“Perfectionism kills art.” Or “Relax and let world go to hell.”
I live by Anne Lamott’s assertion that perfection is the voice of the oppressor, both in life and art. Why? Because perfectionism is the great lie we’re sold about the world. Even as an ideal it is false, destructive and erodes everything good. If you strive for perfectionism in your work, you’ll fail. But I will reserve discussing Lamott for another post, but framing this post in light of my own personal credo is important contextualization for this post about Sol LeWitt’s perfection-busting letter to Eva Hesse.
I fell into sheer rapture when I stumbled across Benedict Cumberbatch’s reading of conceptual artist’s Sol LeWitt’s letter to German-American Sculptor, Eva Hesse yesterday. Whenever I am in a creative slump, I read this letter and remind myself to stumble forward and fail. And hearing the words read with such stunning fury as conjured by Benedict Cumberbatch left me awestruck. Violent shivers ran the charts of my spine as each word landed with the boldness of a closed fist punch.
“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.” LeWitt.
Eva was in a creative slump caused by a spiral of self-doubt when she reached out to Sol for help. Self-doubt a long running theme in Eva’s artistic life. You can delve more into the beautifully complex world and mind of Eva in this documentary. To quote Eva, “I get so close… and then change, destroy. I get distrustful… To be able to finish just once and stand ground? This is me. This is what I want to say.” And perhaps that was the cost of being an artist who was considered to create “art on the borderline of uncontrollability.” To live with a permanent sense of chaos hovering over your shoulder would threaten any artist’s ego, as much as fuel it. When Eva reached out to Sol, this was the letter she relieved back. It is considered to be the closest thing to a credo that Sol ever penned.
Some of the quotes that really punch home for me and inspire me, and might inspire you, include the following.
“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!
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.”