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Benedict Cumberbatch Passionately Reads Sol LeWitt’s Famous Letter to Eva Hesse

Reading the letter on stage, the Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning actor Benedict Cumberbatch practically foams at the mouth.

Eva Hesse around 1963 (photo by Barbara Brown)
Eva Hesse around 1963 (image by Barbara Brown)

The cult of Sir Benedict Cumberbatch, some members of which identify as “Cumberbitches,” is drooling over the Sherlock actor’s very dramatic reading of a letter by artist Sol LeWitt to sculptor Eva Hesse. Written in 1965, the letter was LeWitt’s attempt to help Hesse, whom he’d befriended five years prior, banish her self-doubt. 

The letter is full of good advice for anyone who’s ever felt creatively blocked. Parts of it sound like something written by Dr. Seuss as a coked-up motivational speaker; other parts recall Yoda’s Zen-inflected advice to a young Luke Skywalker: “Do. Or Not Do. There Is No Try.”:  

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

Reading the letter on stage at a London event called Letters Live, the Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning actor practically foams at the mouth. “Learn to say ‘Fuck You’ to the world once in a while,” he yells. “You have every right to.”

The minimalist LeWitt wrote the letter to Hesse while she was at a residency in Germany with her husband, whom she later divorced.

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.

… 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

The friendship and lines of artistic influence between these two famous minimalists were chronicled in Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitta recent exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. It featured LeWitt’s original five-page handwritten missive, with the word “DO” illustrated in block letters decorated by sharp little arrows.

A page from Sol LeWitt's 1965 letter to Eva Hesse (click to enlarge)
A page from Sol LeWitt’s 1965 letter to Eva Hesse (click to enlarge) (image by Jillian Steinhauer for Hyperallergic)

The letter is well worth revisiting any time you find yourself “bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling,” etc., instead of just doing. 

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