Have you met BBC Four?

More than ever before, it is time to hunker down, grab a cuppa (or something stronger) and watch something that feeds your soul. 

In my opinion, soul-feeding television is the best type. In fact, there should be a separate category of Emmy for it.  (“Best Primetime Television Programme That Doesn’t Insult the Viewers Intelligence or Scare the Crap Out of Them and Actually Has Interesting Information” perhaps?)

Soul-feeding TV isn’t difficult to watch or understand, doesn’t induce panic, and doesn’t have you sleeping with the light on. It also doesn’t pander to your basest instincts, leaving you feeling as sick as if you’d just eaten an entire bag of marshmallows.* 

You learn something from soul-feeding TV. It’s just…lovely

Fortunately, there are many programmes out there that will feed your soul. (The Great British Bake Off or any of it’s great British spin-offs, for example!) 

Pure joy and cake. What more could we ask for?

But do you know about BBC Four?

The younger, more sedate sibling in the BBC lineup, BBC Four specialises in arts documentaries. Even if you’re not in the UK, you can watch many of them on YouTube. I’ve just enjoyed this fantastic documentary, Rossetti: Sex, Drugs and Oil Paint, which was made for BBC Four in 2003. 

Rossetti: Sex, Drugs and Oil Paint – BBC Four

The historian Andrew Graham-Dixon takes us through the fascinating personal and professional history of Dante Gabriel Rossetti– a painter, poet, obsessive lover, drug addict and collector of exotic animals. Watching this reminded me of why I fell in love with the Pre-Raphaelites when I first studied them: their art is as compelling as their personal lives. 

It also reminded me, as the best arts documentaries do, that there was a real person behind the artist. Because of his unusual behaviour, Rossetti can often be seen as a caricature of himself. Even his friends drew him in a comical way on occasion. 

Gabriel Rossetti Bringing Cushions to Jane Morris, by Edward Burne-Jones,
c. 1868-1877, National Gallery of Art, Washington

But he was human: frail, passionate, talented, genius, and a bit of a dick. All at once. 

As an art historian, I like to be reminded of this. He isn’t a subject, he’s a person. And talking about the good and the bad together creates a beautiful, messy picture. Just like life. 

So go check out the Rossetti documentary, and while you’re at it, look at Fake or Fortune, Britain’s Lost Masterpieces, and here’s a link to even more BBC Four nourishment

*Trust me, this is not a good idea.