BBC arts coverage (part 34)

Two months ago, having been criticised for their useless visual arts coverage, which tends to be levelled at children and others of grotesque collective ignorance, the BBC promised us a raft of excellent arts programmes. Perhaps things were looking up.

One of these has now hit the screen … with a splat. The organisation has clearly learned nothing from the criticism levelled against them. It’s more of the same; windmill-gesturing commentators mouthing repetitive mantras who emphasise their earnestness by raising the volume and begging to be believed.

The programme – and the Jackdaw only watched the first episode (life being literally too short in his case for the following instalments) rehearses the now familiar territory of the women artists in art history who, women claim, have been neglected and overlooked because of some terrible male subterfuge refusing to admit their quality. Seemingly, there is now an annual television programme dealing with 404 Not Found this ‘travesty’. We know the names of the women artists before they are mentioned, for they are always the same ones. The source manual for all these series is Germaine Greer’s original book, The Obstacle Race, published decades ago. Greer ought to receive a royalty from programmes like this. Honestly,

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based on the title you could have written down the shooting schedule for this series in under five minutes.

The programme was presented by social historian Professor Amanda Vickery who repeated herself throughout in order to get across her four soundbytes whilst falling foul of the criticism she meted out to others. Instead of showing work which would convince us that this neglected artist was unfairly overlooked we saw the Prof’s decent little arse disappearing around corners, up aisles, down passages, climbing staircases. In many instances it was probably more of a work of art than most of the stuff we were prevented from seeing because of the director’s obsession with it.

In the case of Properzia de Rossi (1490-1530), a Bolognese sculptor, we were shown a couple of crudely carved cherry stones and a relief carving of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (left). By the standards of Renaissance sculpture this is a so-so carving of the quality you might find in a


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side corridor at the back of the V&A, and I think Professor Vickery would have admitted as much if she had been any kind of expert on the subject. Arms revolving uncontrollably like a compass at the north pole, she indicated a crudely carved arm (marked on the illustration) and claimed it had the power of a Michelangelo carving. Even small on the screen this was embarrassing bollocks.

The programme fell foul of the BBC’s usual problem of showing too much of an over-enthusiastic presenter forced to behave like a second-hand car salesman. In one instance the crew went to the Prado to show us a Sofonisba Anguissola portrait but focused on the presenter stood next to it. We didn’t get an opportunity to take in properly the whole picture. By all means have the presenter talking over the visuals but for heaven’s sake let us see the picture so we can make a judgement.

One assumes the series went on to discuss Artemisia Gentileschi, truly an accomplished painter and a fascinating individual, but most  interested viewers would not have stayed around to find out.

Art, not presenters, is important.

It is essential when claiming neglect for certain artists that we are shown work of a standard disabusing us of unfair preconceptions. Some women artists deserve better than this annually served up nonsense.

David Lee