from ‘The Artist and Politics: a Symposium – Donald Judd
I’ve always thought that my work had political implications, had attitudes that would permit, limit or prohibit some kinds of political behavior and some institutions. Also, I’ve thought that the situation was pretty bad and that my work was all I could do. My attitude of opposition and isolation, which has slowly changed in regard to isolation in the last five years or so, was in reaction to the events of the fifties: the continued state of war, the destruction of the UN by the Americans and the Russians, the rigid useless political parties, the general exploitation and both the Army and McCarthy.
Part of the reason for my isolation was the incapacity to deal with it all, in any way, and also work. Part was that recent art had occurred outside of most of the society. Unlike now, very few people were opposed to anything, none my age that I knew. The most important reason for isolation was that I couldn’t think about the country in a general way. Most of the general statements I read seemed doctrinaire and sloppy, both typical of general statements. Most of the advice seemed Utopian, impractical or rather fascistic itself; I couldn’t think of any great explanations and gradually came to the conclusion that there weren’t any. All the institutions and their actions seemed like the explanations, overblown and unsubstantial. So my work didn’t have anything to do with the society, the institutions and grand theories. It was one person’s work and interests; its main political conclusion, negative but basic, was that it, myself, anyone shouldn’t serve any of these things, that they should be considered very sceptically and practically. A person shouldn’t be used by an organization of two on up. Most of the emotions and beliefs given to institutions should be forgotten; the bigger the institution the less it should get; I never understood how anyone could love the United States, or hate it for that matter; I’ve never understood the feelings of nationalism. Ask what your country can do for you.
My interest in actually doing something grew partly because my work became easier, clearer, more interesting, so that I didn’t feel I would be swamped by other interests; partly by the example of the civil rights movement, that things could change a little; by the Vietnam war, which presented a situation of either/or – I marched in the first Fifth Avenue parade and I hate group activities (Ad Reinhardt was the only artist I recognized); by the realization that politics, the organization of society, was something itself, that it had its own nature and could only be changed in its own way. Art may change things a little but not much; I suspect one reason for the popularity of American art is that the museums and collectors didn’t understand it enough to realize that it was against much in the society, f. . . ]
It sounds obvious, but isn’t so in terms of what happens, that everyone is a citizen, an equal part of a social organization, a political, public entity, an individual in a group that is only a sum of individuals. The citizen, individual, person has his interests and rights. He or she’s not or shouldn’t be an economic, military, or institutional entity. I think the main confusion of both the right and left is the confusion of politics, public action, with economics. On both sides the individual is turned into an economic being. It’s incredibly stupid that a person’s reason for being should be the production of cars, whether here or in Russia. The people in both places are educated to be useful persons, producers, and not citizens. [. . .]
There is a big difference between the politics of citizens and the politics of interest groups. Obviously interest groups are a lot less important and necessary. Often they prevent people from acting as citizens. But if they don’t they’re legitimate. I think there should be an artists’ organization functioning as an interest group. There’s no reason why the organization shouldn’t oppose the war in Vietnam, for example, as long as it knows it does so as an interest group and as long as the members act first as citizens. Certainly one thing an interest group should have is a sense of the integrity of its activity. One thing of the several I have against the Art Workers Coalition is that they were using art for all sorts of things. An activity shouldn’t be used for a foreign purpose except when the purpose is extremely important and when nothing else can be done. I thought the suggestion of the Art Workers that a separate section of the Modern be permanently given to black artists and another to artists without galleries to be useless corruptions of the nature of the activity, one aspect of which is that art is good, middling and bad. Neither, as they think, are all artists equal; citizens are equal, not workers, not doctors, not anything. I’m also unimpressed by SoHo (I hope the name disappears); it’s too narrow an interest group. Unlike the Art Workers, an artists’ organization should decide what it wants and go after it practically and politically. If museum boards should be one third money and otherwise, one third staff and one third artists, as I think they should be, state that and talk to the museums. Allow some for differences in the museums, and those who refuse without reasons can be struck. Why is the Modern so interesting? Why be so eager to demonstrate, to use a tactic that was originally used for a much more serious purpose? [. . .]
Artforum, New-York, 1970.