Thursday, March 14, 2024

Landscape Artist of the Year: Time for a Refresh?

Is it time for a major refresh of Landscape Artist of the Year (LAOTY)?

Below I'm setting out some arguments concerning the need for rethink of how it works.  This includes:
  • PART 1: (TODAY) looks at major issues related to the latest series and how aspects have changed over time
  • PART 2: (TOMORROW) examines the potential for change to help improve the series 

LAOTY Context

  • Series 9 of Landscape Artist of the Year has just concluded. It has followed pretty much the same format since Series 1 - with minor tweaks and changes in presenters.
  • The Call for Entries for participants in Series 10 is out (see Call for Entries: Landscape Artist of the Year Series Ten) and the deadline for online entries is NOON on Friday 3rd May 2024.
  • Filming begins this summer (June/July) for Series 10 to be broadcast January - March 2025.

Realistically, it's very unlikely that there will be anything other than minimal changes for the next series. That's because a project as big as this one will involve months of planning and some aspects may be scheduled years in advance. 

Although certain aspects cause one to sometimes wonder about this! (eg how well do the heats relate to the commission)

Time for a Refresh

While it has had some minor tweaks during its life to date, this series has never had any major charges to help make "the beginning to end experience" more efficient and effective.

It's very unusual for a television series running for this length of time to have not gone through a major reboot - to make it fit for today's audience and their expectations. Particularly where 
  • members of the audience are regularly identifying aspects which they find unsatisfactory.
  • aspects of the programme are declining in quality.
I've been writing about the series every year since 2018. (See my Art of Television page for links to all the reviews.

As a result, I've been thinking for some considerable time about how the series might be improved
  • I've already commented on major issues and unsatisfactory aspects in my reviews of various episode.
  • Followers of my Facebook Page have been also been particularly active this year in comments and highlighting issues and also identifying what needs sorting - and how that might be achieved. The balance of comments lies very much with the fans who think it could be a lot better as opposed to those who think it's basically a contrived and stupid idea. Although there's quite a few of the latter.
I also spent a considerable part of my career involved in performance improvement i.e. reviewing major services for leading organisations and analysing how they might be improved. It is, if you like, part of my DNA!
What follows - in two parts - is an amalgam of my ideas and those which fans (or former fans) of the programme have identified as issues and potential for change:
  • PART ONE: Landscape Artist of the Year: Time for a Refresh?  (today)
  • PART TWO: Landscape Artist of the Year: Potential for Change? (tomorrow)

What are the Issues and Problems?

When I used to review an organisation - in relation to how well they were doing their job and the scope for improvement, one of the questions I always used to ask of those who worked there - or consumers of their services - was 
If the organisation has absolutely no more money, what would be your top priority for change and what would you do?

[NOTE: This avoids solutions which always involve asking for more money for whatever.]

Answers usually generated

  • incredible insights into aspects which don't work well - from different perspectives
  • some amazingly simple solutions which just involve doing things differently to get better results. 
Some of the very best ideas always came from those on the front line. The front line in this instance are artists who watch LAOTY and the artists who participate in LAOTY. 

Bottom line, production companies do not have a monopoly on good ideas for changing television programmes!

So what I did before I started writing these two posts was ask people who follow my coverage of LAOTY on Facebook to let me know what they think - and I got LOTS of very interesting comments.

In summary, the problems / issues faced by LAOTY are:
  • the structure of the programme - which does not enable good landscape artists to deliver the best they can do
  • the calibre of artist entering is declining
  • the locations seem to be unrelated to the UK as whole and the commission topic in particular - and do not always help artists deliver their best work
  • some of the best art on location is being done by the wildcards
  • the Judges are not a good fit with the context, the artists and the public and don't say enough specifically about why the art should progress or not
  • the presenters need to contribute more than just puns i.e. Joan is much missed
While listing these, it needs to be recognised that each has the potential to effect the others. They cannot be looked at in isolation.

Structure of the programme

The production company seems to be pretty much wedded to the existing very formulaic format. However rethinks of how 'competition' type programmes work are normal in the television industry. It's very normal to change:
  • how it works
  • who presents it
  • who the judges are
Not without some careful consideration and thought of course!

However with LAOTY, we still have the same format and the same Judges and only the presenters have changed.

We also have the issue that the same team are used for both landscape and portrait artist of the year - despite the fact they are very different genres.

A question being asked is should the structure and content of the application process and programme be better designed to deliver:
  • better testing of artists better at an earlier stage - to identify those who can work outside and/or commissions for views they are asked to do
  • challenging views related to the commission subject - to identify an artist who is the best to deliver on commission.
I am so bored with the trolley dash time limits on all the art/craft contests, it's obviously thought to give good telly but now just formulaic. LAOTY adds many more layers of irritation including novelty seeking, poor locations, seemingly not knowing the commission until late in the filming schedule. MAM FB Page comment

Calibre of Artist

Aim to pick a winner who would not only bring fresh insight to the commission, but talent and experience too. MAM FB Page comment

One of these artists won the series in 2018
Today, another is currently the Vice President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters
as well as being an editorial consultant for The Artist magazine

I don't think I'm alone in noting two things about the artists:
  • the calibre of artist seems to be declining over time - in terms of both
    • the submission landscape
    • the artwork produced in the pod
    • their description of the amount of experience they have of working plein air
  • the art produced by wildcards often seems to be a lot better than that produced by some of the artists in the pods.
I am also absolutely astonished by the number of people who apply for an art competition which is based on creating art while working in front of your subject who have never ever created art outside before. How does this happen?
They clearly don’t like plein air artists though the concept of the programme should favour them MAM FB Page comment
I can only conclude that a number of factors contribute to this state of affairs:
  • artists are NOT required to produce and submit an artwork produced outside in the last year 
    • the creation of which might make some artists pause for some serious thought about the wisdom of their application
  • the information requested at the application stage is inadequate e.g.
  • no evidence is asked for about whether or not an artist has ever 
    • worked plein air before
    • completed a commission before
    • produced a large artwork of significant value
It's not necessarily that one expects the selected artists to be painters of large paintings who regularly work on commission so much as one would like to see there's some evidence that they could produce artwork that is worthy of a £10,000 commission.

The Submission

The application form and current submission process do NOT seem to represent the most efficient way of collecting enough relevant information about:
  • what an artist can do
  • what an artwork produced outside by that artist will look like
  • whether they can provide evidence which indicates they may be able to fulfil a commission
If the programme is getting over 2,000 people applying: 
  • why don't we see more artists who uniformly produce good results in the pod - when making art from life. 
  • Is this really the best available in any given year?
It's not - because I see landscape art all the time produced by people who will NOT apply to the programme. 

However what gets produced might well be the best of those prepared to associate themselves with this programme.

Bottom line: to get better artists applying you need a better programme which makes good landscape artists want to apply - because they feel they could do well.

Location Location Location

The location is very often the reason why Pod artists do not perform at their best.

As another television series is apt to say, "if you can get the location right everything else can be fixed".

Pods opposite the pleasure beach at Blackpool
- for a commission which involved the sea, which is behind them!
see Review: Episode 4 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2023 - Blackpool Rollercoasters

There are a number of issues with LAOTY LOCATIONS. They are:
  • Unrepresentative: the locations are, by and large, 
    • totally remote from the nature of the vast majority of what we see out of the windows of transport we use to travel across the UK. 
    • have got worse over time.
I completely lost interest last year when they expected them to be painting racing horses!!! MAM FB Page Comment
  • Construction oriented
    • there are far too many buildings and 
    • there far too few trees, hills, mountains, lakes, rivers, coasts
    • maybe the title should be changed to 'Building Artist of the Year"
Subject matter - it’s always big buildings and rarely much in the way of landscape (what's needed is) Less buildings and structures, more natural features. MAM FB Page Comment
  • Maybe too host oriented? dominated by places which seem to want some advertising for what they have to offer (not stated - but one does rather wonder a lot! The series did after all start with a connection to the National Trust which hosted all the episodes in the earlier series)
a cynical part of me thinks that there is probably some trade-off between getting permission to film at any given location and publicity for the place. MAM FB Page Comment
Obviously, for a programme of this type there are a number of practical considerations relating to the filming. However, I think some of the constraints need to be challenged

Why have locations been wholly unrelated to the Commission?

This series left me with a sense of a lack of coherence. There seemed to be a significant disconnect between the locations and subjects of the various episodes, the artists selected or rejected at various stages and the final commission. MAM FB Page Comment
I think one of the questions rather a lot of people would like the answer to is WHY the locations for the heats are NOT better related to the subject of the commission.

Surely, if the you are going to find the best artist for a commission, you need to be testing out their abilities to portray certain types of landscape.

One connection - between Heat at Dunnotar Castle and Orkney

Artist viewers struggled to find any connection between 
  • the commission topic & location: sustainable energy production - through wind and sea - in Orkney and 
  • AND the various locations for the series Heats  - which had big solid buildings whereas Orkney has low small buildings - apart from possibly the first one (see above - look at the flat land, lots of sea and those big skies above).
For example, what was missing from most of them was the need to find an artist who could paint skies. Instead of which we had a winner who deliberately omits skies from most of her paintings. To which I can only say "Duh?"

Do the Pods determine what artists paint?

LAOTY Series 9 / Episode 5: Liverpool Pier Head and the "Three Graces":
acres of tarmac; massive structures and a pink octopus

The nature of the programme is such that there need to be "facilities" nearby for normal needs (eating/drinking/toileting the same). Although that can also be met by trucks providing such facilities - as normally happens for outside broadcasts.

The very existence of the Pods means that the location must include a relatively flat area of land in front of "a view" on which to site them. 

The downside of making the filming the priority - as opposed to the painting (or whatever) - is that this location then dictates what view the artist must use to create an artwork from at that location. 

Unless you have the nerve to get out of your pod, wander off, take a few photos and then come back and work from those!

Who decides what view to paint?

As any plein air artist will tell you, one of the most important decisions you ever make when creating art outside is what view to paint.

That is completely removed from the scope of the artists in the pods. It undermines what they have to offer from the get go.

Could it be that the reason that the many wildcard artist do so much better than some pod artists is because the wildcards get to choose their own view?


In the opinion of a lot of viewers of this programme, we'd very much like to see a LOT more of the wildcard artists - and a lot less of "filler" narrative from the presenter and/or Judges. 

The main reason we'd like to see more of the wildcards is that many of the more interesting paintings are being produced by people who:
  • got to choose where they sit/stand/place their easel
  • are not generally mithered a lot by people coming to ask questions 
  • don't have their view obstructed by cameras
From my perspective, The reality is that the wildcards get the better deal when it comes to creating artwork on location.

A wildcard collage painting done at Stonehaven Harbour
(see Review: Episode 4 of Landscape Artist of the Year 2024: Stonehaven Harbour)


I very much get the sense that the Judges were picked as "names" to get funding/agreement for the idea/format when it was originally pitched for broadcasting. 

LAOTY is now well established - but the one CONSTANT refrain from viewers across the series and years is that "the Judges need to be changed."
the judging is too focussed on 'different’ with a preference to either surreal work or very tight ultra realistic work that looks like illustration. I love the show, though do find sometimes really good artists get overlooked for more ‘different’ peers. MAM FB Page Comment
The major problem with the Judges or me - and a lot of other artists - is that NONE of them paint landscapes plein air.  Despite the fact there are 
  • numerous very experienced and very skilled artists who paint plein air
  • a number of whom can also provide evidence that they can walk, talk and educate people - via recorded and online videos, live demonstrations etc etc.
that’s exactly why other shows change people. Do the show for too long and you get bored. We need fresh eyes and fresh brains and REAL SKILLS in landscape painting. MAM FB Page Comment

Tai Shan Shierenberg - at Blackpool 

I know Tai Shan Shierenberg paints landscapes (see 2021 FIGURING THE LANDSCAPE and 2016 LOS PADRES - BUT I very much suspect (just from the way he dresses for each episode!) that almost all of these are studio productions. Mainly because the majority of the paintings on his website are very large and "finished". Indeed I can only find one painting that indicates it was painted plein air - The Narrow Road (note the size of the brush marks).

I wouldn't have a problem with Tai continuing and providing some continuity - so long as he can overcome the "things Tai does not like"!

The Disconnect

I want less Judges' pontificating (there is nothing more ridiculous that two women who do not paint saying what the artists need to do!) and more educational content. MAM FB Page Comment
The major issue from my perspective is that the two women judges are NOT artists. Their normal area of activity in art is VERY far removed from the activities with which participating plein aire artists are involved. 
I watched one judge at a heat and between camera takes she was huddled in a blanket, glued to her phone and looked bored and miserable. Maybe she was but as I was painting as if my life depended on it she was giving the impression she did NOT want to be there at all. MAM FB Page Comment
As in totally and utterly remote from plein air landscape painting.
  • Kathleen Soriano describes herself on her Instagram as being a "Curator, Telly person, Museum/Gallery Advisor/Consultant, Qualified Coach, Chair Liverpool Biennial, Chair Art UK, National Trust Specialist Advisor". She is an expert at curating exhibitions for very prestigious art institutions such as the Royal Academy of Art, National Portrait Gallery, Compton Verney etc. and she chairs the Trustees of the Liverpool Biennial. I have absolutely loved some of the exhibitions she has curated (eg Australia) - but they are an absolute world away from the nature of this programme. 
  • Kate Bryan is a British art historian, curator and arts broadcaster and describes herself on her Instagram as being an Art Addict. Art TV presenter, curator, writer and mentor. Global Director of Art @sohohouse 1/3 Judgementals. She characterises herself as being a champion of women artists.
On the whole, they are also operating at the more elite end of contemporary art and often appear completely remote from the type of artist who enters this programme - and the places where they typically exhibit. 

Although I have noted more than a few artists with a Soho House connection. (example; another example - which I assume came after their wins).  One might argue that if you look at the Art Collection of Soho House for long enough that you can see the sort of artist who might do well in the Artist of the Year competitions

Judges Comments - very specifically about the art

What I'd really like to see changed are more judges' comments on why the pieces of art are winners or not. I'd also like to see each piece of art for longer than only a few seconds (like they do for PAOTY). I'd like to be told by the judges far more than 1 reason why the winner's art was chosen while the other pieces were not. MAM FB Page Comment
In general, it's felt that the time spent on:
  • displaying art is too short 
  • explaining why one artwork is better than another is too truncated


The loss of Joan Bakewell and the contribution she offered in terms of being a critical friend to both artists and Judges has been much commented on this series
Frank Skinner and Joan Bakewell seemed to challenge the judges sometimes about their decisions - it would be good to see a presenter who would do that again MAM FB Page Comment
She very much needs replacing - by somebody who can offer what she did. A friendly but critical voice directed at the Judges - and their Judgements. She excelled at this.

I'm personally not a fan of Stephen Mangan, although I know others who are. For me it's the quantity and quality of bad puns. 

Follow up

I'll be posting a link to this review on Facebook and Instagram. Do feel free to come and comment on whether you agree with the issues raised above and, if not, what you think are the issues.


For all those interested in entering the series which will be filmed this summer (during June/July) - see my blog post about Call for Entries: Landscape Artist of the Year Series Ten.

The deadline for submission is NOON on Friday 3rd May 2024 - and entries are ONLY accepted online. 

Landscape Artist of the Year 2024 (Series 9) 

This series was filmed in Summer 2023 and was broadcast in early 2024. These are my blog posts about everything from the call for entries to the final commission.

Past Series - Reviews

You can also read past reviews of the Landscape Series of the Year
 which very many previous pod artists - and wildcards - have said they have found helpful.

See my Art on Television Page which:
  • lists all reviews I've published for series episodes broadcast between 2018 and 2023
  • together with the topics / themes /TIPS I identified in each episode.
The programme is broadcast by Sky Arts ( available on Sky, Now TV and Channel 36 on Freeview) and the films are made by Storyvault Films.

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