Sol LeWitt died on this day in 2007, and for that reason I’m sending you a magnificent letter of his, a copy of which hangs, framed, on a wall in my office. It is a tour de force, and were I to rank all letters—and one day I will—it would sit comfortably in the top ten. In fact, I love it so much that it features in two of my books: the original volume of Letters of Note, and Letters of Note: Art. It has many rude words in it, so gird your loins. And don’t miss the video beneath the transcript, in which another huge fan of this letter brings it to life on stage.
In 1960, pioneering American artists Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse met for the first time and instantly clicked, quickly forming a strong, deep bond that would last for ten years and result in countless inspirational discussions and rich exchanges of ideas. Indeed, they remained incredibly close friends until May of 1970, at which point Hesse, still only 34 years of age, sadly passed away after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. In 1965, half-way through their relationship, Eva found herself facing a creative block during a period of self-doubt, and told Sol of her frustrating predicament. A few weeks later, Sol replied with the work of art seen here—a wonderful, invaluable letter of advice, copies of which have since inspired artists the world over, and which now grace the walls of art studios in all corners of the globe.
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 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
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.
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 very 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 has changed since you left and it is much better. I will be having a show May 4–29 at the Daniels Gallery 17 E 64th St (where Emmerich was), I wish you could be there. Much love to you both.
Thank you for sharing this - its fantastic! I had the pleasure of seeing Sol Lewitt's work firsthand at the Swiss Re office in Armonk, NY. Hands down the most impressive office building I've visited. An amazing contrast of Sol's giant, colorful mural on one giant wall, and stark simplicity in the remaining atrium, which then opens up to a spectacular view of the valley from an insanely large deck on the back. This letter, and Benedict Cumberbatch's life-giving reading of it, holds together well with the bold work Mr. Lewitt produced. So great.