Tim Walker: 'The contestants in Saatchi's show aren't made to seem like sociopaths'

The Couch Surfer: Saatchi is the Wizard of Oz in this particular drama. His presence looms over proceedings, yet he never appears on screen, relaying his views instead via a hyper-qualified minion.
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The Independent Culture

Before long, every profession under the sun will have been subjected to a reality-TV contest that both celebrates and debases its practice. Just like the restaurant business (Raymond Blanc), the music business (Simon Cowell), the design business (Philippe Starck) and the business business (Lord Sugar), it was probably only a matter of time before the biggest swinging dick in the art business decided to use a telly show to find a protégé. Hence BBC2's School of Saatchi (Charles Saatchi, of course).

The first thing you notice about School of Saatchi is that, unlike The Apprentice, not all the contestants are made to seem like sociopaths. In fact, they appear uniformly charming and intelligent. Even Saad, the mildly testing one, is only difficult because he wants his work to be perfect in a process that breeds imperfection. The most recent challenge, for instance, was to create major public artworks on a minuscule budget in under a week.

This inevitably skewed the results towards conceptual art, which was uncomfortable for those artists whose other work is as technical as it is conceptual. Like The Apprentice, the tasks are tests of character and nous, but so far have little to do with demonstrating the contestants' hard-earned skills. Which is a shame, because some of them displayed those skills – for painting, drawing, sculpture, video – vividly during the competition's "audition" stage.

The week's nominal winners were Matt Clark and Eugenie Scrase – who, by the way, has my vote. (The audience doesn't actually get to vote. I just mean that if Eugenie ever came round knocking on doors and asked me to vote for her or, indeed, for anyone else, I would almost certainly say yes.) Their finished project, placed on two islands in a boating pond on the seafront at Hastings, was a pair of deserted zoo enclosures – a surreal seaside joke that appealed not only to me and to the chair of the judges, contemporary art critic Matthew Collings, but also to Saatchi himself. Apparently.

Saatchi is the Wizard of Oz in this particular drama. His presence looms over proceedings, yet he never appears on screen, relaying his views instead via a hyper-qualified minion. Since all the contestants had a hard time characterising "art" when asked to, and since Collings, Tracey Emin and their fellow judges seemed unwilling to clarify their own definitions, perhaps the whole four-part series is just an empty frame that Saatchi has sold to the unsuspecting BBC at a huge profit; a zoo with no animals; a great big art joke. Considering how much he's spent on unmade beds, dead fish and faulty lightbulbs, he must have a decent sense of humour.

Facebook welcomed its 350,000,000th user last week, putting it well ahead of any other social network. To celebrate, the site's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent us all a message. The missive itself was mostly about Facebook's new privacy protocols, but what drew my eye was the comments board beneath. Within 24 hours, over 30,000 people had clicked the "Like" button to give Zuckerberg's message the digital thumbs-up, and over 20,000 left (mostly positive) comments.

Among those comments, however, were a slew of users insisting on the introduction of a "Dislike" button to counteract all those cheery upward-pointing thumbs. I find seeing that so-and-so "likes this" as irritating as the next person who thinks a bit too much about their social-networking interfaces. But, on the other hand, Facebook is one of the few online forums that encourages positivity.

Sure, there are various Facebook groups advocating the death penalty for Jeremys Clarkson and Kyle, or demanding the decimation of some inoffensive faraway state, but you don't have to join them. Most comments boards on Facebook are remarkably free of the white supremacism, conspiracy theorising and directionless bile that afflict the rest of the web.

There's an accepted equation for online abuse, which runs something like "normal person + anonymity + audience = douchebag (or similar)". Facebook offers no anonymity to commenters – despite its new privacy settings, you'll still have to announce your identity if you plan to denounce anyone else – and, as you're dealing with an audience of friends and acquaintances, you're forced to be polite. Introducing a simple way to express negative thoughts might open the floodgates to the web crazies, so it gets the thumbs-down from me.