Big Painting Challenge vs. The Sewing Bee

There's been good natured grumbling in our house that all the TV lately is either interior shows (still love Grand Designs), sewing or painting programmes. If you're like me then you'll watch anything art related just because there's usually so little on mainstream TV. So it's been The Sewing Bee and now The Big Painting Challenge.

I'd so been looking forward to the Big Painting Challenge starting. Do you remember Watercolour Challenge that used to be on ages ago? In that show, the candidates had a few hours to do a watercolour of a set scene, then a winner was chosen and it was all very friendly and a good time was had by all. The Big Painting Challenge is similar, apart from the good time. So far there have been two episodes and the poor contestants have been slated and crushed!

What I like about The Sewing Bee is that even when someone's made something and the sleeve's held on with a pin, the hem's all wonky and the zip's hanging out, May and Patrick manage to find something good to say about some aspect of the garment. They're constructive in their criticism and supportive of the entrants. In spite of the panic stations and from time to time the occasional tear, it all looks like everyone's having a lovely time and that it's a fun experience to be part of.

I'm not sure the same can be said of the Big Painting Challenge. It's the first series and so far only 2 episodes have been aired, but based on that, the judges seem bent on embarrassing the contestants. I'm not sure on what basis the entrants were selected, but they're all amateurs who enjoy painting. They're not making a living from it, though some might like to, they're painting because it's fun.

Making art is such a personal thing. By making a painting you're laying yourself bare. I feel so sorry for the candidates, they're putting all their efforts in, really doing their best and then the judges tell them they should have had the guts to throw it away and start again. Really? Is that fair? Look, we've all had disasters that'd be better off in the bin, but to tell someone so on national TV. Is that not public humiliation? Watching the contestants getting crushed, their sense of pleasure in creating something destroyed, well, it's just not nice. OK, so maybe some of the works being done on the show aren't all that great. Perhaps they wouldn't cut it on the professional art scene. But they don't deserve to be slated so badly. The judges must offer specific constructive criticism. Yes, say what's not quite working, but explain carefully why, suggest practical and creative solutions to improve. Simply to say you should have started again is not going to help anyone achieve their potential.

Maybe I'll be proved wrong as the series progresses but so far it seems as though the judges have very set expectations of what they want to see. They seem to have forgotten that there are no rights or wrongs in art. A painter, amateur or professional can work however they want and tackle a subject however they like.

It's a TV show at the end of the day and it's success will depend a lot on the chemistry of the hosts and the judges and whether we care about the contestants. When I watch I want to see people being challenged, but enjoying that challenge, and as a viewer I want to be uplifted and encouraged to try it myself. I watch the Sewing Bee and I want to rush into the studio and find a pattern and some fabric. I watch the Bake Off and I'm tempted to see if I have the ingredients for a cake or cookies. I watch the Big Painting Challenge and I just wonder to myself if the contestants knew what they were letting themselves in for, would they have applied?


  1. You always were a fantastic tutor Laura, and that's an art all of its own!

  2. Well said Laura! I loathe all these competition programmes, for exactly the reasons you have articulated so clearly above.

    Another couple of points the judges seem to have missed is that people don't produce brilliant art just because they are brilliant. It takes years of practice, analysis and resolution. Telling someone to put it in the bin and start again is cruel, rude and unhelpful. It is an aspect of postmodernism that is contemptible and clearly shows the judges as seeking cheap point-scoring superiority.

    This is why competent, supportive tutors should have their praises sung long and loud by their students. More power to your elbow, Laura

  3. Hi Laura,
    I agree with you. I had been looking forward to this program but it's not what I'd thought it would be like.
    I thought the time that the way art was made was decribed by others had long gone. The first candidate had to leave because the judges didn't think he was going to change his style. I also felt very sorry for the man who'd been drawing portraits for the police as a lifelong career and now had to leave because he didn't do the portrait assignment well enough.
    You're right, there's no right or wrong when making art. Those people were having a lot of fun painting as a hobby, but I guess the fun will be taken out of it, because of the hars judgements.

  4. Oops, 'prescribed by others' and 'harsh' :-)

  5. Totally agree Laura. We haven't seen the painting one here in Australia yet but we get the sewing bee and the various bake offs on our pay station foxtel. My daughter and i live for the sewing bee and the bake offs and spend many a pleasant hour watching the lovely people and the almost always fair judges. I refuse to watch some of the Australian and American shows
    because of the angry, mean spirit in the competition both from competitors to each other and the judges to competitors. I always tell people i watch the British shows because they seem to
    be so supportive of each other. Always helping each other and comforting each other when seams don't get sewn or cakes don't rise. It is real feel good viewing. It is disappointing to hear that the standard has fallen in this latest painting one so when it eventually reaches us I will
    not bother with it! If the ratings drop maybe they will get the message!

  6. I agree so much with what you say, Sewing Bee makes me feel exactly the same way and actually I did make more clothes since I started to watch it. The idea of the painting show sounds nice, but after what you said I don't know if I even want to go and check it out?!?!
    Did you think of sending them your opinion?? You might not be the only one and if there ever is a second series they might do some changes ....

  7. I completely agree with you Laura. The BBC has fallen on a great format (Sewing Bee, Bake Off) but this one has lost an important ingredient - likeability of the judges; the lack of support between contestants maybe down to that particular group but last week the hosts didn't even sound that supportive (to me), unlike Mel, Sue and Claudia.
    I, too, don't feel inspired to rush to the paints by this program - in fact this program puts me off.

  8. Have to say the Painting prog has not been as enjoyable as expected... perhaps I anticipated something akin to Watercolour Challenge. Una Stubbs paints, and I expected to see her doing so....poss following guidance of the 'professionals' step by step to create, ie teaching and reaching non artists, but anyone could have her role. I think they chose the wrong judges, not warm and friendly and they seem to have a fixed end product in mind, regardless of style..... Needs radical change for a second series.

  9. I do agree Laura - I am enjoying sweet little Una and lanky Richard Bacon, but the judges are just the sort of tutors to put you off for life....sad because I could watch people paint all day long and I think some of the artists on the programme could fly given enough wing space!


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