How often can you just DO?


Today is July 20 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often can you just DO?” It is easy to get paralyzed by taking that first step, by moving forward even an inch, or by attempting the smallest of uncomfortable tasks. We want guaranteed success; or at the very least not to have people laugh at us when we fail.

We would rather have DO NOT as our roommate than DO. DO NOT is easy. DO NOT is comforting. DO NOT provides a straight and narrow path. DO is hard. DO is uncomfortable. DO provides a crooked path with one turn after another.

For those who have learned to navigate the chaos, DO is their roommate of choice. DO is how one dreams. DO is where one finds progress. And DO is how dreams are turned into reality. Few people DO, however, and as a result, DO NOT navigate the chaos.

In 1960, pioneering American artists Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse met for the first time and became close friends. Hesse began suffering from creative block and self-doubt shortly after moving from New York to Germany with her husband. She reached out to her LeWitt for counsel and consolation and he replied with a spectacular letter dated April 14, 1965. The following is an excerpt (Warning: contains R rated language):

“Dear Eva, 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 DO!... 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.”

In 2016, actor Benedict Cumberbatch gave a dramatic reading of LeWitt’s impassioned five-page missive, which remains the closest thing to a personal creative credo LeWitt ever committed to words.

Hesse was a German-born American sculptor known for her pioneering work in materials such as latex, fiberglass, and plastics. She is one of the artists who ushered in the post-minimal art movement in the 1960s.

Hesse was born into a family of observant Jews in Hamburg, Germany, on January 11, 1936. When Hesse was two years old in December 1938, her parents, hoping to flee from Nazi Germany, sent Hesse and her older sister, Helen Hesse Charash, to the Netherlands to escape Nazi Germany. They were aboard one of the last Kindertransport (German for "children's transport") trains where the United Kingdom organized a rescue effort that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The effort took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany and placed them in British foster homes, hostels, schools, and farms.

After almost six months of separation, the reunited family moved to England and then, in 1939, emigrated to New York City, where they settled into Manhattan's Washington Heights. In 1944, Hesse's parents separated; her father remarried in 1945 and her mother committed suicide in 1946. In 1962, Hesse met and married sculptor Tom Doyle (1928–2016); they divorced in 1966.

Hesse graduated from New York's School of Industrial Art at the age of 16, and in 1952 she enrolled in the Pratt Institute of Design. She dropped out only a year later. When Hesse was 18, she interned at Seventeen magazine. During this time, she also took classes at the Art Students League and eventually received her BA from Yale University in 1959. While at Yale, Hesse studied under Josef Albers and was heavily influenced by Abstract Expressionism.

After Yale, Hesse returned to New York, where she became friends with many other young minimalist artists, including Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Yayoi Kusama, and others. Her close friendship with Sol LeWitt continued until the end of her life. Both Hesse and LeWitt went on to become influential artists; their friendship stimulated the artistic development of their work. The two frequently wrote to one another, and in 1965 LeWitt wrote the aforementioned letter where he famously counseled a young doubting Eva to "Stop [thinking] and just DO!”

In October 1969, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and she died on May 29, 1970, after three failed operations within a year. Her death at the age of 34 ended a career that would become highly influential, despite spanning only a decade.

Her art is often viewed in the context of the many struggles of her life. This includes escaping from the Nazis, her parents' divorce, the suicide of her mother when she was 10, her failed marriage, and the death of her father. Despite all these struggles during her brief 34 years, Hesse found a way to navigate the chaos and become one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

A 2016 documentary entitled Eva Hesse, premiered in New York, illustrated her painful background. Directed by Marcie Begleiter, the film tells the story of Hesse's "tragically foreshortened life". It "focuses on those years of artistic emergence, a period of rapid development and furious productivity, with few parallels in the history of art."

How often can you just DO?