Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Current Art Shows on Channel 4

This is a post reflecting on art programmes on Channel 4. Specifically:

The Programmes

We would like our arts films to change the way we think about the world now. Commissioning Brief 
Channel 4 is a public service commercial broadcaster that commissions original programming and online content from independent production companies.

Interestingly Channel 4 does NOT have a category for Arts - despite its stated purpose - and despite having a commissioning brief for the Arts.

Of the programmes highlighted above:
  • The first two programmes are listed among the top 20 shows on Channel 4.
  • The last two are listed in the "Lifestyle" Category!

Grayson's Art Club

Grayson talks to artists, creatives, celebrities and viewers about art and lockdown
Grayson Perry has been at the heart of Channel 4's arts output for some time now - with various programmes having been made and broadcast on various topics dear to the artist.

For example - from a press release in late 2018 
For Grayson Perry being an outsider is at the heart of "Culture Wars" (w/t), which sees the acclaimed artist and broadcaster travel across the US, applying his unique artist-anthropologist’s eye to unpicking the tribal and cultural conflicts that underlie this deeply divided nation. Channel 4 announces line up of new arts programmes (November 2018)
In the last year, he has emerged, with his wife, as something of a creative saviour for all the angst and time on our hands associated with the pandemic and lockdown and staying at home and wondering what to do after baking banana bread!

Lately, this is what Channel 4 have had to say about Grayson - who's beginning to resemble a bit of a 'golden goose'
We have been looking for a popular returning arts series for the last 18 months and hope we’ve found one in the fantastic Grayson’s Art Club.

What I like about this programme

  • This is absolutely the perfect programme for lockdown
  • everybody outside his studio seems to participate via Zoom
  • Grayson Perry has serious art credentials - but is possibly the most unpompous member of the Royal Academy of Art ever
  • we all get to see the real version of an artist' studio and get to see how Grayson Perry makes his very popular artworks - and in particular his drawings and ceramic art / sculptures (although this time it's going to be cast in iron)
  • It involves both television personalities used to speaking to an audience - alongside members of the public talking about their experiences and their artwork
  • it displays both hidden talents (who can forget Joe Lycett's painting of Professor Chris Whitty in the first series?) and amazing creativity
  • I like the fact that Philippa Perry - who is no slouch being both a psychotherapist and author of #1 bestseller "The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read" - also gets to make art and her contributions are also very interesting
  • it combusts the notion of what is "proper art" and embraces the notion of "contemporary folk art" i.e. the art made by a community - in this case one experiencing a pandemic
  • as such it's also a vehicle for story-telling and community a well as making art. 
  • I'm guessing that a lot of people get comfort from the things they hear as well as see
  • There's going to be an exhibition at the end of it!!

This time the themes were announced in advance and people have had the opportunity to send them in with a digital video of themselves telling the story behind 

I have no doubt this programme will be written about and archived as a way of understanding the social history of what the pandemic meant to many people.


Previous blog posts - in date order - include

The Great Pottery Throw Down

Twelve of Britain's best home potters compete to be crowned best at the wheel

What prompted this post was the Final of Series 4 of The Great Pottery Throwdown on Sunday night.

This programme started out on BBC2 in 2015 and 2017 - and then transferred to Channel 4 - which seems to be doing rather well in picking up programmes that the BBC don't want to invest in. 

Interestingly ceramic art links this programme and Grayson Perry. 

Participants, Judges and Presenter in Series 4 of The Great Pottery Throwdown

What I like about this programme

  • it's a genuinely "feel-good" programme.  Very Sunday evening family entertainment - of the educational and involving kind. 
  • It has lots of very nice people all working very hard - and collaboratively - to do the best they can. Absolutely no bitching!!
  • Both Judges are very experienced and highly skilled practitioners. (see the websites of master potter Keith Brymer Jones and ceramics expert Rich Miller) I'm a big fan of this series because they take both their professional occupations and "Judging" seriously.
  • Participants all vary in their experience and skill levels but virtually all have a significant level of knowledge and skill which allows them to participate in the various "make" challenges during the series.
  • Every series you can see potters getting better and better as they apply themselves to the challenges (known as "going on a journey"). Soon you begin to see who are the ones who might make it all the way to the end of the series - based on their application, experience, skills and creative imagination
  • The presenter was excellent light relief without having an ego which meant she tried to make the programme about her
  • who went home every week got more and more difficult to predict as the series progressed - and there were some real surprises.
I was very sad to see Sal go before the final. I had her tagged at one point as "the one most likely to"

However I was really pleased to see Jodie win - a very deserving winner who did consistently well throughout the programme - and really went for it with the final challenge.

There's also something very apposite about an NHS scrub nurse from the Rhondda Valley winning a television competition during a pandemic.

Previous blog posts include

Drawers Off

Jenny Eclair hosts as amateur artists compete in a life drawing class with a twist
This started 2.5 weeks ago. My first reaction was this post - "Drawers Off" is such a tacky title for a life drawing television programme

What's OK
  • Not a lot - except for the presenter Jenny Eclair who manages to keep a straight face despite some awful puns.
(There's a lot of people who like Jenny Eclair being very nice about Jenny Eclair on Twitter - and I'm not surprised).

What's not OK
  • artists taking their clothes off. It's just really, really tacky.  
  • PLUS - in an effort to keep the programme clean for early evening teatime telly - the material the models are swathed in completely obscures how the body works which is the whole point of life drawing!!!
  • those participating are enthusiastic and seem to try hard - but many appear to have very little experience or education in art - even though they love it. I'm perplexed as to why the programme makers thought this would make good television - or what the public get out of it.
  • those who watch learn virtually nothing from one of the worst so-called art teachers on television
  • the level of shouting and interruption
Just contrast how Grayson and Keith Brymer Jones both encourage and teach those participating - AND the wider audience watching - with how Diana Ali approaches 'teaching'. It tells you all you need to know about what's good and what's not.

Frankly I put most of the blame on the production company. This is emphatically NOT an art programme - it's a crude effort at reworking "Come Dine with Me" which they also make. That's what I call lazy television.

I'd love to know what the viewing figures are. It doesn't even make it on the page about programmes which were on yesterday!! I'm not surprised.

This is a programme which could work IF it has a complete revamp i.e. 
  • lose the title. It's gimmicky and crude - and tells you all you need to know about whether or not this is a quality programme.
  • EITHER the artists keep their clothes on. Drawing one of your fellow artists is not uncommon - but there's no need to take it to extremes of removing clothes!
  • OR they get a life model! Not having an experienced life model just looks like cost-cutting to me.
  • Participants are people who have some basic skills in drawing and painting and/or experience of a life class - but are "Improvers" rather than "Beginners"
  • a teacher / mentor provided a structure for the week in terms of imparting short lessons for both the participants and the watching public eg. 
    • how to draw a head
    • how to draw hands
    • how to draw feet
    • how to get proportions right
    • how to work with perspective
    • how to use different media
    • how to work quickly
    • how to work in monochrome
    • how to work in colour
    • I could go on and on and on........ 


So basically Channel 4 has two popular - and repeatable - hits on its hands which people enjoy and make a point of watching

Plus one dud.
I'll be very, very surprised if it's repeated.

I'm rather hoping art teachers all over the UK write in and tell Channel 4 how they could do it better.....

PS They can keep Jenny Eclair if they revamp it - she's very much NOT the problem.

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