Stop it and Just Do (for us Artists)



The artist Sol LeWitt once answered a letter from his friend, artist Eva Hesse, with this wonderful advice:

"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 awhile. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, gasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, rumbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, bitching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hairsplitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose-sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, ringer-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding grinding grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO.

From your description, and from what I know of your previous work and your ability, the work you are doing sounds very good. 'Drawings-clean-clear but crazy like machines, larger, bolder, real nonsence.' That sounds 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 and paint your fear - and anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as 'to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistent 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 DO!

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 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 DO."

{from Lucy Lippard's book on Eva Hesse}


I've held onto a copy of that letter for over 15 years, and every few years or so, I come across it. It always strikes me as a profound glimpse into the common shadows of being an artist... and how to shift from that shadow back into your own creative light.

Eva Hesse was an artist concerned primarily with her process and experience of art-making, working with unconventional materials in ways that hadn't yet been explored. She created pieces that would not last, and that weren't overtly concerned with pleasing aesthetic - and she did so without apology. She invited them to change - that was part of it.

She has always struck me as an artist that had to make art, for her own spirit. Even if her process was not completely understood at the time, and even though she doubted and fussed about whether there was a grander 'purpose' to it or not, like this letter implies - like the rest of us who have felt the call of art-making despite the conventional notion of success or time well spent.

Eva's career as an artist lasted just ten years before she died from a brain tumor at 34, and in that time she shifted movements of thought about what art is or ought to be. Just by listening to her own secret curiosity and acting upon it... to see what would happen, what it might evoke.

Like in this piece that she made in the last year of her life...



What strikes me most about Eva's story, is the same wise reminder I learned from caring for hospice patients... that we don't get to know what kind of time we have to experience this life - and because of that, every minute counts.

If this speaks to you, if you ache to make your art, then stop making the art you think you should or following some technique fad or living a life that everyone else seems to be talking about... and just DO it... make your secret, sacred art.

See what that looks like. See what that feels like.

And if you want, copy this letter, and tuck it away somewhere, in a book or box - then forget about it. You'll find it again, when you need to, and you'll remember.