6 September 1986by Martha Tuttle
6 September 1986
I looked out the window in the northwest room of the Casa Perez. In the upper left corner there were two dark spots in the sky. One was a buzzard and the other was an ant on the window screen.
Donald Judd, Notes, 1986
When I think of Judd as a writer, I think of his ability to see.
Which is to say, I locate this beautiful specificity in the way that when Judd writes about an artist, he writes about that artist. Can you imagine anyone speaking more clearly about the way Malevich lays one color next to another? Or the visibility of brushstrokes along Newman’s painted lines?
There is a generosity here almost unimaginable when considering the speed of contemporary criticism. Thinking of someone looking so closely at my work makes me want to be a better artist.
Judd’s accountability towards relating an observed present becomes a kind of talisman against falling into the ease of writing with prescribed, or generalized, meaning. To say what is there in order to see what is there. Is this why Judd reacted so strongly against work being labeled as reductive?
It can be easy to brush off Judd’s proclivities towards a particular ruler or chair as curmudgeonly at best. I grew up with the story, or perhaps myth, of when he ordered thousands of the same pencil in order to avoid the indignity of using a non-industrially sharpened one. Now revisiting, I’m considering instead that perhaps this requirement of specificity in life was a way of nurturing the mindfulness with which Judd wrote, made, and saw.
Which cup I choose for my morning coffee, how I wash it, how I pay attention to the feeling in my fingers while I lace up my boots, what shape of piles I make as I sweep up the fine layer of graphite covering my studio floor, how I brush the snow out of a friend’s hair. These choices may feel trivial, but over time I see them seep into how I touch the wool I spin for my work, how I speak about a painting made by a friend, and how I understand the consciousness I wish for in living a life with art.
Moving forward, and considering what it is to make in my time and in my body, how may I learn from Judd’s rigor in a way that extends towards conscientiousness rather than dominance? How may I understand and see clearly the line between distinction and control? And with urgency, how may I extend specificity within my material and physical languages while considering a crucial necessity for sensitivity within our shifting politic? Judd, through discernment, urges me to presence before preference, but I feel it is in full reverence to understand him to be of his time. In inheritance, I hope to grasp what a contemporary specificity of vision (in work, in writing, and in life) can give to our extending now.
MARTHA TUTTLE is an artist working between the mediums of textile and painting. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.