Sol LeWitt's Secret to Success: Collaborative Friendship

Sol LeWitt's Secret to Success: Collaboration & Friendship

Excerpt from the letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse

Excerpt from the letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse

Instruction does much, but encouragement everything.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Excerpts from Sol LeWitt's Letter to Eva Hesse:

“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!…

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… 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… 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 you 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."

Peter Mass MoCA W.jpg

"Art feeds off art…and artists feed off artists.” - Richard Mangold

Time and time again I found myself the beneficiary of pearls of wisdom, opportunities and inspirational trips. In 2011 my classmate and dear friend, Peter Colon suggested we deviate off the path west and venture a bit north to see Sol LeWitt’s work at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, affectionately referred to as “Mass MoCA.” Truthfully, I knew little of Sol LeWitt’s work but I always trust Peter’s aesthetic compass. Until this time I had only seen a solo piece at a museum and never experienced the immersion Sol LeWitt’s work intends. It was awesome! I loved the building, enjoyed seeing such a comprehensive span of work and the discussion about the piece with my knowledgeable friend! I learned from Peter that Le Witt intended for his work to be executed by a team of artists. What's distinctive is that his work demands collaboration and teamwork necessary to achieve the scale of detail.

This summer I found myself driving through Hartford, Connecticut and remembered my friend and colleague, Mark had suggested I visit the Wadsworth Museum. What a fun surprise to see Sol LeWitt’s work there too! I learned that it is no coincidence, Le Witt grew up as a youngster in Hartford and took Art Classes at the Wadsworth Museum. Like Mass MoCA, it is an impressive collection off the beaten path and well worth visiting. One morning a few weeks back I received excerpts from a letter from Sol Le Witt to his friend and fellow artist, Eva Hesse in my own mailbox. Le Witt's letter, reveals his willingness to inspire and share with his peers his own process. These words of encouragement from one artist to another were shared with me from photography teacher and friend, Allison Carroll Stansfield.  I have always loved teaching because it encourages me to be a life-long student and I am surrounded by individuals engaged in learning, exploring, creating, experimenting, risking, researching and sharing.  Moreover, I have stayed at the school I have because of the quality and character of my colleagues. Thank you, Allison for this letter. It inspired a lesson for my studio students. (You can visit her photography site here: http://allisonmcarroll.com )

What I admire the most in Le Witt's work is actually what is not seen. I appreciate the story behind the piece and considering the many who helped move Le Witt's impressive vision to a space. The short film above published by the Indianapolis Museum of Art highlights the process. In an interview in the film Lisa Freiman says of Le Witt, "He viewed himself very much like a composer of music. It was the written instruction along with the diagram that actually was the work of art—and then subsequent artists could reinterpret and re-execute that original score."

This week in the Studio I shared the letter with my students and asked them to write a letter to a friend that provides some wisdom to a younger student. We worked on creating compositions inspired by Sol LeWitt's work. I am fortunate to work with my colleague, Patricia Cevoli who has her young students doing like-minded work. I've included some great ideas from her class as well.

Sincere thanks to my brother, Patrick, for all of his encouragement to get this website up and running and to all of you who have been so supportive and constructive in your advice! I've appreciated the encouragement and motivation! Keep the feedback coming! In the meantime, consider slowing down, picking up some art supplies and writing a letter to a cherished friend.

"Sending a handwritten letter is becoming such an anomaly. It's disappearing. My mom is the only one who still writes me letters. And there's something visceral about opening a letter - I see her on the page. I see her in her handwriting." - Steve Carrell