Creative Process: Marina Abramović

Creative Process: Marina Abramović

January 14, 2020
The invention of the internet made it possible for anyone to share their art with the world, simply with the click of a button. And while it can be said to be a wonderful thing, it also makes it hard to find the true gems among the noise. Luckily, performance artist Marina Abramović established herself well before the online revolution. For more than four decades, she has made some of the most fascinating, shocking, and inventive art the world has seen.

Abramović is the self-proclaimed grandmother of performance art. In her work, she pushes the physical limits of the body. She spends hours and hours in one position, tied by her hair to another artist, or breathing in the wind of an industrial fan. She allows audience members to sit across from her and stare, or cut off her clothes. Her performances are jarring and mesmerizing.

Abramović’s artistic process is a bit different than a writer or a painter, because where they create their work and then share it with the world, the audience views Abramović's work as it is being created. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, she said she didn't have a studio, because she thinks they make artists lazy. I’m interested in nature and people from different cultures who push their bodies and their minds in a way we don’t understand. I expose myself to life, and from that, ideas come as a surprise. I totally dismiss the ones that are pleasant and easy. I’m only interested in the ones that really disturb me and that I get obsessed about. They’re what bring me to new territory.

While most artists and their creative process involves sketch pads, music, or a minimum daily word count, Marina Abramović’s process is simply to look at the world around her and respond to it. In 2016, she released her memoir, because she wanted the public to understand her art and her life, and to impart lessons to other artists. Walk Through Walls: A Memoir, which is narrated by Abramović herself, is the story of a child with an insatiable curiosity raised by Communist war-hero parents. Abramović took the strict work ethic instilled in her at a young age and combined it with her curious nature and love of people to begin imagining her art. In the memoir, she discusses her almost 50 years of work, as well as her 12-year collaboration with fellow performance artist Ulay, and her quest to push herself spiritually and physically past the points of fear and pain.

To learn about Abramović from another perspective, try James Westcott’s When Marina Abramović Dies: A Biography. In it, Westcott takes a deep dive into her work, including some of her more alarming incidents during her performances, and her final performance with Ulay, when they walked toward each other from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China until, 90 days later, they met in the middle and said goodbye.

Whether you’re already a fan of Abramović or you’ve never heard of her until now, there’s no denying that she is incredibly fascinating and unique, and takes the creative process to a whole other level. In a world drowning in mediocrity, she is an inspiration. Finally, for more Abramović-related fun, check out The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose, a novel inspired by The Artist Is Present, one of Abramović’s most famous performances.

Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, co-host of All the Books, and a Book of the Month judge.
She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon.

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