“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


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.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.