I’m sorry to tell you but we’re all dumb painters – not artists.
Some of us, at some point in our lives, have used a tradesman. Maybe once you got some painters in? Yes, you could have done it yourself, but your painting skills are a bit rusty so it was probably best that you got a professional in.
What am I blathering on about? Well, I’m currently having my kitchen painted and it occurred to me this relationship between tradesmen and client is a direct and relevant comparison to TV producers and the commissioners that hire them.
Yes, like me, the commissioner feels they could paint a room (or make the TV show), but because they have been sitting behind a desk, whilst telling their boss how brilliant they are, it might have taken the edge off their painting skills. Much better, therefore, to get someone else to do all the hard work. Someone who is used to getting their hands dirty, like a producer.
So humour me a little more and let’s compare actual painting jobs to TV programmes – seems like a useful exercise.
Perhaps a show like Nat Geo’s “Drain the Oceans” is a bit like getting all of your downstairs done in beige. One big job lot, a few irritating missed patches, but weirdly anyone who comes round think’s it’s quite good – despite the horrible colour.
Then there are the rooms that have a ‘feature wall’ and several colours – a bit more specialist. You wouldn’t use the guys that made “Drain the Oceans”
It needs someone who has some specialist skills and probably the price tag to match. Let’s get the people who made “Line of Duty”.
Again, you’re really not convinced with the blue flock wall paper, but the result is, even more surprisingly, also a smash hit with the visitors. Everyone that comes round marvels at the finish – even though you know it’s cheap old tosh financed by some ingenious tax credits from Ireland or something.
Admittedly, the lead painter Mercurio, or whatever his name is, did a brilliant job telling everyone how good his paint job was.
I mean – that’s why you hired him.
You were initially dubious when he persuaded you that ‘Police blue’ was ‘in’, nevertheless, you went with him. Seems he was right, even though you still think the room he did was vile, but at least everyone thinks you’re a genius for hiring him.
What about the Sistine Chapel? That obviously wasn’t just a bunch of jobbing decorators. No, that would be the TV equivalent of Christopher Nolan doing something for you. Again, seems like a good comparison – a hell of a lot more expensive to hire Michelangelo than just the local painters – but he did a great job which lasted the test of time. That would have to be right up there, like “My Octopus Teacher” or something.
Not everyone has seen it and not everyone who has seen it likes it, but it’s won awards and stuff so it must be good. “Oh, I heard you got Nolan round to do your ceiling?” your neighbours say – what they mean is “Fancy show off!”.
So where am I going with all this you might ask? This doesn’t seem to be my usual petrol driven diatribe against commissioners.
HOLD ON – IT IS!
But actually it’s more of a message about our industry and how we all behave in it.
So when you got your painters round to do your rooms did you stand there, right next to them, barking orders? “DON’T hold your brush like this, hold it like that. Why haven’t you masked that off? Can I see the CV of the boy that uses the spinning thing on the drill to mix your paint? HOW MUCH does that paint cost? You must be having me on?”
Of course not – or if you did, I don’t think the painters would have stayed that long. I know I didN’t – I just let the guy in, made him a cuppa and let him get on with it. At the end, I inspected his work and signed it off. Simple.
So why is it acceptable for TV producers to be ‘instructed’ like that by commissioners – and why do we put up with it? Are we decorators?
We’re not decorators, you say – we’re artists. Well, if that is the case, even more reason not to be told what to do – let the artist do his thing.
But the problem is, I don’t think we are artists, we’re just good tradesmen. Is our work going into a gallery? Could you call Quest, ITV or any of the UK channels an artistic space?
Of course not. We’re just painting walls. Hundreds of them.
People walk past them, but they hardly even notice our paint jobs until someone (a commissioner) springs out and says ”Have you noticed the paint colour? It’s lovely isn’t it? Yes, I ordered it you know”.
And that’s the problem. We are all now decorators and the channels aren’t galleries – they’re newly built housing estates, like the sorts that are springing up all over the country, that need hundreds of walls, all painted beige.
Yes, amongst our ranks, there are some genuine artists and they need to be left alone and given some murals or ceilings to paint – or even better, murals on ceilings. But for the most part we need to be more honest with ourselves. We’re not Picasso, or Nolan, or anywhere even close. We’re jobbing decorators who are given just enough money for one undercoat and one top coat before we have to slather it on the walls and get out quick so the house can be sold. We want to do a good job but really we’d prefer to be out of there before that bloody annoying ART CONNOISSEUR commissioner comes round and tells us how crap our paint work is.
Sad really, especially as most of us are, actually, highly trained and went to art college. I used to dream of painting a piece like the Hay Wain but now I realise, I don’t work in a gallery, I work in Brewers paint shop and the closest I will ever get to a piece of TV art is to look at someone else’s multimillion pound documentary on Netflix.
I also just wish the commissioners would realise that they don’t work at the National Portrait Gallery either, but rather the poster section in WHSmiths.