The Big Painting Challenge


Last Sunday night I watched the final of The Big Painting Challenge on BBC1. This show was essentially an art version of The Great British Sewing Bee or The Great British Bake Off, with the same format: three challenges, two judges, one contestant leaves each week. I find watching people paint really interesting, and also a bit relaxing, and the show took me back to my youth when me and my mum would watch Watercolour Challenge with our sandwiches in the summer holidays. (Just found out that it's on 4oD! *immediately starts watching them all*)

Anyway, there was apparently a bit of a painting-show hole in my life (and the TV schedule) so I enjoyed watching this on iPlayer over the last few weeks. However, the show wasn't without its faults.

First of all, Richard Bacon is a weird choice of presenter, especially alongside Una Stubbs, who is an accomplished artist. As I mentioned before, the format of the show is the same as TGBBO and TGBSB, but these shows have Mel and Sue and Claudia Winkleman who bring some humour to proceedings. I do like Una Stubbs, but she's not particularly funny and there is so little interaction between her and Richard Bacon that it seems pointless having them both presenting.

I don't think a show about painting necessarily needs humour, but some relevant presenters who can at least engage in some kind of conversation (I don't want to use the word banter, but that's what I mean, really) with each other would make it so much better.

The judges were overly harsh sometimes too. Anthea was sent home because her portraits were deemed to be too much like illustrations (so what?) and Amy was told her work was "self indulgent" (isn't most art self indulgent?). The comparison with Watercolour Challenge is stark. On WC there are no negative comments at all. It's basically a nice relaxing 30-minute group hug with the presenter declaring "everyone's a winner really" at the end of every episode. It's the most chilled-out competition of all time.

I'm not saying I agree with that approach - I think criticism is important, especially if the painters are making basic errors, but art is so subjective that I think the judges could have given them a bit more credit considering the time constraints.

And that brings me onto the main issue with this show: The challenges almost always focused on speed rather than technical ability. For the third and final challenge each week - which was generally the hardest and involved creating a full painting as opposed to a sketch - the contestants were only given about 2 hours. In comparison, TGBBO gives their contestants 4 hours for their show-stopper bake and WC allows 4 hours to complete a single painting. So, for TBPC to allow just 2 hours to create a painting from scratch without prior knowledge of the subject matter seems a bit ridiculous. Plus, the 2nd challenge in the final - to sketch 27 marching soldiers in half an hour - just felt cruel.

Anyway, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks the format is flawed: 

If you ask an artist to spend less than 3 hours on a painting, of course they aren't going to be very good. #thebigpaintingchallenge — MΔŁŁ ツ (@Matty_Boy_89) March 22, 2015

#TheBigPaintingChallenge The #BBC gets it wrong again. Art is not a competition with a time limit set at The Royal Naval College. Poor. — Julian Mark Brown (@JuckaBardo) March 29, 2015

#thebigpaintingchallenge Setting really difficult challenges hasn't helped the contestants produce great Art. — Acehart (@Acehart) March 29, 2015

shame they couldn't have had longer time for the final test speed isn't the only constraint in producing good work #TheBigPaintingChallenge — BLTP (@Gargarin) March 29, 2015

If you allowed these rushed artists to spend longer on their pieces, I guarentee you the standard would go up. #thebigpaintingchallenge — MΔŁŁ ツ (@Matty_Boy_89) March 29, 2015

why do they give awful challenges in a tiny time frame, then act shocked when they don't get finished masterpieces #TheBigPaintingChallenge — stacey fox (@Stace_3_fashion) March 29, 2015

I would really love to see the judges make their own attempts at these challenges with restricted time #TheBigPaintingChallenge — Stephanie (@SOOTP) March 29, 2015

Although nothing to do with the quality of the show, another thing that struck me was the amount of people criticising the contestants on Twitter. Yes, it was the final and objectively some of the paintings weren't great, but I have never seen such harsh messages posted towards Bake Off contestants about their soggy cakes, or the terrible creations on the Sewing Bee. Most of the comments were aimed at poor Amy: 

Amy???? What is that? #TheBigPaintingChallenge — thecatsmother (@moggiesma) March 29, 2015

Actually, this just highlights the problem with the show, because Amy's Facebook page shows that when she's not faced with harsh time constraints, her paintings are really great.

The fact that idiots on Twitter feel the need to criticise all the artists makes me sad, as it will likely be off-putting for anyone wanting to take up painting who might be worried about not being good enough. The format of the show also doesn't make painting seem like a fun or easy thing to do either. I know TGGBO has contributed massively to the amount of people now baking regularly, and the same for The Sewing Bee, so it's a huge shame that this show didn't really achieve that for painting.

I did enjoy watching The Big Painting Challenge mainly because, to me, a bad show about painting is better than no show at all, but if they do run a second series, I think they really need to re-think the challenges and also the presenters. Also, the judges probably need to be a bit more encouraging. Basically, I just want a more up-to-date version of Watercolour Challenge :)

I do hope they bring the show back, I just hope it hasn't put too many people off.