“I don’t like to call myself anything, actually,” says artistically ambidextrous Anne Truitt. The 75-year-old minimalist sculptor has work on view at the Whitney, the Met, MoMA, and the National Gallery. She’s also the author of three memoirs: Daybook, Turn, and the recent Prospect: The Journal of an Artist, an intensely personal meditation drawn from journals of her 70th year. Truitt’s prose, like her sculpture, is sturdy and striking.
At a recent Arts Club of Washington luncheon sponsored by the women’s literary league Defining Destiny, Truitt spoke with equal enthusiasm about the writer’s craft and casting in cement. Her divergent interests reflect a life that has abruptly changed course several times. “When you get to the end of the road and it disappears into the ground…you can’t keep moving,” she explains.
A Bryn Mawr psychology major, Truitt opted out of graduate school. Instead, she got a job at Massachusetts General Hospital caring for WWII soldiers with “battle fatigue.” At night, she was a nurse’s aide. “I would not have become an artist if I hadn’t been a nurse’s aide,” she says. “I spent all those years just steeped in pain—mental pain during the day and physical pain at night. And I learned about putting my hands on things.”
After the war, Truitt no longer wanted to be a psychologist. So she “jettisoned eight and a half years” of study, married, moved to D.C. with her husband, and tried writing. But she soon became frustrated by the demands of narrative. “I’m not interested in what happens, but I’m passionately interested in how,” she explains. “I think most lives are very anecdotal.”
During this period, Truitt had another epiphany. “I was in my living room in Georgetown and it occurred to me that a statue just stood there and time went over it,” she recalls. “And I just dropped writing.” After nine months of formal training at the old Institute of Contemporary Art on New York Avenue, Truitt devoted herself to sculpture, and only returned to writing late in life.
Truitt’s comments on art are refreshingly down-to-earth. “I had to accept the fact that what I saw in my head I couldn’t make. The physical world resists,” she says, citing the difficulty of making beds as an example. She’s also adamant that art is a solitary venture. “Never go to museums with anyone else,” she cautions. “It’s just like birth and death and being an artist—you do it alone.”
Truitt is unsentimental about her writing and admits that she doesn’t keep a journal unless she has a book in the works. “I’m afraid I’m a terrible pragmatist,” she laughs. “But if something happens, I’ll be glad to write again.”