Dear Eva: Advice to an Artist

Ask the child within to come out and play and you will meet with your genius.

Robert R. Toth, artist, sculptor

As a visual artist, I have experienced my share of creative blocks and the accompanying feelings of fear, self-doubt, and anxiety that can hijack any creative process. I can also recall far too many occasions in my art career when caught up in the business of making art, I forgot to play, explore or simply have fun.

Every aspiring or working artist needs someone to provide the occasional (or regular) proverbial kick-in-the-butt to help him or her stay in perspective and on track.  To my knowledge, no one delivers that kick quite like artist Sol LeWitt in a letter of encouragement written in 1965 to sculptor Eva Hesse.  Hesse had moved to Germany the year prior and was struggling with her work.

It is easy to see why LeWitt’s letter is one of the most shared in the art world – his advice to Hesse is timeless, passionate and uplifting.  It is by far my favourite artistic advice for creative block and it is worth sharing with those who may have missed it or need a refresher.  Some nuggets of wisdom from LeWitt’s letter:

Dear Eva,

Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping… Stop it and just DO!…

Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor”… 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… You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!…

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…

…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’re 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.

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.

Read the full text of Dear Eva and check out My Favourite Artistic Advice, the fabulous animated video by Levni Yilmaz based on Lewitt’s letter to Hesse.

Are you ready to let the creative child within play?

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