Sunday 19 February 2017

The Big Painting Challenge

I've never seen a single episode of Great British Bake Off or MasterChef, but I have been watching The Big Painting Challenge on BBC One. 

It's the sort of programme that a few years back would have been automatically presented by Rolf Harris. No ifs, no buts. BBC One and Art was Rolf and only Rolf for several years. Not even Sister Wendy could get a look-in on BBC One. It was Rolf, Rolf, and yet more Rolf. (Though a certain Mr. Yentob used to get a late evening slot every so often too).

For some reason, Rolf - now known as 'Harris' - is no longer on the BBC, so it's the Rev Richard Coles and Mariella Frostrup presenting instead.

(It has to be said that neither has a catchphrase to match 'Can you tell what it is yet?' or that heavy-breathing thing Rolfie used to do). 

The format is straight out of GBBO - and all the rest, ad infinitum: contestants (some with moving back stories), mentors, judges, a public vote, and a weekly eviction - plus plenty of BBC diversity. 

For two weeks in a row 'the public' (namely a few people invited in by the BBC) went for the largely abstract piece by the pretty young woman (#everyday sexism) - the one my elderly parents think is, by a long way, the worst of the lot. I rang them tonight to check up on their take and, yes, they described it as "rubbish". 

I was more taken by it (lovely colours, striking effects), but I'd have chosen several other (more naturalistic) paintings before it myself.

Of course, one contestant got voted out. I don't usually think of myself as a 'non-competitive sports' type but the brutal stupidity of this cookie-cutter BBC format strikes me as distasteful. It's all a game, but it's people's deepest feelings that are being held up to public embarrassment here, and I don't like it.

I shall now melt, snowflake-like, away - though I might tweet my disgust to the world first. #benicetohedgehogs.

I did like the look of Hastings though. It's obviously somewhere that offers much, much more than merely the opportunity to fight off Norman invaders.

Update: Not on The Big Painting Challenge, but here's a 1936 painting of Marine Court in Hastings by Raymond Myerscough-Walker.


  1. I have been watching this programme with interest. We have two new presenters. I became hot under the collar at the end of the last series, because it appeared to me that the BBC were flying Richard Bacon to and fro across the globe so that we could listen to a series of irrelevant comments from his untrained eye.

    Now we have Rev Richard who has appeared on HIGNFY with a few good one-liners - so he must know all about art. Maybe within diversity rules, inclusion of someone from 'all faiths and none' gives sufficient Brownie-points for an average white middle class Englishman to be included.

    And so to Hastings, where the contestants were required to work outside - away from the specially created cosy studio in Bermondsey. In the distance was one of the most important Modern Movement buildings in Britain, Marine Court. End-ways on. it looks like a lighthouse, but on closer inspection I could pick out quite clearly the stacked balconies designed to resemble the bridge deck of its contemporary, RMS Queen Mary.

    It might interest art-lovers to know that a perspective sketch of Marine Court by the wonderfully eccentric Raymond Myerscough-Walker hangs in the RA. Might we have expected some mention of this in the context of an art programme?

    1. Hopefully, I've added the right picture to the post.

    2. That's the one The block rises to 14 storeys and is 127m long.

    3. Looking at images of it, it's a very impressive building. I have to admit it rather puts Morecambe's Marine Court in the shade.

  2. The Rev Richard is well placed there to give counsel to any of the contestants who might have issues.

  3. I find this trend of turning everything from art to cooking into a kind of competitive sport quite puzzling. I certainly don’t support the rather batty PC notion of banning competitive sports but painting isn’t sport. It’s supposed to be self expression. I don’t have anything against Rev Richard Coles and Mariella Frostrup, in fact I’m sure they are perfectly nice people, but I’m afraid the addition celebrity presenters does nothing but devalue the whole enterprise even more.
    Cookie-cutter television is a perfect description - like all reality television cheap and easy to make. If the BBC has a little less contempt for their audience they might spend more of the licence payer’s money on commissioning good drama and documentaries and instruct their journalists to be journalists rather than activists (a vain hope, I know). A good example of this was Andrew Graham-Dixon’s documentary on French art. Apart from the insertion of a rather incongruous PC message it was a first rate programme, but it was only three episodes long. Twice as long would have been too short to give even a brief overview, but apparently we are too stupid to sit through anything as intellectually challenging as that.

    1. Yes, everything must be dumbed down so that even the most ill-informed or disadvantaged viewers are not be left behind. The 'educate' part of the BBC's purpose has been lost.

  4. Watching the previous series, I felt that the elimination format was wrong. All the contestants should have remained until the end. You could have a "winner" each week, but because they were painting different things and styles, it was wrong to eliminate anybody. There could be a judgment at the end of the overall winner.


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