There is a letter, written by Sol LeWitt, minimalist, to Eva Hesse, organic minimalist. It’s the seventies. They are at the center of the art world. They Matter. Their art eludes most people who encounter it to this day, or maybe it doesn’t really. At the time, and in the tone of the letter, it doesn’t seem to matter.
These are people in a state of Inquiry. The letter is one of the greatest expressions of Inquiry ever written, in my opinion. It is wonderful, to this day, to absorb the letter as if you were the recipient, it is a rousing speech that goes right to the heart of whatever it is that makes you make things. If your mom doesn’t get you, The Letter does.
I copied this whole thing by hand the first time I read it and stuck it to my studio door. Context: I was in college. I was making work from found objects that poke at identity while disguised as minimalism and modernism. Felix Gonzales-Torres was my idol. Art didn’t have to even be an object. The purpose of art was to challenge a shitty status quo, or else just go do craft or something, and why would you do that? (Much as my professors, to their credit, tried to keep us from total craft snobbery, it certainly didn’t win you points to be into craft or formalism either.)
Then I got sick. Like, autoimmune sick. Like, life-alteringly sick, like life-derailing sick. No mild case, I, neither a rampant severe case either, just given a devil that will always be with me, sometimes sleeping and sometimes awake and poking the hell out of my guts with his fork. While my choices to that point pointed to a life outside of mainstream corporate capitalism, the new reality of a body that doesn’t function predictably locked the gates completely. The corporate body is a body that conforms. The autoimmune body doesn’t know what it will be doing in a few hours, let alone tomorrow. I am not in a position to sneer at Big Pharma or “them” and I am not in a position to put a body that can’t do a 9-5 stint through its paces without a really compelling reason. I AM picking my battles. I will battle for the right to pick one’s battles. My art is not anyone else’s battle. It is not the world’s battle. It is not for my mother. It is not for my wife. It isn’t “about” me at times. It pleases me. I assume it might someone else. That is all.
I noticed that art which complicates the world always seems to be made by fairly privileged people, and art which makes you happy or “is decorative” or simply presents the main tragedies of a life lived tends to be made by people with less privilege and for people with less privilege. I grabbed my pedagogic brainwashing by the balls, twisted, and found that I’m not in a position any longer to mystify the people who raised me and the people like them. I’m not in a position to spit at the notion of a personal better-than-misery as a desired state. I’m not in a position to be ashamed of the work I would actually want on my walls, versus Important Work. Also see film: Sullivan’s Travels.
I am old – 42 is ancient in high-art-world years. I am midcareer with my emerging years spent trying to survive medically and financially. I am uncool. I have doubled down, tripled down, and gone MEGA uncool.
I am team angel and fairy. I am team tea cozy. I am team dude-building-a-fan-art-shrine in his apartment. (A chick making fan art is already cool, and therefore doesn’t need me.) I am team duck decoy. I am team watercolor roses. I am team decorative painting.
If your art has haters, I love you already. I’d like it if you extended the same consideration toward the next “just a square” you see in a museum, but I’ll love you even if you won’t bother.
As evidenced from the source material of the letter – high art still can fire me up, periodically, though it hasn’t for the most part in about 20 years.
I have tasted, and made, my own uncool. I understand it now. I 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, itchin, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbling, 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 DO!
From your description, and from what I know of your previous work and you [sic] 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 and 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 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 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 DO!
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 you [sic] 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 and 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.
I would like to see your work and will have to be content to wait until Aug or Sept. I have seen photos of some of Tom’s new things at Lucy’s. They are impressive – especially the ones with the more rigorous form: the simpler ones. I guess he’ll send some more later on. Let me know how the shows are going and that kind of stuff.
My work had changed since you left and it is much better. I will be having a show May 4 -9 at the Daniels Gallery 17 E 64yh St (where Emmerich was), I wish you could be there. Much love to you both.