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THE DAILY PRACTICE OF PAINTING:
WRITINGS 1960-1993

GERHARD RICHTER, HANS-ULRICH OBRIST, DAVID BRITT

Gerhard Richter has long been considered one of the most important artists of the late twentieth century. This collection of private and personal writings is a revelation of one of the most significant artist minds of the latter part of the twentieth century.

I picked up this book after attending the Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting exhibition at the MoMA, in 2002. I’d already been following his work for years. His 18 October 1977 series (Baader Meinhoff ) was my gateway to his pictures, and I had not been prepared to enjoy so much the work of someone who seemed to work without any signature motif or style—it changed my thinking. It was also difficult to find any significant interview matter on him, so this book looked like a good place to get some insights into his personal views.

The book is elegantly put together, tastefully typeset and peppered with photographs of Richter in the 60s and 70s. The content is a compilation of personal writings, letters and interviews. This is a collection of diaristic work and expectedly, Richter’s thoughts are candidly paradoxical—they move from the profound to the mundane, and back. The writings often resist the limitation of language, as is typical of a visual artist who understands the problem of what is lost in translation when discussing their work in idiomatic terms.

“One has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly, in order to do painting. Once obsessed, one ultimately carries it to the point of believing that one might change human beings through painting. But if one lacks in this passionate commitment, there is nothing left to do. Then it is best to leave it alone. For basically painting is total idiocy.”

“Talk about painting: there's no point. By conveying a thing through the medium of language, you change it. You construct qualities that can be said, and you leave out the ones that can't be said but are always the most important. ”

 

The Daily Practice of Painting is a solid compilation of thoughts and reflections on the act of painting, and the role of a singular painter who has devoted his life to persisting with the medium bravely, as new technologies and modalities have ebbed and flowed through the arts over half a century.

I come back to this book on a regular basis. I’ve read it cover to cover more than once, and these days I find specific passages that make sense for where I am in my own work. This is among the  great companion books for any artist struggling through self-doubt, the uncertainty of purpose and modernity in general. Some of these ideas ring as true today as they might have 60 years ago when they were written. They echo much of what every artist feels at some point or another, if not always, when they have the courage to admit a certain futility in it all.

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