Statements & Writing
Hedda Sterne's deeply introspective and philosophical approach to artmaking is often reflected in her various artist's statements and personal writing. Sterne maintained a lifelong practice of recording her thoughts on loose sheets of memo paper and within her sketchbooks. These unique documents, which she described as "memories, musings, and quotations," reflect Sterne's ongoing internal dialogue regarding her personal philosophies, her work, and process of making art.
The bulk of Hedda Sterne's writing is archived at The Hedda Sterne Foundation and among Sterne's papers at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art. Visit the Resources page to learn more.
Sometimes I react to immediate visible reality, and sometime I am prompted by ideas, but at all times I have been moved, to paraphrase [Irish poet] Seamus Heaney, by the music of the way things are. (One can find secret significance at the depth of the ordinary.) I believe that simplicity is an invention of man. Nature is never simple. And, the habit of careful study of the visual immediate opens our eyes to the presence of mystery in the seemingly obvious. In art the retinal, intellectual, and spiritual necessarily collaborate, alternating in importance. Art is essentially revelatory. The desire for clarity drives us. It seems to me that my early attraction to surrealism was for this reason perfectly predictable - I tended to look in related places.
The gestation of a work resembles the way a tree grows, from top toward bottom. The sun feeds the leaves that create chlorophyll, making sap flow down to nourish the roots. The nature of the developing image determines the quality of the lines (hesitating, gentle, or decisive, etc.) and the line reciprocates. With time I have learned to lose my identify while drawing and to act simply like a conduit, permitting visions that want to take shape to do so. Again reciprocity. The ritual of drawing in itself brings about the necessary condition for conjuring a work.
And through all this pervades my feeling that I am only one small speck (hardly an atom) in the uninterrupted flux of the world around me.
- Hedda Sterne, 2004 Artist's Statement published in Uninterrupted Flux: Hedda Sterne, A Retrospective (2006)
"For a painter, each show means a temporary adjustment to a bewildering situation. In the gallery his works are regarded either as specimens to be fitted into a defined category or as objects desirable (or not) for reasons exterior to the artist's day by day preoccupation.
In the studio, modesty has no place. Covering a canvas is a very complicated and deadly serious game. There are strict rules and one can't possibly cheat. The artist's position might be likened to that of a bull fighter in an arena, only for the artist all moments have the intensity of the bullfighter's one 'moment of truth.' Each brush stroke exposes you to yourself with complete intransigence--you might as well be booed or cheered by a big audience. And again, like some sort of sportsman who eats and sleeps in a way designed to keep him fit, the artist incessantly strives to 'free himself from all that is superfluous to himself' in order to coordinate his capacities and to become a more perceptive and better performing instrument."
- Hedda Sterne, Excerpt from "Documents: From Studio to Gallery," Arts Digest 29, (October 15, 1954): 4.
Painting is for me a problem of simultaneous understanding and explantation. I try to approach my subject uncluttered by esthetic prejudices. I put it on canvas in order to explain it to myself, yet the result should reveal something plus. As I work the things take life and fights back. There comes a moment when I can't continue. Then I stop until next time.
- Hedda Sterne, from the "Artist' Sessions at Studio 35," April 21, 1950
To serve your vision you have to master your technique. You cannot cheat matter. It shows. You must learn and respect its laws. You are required to use patience, courage and honesty, for instance, (as prerequisites in the fight with your means, of course, not as virtues) but by the time you have tackled your problem, having used them has changed you. You have turned a corner and face new territory suggesting new ways of being explored.