Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Home Is Where the Art Is - needs a makeover!

Yet another programme from the BBC about art and crafts - this one is called (groan!) Home Is Where the Art Is.

The Title Image for the Programme
This one's a bit different - because it's being broadcast every day for a fortnight - so I thought I'd give you
  • the idea behind the programme
  • a rundown of the basics of how each episode works 
  • the synopsis for each episode.
  • what's wrong with the process and programme - after watching two episodes

YET AGAIN - the BBC is NOT providing credits that include the names of the artists participating/working in the show.  Every other professional - but not the artists!

So I'm including the names of the artists in Episodes 1 and 2 under the synopses for those episodes below

Home Is Where The Art Is

The programme was commissioned by Dan McGolpin, Controller of BBC Programming and Daytime (salary £203,000) AS part of the factual and factual entertainment shows for BBC One Daytime. I shall be focusing some more on the word "FACTUAL" later.

You can tweet him your thoughts about the show on @dnmcg!  Can I suggest something like
"Why do you get paid £200,000 of taxpayer's cash to do your job and yet you won't give a named credit to artists appearing in 'Home Is Where the Art Is'"
Here's the one paragraph synopsis
In Home Is Where the Art Is, presented by Nick Knowles, amateur artists compete to win a special new commission for one paying homeowner. Three artists, whose skills range from everything from painting, metal work and embroidery to woodcarving and ceramics will get to snoop around a Mystery Buyers’ home before pitching their ideas. But which one will hit the brief and bag the commission?
Interestingly the emphasis in the synopsis is on AMATEUR artists. I don't remember that being in the brief when they were seeing artists for the programme - see my blog post TWO NEW BBC Art Shows

This was the advert for artists - no mention of amateur artists!

This was the advert for those commissioning. Note the artists are now NOT "amateurs" - but rather...
some of the UK's finest artists, from painters to potters, carvers to crafters, screen printers to street artists

Seems to me we might be in the realms of the Advertising Standards Authority's Non-Broadcast Code for adverts in newspapers or journals.

I'm just wondering how they validated their claims to the effect that these are "some of the finest"?  Would their defence be that this was an obvious piece of "puffery" I wonder?  No offence to the artists - I'm not disputing many are professional and produce excellent work - it's just I'm wondering why they should be described as finest. It just occurs that somebody thought this a logical extension of 'fine art'!

To me, it's very clear from the advert and research for this blog post (eg I talked to artists who had talked to the BBC about participating in the programme) that
  • the BBC had no professional advice about commissioning art
  • the BBC have a gameshow mindset.  A number of people were very interested in how competitive the artists were and those who said 'not in the slightest' did not get on the show.
  • at the outset had done inadequate research into the process of commissioning artwork and typical budgets.  
It's also very clear they had to change their mind about budgets as they progressed (see Episode synopsis below as to the fact they crept upto £1,000 from the £500 mentioned in the advert)

It reminds me very much of crafts on the cheap i.e. the era of BBC when crafts were what you could make from two toilet rolls and some 'sticky back plastic'!

Basic Principles of how it works

At the end of this blog post is an extract from the official BBC letter and description to artists of how the show works.

In summary
  • 'Somebody" responded to the commission adverts and has let the BBC know they want to commission an artwork - and have a set budget (it would appear this is non-negotiable)
  • BBC select three artists (painters, illustrators, pet portrait artists, textile artists, ceramicists, wood sculptors, metal sculptors) to come up with ideas for a pitch
  • Three artists then get to do a 'free' pitch for work
    • first they're allowed to snoop around the empty home to pick up on their tastes and preferences
    • then go away and work out what might work
    • present their pitch at their first meeting with the clients
  • Two artists are chosen to create a final artwork.
  • The Clients choose one artist - who gets paid the commission sum for the work (as opposed to what they'd normally charge for that amount of time, effort, expertise and materials)
  • The other artist is refunded the cost of materials.
So basically "Through the Keyhole" meets "DIY SOS" (remember the instant artwork for people who get a makeover for their homes after a tragedy in their lives) to provide competition for "Money for Nothing"!

I'm going to watch it - but I'm not overly optimistic I'll like it.  
  • The idea behind it - of revealing the scope for commissioning local artists to produce bespoke art is an excellent one. Unfortunately the game show tendency then takes over.
  • This is emphatically art for entertainment NOT education. I like the creativity aspects. I hate the game show elements.
  • After two episodes it's clear that on the whole it's also very far from factual - in terms of pricing.
  • Or as one artist who applied - and then rejected their programme format put it
Watch this for entertainment, sure, but please honour and respect the skill, training, and talent that genuine artists and makers put into their work - and value it accordingly
BELOW are the synopses for each episode re the commission and those making art in each episode.  The episodes are being broadcast in the afternoon at 3.45pm on BBC and then repeated the next day on BBC2 at 7.15pm

Thanks to the artists who had the good sense to tweet and make sure they did some free marketing on their own behalf for their artwork - because they aren't getting a named credit on the programme! (despite the BBC's about turn on the Arts and Crafts House - see further comment below) Where artists have mentioned dates, I've posted them based on the BBC1 afternoon first broadcast.

Episode 1

Today’s artists travel to Lancashire to a renovated worker’s cottage. The mystery buyer wants a gift for his wife and has a budget of £200, but will it be a wood sculptor, painter or ceramicist who makes the sale?
The Artists in Episode 1 were:
Episode 1 Brief
One sculptor knows how to make the most of the opportunity (SPOILER! this was the chap who didn't make it to the final three - and I think he might very well have been pleased about that)

Very sensibly, another artist has now got this message now pinned to the top of her Twitter feed

Episode 2

Today’s mystery buyers live in Northamptonshire and have up to £1000 to spend on a work of art to celebrate their family life. Will an abstract artist who paints in a nuclear tent, an illustrator who wants to make his most ambitious painting to date or a bronze sculptor who’s pushed for time win out?
The artists in Episode 2 are:
  • Theresa Wells - a well established Bronze sculptor whose work is displayed in several galleries who works on commission as well as producing pieces of her own choosing
  • Roger Daviesa painter/illustrator (and musician) based in Brighouse, Yorkshire who sells via a gallery; and
  • Swarez - based in Stroud in Gloucestershire. He has a section on his website in which he explains how commissions work. He demonstrated the size of the painting he could produce for the commission budget - and also indicated the size he thought would work better. Given the fact he has a VAT registered business, I'm not surprised he wasn't prepared to budge on price.

Episode 3

Today’s artists are travelling to a home in Birmingham. It’s an emotional brief from the mystery buyer who has up to £750 to spend on a piece of art to reflect a family bond after donating half of her liver to her mum. Will the artistic trio be able to create what she is looking for?

Episode 4

In today’s episode, the artists travel to Lancashire. The mystery buyers have up to £500 to spend on a piece of art to celebrate their love for their dogs. Will a renowned pet portrait artist, a textile-making wool farmer or a chainsaw wood sculptor win the sale?

Episode 5

Today’s artists travel to Morecambe Bay. It’s a snoop with a difference as the mystery buyer sends the artists out of the house to find their subject – her horse, Dragon. However, Dragon is not just a pet; he’s helped his owner overcome a very difficult time. Which artist will hit the brief, and will the £1000 budget be blown in the process?

Episode 6

In today's episode the artists are in Oxfordshire, turning detective around a grade-II listed cottage. It's an emotional story: the mystery buyers are looking for a joyous, uplifting piece in light of a recent cancer diagnosis. Will it be a metal sculptor, painter or textile artist who fulfils their brief?

Episode 7

Today’s mystery buyers live in the trendy suburbs of Manchester. For three years they’ve had a space on their living room wall that they haven’t been able to fill. Now, with £1000 to spend and three artists turning detective around their home, can they finally find a piece they like?

Episode 8

Today’s artists are heading to an art-loving home in Cheshire. It’s an emotional brief: the mystery buyers would like a work of art to reflect a beloved dad who they lost in 2011. Can the creative three make them the perfect piece?

Episode 9

Today’s artists are heading to north Wales. The mystery buyers have lived all over the world but now want a work of art to celebrate putting down roots and buying their Llandudno forever-home. Can the three creatives come up with a perfect piece, and who will win the £500 sale?

Episode 10

Today’s artists travel to South Manchester. It’s a snoop with a difference as the mystery buyer’s house is not what it seems - the owner has lost nearly all their possessions in a house fire. They’d like a piece of art to mark the end of a difficult journey, putting their home back together. Will a metal sculptor, a wood carver or a mosaic maker create the perfect piece and take home the £1000 on offer?

What's wrong with it - after two episodes 

Let me reiterate - the basic notion of highlighting how easy it is to commission an artist to produce bespoke artwork for you is excellent. I wish the programme makers had then gone down the educational rather than entertainment route.  As it is they have dumbed down the process and I think will leave a lot of artists dealing with some unrealistic expectations - particularly with respect to pricing.

Here's a few things which spring to mind - a number of which relate to FACTUAL aspects of the process artists adopt when working to commission.
  • The first episode was a complete joke and totally unprofessional with respect to the initial brief and budget. Even amateur artists and craftspeople know to get the basics of the brief sorted before they decide whether to get in their car or on a train. Nobody in their right mind travels upwards of 3+ hours in the car to visit the place where the artwork will be placed before they even know the budget for the commission or an outline of what it involves. 
I applied for that show but once I found out how little they were paying for art I told them how demeaning it is to artists and how it'll make the general public assume that's the norm. But as predicted, they didn't care. an+ artist who applied for the show
  • Meeting the client(s) BEFORE the pitch is as important as seeing their homes
  • The written brief said one thing. The client spoke another. See previous point. (This point also comes from my working for many years as a management consultant. Very many times we found the brief as written down was nothing like the job they really wanted or needed. It applies to anybody who works on commission to a brief i.e. ALWAYS get your client to explain their brief and expand on it - otherwise expectations may not be fulfilled or satisfaction provided)
  • The level of contact time a client gets is commensurate with the budget for the commission. Having already met the client, artists generally use email, digital pics and the phone for communicating ideas in advance of starting. It might come as a surprise to the BBC but professional artists cost travel and the their time spent travelling into an artwork - and whatever you spend driving up and down motorways reduces that available for the work. Exploiting amateur artists who might not do that is not a good example for the BBC to set.
  • There was no focus on the BUSINESS of being an artist i.e. doing the costings as to what is feasible in terms of the cost of art materials and the time and effort employed in making the artwork. 
    • In my opinion, there was zero profit in the artwork that won given the number of hours spent on it.  
    • Professional artists tend to have a guide as to what you can get for different budgets - and they stick to them (hence Swarez's approach in Episode 2).

  • Payback time for the winner. If the maker of the winning artwork really makes those for just £200 - on commission (i.e. visit home and collect material), she is going to be swamped with orders - but won't make any money as IMO she'll be giving them away.
I was told the budget would be £1000 maximum when I talked to producers. I would struggle to produce anything commission wise for £200 and if I had got on the show I would not have done more than I would normally do for the budget because I wouldn’t then want a stream of emails asking for the same, which I would then be unwilling to deliver an artist who applied for the show
Most importantly....
  • YET AGAIN - the BBC is not providing credits that include the names of the artists participating in the show. Yet they are working for an organisation which is paid for by the licence fee. I think we're entitled to ask for better treatment for artists. BBC Studios should be ashamed of itself and be prepared for the onslaught from artists who have now realised that it is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE for artists to participate and WORK at what they do for a living and yet get no credits at the end of the programme.  (see The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts - Episode 1 and The Artisans without a credit on Arts and Crafts House - where the credits problem was resolved before the second episode was broadcast due to representations from the participants - in part due to the publicity for this issue by this blog.  Even the Artist of the Year now provides name credits and links to the websites and social media sites of participating artists on its website)

What the artists and artisans said

Interestingly I asked for comments from one Facebook Group which I knew included people who had applied for the show or thought about applying
I also had some long conversations with a BBC researcher last year who was looking into putting one of these things together - nice guy but clearly didn't have a clue about anything to do with arts and crafts but was fixated on the idea that a large part of being a maker involves entering and winning competitions. Obviously that probably makes for better television but the artificial rivalry set up by these programmes gives an entirely distorted view of things. Christine Pike
I found one fascinating comment online when researching the background to how the show came about. Enough said really!
“It does feel like a show that had its name before a format. (online journal)

NOTE: What the application form said

Home is Where the Art is, presented by Nick Knowles, is a brand new BBC programme in which talented artists compete to earn a new art commission from genuine buyers for their home.

We are excited to have the opportunity to showcase a wide range of skilled artists across the series. In each show three artists will get to present their talents, we are looking for artists from all disciplines, from painters to metal workers, embroiders to woodcarvers or ceramicists to street artists. Our artists will be matched with our buyers and they will draw inspiration from the buyer’s home before pitching their ideas to them. The buyer’s will then select two artists to go forward and create their artwork, they will return to present their finished pieces, and the buyer will purchase one of them. The other artist will retain their artwork and receive a fee of up to £150 to cover materials.

At the show’s heart is the philosophy –
why spend money on ‘off the shelf’ pieces from the high street when it’s possible to commission local artists to create beautiful, bespoke art for your home.

At no point does it promise the artists any reimbursement for travelling expenses or time spent on the project. Nor does it promise any 'name' credit in the programme credits despite the fact all those I've seen so far are working artists.

So the question is does the BBC employ 'slave labour' to provide content for its television programmes?

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