Correspondence Course

An Epistolary History of Carolee Schneemann and Her Circle

Correspondence Course

Book Pages: 576 Illustrations: 92 illustrations (incl. 24 in color) Published: November 2010

Art and Visual Culture > Feminist Art, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

Creator of such acclaimed works as the performance Meat Joy and the film Fuses, for decades the artist Carolee Schneemann has saved the letters she has written and received. Much of this correspondence is published here for the first time, providing an epistolary history of Schneemann and other figures central to the international avant-garde of happenings, Fluxus, performance, and conceptual art. Schneemann corresponded for more than forty years with such figures as the composer James Tenney, the filmmaker Stan Brakhage, the artist Dick Higgins, the dancer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer, the poet Clayton Eshleman, and the psychiatrist Joseph Berke. Her “tribe,” as she called it, altered the conditions under which art is made and the form in which it is presented, shifting emphasis from the private creation of unique objects to direct engagement with the public in ephemeral performances and in expanded, nontraditional forms of music, film, dance, theater, and literature.

Kristine Stiles selected, edited, annotated, and wrote the introduction to the letters, assembling them so that readers can follow the development of Schneemann’s art, thought, and private and public relationships. The correspondence chronicles a history of energy and invention, joy and sorrow, and charged personal and artistic struggles. It sheds light on the internecine aesthetic politics and mundane activities that constitute the exasperating vicissitudes of making art, building an artistic reputation, and negotiating an industry as unpredictable and demanding as the art world in the mid- to late twentieth century.


Correspondence Course is a valuable archive of the thought behind Schneemann’s oeuvre, and a reminder of her importance to subsequent generations of body artists. The extensive photo-documentation of her work in More than Meat Joy, including a concise performance chronology, is a useful companion to this collection of letters.” — Jeanmarie Higgins, Theatre Research International

Correspondence Course is replete with tender morsels of Schneemann’s aesthetic and performance theories, and over time she articulates more precisely her philosophy of interconnectedness, whether it be between art forms, individuals, or between humans and animals, humans and nature. . . . With Correspondence Course Schneemann and her interlocutors release a trove of intimate letters with the hope that her lived example can be helpful to younger women artists. Given the vital importance of this book to the study of contemporary art and performance, a more fitting title than Correspondence Course would have been Required Reading.” — Tanya Augsburg, TDR: The Drama Review

“This book tells a significant story, allowing other voices to intervene in a narrative that until now has been mostly crafted by Schneemann herself.” — James Boaden, Contemporary Theater Review

“This volume is an extremely valuable record of the life, thoughts, working conditions and friendships of an important artist, and gives an inside view of the art world during a time of major changes. It also presents a valuable visual record of the period, and will be an essential resource for scholars; it may well become required reading for artists as well.” — Andrea Kirsch, Art Blog

“While the text will certainly prove a useful resource for scholars such as myself, it is also a recommendable read for those with more casual interests in Schneemann’s work, feminist art, the women’s movement, experimental filmmaking, artist’s writing and/or intellectual correspondence. “ — Roxanne Samer, Global Feminist Blog

Correspondence Course is a book at once combative and communal, aesthetic and feminist. Schneeman chronicles a life dedicated to uncompromised artistic exploration of her own assumptions, as well as those of others, all in the name of conceptual progress.” — Trinie Dalton, Bookforum

Correspondence Course is many things: it is a book that encompasses an impressive amount of historical data that is of immense use to any researcher of late 20th-century art. It is also an archive of an extraordinary life during a time of tremendous changes in society and technology. Finally, it is a gripping story, at times difficult to put down—not your typical art historical book—and a tremendous achievement on the part of the editor, the artist and the publisher.” — Kathy Battista, Art Monthly

“[A]n amazing look into the heart, soul, and psyche of a trend setting artist.” — Gypsey Elaine Teague, ARLIS/NA Reviews

“A thick book of exuberant and extensive correspondence is a wonderful rarity in this era of tweets, emoticons, and Facebook updates. . . . [T]his selection provides an engaging historical document of a major segment of the American avant-garde in the last half of the 20th century. . . . Throughout her correspondence, Schneemann has the remarkable quality of being both unfailingly giving and fiercely honest.” — Kim Levin, ARTNews

“An accidental record of the way friends, enemies, the art world and ideas all crowd into an artist’s work can be found in Correspondence Course. . . . What a fascinating cacophony it is. . . . It is unusual to be given access to this kind of archive during the central figure’s lifetime. . . .” — Barry Schwabsky, The Nation

“One realizes in reading this hefty collection just how stealthily [Stiles] has made her way through the culture of her times, how she has maintained a brilliant dwelling for her creative process and psychic space, and steered a course based entirely on her own unique direction. Correspondence Course offers an ingenious view into a cultural life that does not fit neatly into the history books, if it’s there at all.” — Stephen Motika, Bomb

“Kristine Stiles’s subtitle, An Epistolary History of Carolee Schneemann and Her Circle, suggests that like the correspondence of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, these letters will afford a privileged insight into the cultural milieu in which they were written. The first section in the book, focused on 1956–1968, may have the most historical éclat, but Schneemann’s letters are great throughout the forty-three years the book covers, and Stiles performed a careful and attentive scholarly treatment of them. This book is another brick in the edifice of modern art.” — Thomas McEvilley, author of The Triumph of Anti-Art: Conceptual and Performance Art in the Formation of Post-Modernism

“Not only a revelatory stroll in Carolee Schneemann’s teeming archive, Correspondence Course demonstrates that letters, no less than canvases or installations, are works of art. An exquisitely dense meditation on address, Schneemann’s revelatory letters and Kristine Stiles’s deft critical framing perform a radical reconception of art history itself. At once deeply personal and profoundly philosophical, Correspondence Course illuminates and complicates pretty much every notion I have had about the past fifty years of avant-garde art. A brilliant, breathtaking, stunning book.” — Peggy Phelan, Stanford University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kristine Stiles is Professor of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Marina Abramovic and States of Mind: Dan & Lia Perjovschi and co-editor of Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings.

Carolee Schneemann is a multidisciplinary artist whose painting, photography, film, video, performance art, and installation works have been shown at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), the National Film Theatre (London), and Anthology Film Archives. She is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the College Art Association and the author of Imaging Her Erotics; More Than Meat Joy: Performance Works and Selected Writings; and Cezanne, She Was A Great Painter.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations vii

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xxi

Introduction xxv

The Letters

1956–1968 3

1969–1975 142

1976–1986 269

1987–1999 382

Index 491
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4511-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4500-8
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