creative Challenges

I'm going to

  • examine what's gone wrong with this series; and 
  • compare this series to the other Creative Challenge Shows televised by the BBC

Talent Shows

Leaving out the singing and dancing and music shows, the other Programmes classified as Talent Shows include
So we can identify straight away one of the MAJOR differences between TBPC and the rest of the creative 'talent shows'

Other Producers

The Other Creative Challenges are
  • made by a completely different production company i.e. Love Productions
  • located in one venue throughout - which helps keep costs down
  • have a much better ratio of presenter/judge to participants (see below) - and hence
  • much reduced scope for mixed messages and confusing communication 
  • recruiting more skilled people as participants - who can work within the time limit, albeit they have one particular area of expertise rather than across the board  
The other strictly creative programmes (i.e. leaving out cookery) typically had
  • two expert judges  
  • one presenter
  • absolutely no mentors
This compares to The BPC which had SIX PEOPLE staffing each episode of the BPC - and doubtless hoards behind the cameras!
  • two presenters to 
    • lighten the mood when the tensions rose and 
    • referee and prod and mop up the tears when communication got out of hand
  • two mentors - who are not painters and do not appear to teach painting to amateur painters (words fail me!)
  • two judges - who seem to me to judging on the basis that these people are the best amateur artists - and they are not going to let down their standards or vary from what they were engaged to do originally. (I can't say blame them!)
So 100% more people to produce a less good outcome at a much increased cost.

What absolutely galls me is that very little learning is being demonstrated in terms of change within individual participants. I cannot help but think this boils down to

  • the nature of the format and
  • the quality and quantity of the teaching and 
  • the stresses created by the format.
  • the lack of knowledge and experience (which I've commented on previously )amongst the behind the scenes people making the show.

The Painting Show I'd like to see the BBC make

One person suggested to me that the comments on Points of View about the show were biased towards those who were positive. Then added.....
I’d rather see the BBC listening to the people and providing a two tier approach. 
  • More of a “paint-along-with” a great, proven, personable teacher (e.g. a practicing artist who runs regular workshops with a devoted following, there’s a reason Bob Ross’s videos are so popular on YouTube!) for the beginners; and 
  • a more focussed “talent show” along the lines of the Sky shows for the more elite artists.

A Focus on Learning NOT Talent

Here's my idea for the sort of painting show which would make a better programme within the context of "inform, educate and entertain" and current BBC objectives to

  • To support learning for people of all ages 
  • To show the most creative, highest quality and distinctive output and services

The programme should STOP COPYING other programmes and doing it really badly.

Instead it should look at ways in which it can demonstrate the scope for learning and the progress that can be made by individuals over a relatively short space of time.

  • The format should be focused ONLY on learning (i.e. NOT the talent show format)
  • It should be based on the one week painting holiday format (i.e. six days) at one location - very familiar to amateur artists and a vehicle for the viewing public to appreciate what's involved with learning via one week courses
  • The accolades should go ONLY to those making the most progress e.g.
    • student of the day
    • student of the week
    • plus an award for the student who tries the hardest
  • Absolutely no 'knock-out component! (i.e. Stop dumbing down! Start raising standards of programming!) This just creates stress and ignores the camaraderie which is an important part of the learning process for art students. Eliminating competition and encouraging students helping one another sets a much more positive and constructive tone - which is also much more like real life.
  • All participants should stay from the beginning to the end i.e. continuous filming over (say) two weeks - which provides scope for minimising the extra filming required re venues and places and more time for education. Additional filming re instruction could be developed outside the two week time slot for participants
  • the programme should be based at one location which offers scope for:
    • a large indoor studio(s) 
    • a town near by for urban landscapes
    • countryside nearby for more rural landscapes
    • models for people and animals should come to the location
    • minimising travel and extra costs
  • Each episode should have clear and distinct themes in relation to the Principles and Elements of Painting - which ALSO need explaining UPFRONT to make the relationships between them clearer and more coherent
  • Each episode should have one subject - BUT
    • with more involvement of the participant in terms of choice of exactly what they paint 
    • e.g. create a still life from 3+ objects - from a wide selection (or bring 3 objects from home - and they each get a set-up within a shadow box
    • e.g. any landscape within a given area
    • e.g. choose where to sit to paint the model
  • use ONLY kit that an artist would take on location i.e. studio easels only in the studio; portable easels which have to be carried when away from base (i.e. Watercolour Challenge managed it so there is no excuse!)
  • No Judges or Mentors - only experienced Art Teachers WHO CAN DEMONSTRATE(!) - who communicate well and are regarded as practised and excellent at:
    • teaching drawing and painting to amateurs
    • giving Feedback at the end of each day and the end of the course which encourages rather than deflates - and identifies learning points to pursue on their own.

The Chapter Ten Exhibition 

Meet this year's artists in person
The Chaper 10 Exhibition is at the LIBRARY Members Club,112 Saint Martin's Lane, London
WC2N 4BD from (check the dates though - the Eventbtite site has two DIFFERENT sets of dates

  • Preview night 9 May 2018, 6pm 
  • Tuesday 15 May 2018.


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REFERENCE: The BPC to date

This post follows on from my earlier posts

The story so far for Series 3 (2018)

Series 2 (2017)

Series 1 (2015)


  1. I think Oliver deserved to win - he had clearly learned a lot, and responded well to criticism. As for the rest of it: well ... good luck to him, and all the others, but this really was a dog's breakfast of a programme. It had so little to do with art; and indeed so little to do with fairness and objective judgment. The contestants were NOT judged on the body of their work, but on the final painting they produced - this is grossly unfair on the one hand, and just a silly way of judging artistic progress on the other.

    Good luck to Oliver, and I hope he does very well. But - this was television a la the Bake-Off principle, and vitiated by it.

  2. Mentors? They were coaches surely!
    As I understand it 'mentoring' enables people to identify their own problems and develop ways to address them thus The mentors have 'ownership' of the solutions. Coaches deliver pre-determined outcomes which aim to deliver an externally identified goal.
    Another example of dumbing-down by mis-applied terminology. Oh BBC!

  3. As I've previously indicated, the people behind the scenes commissioning and producing/directing this programme don't appear to have a necessary and sufficient understanding of art or painting.

    It's really sad that one of the biggest hobbies in the UK should be served so badly by the BBC.

  4. A program focussed on the learning aspects of drawing and painting would be fantastic. One of the big myths is that somehow knowing how to paint is something you're born with - you either have or you don't. For the audience to see participants improving over the course of a series could encourage many to give painting a try.

    One thing about your suggestions is that it would require the producers of the program to treat the participants much more as individuals in order to create story arcs over the course of the program, identifying weaknesses and strengths to ensure they're capturing the right scenes to show progress. There is a certain laziness to the competition format - they just film what happens - it's the participant against the format.

    If they wanted to bring a bit of judging to it, in the final episode they could bring a judge or two in to evaluate how much students had improved - here's a preprogram painting and one done in the final session. They wouldn't be judged against each other but rather who had made the most progress.

    In any event your suggestions would yield a much more educational and less stressful program. And that doesn't mean it needs to be dry. By careful interviewing of the teacher and participants they can create suspense as the participants overcome their psychological hurdles in learning something new, which can be as daunting as the technical challenges.

    We can only hope that the BBC will listen and give us a painting program we can't wait to see each week.

  5. I like your ideas. I agree with culling the elimination bit, as one bad painting doesn't deserve being dropped - we've all had bad days. All the exercises were pretty pointless in this series. And I'm pretty shocked to learn that they didn't pick the best amateur artists just to make 'better' TV.

    I'd like to see if they could develop an amateur artist up to professional standards i.e. work out what's stopping them moving forward.


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