A few weeks ago in my Contemporary Art History class, I was assigned to read the following PDF:
You may follow the link to read scans of the original letter in the artist’s own hand writing, and muse over his words and drawings. If you can’t make out the handwriting, you can read the transcript below.
Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse are artists known for helping bring around the minimalist and post-minimalist art movements in the 1960’s. They were friends, and often showed their work together. I don’t particularly care for either artist’s work, there is no denying the communication, chemistry, and influence on one another when their work is shown together. And it doesn’t show just in their physical work – it also shows in Sol’s letter to Eva.
If you don’t feel like reading it yourself, listen to the video of it that I’ve attached below. The incomparable Andrew Scott swallows LeWitt’s words and hurls them back at the audience with a passion and insanity and rhythm that only he could possess, and that easily matches LeWitt’s dynamic scrawl.
I highly suggest that you read this if you are an artist. Any kind of artist will do. Sculptor, photographer, illustrator, random kid that spray paints public walls in the dead of night, professionals, amateurs, writers – if you have ever felt that phenomenal and terrible urge to create, you should read this.
I recommend this writing to all creative types because one thing we have in common is that we all fight against ourselves and have to push through bouts of anxiety and depression and a loss of self-confidence. It’s something we’ve all had to deal with and it’s a funk that can be hard to break out of.
LeWitt encourages his friend to tell the world to “fuck off,” and to ignore all the day to day drudgery, the pressures, the curious and overbearing glances, the ugly opinions that people may have; and most of all, the pressures and doubts and that Eva is inflicting on herself. He tells her to forget all of it. All the lessons and the structure and the restrictions and what’s appropriate. Forget it all, and just CREATE. Just DO. And simply do it for the SAKE of CREATING.
He states that we should take our fear, and use it. Create from it. Make art with it. And don’t be afraid to make BAD art. Make an effort to make BAD art, because without it, we’ll never be able to create GOOD art. And don’t worry about being cool. Be uncool. Be wonderful and weird and be you, even if you hate it, because you are YOU, and that is an incredible thing.
It’s something we should all keep in mind.
This piece has made it just a bit easier for me when I get stuck in one of those dark clouds of doubt, or feel that over inflated balloon of anxiety in my chest. I find sometimes that doodling one of Sol’s “DO” drawings on my arm as a reminder can also help me when I’m down. I intend to permanently put it there in the near future, and I intend to start every day with a reading of this letter. Just as a reminder.
LeWitt wrote Eva this letter, from one friend and one artist to another – and now I’m sharing it with you. From one artist to another.
Now go, and just DO.
It will be almost a month since you wrote to me and you have possibly forgotten your state of mind (I doubt it though). You seem the same as always, and being you, hate every minute of it. Don’t! Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just
From your description, and from what I know of your previous work and your ability; the work you are doing sounds very good “Drawing — clean — clear but crazy like machines, larger and bolder… real nonsense.” That sounds fine, wonderful — real nonsense. Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, more breasts, penises, cunts, whatever — make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you — draw & paint your fear & anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant [sic] approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end.” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to
I have much confidence in you and even though you are tormenting yourself, the work you do is very good. Try to do some BAD work — the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell — you are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work — so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be. But if life would be easier for you if you stopped working — then stop. Don’t punish yourself. However, I think that it is so deeply engrained in you that it would be easier to
It seems I do understand your attitude somewhat, anyway, because I go through a similar process every so often. I have an “Agonizing Reappraisal” of my work and change everything as much as possible — and hate everything I’ve done, and try to do something entirely different and better. Maybe that kind of process is necessary to me, pushing me on and on. The feeling that I can do better than that shit I just did. Maybe you need your agony to accomplish what you do. And maybe it goads you on to do better. But it is very painful I know. It would be better if you had the confidence just to do the stuff and not even think about it. Can’t you leave the “world” and “ART” alone and also quit fondling your ego. I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before your work you have to empty your mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that’s that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going. I’m sure you know all that. You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work — not even to yourself. Well, you know I admire your work greatly and can’t understand why you are so bothered by it. But you can see the next ones & I can’t. You also must believe in your ability. I think you do. So try the most outrageous things you can — shock yourself. You have at your power the ability to do anything.
Much love to you both.
(transcript taken from this link, words and ideas copyright to Sol LeWitt)