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November 12, 2013

Painturbation vs. Declaration

A few years ago, there was a reality show on Bravo TV called Work of Art. It was on for two seasons only and then it stopped being produced. I adored the show. I learned so much from the artists but mostly I learned from the critiques that were offered by the judges. So insightful. Jerry Saltz in particular was my favorite.

Well I've been watching the episodes again because I learned that I can download them from iTunes. This time around, I'm finding the critiques even more valuable, with rich perspective and information that provides me so much help with my process as a painter.


One of the episodes from season 1 that I was watching last night had a critique in it about a painting that one of the contenstants made. Layer upon layer upon layer ... worked and worked and over-worked to a point where I agreed with the judges in assessing that the piece felt dead and unsuccessful.

One of the guest judges (painter, Richard Phillips) said something that really struck me, which is that painters can easily get into a mindset of satisfying the self by layering and layering just for the pursuit of self-satisfaction and self-gratification and self-indulgence of just filling in, layering, and staying in this cycle of nebulousness without really becoming vulnerable and really putting oneself into the painting. The judge likened it to a process of "painturbation." And that even though this cycle may feel self-satisfying to the painter, the cycle can lead to a piece that pushes the viewer out because there is nothing the piece is saying or declaring or engaging the viewer with. And so the judge said something like how at a certain point, a painter has to stop with the painturbation and move into a state of declaration. Declare something. Say something.

I think this critique relates to the struggle that many painters have, which is related to knowing when a piece is done and whether a piece has meaning. When is a painting done? Have I put myself into it? Am I showing the outside world what's going on within my inner world? Is my work evoking feelings or indifference? Am I getting lost in the process but stopping short of audaciously segueing from the layers to declare something, and to excavate meaning?

Refreshing. Challenging. Thought-provoking. All good.


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This is indeed interesting and thought provoking, but at the same time intimidating. If I'm always concerned about the message, the declaration, about putting something big and meaningful out there, I'll never paint. And since I think most of us need to do a lot of fun, meaningless painting before we can actually declare something, I'd rather not call it "painturbation", which sound like something we're not supposed to do, or at least, not too much? ;-)

Wow. I needed that...love the reference to painturbation - I think that encapsulates exactly the kind of 'trap' an artist can get into if the artist is desiring to sell work - you have to give something to the viewer. I think I understand what it means, too - when I view a painting that is shut off. In other words, the artist was painting for the sake of it (layer after layer without thinking of viewer), vs. declaring or sharing. Thought provoking! It's not easy being an artist....

I loved that show! I am going to go watch all the reruns-there is something so profound in seeing the declaration in all the layers. Easier said than done!

I love this word-I can see it in writing, too. Especially in poetry...since it is a secret language. Everyone who reads it can usually relate on some level.

Thank you Jenny for sharing and reminding me of the rush I use to feel when watching this show~

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