Thursday, September 9, 2010

Nineties vs. Noughties Fight to the Death: Art Shows

I woke up early this morning. Yes, that's newsworthy when you're me. And as it turns out, morning television is super boring...unless you're a kid. The kiddies are well looked-after by morning TV, let me tell you. In fact, it was as I was flipping through the many children's channels that I came across a show called Mister Maker. It was about a dude teaching us how to do arty things, and it reminded me of an art show from my own youth, Art Attack. As soon as I realised the similarity of the shows, I immediately though, "WWWIAFTTD?" (Who Would Win In A Fight To The Death?) Below are my thoughts, opinions and attempts of my own at recreating such artistic vision.

The Show: Art Attack, a British program desperately trying to unlock the hidden artistic talent of the nation's youth. Because your finger paintings, little Suzie? They're bullshit. Neil's here to show you how to do some proper fucking art.

The Host: Neil Buchanan, a middle-aged man who also somehow looks like a teenager from Round The Twist. (And Marty McFly, from some angles.) He wears rad nineties jeans and a red sweater with the Art Attack logo on it. That's right. The logo of his own show. That takes some balls, man. I bet he made it himself.

The Set: A huge white room filled with giant stationery. Literally, giant stationery. It gives the effect that you're being taught how to do art by a tiny little goblin man of some description. I cannot tell you how fascinated I was with this set when I was a young'un.

The Content: Firstly, there's none of this introduction crap with Neil. He doesn't even tell you what materials you'll need, or even what you're making. It's like, "Bam, paper plate. Do you have a paper plate? No? Well too bad, you're behind now, just watch me do it. No, don't go ask Mummy for a paper plate. Sit down. Look, I'm onto the third step already. It's not my fault your tiny brains can't keep up." And do you know what he makes with this paper plate you still haven't found? He makes something called "paint on a plate." Paint on a plate. How mind-bogglingly simple. You literally pour paint on a paper plate, spin it around on the end of a pencil, and see how many cool patterns you can make before your mother finds out what you're doing, takes the thing off you, and screams about how she just knew you were up to something when you asked for a paper plate.

Neil suddenly remembers the average age of his target audience and decides to tell the tykes exactly how to mix the paint so it's just right. A direct quote, from the kiddie art show host: "You need to mix it so that the consistency is such that when you pour out a stripe of paint onto some paper, and you tip it up, it starts to drip steadily in streams." this how British kids talk? Consistency? Steadily? Streams? What the fuck are streams, Neil? I didn't tune into this show for an English lesson. I tuned in for an art lesson, and all Neil's shown me how to do so far is pour paint onto a paper plate. I remember this show being so much cooler. Pick up your game, Neil.

Really, Neil? Really?

Neil tells us that if we don't have a paper plate, we can just cut out a circle of cardboard. You know when this piece of information would've come in handy? At the start of the project, right before the viewers all ran into the kitchen screaming about how they need paper plates. I can only imagine that several small children just returned, paper plate in hand, only to find that Neil's moved on to cardboard like the dirty material-swapping tramp he is. He uses one of the giant pencils from the set (helpfully telling us that "I've got a big pencil" -- someone's proud!) and redoes the experiment using his huge, throbbing pencil and a giant cardboard circle.

We cut to an art gallery, where a bust called The Head talks to us. Oh yay, a disembodied head. Funny how I erased this part from my memory. The Head helpfully tells us that if we want to do the paint on a plate experiment at home, put some newspaper down on the floor first. Again, this seems like a tidbit of advice best served before the demonstration.

The next segment is Neil at the airport. His flight to wherever has been delayed for nine hours. Nine hours! Imagine all the art that could be attacked in that time! This is one of the cooler segments where Neil makes giant artworks out of the most ridiculous shit. Today he's using his luggage. You might need to suspend disbelief for a minute, (like why a grown man would need four floaty rings, two pairs of binoculars and a worrying amount of grey socks) but the end result is amazing -- it's a plane! A giant plane on the floor of an airport! It's times like these I remember why Neil rules.

Best. Plane delay. Ever.

And we're back in the giant's art studio. Neil introduces the next segment by asking us, "Have you ever been really shattered? You should try it; it looks great!" I immediately know what he's going to do next. Out of all the Art Attack episodes out there, I've found one that I actually remember! I emulated this one at home, not quite as successfully as Neil, but I didn't do too bad either. Neil tells us to take a piece of paper "roughly twenty by seven centimetres," but again, that's just a rough estimate. Neil, nowhere in the world is seven "roughly" anything. Round up, honey. Anyway, this exercise involves us writing our names in block letters on the paper, cutting it into strips and then moving them slightly to create a shattered effect. I still have no idea why Neil's looks so cool and mine ended up looking like someone threw up dyslexia, but what are you gonna do?

Now you're just showing off, Neil.

Neil decides to make papier mache next, which I had a bad experience with in primary school. Turns out I was horribly allergic to the glue we used. It was Clag glue. Remember Clag? The slow kid used to eat it in kindergarten? Good thing I wasn't the slow kid, or I'd probably be dead. Today Neil is using PVA glue, which I thankfully wasn't allergic to. I say "thankfully" because most of my primary school memories of PVA glue involved smearing it on my hands so I could peel it off later. Don't look at me like that. All the cool kids did it.

Anyway, Neil tells us that any papier mache thing worth its salt has four layers of newspaper -- or if you're smart, like Neil, you can intersperse the newspaper with magazine shreds so you know which layer you're on. My teachers never thought to make us do that. (By "us" I mean the kids who got to continue their papier mache fun, instead of being sent to the library workroom to practice the recorder. On the plus side, I was nothing if not balls-out good at the recorder by the end of grade three.) Neil then papier-maches two polystyrene cups to the bottom of the half-balloon, and turns the whole thing into pants. Yeah, pants. All the imagination anyone could ever ask for, and he creates pants.

Yes, I see what he's pointing at, too.

I'm not too proud to say that this is what my papier mache project was going to turn into before my creativity was overthrown by the evil Clag, and let me tell you something -- it wasn't ever going to look anything like Neil's. Hey Neil, you know who can't make stuff like that? Children. Children, Neil. You're setting them up to fail with your high expectations. Look at those friggin' pants for a second, will ya? Could you at home make that today? Huh? I didn't think so.

Neil finishes this segment by telling us about all the wonderful things he can stick in his pants. Goddamnit, Neil. And I don't know about you, but I refuse to accept candy from a person who keeps it in a hollowed-out baby.

Final Thoughts: Despite the slight penis obsession, I like Neil. He's oddly personable. I was probably the least artistic child ever to grace God's green (unless Neil paints it) earth, but somehow art didn't seem so bad when Neil showed me how much fun it could be. Sure, he assumes that every single child is exactly as good at art as he is, but at least he's inspiring people. In fact, if Neil came to my door and asked me if I wanted art lessons, I would let him in, give him a cup of coffee and by God, we would make papier-mache pants fit for a catwalk. God, I'm jealous of those pants he made.

Now it's time to meet Mister Maker. And oh God, Mister Maker. Just...Mister Maker. I don't have screencaps for this show, so I thought I'd recreate Mister Maker's art using the infallable MS Paint. You hear that? Lorelai art! This almost never happens in real life!

The Show: Mister Maker, a British program desperately trying to unlock the previous popularity of Art Attack. And failing, most likely. I haven't checked the ratings, but holy everything, this show is both shit and frightening at the same time, so I don't know how anyone can find it appealing. Kids like weird stuff, I guess.

The Host: Mister Maker, a terrifying twentysomething who got lost in someone's Mighty Boosh-inspired nightmare, went mad, then returned to Earth where some bright spark gave him his own children's television hosting gig. Not sure what his real name is, but I'm thinking it rhymes with, "Schmeelzebub." Also, he wears Tina Fey's PJ Calamity vest from Mean Girls every single day.

The Set: Pretty sure Mister Maker brought it back with him from the aforementioned Mighty Boosh nightmare.

The Content: To be honest, I only watched this show because A) nothing else was on, and B) the summary from my TV's little infobox thing made it sound like the second coming of Art Attack. It sort of is, but for the Tourette's set.

Mister Maker starts the show by showing us how to make a pop-out picture using the lid off a packet of baby wipes. I don't know why Mister Maker has baby wipes in his possession. I don't want to know why Mister Maker has baby wipes in his possession. He just does, okay? The trick is not to ask too many questions, like, "where is the baby now?" or "what's that smell coming from the cellar?" Anyway, he gets us to stick the baby wipe lid onto a piece of cardboard, then paint it to look like a door. He inserts a ghost inside the "doorway," so that when the baby wipe lid door pops open, someone gets a fright! Ah, scaring children. Something Mister Maker excels at.

Some of my best work right here.

One thing I've already noticed is that Mister Maker is very big on scissor safety. While Neil from Art Attack could not give less of a shit if you lopped off all your fingers in the name of art, Mister Maker wants you to know that scissors are no picnic. You'll need an adult to help you, which I'm sure they'll be happy about. Even money says they suggested "art time" to get you out of their hair, not realising that Mister Maker has made them the official household Cutter-Outerer.

Mister Maker tickles a bunch of cartoon shapes, and they come to life and sing a song about how they're shapes. Don't worry, they're very clearly just people dressed in shape costumes. The yellow triangle reminds me of a day in primary school when the Safety House people came to talk to us about stranger danger, and one of them made the schoolboy error of donning a large Safety House costume. Paul Kasey pushed him over, and the poor guy could do nothing but lie there on his side (wall?) while kicking his legs violently in the air in a vain attempt at getting back on his feet. I'm a little annoyed that there aren't any Paul Kaseys around to show this Mister Maker triangle what's what. Or even just Mister Maker himself.

Oh goody, there are children at Mister Maker's window. This will end well, I'm sure. What Mister Maker does here, essentially, is make a lion's head out of a hundred child corpses decked out in all the right colours. Of course he does. Corpse art is the new luggage art, after all. I mean yes, those hundred colour-coded children could just be lying there in the shape of a lion, but have you ever met a child who can stay still for as long as it takes to make a lion's head out of its classmates? The only other option is a computer trick, but, blasphemy! Neil never needed a computer trick, just some careful video editing and a red sweater.

No corpses, just sheer manly lion. Rrrawr!

Mister Maker, fresh from harvesting the souls of all those lion children, has returned to his lair and is now going to teach us how to make a bobble-headed clown. Right, because it's not like that many children are scared of those or anything. He sets himself a time limit of a minute because a giant yellow bird came out of a clock and told him to. Are you following this? Because I am, and I don't want to be.

Mister Maker tells us that anyone can make a clown long as they happen to have some googly eyes, a tiny red pom-pom, some modelling clay, and the most surprising, a plastic egg that opens in half. And here I was complaining that Neil's paper plate was a tall order. He admits that you might need to go shopping for this one, so he does. Despite the fact that he literally has a wall of art supplies right behind him, he's actually cooked up an activity that needs further spending. Nice work there, Mister Maker.


In case you were curious, Mister Maker makes his clown head in under a minute. Cuts it pretty close, too. And now we have a clown head that bobs up and down, presumably out of its own free will and/or the clay base hidden inside the egg. Couple that with the creepy ghost picture, and you have a room full of wet-pantsed children.

The spraycan effect is representing tissue paper and the fragility of life.

So what's next on Mister Maker's agenda? He's going to make a cool picture of a cauldron, and stick really cool things like plastic bugs and pipe cleaner snakes on it! Yay! And also, a severed leg. Yep, there's a severed leg coming out of that cauldron. I'm not kidding. Severed leg. I can't be sure, but it looks like that of a child, maybe around ten years old. Or at least, he was until he made the fatal error to knock on Mister Maker's door one Halloween. This is why you should've listened to the Safety House lecture, Paul Kasey.

Sorcery from Mister Maker? Not surprising.

Mister Maker's last task involves making a cactus out of bubble wrap. Despite going on some sort of rant about how he enjoys squishing the life out of bubble wrap, he emplores his young apprentices at home to put it to better use -- making a cactus. Because why not? Who doesn't love cactuses, besides, like, children? The task involves wrapping pipe-cleaners up in bubble wrap, stuffing them into a pot filled with more bubble wrap and then lining the extra space in with the pot guessed it. Bubble wrap. He then paints the cactus with green paint, and suggests that we use four other colours of paint to add "detail," which seems unnecessary. The detail doesn't look as good as it ought to, though. Just stick with the green, kiddies. You mothers will thank me.

This feels a bit shit compared to the lion.

Mister Maker shows us some more cacti he prepared earlier. He even made mini-cacti and stuck brightly coloured bubble wrap flowers on them! Okay, while I definitely think Mister Maker is the son Satan sent to a group home because he just couldn't put up with his shit anymore, the dude has some tricks. I freakin' want a mini bubble wrap cactus with pink bubble wrap flowers on it. I want one so hard, it's difficult to believe I ever wanted anything else.

Final Thoughts: I think the problem I have with Mister Maker, besides the whole serial killer vibe thing, is that he's just too over-the-top, look-at-me zany. Zany don't win you fans, Mister Maker. If there's one thing kids hate, it's the assumption that they're stupid, and Mister Maker treats them like they're fully retarded. Where Neil is informative, Mister Maker is belittling. Where Neil is a normal human being, Mister Maker is batshit nuts. The only thing Mister Maker has taught me so far is that I'm exceptionally good at MS Paint drawings.

Neil Buchanan and Art Attack, you are officially the winners of my fight to the death! Oh, but Neilly baby? Nobody outdoes me, not even in their own specialty.

Boom. MS Paint pants. Shatter that, Neil.


  1. Based on this review, I am definitely on Team Neil, but I wonder if Mister Maker might prevail in a fight to the death if only because he seems to have more experience in, you know, actually fighting persons to the death.

    And I love how Neil's pants are clearly designed for someone with a massive beer gut. What kid wouldn't love that?

  2. I dunno, I think Mister Maker's vest is kind of fly...

    I wish we had shows like this in America. I don't think that we, as a nation, really care about unlocking our kids' creative potential.

  3. Sada: You're right. My idea of a fight to the death is inherently flawed because you can't kill the damned.

    Amber: Americans need to get on this shit immediately. If there's one thing your country needs more of, it's bubble-wrap cacti.

  4. OMG! So glad I found your blog. I LOVED art attack because I was quite the artistic child. I learnt a lot from this show.

    Did you ever watch Katie and Orbie?

  5. Thatissophat -- yes! I'd totally forgotten about that one! It's the little girl and the alien, right? The second I read your comment, the theme song sprung right into my head.

  6. Yes! The show was adorable! It's Katie and orbie, and all the worlds their story... Or something like that