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Marina Abramović’s Rules of Life, Solitude, and Silence

By December 28, 2016Uncategorized

Marina Abramović is a Yugoslavia-born performance artist based in New York. Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind.

I realize not everyone admires the work of Marina Abramovic. She’s been called an attention seeker, a bullshit producer, an egoist. Dr. Lisa Levy, a psychologist, decided to become a performance artist just so she could discount and mock Abramovic’s work:

“I think ego interferes with art making, it makes the artist self-conscious. The most direct way to make the artwork is the least egoic way possible.” – Dr. Lisa Levy

Abramovic is rubber, you are glue, Dr Levy.

Marina Abramovic´: The Artist Is Present Photo by Marco Anelli.

Performance art is easily mocked, but I honestly don’t understand why people hate this woman so danged much. How many brilliant artists had big egos? How many of them wanted your attention? While ego and attention seeking may not be the perfect traits for every situation, they can function to propel ideas past the sofa and into the world. Charisma can make people stop and listen. If they’re brilliant ideas like Abramovic’s are, we can be better for having heard.

On a more personal side, I’ve looked back at my life and career to realize I have occasionally put myself at risk in an effort to be honest. Vulnerability, truth, bravery, and exposure so easily become muddled, especially for an artist. I think now about performance artists like Chris Burdon and Abramovic, and wonder where the line is for purposeful risk and fear. I wonder how we sometimes find ourselves putting our bravery on display. I wonder what I’ll do with this.

– Ruthie V.

Walk Through Walls: A Memoir

by Marina Abramovic

Marina’s story, by turns moving, epic, and dryly funny, informs an incomparable artistic career that involves pushing her body past the limits of fear, pain, exhaustion, and danger in an uncompromising quest for emotional and spiritual transformation. A remarkable work of performance in its own right, Walk Through Walls is a vivid and powerful rendering of the unparalleled life of an extraordinary artist.

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An Artist’s Life Manifesto: Marina Abramović’s Rules of Life, Solitude, and Silence

Content below by Marian Popova, on Brainpickings 11/30/2016

“The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,” E.E. Cummings

Cummings wrote in his spectacular meditation on what it really means to be an artist. But if “all art is based upon nonconformity,” as the great artist Ben Shahn asserted, and if unlearning our cultural conditioning is essential to creative work, why do we have such a voracious appetite for the writings, daily routines, and manifestos of celebrated artists?

That tension between guidance and rebellion is what Marina Abramović (b. November 30, 1946) plays with in a piece titled “An Artist’s Life Manifesto,” which opens the twelfth chapter of Walk Through Walls (public library) — the magnificent memoir that gave us Abramović on art, fear, and taking risks.

The manifesto is divided into three parts — an old-fashioned list of rules of personal conduct, the kind which artists like Eugène Delacroix and André Gide kept in their diaries in the nineteenth century; a portion devoted to the artist’s relationship with silence, that ennobler of speech and fertilizer of the imagination; and a section dedicated to the relationship with solitude, that seedbed of self-discovery and supreme fuel for creative work.

To be sure, the manifesto itself bears the characteristic fusion of sincerity and subversion that marks Abramović’s work — although the tenets are rooted in the earnestness of her own experience, it is an undeniable contradiction for an artist who has spent half a century defying the dogmas of art by inventing new forms to prescribe a set of dicta for artists to follow. Out of that deliberate contradiction arises a testament to philosopher Jacob Needleman’s abiding assertion: “There is always something more than two opposing truths. The whole truth always includes a third part, which is the reconciliation.”

Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present. Photograph by Marco Anelli.

Abramović writes:


An artist should not lie to himself or others
An artist should not steal ideas from other artists
An artist should not compromise for himself or in regards to the art market
An artist should not kill other human beings
An artist should not make himself into an idol…
An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist


An artist has to understand silence
An artist has to create a space for silence to enter his work
Silence is like an island in the middle of a turbulent ocean


An artist must make time for the long periods of solitude
Solitude is extremely important
Away from home,
Away from the studio,
Away from family,
Away from friends
An artist should stay for long periods of time at waterfalls
An artist should stay for long periods of time at exploding volcanoes
An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at fast-running rivers
An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the horizon where the ocean and sky meet
An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the stars in the night sky

During our recent public conversation in San Francisco, Abramović shared three more life-rules she borrowed from her dear friends Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson:

1. Have a good bullshit detector.
2. Fear nothing and no one.
3. Be tender.

Complement this particular portion of the wholly terrific Walk Through Walls with Mary Oliver on the third self and the artist’s task, James Baldwin on the artist’s struggle for integrity, and Sol LeWitt’s electrifying letter of advice on overcoming self-doubt, then revisit Abramović on pain as a focal lens for presence.

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