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1. A number of artists write such visual letters. See, for example, Joseph Cornell, Joseph Cornell's Theater of the Mind: Selected Diaries, Letters, and Files (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993); Briefe von Jean Tinguely an Paul Sacher und gemeinsame Freunde (Letters from Jean Tinguely to Paul Sacher and common friends), ed. Margrit Hahnloser (Basel: Museum Jean Tinguely and Benteli, 1996); and Letters from H.C. Westermann, ed. Bill Barrette (New York: Timken, 1988). [BACK]

2. Schneemann's performance Correspondence Course was initiated by an invitation from Paul McCarthy and Allan Kaprow to participate in a special issue of The Dumb Ox that they were coediting on the relationship between text and image. They instructed their guests to “provide both text and illustrative material to relate to your work in performance or action art.” Schneemann answered with ribald, wildly self-satirizing, and irreverent photographic actions. The photographic actions were paired with letters that she either received or wrote, letters that vividly exhibit the absurd and/or disrespectful treatment of artists. For example, in response to the correspondence from the “Feminist Art Research Center, Canada,” Schneemann photographed herself reflected in a mirror, wearing “studious” clear-plastic framed glasses. But she is topless with her shorts pulled down just above her pudendum, and she is sticking her tongue out at the camera while holding her hands up by her ears, wagging them at viewers. Another photograph shows her mirror reflection, this time from behind. Again she is topless with her pants down, a feather duster stuck between her buttocks! This photograph accompanies her letter to the German editor of a book on feminist art history in which she points out that her slides for illustrating the book have not been returned in a year and that she has not received the promised honorarium, a paltry $50. Here is a sampling of such letters she received as they appear in the original, grammatical errors intact!

From Student—Massachusetts


From Filmmaker NYC


From Feminist Art, Research Centre, Canada

We are a non-profit organization with no funding; we cannot pay for your contribution but will give your work a lot of exposure In order for us to make a wonderful festival and library, we need your material yesterday!


3. This is particularly true if one considers more intimate relationships such as those between couples like Rosalind E. Krauss and Robert Morris; Lucy R. Lippard and Robert Ryman, or Lippard and Charles Simonds; Clement Greenberg and Helen Frankenthaler; Barbara Rose and Frank Stella; and many others. My interest in the personal relationships that shape art and its histories dates from my essay “Unbosoming Lennon: The Politics of Yoko Ono's Experience,” Art Criticism 7, no. 2 (1992): 21–54. I gave the first version of this paper in 1990 at “Feminism, Performance, and Postmodernism,” a symposium organized by Kathy O'Dell and David Jocelet at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, in which Carrie May Weems, Anne Wagner, and others participated. At that time, Wagner expressed admiration for my paper and explained her intention to draw upon it, so I sent her a copy. Six years later, Wagner published Three Artists (Three Women): Modernism and the Art of Hesse, Krasner, and O'Keeffe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), a study that, in part, explores these artists' relationship to their male partners and that certainly reflects another dimension of the interaction between art professionals in terms of her own marriage to the eminent art historian T.J. Clark. [BACK]

4. Peter Selz, Art in Our Times: A Pictorial History, 1890–1980 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1981). [BACK]

5. I first encountered pictures of Schneemann's work in Udo Kultermann's Life and Art (New York: Praeger, 1971). It is symptomatic of the neglect of Schneemann that she was left out of the two most influential books on happenings published in the 1960s, even though one might make a case for Meat Joy as one of the most significant happenings of the period. These two books are Michael Kirby's Happenings (New York: Dutton, 1965) and Allan Kaprow's Environments, Installations, and Happenings (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1966). The only author who included her in a study of happenings was Al Hansen. See his A Primer of Happenings and Time/Space Art (New York: Something Else Press, 1965). Inclusion in Hansen's book, however, may have been more of a curse than a blessing. For, as I have noted elsewhere, Hansen “posed a dilemma to himself and his colleagues….[Even though it was] to his life-long credit, he remained unmanageable. [Moreover, he was] seldom seriously discussed.” See Kristine Stiles, “Battle of the Yams: Contentless Forms and the Recovery of Meaning in Events and Happenings,” in Off Limits: Rutgers University and the Avant-Garde, 1957–1963, ed. Joan Marter (Rutgers, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999): 118–29. [BACK]

6. Carolee Schneemann, More Than Meat Joy: Complete Performance Works and Selected Writings, ed. Bruce McPherson (New Paltz, N.Y.: Documentexte, 1979). [BACK]

7. Since the spring of 1994 a number of these excellent monographs have appeared. [BACK]

8. Philip Guedalla, Supers and Supermen: Studies in Politics, History and Letters (London: Fisher Unwin, 1920), 233, quoted in Catherine Epstein, “The Politics of Biography: The Case of East German Old Communists,” Daedalus 128, no. 2 (1999): 1. [BACK]


9. Selected Letters of Margaret Laurence and Adele Wiseman, eds. John Lennox and Ruth Panofsky (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 3. [BACK]

10. Eshleman was one of the first poets to recognize the unique character of Schneemann's writing, inviting her to publish in his poetry review Caterpillar 8–9 (1969). But Robert Kelly was the first poet to publish Schneemann. See her “Hormones Circling” in his mimeographed journal Matter (1963), unpaginated. Jerome Rothenberg and David Antin followed Kelly, publishing “Meat Joy Notes as Prologue,” in Some/Thing 1, no. 2 (1965): 29–45. Her friendship with Brakhage dates from the 1950s. Their correspondence before the 1970s was stolen from her home in the late 1960s when she was living in England. I hope that it will resurface in the future. [BACK]

11. Paul De Man, “Autobiography as De-facement,” Modern Language Notes 94 (1979): 920–23, quoted in Paul John Eakin, Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985), 186. [BACK]

12. Ibid. [BACK]

13. Ibid., 188. [BACK]

14. James Olney, Metaphors of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972), 30, 31, 34, quoted in Eakin, Fictions in Autobiography, 188. [BACK]

15. For the theorization of the role of metonymy in augmenting the metaphorical capacities of visual art, see Kristine Stiles, “Synopsis of the Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) and Its Theoretical Significance,” Act [New York] 1 (Spring 1987): 22–31; and Kristine Stiles, “Survival Ethos and Destruction Art,” Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture 14, no. 2 (1992): 74–102. [BACK]

16. Recently, Richard Poirier has published a book that explores similar themes. See Poirier's Trying It Out in America: Literary and Other Performances (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999). [BACK]

17. See Miriam Schapiro, ed., Anonymous Was a Woman: A Documentation of the Women's Art Festival, a Collection of Letters to Young Women Artists (Valencia: Feminist Art Program, California Institute of the Arts, 1974), 116. In her letters, Schneemann writes about having read the journal of the Russian artist Marie Bashkirtseff; as a romantic young woman, she must have felt as if it was written for her. It is typical of Schneemann that she would then want to write for other younger women artists. See Marie Bashkirtseff: The Journal of a Young Artist, 1860–1884, trans. Mary J. Serrano (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1919). In this regard, one of the most rewarding aspects of working on Correspondence Course was to observe how my female research assistants, Erica James, Elizabeth Kyle, and Alexandra Tuttle, all responded to the manuscript, personally identifying with Schneemann's developmental process and entering imaginatively into her times. [BACK]

18. Schapiro, Anonymous Was a Woman, 116. [BACK]

19. The Second Sex was published in English in 1952, and Schneemann read it in the 1950s. See Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Alfred

A. Knopf, 1952); originally published as Le deuxième sexe (Paris: Librairie Gallimard, 1949). [BACK]

20. It may come as a surprise to hear Schneemann described as “neglected” when so many books, articles, and dissertations mention her work or interpret one or another of her performances or films. Yet she has only two works in museum collections, and she has had only one major museum exhibition—at the New Museum in New York, in 1996—unfortunately billed as a “retrospective.” In this exhibition, the museum squashed a tiny, poorly installed sampling of her work into the front of the museum's already small space (cramped at that time because of renovations). It reserved the back of the museum for three installations by younger artists whose work had nothing to do with Carolee Schneemann's. A screening space for documentary videos of her work and her own films was set up in the middle of the exhibition in broad daylight. Light interfered with the clarity of the images, and noise from the videos and the gallery disrupted viewing of both her static and filmic works. The catalogue was skimpy, inexpensively produced, lacking in an extensive biographical and aesthetic survey of her work, and printed primarily in black and white. The entire affair was shocking, disrespectful, and painful to witness, especially since other institutions might imagine from it that she had already had a retrospective and that her work was overrated, even though such a judgment would reflect the unworthy exhibition rather than her art. [BACK]

21. For example, the subtitle of the book is Complete Performance Works and Selected Writings. But the book is not a complete compendium of her performances: missing, among other very interesting performances, is Aggression for Couples (1972), a private action she did in London in 1972 with filmmaker Anthony McCall. Photographs from this action are included in Correspondence Course. [BACK]

22. Feminism had entered the mainstream. The sexual revolution had gone sour. Drug experimentation had hardened into cocaine and heroin addiction. Hippie love had turned to the rancor of punk. The arms race had escalated. The United States had been humiliated as morally corrupt and had lost the Vietnam War. Schneemann herself had been divorced and remarried, and, she—like her times—had changed. [BACK]

23. Part of the explanation for why so many artists associated with performance and other aspects of live art have resorted to writing is that criticism and art history have been so slow to acknowledge, understand, and theorize this genre of visual art. [BACK]

24. See Ron Silliman's superb essay “Who Speaks: Ventriloquism and the Self in the Poetry Reading,” in Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word, ed. Charles Bernstein (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 369. [BACK]

25. She pointed out, in a telephone conversation with me on August 1, 1999, that she always tries “to obliterate a self” in her work. [BACK]

26. Paul Ferris, introduction to Dylan Thomas: The Collected Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1985), ix. [BACK]

27. Ibid. [BACK]


28. Ibid., xv. [BACK]

29. Ibid. [BACK]

30. This is the name that she—and several other artists of her generation, most notably the French poet and pioneer of happenings, Jean-Jacques Lebel—give to the small group of visual artists, composers, and dancers who, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, forged the medium now called performance art. [BACK]

31. I have not included such letters in this collection because of the length of the book. But in them one has the opportunity to observe the process of her self-restraint. I leave these letters for future scholars, in the hopes that a careful examination of her editorial process will be undertaken in relation to the equally careful polish of her art, which sometimes has been erroneously dismissed as messy and undisciplined. [BACK]

32. Ferris, introduction to Dylan Thomas, xi. [BACK]

33. Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann, eds., The Letters of Virginia Woolf, vol. 6, 1936–1941 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), xii. [BACK]

34. Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” in E. Baker and T. Hess, Art and Sexual Politics (New York: Macmillan, 1973), reprinted in Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 145–78. [BACK]

35. Ibid., 149. [BACK]

36. Ibid., 155. [BACK]

37. Ibid., 154–55. [BACK]

38. Among artists who immediately come to mind who have written about their decision not to bear children in order to practice art are Mary Cassatt, Eva Hesse, Harriet Hosmer, and Georgia O'Keeffe. In this regard, it is also interesting to note that in Schneemann's correspondence, there are few love letters (though perhaps she has not made all her correspondence public, even to me). The few letters between the artist and her first husband, the experimental composer James Tenney, are especially poignant and full of mutual interdependence and longing to be together whenever apart. These letters also chronicle both the torturous role that abortions and her refusal to bear children played in their lives before Roe v. Wade, as well as the grievous end of their intimate relationship (even while the couple remained close friends). [BACK]

39. I discuss the issue of Schneemann's breaches of socially prescribed decorum in “Schlaget Auf: The Problem with Carolee Schneemann's Paintings,” in Carolee Schneemann: Up to and Including Her Limits, exhib. cat. (New York: New Museum, 1996), 15–25. A good example of the kind of exaggerated description of Schneemann's work is a description of Meat Joy as an “orgy like dance program,” to which “Carolee Schneemann was drawing sellout crowds.” See Jerry Hopkins, Yoko Ono (New York: Macmillan, 1986), 47. [BACK]

40. Dick Higgins to Carolee Schneemann, March 10, 1981. [BACK]

41. I discussed the “apple/stem” problem in “Debate: The Empty Slogan of Self-Representation,” Siksi [Helsinki] 12, no. 1 (1997): 87–90, and in “Never Enough Is Something Else: Feminist Performance Art, Probity, and the Avant-Garde,” forthcoming in Avant-Garde Performance, Textuality and the

Limits of Literary History, ed. James M. Harding (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), 239–89. [BACK]

42. As Nochlin so brilliantly pointed out in “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” the conditions for the production and reception of “great art” have made it nearly impossible for women to achieve. Schneemann certainly has made art in a period when it was relatively easy to study such things as the nude figure. I say “relatively” because a fascinating letter included in Correspondence Course describes how Tenney did not want Schneemann to model nude for her painting class, even though she insisted that all her fellow students take turns doing so. [BACK]

43. The work of such artists as John Cage and Andy Warhol had already shown in the 1960s that such a goal was elusive, if not impossible, as silence and appropriation came to signify their individual styles. [BACK]

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