Every summer when sales go quiet I worry whether I’ve done enough of the self-promotion I’m supposed to do to earn a living. I usually haven’t. Posting about myself and my work feels as uncomfortably narcissistic as a Kardashian marriage counselling session. I usually end up in a compensatory frenzy of random show applications and calls for entry. This year, one of those calls was for a reality TV show competition. It was a short free application so I applied on a whim despite sorta loathing reality shows and competition in general. Then I forgot about it.
I was startled when they emailed me back to tell me I was shortlisted for a video interview which would then be cut and processed for the network to see whether I was telegenic enough for public consumption.
I agreed because at this point, I am playing chicken with myself, as one does when exiled Prince Mbedi offers to share his $10B fortune if you share your bank account information. Which is to say: cautious realism with a hint of possiblity, right?
One of the video questions was “What would you do if you won?”
Me: “Oh, I won’t win, I said. I don’t even want to; that’s not the point.”
Them: “That’s a very Canadian response.”
I suppose it is. I wonder how this particular Canadian trait works in things like NAFTA agreements and elections.
My intention going in was to jump start my painting style and work ethic. I’ve been feeling laggish next to faster producing colleagues and though speed and quantity aren’t necessarily indicators of quality, they *are* indicators of productivity and confidence. I wanted to paint faster, better, more confidently. And what better way to manifest these qualities than with the threat of nationwide humiliation?
The competitive reality show is based on a popular British TV series called “Landscape Artist of the Year” where a group of artists compete through several rounds to see who is the “best” landscape painter as deemed by a small panel of esteemed art judges with whom the public usually vehemently disagrees. The artists are selected based on a submission piece as well as their telegenic appeal. The artists are divided into “heats” and have four hours to complete an on-site landscape. They don’t know what they’re going to be painting until they see it. The judges evaluate both the on-site landscape as well as the initial submission piece to determine who moves forward to the final. The Canadian series has three heats of six artists competing in specially engineered outside art studios called “pods”. Two artists from each heat are picked to go forward to the final. There are also dozens of artists who come out to paint on the sidelines during each heat and one or two of these “wildcard artists” may qualify for the final if they impress the judges.
The same production company did a Netflix series called “Blown Away” about competitive glassblowing. It was pretty interesting since glassblowing is one of those trade arts with an edge of danger because of the extreme heat required to produce something very fragile. Tension runs high and hot and there are a lot of sharp edges. However, landscape painting involves decidedly less adrenaline so they have to put a time limit on it and amp up the drama.
Eventually, I was short-short listed to the finals. I’m in! My silent response when they phoned to congratulate me was a sort of dawning horror. I told them I was speechless with indescribable YAY; inside, that YAY was more like a Stephen King monologue.
They told me to make sure I kept my purple hair (summer experiment/self-colouring mistake) because the network loved it. I suspect I am the Menopausal Rebel archetype, a token Western Canada white female representative.
Whatever. Do the hard thing, the thing that makes you afraid and drains your budget. That’s been my unfortunate motto of late. I rationalized that the worst case would be that I go to Toronto and stay with my spouse’s 85-year-old mother, spend a day being humiliated and stressed out — that’s the competition part, not the Mother-in-Law part, obviously — and then spend the rest of my time helping out family. That’s not so bad, is it? And that’s more or less exactly what happened!
So I was on a reality TV show. I also refreshed the paint job on some Bavarian garden gnomes and drove the QE 403 ALL BY MYSELF at the earliest I’ve ever gotten up in my life. Guess which of those three things was my favourite?
I’ll share the rest of the experience after the February 16 premiere of Landscape Artist of the Year Canada. Tune in to @BeMakeful on Feb. 16 at 9 pm ET/PT
Here’s the press release: “Picture Perfect: Makeful TV Launches Landscape Artist of the Year Canada, A New Competition Series Hosted by Sook-Yin Lee” (Watching paint dry has never been so exciting!)