“Stop It and Just DO”: Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Advice on Overcoming Creative Blocks, Written by Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse (1965)


A quick fyi: this video is a little not safe for work.

You know you want to create something, but how on Earth to get it out of your mind and into reality? Sometimes you simply can’t see the way forward, a situation in which every creator finds themselves sooner or later. When the sculptor Eva Hesse hit a creative block in 1965, she wrote of her problem to a close friend, the conceptual artist Sol Lewitt. He emphatically suggested that she “just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder,” and furthermore that she stop

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 can read Lewitt’s reply in full, which offers much more colorful advice and supporting verbiage besides (as well as a far bolder “DO” than HTML can render), at Letters of Note. Though personally tailored to Hesse and her distinctive sensibilities, Lewitt’s suggestions also show the potential for wider application: “Try and tickle something inside you, your ‘weird humor.'” “Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool.” “If you fear, make it work for you — draw & paint your fear & anxiety.” “Practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty.” “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.”

Though all this has plenty of impact on the page, it has an entirely different kind when performed by actor (and champion letter-reader) Benedict Cumberbatch, as seen and heard in the Letters Live video above. Putting on a not-overdone New York accent, the English star of Sherlock and The Imitation Game delivers with all necessary force Lewitt’s advice to “leave the ‘world’ and ‘ART’ alone and also quit fondling your ego,” to “empty your mind and concentrate on what you are doing,” to know “that you don’t have to justify your work — not even to yourself.” Be warned that this creative coaching session does gets a little NSFW at times, but then, so do some of the finest works of art — and so do the truths we need to hear to make them.

Related Content:

How Famous Writers Deal With Writer’s Block: Their Tips & Tricks

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Letter to the High School That Burned Slaughterhouse-Five

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads a Letter Alan Turing Wrote in “Distress” Before His Conviction For “Gross Indecency”

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Albert Camus’ Touching Thank You Letter to His Elementary School Teacher

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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