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Sex, power, feminism—Marilyn Minter reflects on her rise, being banished from the art world, and her return and personal revolution.

Design Matters From the Archive: Marilyn Minter

Design Matters From the Archive: Marilyn Minter

ARTIST

2021

art / photography / feminism / diane arbus / evergreen review / playboy / activism / protest

There is paradox in the work of Marilyn Minter. High fashion meets corrosion. Vulgarity dovetails with beauty. Focus gives way to sheer distortion.

At first it may seem wholly unexpected if not jarring, as it was to the artworld that initially rejected Minter’s now-iconic photographs and paintings as pornographic, profane, and assured her the works would destroy her career. But it might not have been had anyone looked to the juxtaposition that was her childhood. 

Born in Shreveport, La., Minter was raised in the self-described “Wild West” of Florida—Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Her father was a gambler, an alcoholic and a hustler, and her mother suffered a nervous breakdown after the pair split. She turned to opiates and pharmaceuticals, leaving Minter to raise herself. (She taught herself to drive at the age of 12.)

[“My mother] was at one time a really beautiful woman, and she was very conscious of the way she looked,” Minter told Lenny in 2016. “She worked on herself all the time, but it was always off, because she pulled out her hair, so she had to wear wigs; she had acrylic nails, but she didn’t take care of them, so fungus would grow underneath them, and it was kind of an off-beauty.”

Even Minter’s color palette can be traced to her upbringing—the 1960s pastels that defined the Florida and Louisiana of her youth still pervade her work today.

As an escape growing up, Minter drew day in and day out. She got her BA from the University of Florida at Gainesville in 1970 (where she was enrolled when she shot the photos of her addicted mother that she would later credit for a career resurgence), and eventually fled the state for graduate school at Syracuse University. After moving to New York City, she launched collaborations with Christof Kohlhofer, and later drew both rage and fascination with her erotic paintings and her exhibition 100 Food Porn. 

As she told The Creative Independent in retrospect, “You have to listen to your inner voice no matter what. People love my early work now. At the time, nobody could see it. I’m glad I didn’t destroy that. And it gave me street cred. I lived through being eviscerated by the art world. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? You have a point of view that makes you unique. You’ll be able to see and say things that no one else will be able to see and say.”

Ever since, Minter has done so, seemingly uninterested in ideals, and embracing the world for what it so often is: a paradox.

“Why would we dismiss glamour and fashion when they are giant cultural engines?” she asked The Standard. “Why would we dismiss pornography as shallow and debased? There would be no internet without pornography—wake up! The fashion industry does so much destruction, and it gives so much pleasure. It creates body dysmorphia. It creates a robotic, nonhuman ideal, which is so destructive. But it also gives people so much pleasure. Why can’t we have both? Why can’t we examine that?”

On this episode of Design Matters, Minter and Debbie Millman do just that. This installment was recorded remotely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—perhaps harkening back to Design Matters’ origins on the radio, where Millman interviewed guests by phone.



Transcript


Debbie Millman:

Marilyn Minter straddles the line between commercial and fine art as well as anybody since Andy Warhol. Her photorealistic images are simultaneously beautiful, erotic and disturbing, and they are striking in glossy magazines or on museum walls. At the center of her work is the body, specifically the female body, and we look at her glamorous photographs and paintings of eyes and lips, tongues and toes, with recognition and unease.


Debbie Millman:

Recently Minter has been bringing her skills into the political arena, and we’ll talk about that, her long career and more in today’s interview. Marilyn Minter, welcome to Design Matters.


Marilyn Minter:

Thank you so much, and thank you for the beautiful introduction.


Debbie Millman:

Thank you. Marilyn, you were born in Shreveport, Louisiana, but you grew up in 1960s Florida.


Marilyn Minter:

’50s, ’60s, because I left Louisiana at around 5.


Debbie Millman:

Oh, OK. You’ve described that time in Florida as the land of no parents. What did you mean by that?


Marilyn Minter:

Well, a lot of people went to Florida to escape, I think. It was like a brand-new world for a lot of people, especially south Florida, and everyone came from someplace else. It was a real party scene. I had a drug addict mother and an alcoholic father. He was also a compulsive gambler, so I think we moved to Miami because he could go to Havana and not gamble. And they went every weekend pretty much. They never had a job again. He started a golf course and he was a scratch golfer.


Debbie Millman:

Who played every day, right? Didn’t he play every day?


Marilyn Minter:

Every day, 36 holes, 18 holes, yeah. And then they went to the club afterwards, and I, basically, as a little girl, sat at the bar and ate olives and orange peels and maraschino cherries and waited for them, and watched TV.


Debbie Millman:

Your parents split up when you were about 8 years old, and your dad left your mother for a friend of hers. Same thing happened to me at about the same time in my life as I was growing up. My father left my mother for my mom’s best friend who lived down the block.


Marilyn Minter:

Wow, so you know the trauma is pretty extreme.


Debbie Millman:

It is really extreme.


Marilyn Minter:

Al the parents, all the family members are split, but also all the friends take sides.


Debbie Millman:

Right.


Marilyn Minter:

And my mother was ostracized.


Debbie Millman:

I was ostracized more than my mother, because somehow or another I had two friends that thought that I was the reason that my parents got divorced, because we were all in the same neighborhood. So yeah, it was really quite awful.


Marilyn Minter:

That’s terrible. Traumatic, it’s traumatic.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah.


Marilyn Minter:

My mother went into a tailspin.


Debbie Millman:

I know.


Marilyn Minter:

I pretty much erased myself from that, from that moment on.


Debbie Millman:

It sounds like you were raising yourself even before that.


Marilyn Minter:

Well, I was, but I still had the … no, there was no illusion. If you went into my house, you knew there was something wrong with this picture immediately, even as a little girl. My cousin told me that they were worried when she got pregnant with me, because she walked into walls.


Debbie Millman:

You taught yourself how to drive at 12, because you were hungry?


Marilyn Minter:

God, you really are good at this. No, I just started driving because I wanted to go visit a friend. But in South Florida where my mother first came out of the hospital, no one took care of me and I was dirty and hungry. But by the time we moved to Fort Lauderdale, there was a restaurant in the complex that I lived in, so I could always go down there and eat, just sign her name or my name. I don’t remember how I did it, but I just decided at 12 I was going to visit a friend.


Marilyn Minter:

My father sort of tried to teach me to drive a little bit. It was like I drove around a parking lot once. So once I learned how to do that, I just said, “I want to go visit my friend, Vicky,” and I drove across one of the expressways and went over to her house. She lived real close by, and it was really funny. I drove from then on.


Debbie Millman:

And you never got stopped, pulled over, into an accident?


Marilyn Minter:

I got stopped … I got my license taken away three times before I was 21.


Debbie Millman:

For what?


Marilyn Minter:

This is Florida—speeding. Truthfully, in Florida you could pull the ticket. I mean I paid this guy, he was a friend of my dad’s, all the money I made that summer to pull my ticket. It was $800. My summer salary from working, selling encyclopedias door to door. And he pulled the ticket. I got away with it, because I got stopped. I speeded a lot because I had a heavy foot, plus I was getting high all the time. So I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to my … I was raised by wolves and I sort of behaved like I could do anything, I was invincible, which was crazy.


Debbie Millman:

I understand that by the time you got to high school you were what you’ve described as a really bad girl. You got into trouble for confronting your teachers for their racism, and I read that you insisted on using a colored drinking fountain when you were confronted by different fountains for black people and white people.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah. I was appalled. I fantasized, because I couldn’t bear the idea. At birth we were raised by really racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Arab, anti-everything Southern gentile people who were a disgrace to their families. So they didn’t use the N word, but they said “Negra” and they had their gentile, but I was appalled by … and I would talk to my nanny or my mother’s maid about Colored Town, and I would draw pictures of it as if it was this fantasy area I wanted it to be. I saw colored drinking fountains and white drinking fountains. I’m old enough to see that in Louisiana, and it felt so wrong to me. And nobody really could explain or justify racism, so it was this left unsaid thing until I started paying attention in high school to Martin Luther King, and I was just appalled at … I got sent to the dean of students’ office once a week, and I skipped school all the time and went to the beach.


Marilyn Minter:

I was generally one of the … there were bad kids that were poor, and then there were the middle-class bad kids, and I was sort of the leader of middle-class bad kids.


Debbie Millman:

Given your upbringing, where did your moral compass come from?


Marilyn Minter:

It’s interesting, because my brothers and I wonder why we were such liberals in this really backward environment, and I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’ve always been extremely crazed when there’s injustice, and I was called names growing up all the time. I was a bad kid. I mean I was a bad kid because I had a drug addict mother, but I was the worst kind of kid you could have if you were a drug addict, because I was uncontrollable. I would stay out all night and make her frantic. I got put in jail at 16.


Debbie Millman:

What were you put in jail for?


Marilyn Minter:

I could draw, so I would alter people’s driver’s licenses for $5. They’d send me a driver’s license in the mail, and I could draw—before there was lamination, this was the ’60s—and I could draw the numbers and everyone else was trying to change their driver’s licenses, and they would type it in and it looked phony. But I knew how to draw the numbers. I took a mat knife and I scraped … the paper and with pencil I drew in a three instead of an eight. Things like that.


Marilyn Minter:

And I mean when I talk about the land of no parents, my group of friends, their parents were the exact same thing. We’d be driving down the street and I’d see one of my father’s friends making out with some woman in a Volkswagen and we go, “Hello, Mr. Owens.” We were terrible little kids.


Debbie Millman:

You started drawing at 5 years old, and by the time you were 9 years old you taught yourself how to draw the comic character Brenda Starr, the glamorous adventurous news reporter. I also love her.


Marilyn Minter:

She had a twinkle in her eye.


Debbie Millman:

And a daughter names Twinkle. No, Starr Twinkle. But when we were first supposed to meet in person, I had some vintage Brenda Starr ephemera I wanted to give you. So I owe that to you now, because of the pandemic we are living through—


Marilyn Minter:

Thank you.


Debbie Millman:

… It’s hard to be meeting in person. It’s impossible to be meeting in person.


Marilyn Minter:

Impossible, yeah.


Debbie Millman:

But I do owe you some really good Brenda Starr ephemera.


Marilyn Minter:

So did your mother fall apart when your parents split up?


Debbie Millman:

I think that she sort of fell apart much earlier. She’s very fragile and she’s still alive, and we have a really complicated relationship, as you can well imagine. Most of my life—


Marilyn Minter:

Did she ever remarry?


Debbie Millman:

Yes. She’s been married four times, and sort of one worse than the other.


Marilyn Minter:

Right.


Debbie Millman:

For different reasons.


Marilyn Minter:

So you knew somewhere too that you had to make your own way in the world.


Debbie Millman:

Oh yeah.


Marilyn Minter:

Where did you grow up?


Debbie Millman:

I’m a native New Yorker. I was born in Brooklyn. Then we moved to Queens, then Staten Island, then my parents got divorced, my mom took my brother and I to Long Island where she then proceeded to marry a real criminal.


Marilyn Minter:

My dad was a criminal too.


Debbie Millman:

And he was really abusive to all of us, the entire family. He had two daughters, he was also abusive to them. Then four years later she got divorced again, and then I was allowed to see my dad again, but that was also super complicated. Super complicated relationship with him as well. He died five years ago.


Marilyn Minter:

You [were] attracted to Brenda Starr for the same reason I was.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah.


Marilyn Minter:

She made her way in the world.


Debbie Millman:

Yep, self-sufficient.


Marilyn Minter:

She didn’t count on, yeah. I saw instantly, this is … because we were indoctrinated with this kind of Southern “you have to be sweet as pie, butter would melt in your mouth,” and I just thought, That’s not me.


Debbie Millman:

Well, I also have family that grew up in Florida. My mother’s brother grew up in Florida, and at one point I was going to try to defect to that family, because mine was so horrible. My cousin was getting bar mitzvah’d, and he was 13 and I was 12, and we were all supposed to go to the bar mitzvah, and then my grandfather died, and we ended up not going. My mom went on her own and I wasn’t allowed to go, but had I gone to that bar mitzvah, I was going to try to never leave.


Marilyn Minter:

Wow. See, I just watched my friends and their parents and it was like a marvel that that’s how other people were.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah, people whose parents actually love them.


Marilyn Minter:

I know. But I also had friends whose parents were worse than mine.


Debbie Millman:

I didn’t. I think that you’re probably the first person I’ve met who I can genuinely say you had a way worse childhood than I did.


Marilyn Minter:

Those of us who were raised like this, we’re tough as nails though.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah.


Marilyn Minter:

We can handle everything.


Debbie Millman:

Do you still love Brenda Starr?


Marilyn Minter:

Of course, except I look back on … she did have that mystery man with the patch.


Debbie Millman:

Basil St. John. He was so unworthy of her.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, really. That was the big disappointment.


Debbie Millman:

Right?


Marilyn Minter:

The orchid.


Debbie Millman:

As if. Would have been great if she were a lesbian, right?


Marilyn Minter:

True. Yeah, that’s true.


Debbie Millman:

Marilyn, you began to earn money in high school for drawing reproductions of Vargas’ pin-up girls for your brother’s friend.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, I got $100 for drawing Vargas pin-ups in pencil.


Debbie Millman:

Have you ever seen any of the sketches come up at auction? I was trying to find some.


Marilyn Minter:

No, I haven’t, no. It’s probably impossible, because I was not somebody who anyone would think of would ever be successful. So those people would never have kept them. That’s what I figure.


Debbie Millman:

Did you have a sense then that you could be successful?


Marilyn Minter:

Well, I knew I had a vision and I knew I was smarter than other people, but I was born on drugs; my mother never breastfed. There’s dyslexia for math, for people with numbers. There’s a name for it; I can’t remember it off the top of my head. I was basically really way backward when it came to numbers. I still don’t know arithmetic to this day.


Marilyn Minter:

But it drove me crazy, because I knew I was smarter than people that were just sailing through basic geometry. So it was like the world didn’t see it, I had a totally unmeasured intelligence. Once in a while a teacher would say something like, “You’re really good.” I was really good in English literature and history, but I could memorize anything, because that was my way to survive.


Marilyn Minter:

But I always knew I had something to say, but I didn’t have any encouragement whatsoever, but I just did it anyway because I had a good time doing it. I had pleasure making art. It just gave me too much pleasure, whether anyone was going to look at it or not.


Debbie Millman:

You attended the University of Florida, Gainesville, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1970. And it was there that you first created a black-and-white series of dark photographs you had taken of your mother smoking and grooming herself at home in her nightgown. What made you choose photography at that point?


Marilyn Minter:

Well, the University of Florida, this was in the ’60s, and there were art movement that were hundreds of years long, and by the time the ’50s and ’60s, art movements maybe were getting down to 10 years, abstract expressionism. There was a real vision that there was only one practice if you were a real artist, and there’s always been this bifurcation of art, like rococo as opposed to neo-classism.


Marilyn Minter:

It’s probably the same in literature and any kind of creative field where there’s excesses opposed to minimalism. And when the whole culture is invested in having excess being the only true way to make art, that’s how the art teachers taught us in the University of Florida. We had no model to work from. I knew how to draw, but I didn’t know anything about painting.


Marilyn Minter:

And so our art teacher just threw us in with canvasses that we bought at the bookstore and said, “Start painting.” No still life, no model, no nothing. I learned nothing about what orange does next to blue or how to paint on top of dried paint or what colors did. I couldn’t work without a source, but I read art magazines and I knew about Warhol, so I started looking up working from images from popular culture. But I got a C in painting, but in photography I got an A.


Debbie Millman:

I read that and I just could not help but laugh out loud. It’s like, “Really? A C?” I wonder what that professor thinks now?


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah. Well, if you’re working for popular culture, low culture, there’s no combination whatsoever in those days. It was a real line between high and low culture, and you didn’t cross that. Warhol crossed it, and I was sort of following what I read in art magazines. But I was in a school where they said, “There are no good women artists.” I don’t know what I thought I was.


Marilyn Minter:

If it wasn’t for art magazines and reading about all these women artists in the magazines … I didn’t study from one woman teacher, I only studied two female artists the whole time I was in school.


Debbie Millman:

Who were they?


Marilyn Minter:

Beverly Pepper and Mary Cassatt, because one art teacher decided to throw in a couple of women.


Debbie Millman:

Wow, generous.


Marilyn Minter:

Uh-huh (affirmative).


Debbie Millman:

Upon visiting your school, the legendary photographer, Diane Arbus, visited and hated everything she saw by the other students, which consisted of—


Marilyn Minter:

It was very romantic.


Debbie Millman:

… romantic pictures of sea shells and the sky and so forth. And one of your teachers ended up showing Arbus a contact sheet of your photos of your mother, and she loved them. What was that like for you at the time?


Marilyn Minter:

I went home, my school was in a very conservative Gainesville, sort of in the panhandle way upstate, and it was very conservative. South Florida was really different than Northern Florida, and it still is. So I brought those proof sheet to class, and that was when I first saw the reaction to those photos, and everybody was going, “Oh my god, that’s your mother?” And waves of shame came over me and I thought, I’m not going to show these anymore. The teacher didn’t think they were terrible, but your peers were just sort of shocked by them, didn’t know what to say.


Marilyn Minter:

This was before Oprah, remember. This is when nobody talked about anything in the deep South. So I was like opening a wound, and nobody wants to talk about stuff like that in the South. I just put them away. I didn’t really print them until 1995, but I was just walking by a classroom and Diane was teaching the grad students, not us lowly undergrads. And he said, “Marilyn, go get your proof sheet and show Diane this work.” I didn’t know who she was, because grad students and juniors didn’t really mix. Juniors in college.


Marilyn Minter:

So in 1971 when I was in grad school, she died, and that’s when I found out who she was. She was in Life Magazine as someone who was an important artist. So I really didn’t know.


Debbie Millman:

You hid the photos for 25 years in a drawer.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

What made you decide to bring them back out?


Marilyn Minter:

I was asked by a friend of mine at the drawing center, they did these readings from different poets and writers, and she wanted installations. I thought, this is such serendipity, because the drawing center was an institution that only showed drawings. They were all framed drawings on the wall, or drawn on the wall, period. And so I thought I could do an instillation by not messing at all with the wall itself. I’d print these big photographs, because it’s all I had, and I thought, I have these black-and-white photos. I used photography all the time to make my paintings, but I didn’t have any what I would call “art photography.”


Marilyn Minter:

So I made giant photos. Not even in a lab, I made them in a blueprint press, and I just pinned [them] to the wall. I mean, really big ones of my mother, and the response was amazing. It was very overwhelming, and it was almost all of a sudden people started taking me very seriously in ’95.


Debbie Millman:

Yes. After you graduated from Gainesville, you then went to get an MFA from Syracuse University, and you and your then husband drove to Syracuse from Florida in a 1950s Jaguar you restored in the garage, and you almost died from the exhaust. Oh my god.


Marilyn Minter:

The muffler. I think the muffler brain-damaged my cat, as a matter of fact.


Debbie Millman:

Oh no.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah. We had these terrible headaches. We did such a terrible job, but we looked like Southern hippies really driving up North. It was the first time I’d ever been up North, the first time I’d ever seen snow. I talked like this.


Debbie Millman:

While you were in school I understand that you called the Factory to learn how to make silkscreens and they told you.


Marilyn Minter:

They told me how, yeah. I was always ambitious, I was always ambitious. Do you remember Evergreen? You’re probably too young to know Evergreen Review, but it was this really radical magazine in the ’60s and ’70s, and it was on the back pages of Evergreen, the number of The Factory.


Debbie Millman:

Incredible. Yet you’ve said that at that point in your life you had no confidence.


Marilyn Minter:

No, none.


Debbie Millman:

But you were ambitious. And I think that’s such an interesting combination of attributes. No confidence, but ambitious. So would you say that you had a tiny bit more ambition than lack of confidence in your ability to even have the courage to call The Factory?


Marilyn Minter:

I didn’t have any problem at all asking for help. I learned really fast how to work in the … because in Florida, we just bought these already-made stretched canvasses. In art school I was the only female, there were 17 guys, and most of them knew how to work in the wood shop. I really didn’t, and I think that put me in a real disadvantage.


Marilyn Minter:

So I learned right away how to use the equipment, and that got me a little respect. Then I won this award from the Everson Museum; for my very first semester there I won the painting award where they bought the piece. So that made the faculty pay attention to me.


Debbie Millman:

So much for that C in painting.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, I had to build my résumé, so to speak, but I was willing. It was really that moment in feminism where I decided that there was no difference, even though I know now there is a real difference, between males and females. But we don’t have upper body strength, things like that; I learned really the hard way. I was just determined to be able to do anything a guy could do.


Debbie Millman:

You began collaborating German expressionist painter Christof Kohlhöfer upon moving to New York in 1976. It was at that time that you began making the hardcore porn that resulted in your getting beaten up by art critics. So you started beating up the painting with a belt sander, which led you to the work that you did next. Why was your work perceived as so threatening at that time?


Marilyn Minter:

I really thought everyone thought like me. This was after the … I did a collaboration in the East Village, and then I basically cleaned up my act in 1985. I stopped working with the German collaborator and I went off on my own. I wasn’t just recently an activist. I’ve always been one. There was just no documentation like we have now, but my husband and I were both at … 1971, we were both in Washington protesting the Vietnam War.


Marilyn Minter:

We didn’t know each other, we never met, we were from different schools. I’ve always been … first I was Civil Rights, then it was anti-Vietnam, and then I got really into the feminist movement and I paid attention. I went to NOW meetings, so I was always an activist. So I saw myself evolve. I read Playboy magazine. It was a real radical magazine for me in the deep South.


Marilyn Minter:

They had these great interviews and the pin-ups were not really that explicit. They were pro reproduction rights, they were anti-Vietnam, they were pro-Civil Rights, they were really liberal in every way they could be, except for feminism just ripped their hearts out. So I turned off Playboy, and I really got into Ms. Magazine. I’m just saying my own trajectory.


Marilyn Minter:

But then it occurred to me that it seemed really natural for women to start making images for their own pleasure and amusement, because I liked porn. It turned me on. And I thought that feminists should own sexual reproduction. I started making those images, and there’s a long story why, and I’ll make it as quick as I can.


Debbie Millman:

You don’t have to do it quickly. It’s fine.


Marilyn Minter:

In the ’90s, no, I guess it was the late ’80s, I saw this … I was always concerned why male artists got so much more attention than female artists. It was always in the back of my mind—this doesn’t seem fair. I pay a lot of attention to artists, I love art history. So I know the work of Joan Mitchell, Joni Mitchell, and I thought, "Damn, she just kicks ass. She’s so good. Why isn’t she getting the same amount of attention as somebody like de Kooning?"


Marilyn Minter:

I know Pollock changed art history in a big, big way, but why wasn’t she just as important? She made just as radical a move. And I saw Helen Frankenthaler change art history in such a big way. Why wasn’t she getting the attention that Morris Louis was getting or Kenneth Noland? And so with that background, I went to see this really great show of Mike Kelley at Metro Pictures.


Debbie Millman:

Ah, Mike Kelley.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, and a great artist. The paintings, there were sewed up onto canvas stuffed animals and stuffed animal sculptures and dolls. There were dolls and they did tables filled with candle wax, and he made banners out of felt, and he did decoupage chest of drawers of lips and mouths, and it was really mining a 13-year-old girl’s brain or an adolescent child. This mall culture and glitters and rainbows, and I thought, Wow, this is this intellectual man. If a woman artist had made any of this work, she would get no attention whatsoever.


Debbie Millman:

She would have been ostracized.


Marilyn Minter:

I don’t know, ostracized or considered a sensualist. And I thought, This is so brilliant. He’s making a picture we all know is a thing that exists. People were enraptured by it. So I thought, What is the one subject matter that women have never touched? Because if a woman made this, she’d be totally dismissed, but if a man made it, it changed the meaning.


Marilyn Minter:

So I was asking questions. I said, “Well, what happens if a woman takes sexual imagery and owns it, and makes reproductions from it?” And then that’s how I got into working for porn, and I only knew about two other artists, Judy Bernstein and [inaudible], who I really admired, that had worked with porn. I thought of them as working with softcore porn.


Marilyn Minter:

So I thought, Well, it’ll only work if I do cum shots, really hardcore things. At that point cum shots were kind of hardcore, and this was in the late ’80s. So I made this one series called the Porn Grid, and I really thought everyone was thinking just like I did. What I was doing was repurposing imagery from an abusive history. There was that whole feminist movement that really believed that all porn was evil and bad and exploitive, and of course it’s very hard to argue against that, but I was trying to make the case that nobody has politically correct fantasies, and that it’s time for women to make images for their own amusement and their own pleasure.


Marilyn Minter:

They should own the production of sexual imagery, and it frightened the hell out of everybody, and it still does by the way. I was asking these questions, and since I didn’t have any answers, which I still don’t by the way, that was my downfall, because it was so easy to categorize me as a traitor to feminism and an anti-feminist. I basically got kicked out of the art world. Shows closed, my show closed a week early. I couldn’t sell anything. I had excoriating reviews in The Times, in The Village Voice, and I was pretty devastated, because I thought everyone thought … I wasn’t ever trying to be titillating.


Marilyn Minter:

But I somehow knew I was on the right path, and basically the internet exploded and my side won.


Debbie Millman:

What do you think people were really upset about?


Marilyn Minter:

I think they were really upset about the fact that women tried to own this power, because women have always known they have this power over men. A kind of a power, sexual power, and men are frightened by it, I think, and other women are frightened by it. I don’t think we’ve even had anybody talking about how very rarely does anyone write about how women owning the production of it is so scary to everyone.


Marilyn Minter:

And it still is. But I’m an old lady, so I can get away with it. But when I was young-ish, I was in my early 40s, young girls still if they work with any sexual imagery, get terrible slut-shaming in the art world today.


Debbie Millman:

So you think that it’s more acceptable that you do it now, because of your age?


Marilyn Minter:

Absolutely. I mean there’s this picture, I always use this as an example. There’s this very famous Robert Mapplethorpe photograph of Louise Bourgeois holding this giant dildo and she’s grinning and everyone thinks she’s adorable. But if a young artist, if a young beautiful artist had that, you just can see the people, both men and women, get so terrified of that. That’s one of the big questions for me, is why is it OK if I … I can do anything now in terms of sexuality. What’s that all about? Why [isn’t] anyone investigating that or writing about it? I think it’s fascinating.


Debbie Millman:

Do you think it has more to do with the more permissiveness of the time, or the slightly more tolerant times in terms of sexuality, marriage equality and so forth?


Marilyn Minter:

I mean there were no trans people in the ’70s. I mean, there was no fluidity, there was no gender fluidity.


Debbie Millman:

But it was hidden.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, it was totally hidden. As a matter of fact, there was no language for it, and the fact that there was no language, nobody knew what was going on. There was nothing written. I knew so many people that were “asexual,” and they were just probably in the wrong body. The beauty of today is that we’re finally looking at everybody who’s been ignored, who’s been written out, who doesn’t exist.


Marilyn Minter:

So it’s a beautiful thing really for me to see the diversity that we’re accepting is normal and not as this kind o …I remember Christine Jorgensen, do you know that name?


Debbie Millman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, she was like the first transgendered person, Swedish, and then right after that there was sort of one … but there were these oddities, they weren’t part of the world now. The language didn’t exist for women to work with sexual imagery either. It just didn’t exist. We were unladylike if we even knew about it or something. I’m not an intellectual obviously, but I just felt the disparity and how all this was very wrong somehow. Women should be able to make images for their own pleasure, basically, or to look at images for their own pleasure.


Debbie Millman:

Or even just their own intellectual curiosity.


Marilyn Minter:

Exactly.


Debbie Millman:

I mean that’s part of why I like Mapplethorpe’s images so much. I just like to have that view into a different world.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah. He was a very powerful artist. I don’t think he was ever saying, “I’m going to … I think he just made the …” My dog’s about to jump on. OK, I have to do this. Get off. Come on. I’ve got this big … sorry.


Debbie Millman:

Let me see him.


Marilyn Minter:

Get off. OK. Here’s my little stinker.


Debbie Millman:

Look at the little monkey.


Marilyn Minter:

Do you see him?


Debbie Millman:

Yeah. Oh, wow.


Marilyn Minter:

Okay, he got off. He was going to jump in my lap. I could see it coming.


Debbie Millman:

Marilyn, you’ve said that when a work of art upsets you, it’s probably good. Why is that?


Marilyn Minter:

Well, it’s so rare. It got my attention. Most artists make art that looks like art, and when you see something that’s another language, it’s a fresh vision. Actually, as an artist, I love looking at all the artists that made art before me. I see the threads of my work filled with their work, but when it’s a brand-new artist with a whole new idea, it’s like threatening somehow, too.


Marilyn Minter:

But I’ve learned to embrace it. I want to run away from it, because it’s that idea of taking up space that I could have. And I know that that’s absolutely the worst attitude you could possibly have with new art. I really want to grow and change and I don’t think that happens without difficult conversations, and difficult conversations meaning embracing what looks strange to me, or that’s going to disrupt my art world, so to speak, and it’s going to leave me behind somehow.


Marilyn Minter:

But I work through all of that and I look at all of that and I think, “OK, the best thing I can do is go embrace that artist and tell them how great he or she is.” And then the envy disappears. To make me tell somebody how good they are, so I get rid of the poison that way.


Debbie Millman:

That’s so interesting. So are you an envious person?


Marilyn Minter:

I’m an artist. We’re known as being so emphatically self-involved.


Debbie Millman:

I think everybody is. I think all people are to some degree or another. I have found that the best way for me to get over my envy, my considerable envy, is to just go and make something, because then I can just focus it outward.


Marilyn Minter:

I have to get rid of the envy before I … I want to get rid of it at all cost, the resentment of really good other artists. I have a whole coterie of very, very good artists that are my good friends, because I want that poison gone and I tell them right away how good they are. It literally drains away, and they make me a better artist. If they’re really good, then I say, “I’ve got to get as good as this,” or, “I’ve got to top this.” That’s where I can use envy as a healthy thing, but it’s the death of creativity for me.


Debbie Millman:

You’ve described the time working with Christof as druggies living in the East Village, and you went on to state that once you started doing drugs, you just fucked up and were in a 10-year coma.


Marilyn Minter:

If you look at my retrospective, there’s this big blank.


Debbie Millman:

So what made you decide to go to rehab? How did you make that path to finding change?


Marilyn Minter:

It’s not like addiction was a big surprise to my gene of makeup. I mean, there’s pretty much everybody with my last name has had some kind of … there might be an exception, but I haven’t found it. So I knew about on the wagon for instance, by the time I was prescient. I knew what that meant. I thought a coffee table was a cocktail table. I didn’t know it was ever a coffee table. You know that table in front of the couch?


Debbie Millman:

Yeah, of course.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, so everyone’s been trying to stop in my family, or trying to moderate. In 1985, it was really the beginning or actually it might have been the apex of the crack epidemic, and it was just … I think people could drink themselves to death. They could go till 60, 70, it would just be drunks. But once you get drugs in there, people start crashing really fast. I was one of those people, and I really couldn’t get high anymore.


Debbie Millman:

How did getting sober affect the subject of your work?


Marilyn Minter:

I was known as being this collaborative artist, so I had to make something … that’s when I went to enamel paint. I’ve been using enamel paint ever since then. I couldn’t work with oil. I couldn’t make anything that looked like our collaboration, which were pretty good, and it opened me up a lot to … he taught me a lot.


Marilyn Minter:

When it broke up, I had to start making something that didn’t look like anything we’d ever made before. I sort of had to listen to my own voice, and there was 30 layers of cotton batting around my head until the cobwebs took years to … I didn’t know what 10 in the morning looked like not being high. And so I had to learn how to be in the world again.


Marilyn Minter:

Once I did that, I could get in touch more with my inner voice, and I just started making the work that you know my work from now. We talked about slightly why I started showing the photos of my mother. That’s when I started getting taken seriously, because once I got thrown out of the art world, the art world is a bunch of clichés, and kittens are adorable and sunsets are beautiful and clichés are clichés for a reason. I showed the pictures of my mother and all of a sudden I was taken seriously, because, “Oh, she comes from dysfunction, so she must be a good artist,” that kind of thing.


Marilyn Minter:

And that’s when I was let back in. That was also serendipitous. It was not anything planned.


Debbie Millman:

Well, it sounds like it was something that happened after a lot of hard work, that was maybe a bit more than serendipitous, it was a combination of—


Marilyn Minter:

Well, the work was there. This is how I feel about the creative process. That if you listen to your inner vision, you listen to your own voice, you make art from that place, sooner or later the zeitgeist hits you.


Debbie Millman:

It’ll catch up.


Marilyn Minter:

Or not. Some people have to die first, but the zeitgeist sooner or later will catch up with them. It’s fair in the end perhaps, but there’s so many great artists who died, nobody even knew who they were. I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones, it hit me when I was alive.


Debbie Millman:

You stated that fashion is one of the engines of our culture and that we see who our tribe is by the way we present ourselves. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t care what they look like or you don’t put yourself together, that’s a tribe. And you’ve tried to make a metaphor for that by containing two different ideas in the same image, which is why you’ve made things that you would describe as sort of disgusting, but absolutely ravishingly beautiful. And Marilyn, I’m wondering how you balance the disgusting and the beautiful?


Marilyn Minter:

Well, I actually never see it as disgusting, but it’s disingenuous of me to say that. I know other people do.


Debbie Millman:

Right, and you’ve mentioned it as other people thinking that, not that you think that. And I’m not saying I think that either. I actually own several pieces of your work, and each of them are very prominently in my home. I love your work.


Marilyn Minter:

Thank you. Thank you. I didn’t know that. Well, fashion to me is the same as pornography. It’s this kind of giant engine of the culture that everyone has contempt for. I’ve been to people’s houses where they hide their Vogue magazines and bring out their October when they have dinner parties.


Marilyn Minter:

It’s so easy to kick fashion to the curb. It’s shallow and it’s fleeting and it creates body dysmorphia, but it’s also a billion-gillion-dollar industry where that’s where women have real power, one of the few places. And at the same time you know you’re never going to look that good, but it still gives you a lot of pleasure.


Marilyn Minter:

So I wanted all of those things to be in all those images that I make. This kind of nuance, because nothing is black and white, absolutely nothing. And that’s what the internet has proven, there’s no right way to be anything. Well, I mean people die over trying to prove the right way. They make rules and they try and order their world, trying to make things the way they think it should be, or the way god wants it to be.


Marilyn Minter:

And I just find that the opposite of the creative process. And so whenever I see so many that hate something so much or it’s so dismissed by everyone, I’m drawn to see what it’s all about. Pornography, there would be no internet without pornography, you do know that?


Debbie Millman:

Oh, yeah.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

I mean, for a long time it was the No. 1 commercial enterprise on the internet. It fueled the internet.


Marilyn Minter:

It still might be.


Debbie Millman:

I think online dating is now, Marilyn, which I find so interesting.


Marilyn Minter:

Really? Yeah, that’s so interesting. That’s interesting. I didn’t know that, because I thought it was one of the most powerful. I mean the fact that we’re constantly trying to … not we, but certain elements of our culture, are always trying to tell you what to do, that there’s only one right way to do anything. And I just find there’s exceptions to every rule, and that’s what I feel about the images that I make—I’m not going to tell you what to think.


Marilyn Minter:

You have to bring your own history and your own traditions and your own experiences, and then maybe we could have a dialogue. But if you tell somebody what to think, it’s an illustration, I don’t scold anybody. And I get criticized for that, and I sort of feel like it’s my badge of … that’s where I’m exceptional, I don’t judge. I like the idea that I could listen to all these different voices within judgments. I think that’s one of the things sobriety has given me.


Debbie Millman:

What do you mean? How so?


Marilyn Minter:

Well, everybody’s story is so powerful, and people do terrible things, and I can’t throw any stones. I did terrible things.


Debbie Millman:

Everybody does terrible things.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, exactly. If you don’t judge other people, you really don’t judge yourself anymore either.


Debbie Millman:

I hope that’s true. I hope to get to that place.


Marilyn Minter:

I know it is. I know it is. I see it in my own life. I used to think I was the worst person that ever lived, and that’s pretty narcissistic of me. I wasn’t even close.


Debbie Millman:

Especially now.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, exactly.


Debbie Millman:

Marilyn, you mentioned earlier that you want women to have images of themselves for their own pleasure and amusement, and do you think that there’s a difference between the male gays and the female gays when looking at your work?


Marilyn Minter:

It would be nice to find out, don’t you think? We’d like to see a body of work and maybe see what the difference is. I really would love that, but we don’t have that. I’m trying my best to support all the women that try, but it’s just so easy to kick sexual imagery to the curb. I think we could find places for it that are healthy.


Debbie Millman:

You’ve said that woman should own the production of sexual imagery, and I find that so fascinating. Cindy Gallop feels the same way, the Crash Pad Series, the pornography that they’re producing think also very much believes that. How do you think that that is possible? I mean, in the grand scheme of things there are pockets of people that are doing things like that, but it’s very, very unusual.


Marilyn Minter:

When I was first working this work, there were very few sex workers that considered themselves sex workers and that were intellectualizing it. There were so many more porn stars that were being exploited or were porn addicts, but anyone who owned the production, the first one I saw was really Pamela Anderson.


Marilyn Minter:

She said, “I’m not a dancer, I’m not a singer, I’m not an actress, I’m a pin-up.” And she did very well and she owned it. I was always attracted to that, just like I was attracted to Brenda Starr. I was attracted to Candida Royalle, the first woman director who made softcore porn for couples, and Susie Bright who made the first lesbian porn magazine. Those are the people that were my support system actually.


Marilyn Minter:

I feel like nowadays we were pretty tame; because of digital technology, women can do anything they want now. It’s pretty simple. And so I’d love to see a whole body of work dissected by male gays and female gays. We have little touchstones, that’s it, nothing, no body of work. We’ve got hundreds of years of softcore porn just in paintings. The bather, always being surprised by Apollo. Daphne being surprised by … From the beginning of our history, female women’s bodies were objectified in some way.


Marilyn Minter:

No pubic hair, of course, no armpit hair. And of course the male body’s been sexualized too, but not to the degree that women have been. So I just thought it would be really interesting to see women making images of a bather, and that’s what I’m doing now. Woman, 21st-century bathers, and I’d like to see more things like that. We’re taking that same trope from our history and seeing what it looks like in a woman’s hands, and we’re seeing it in movies all the time.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah. I mean even the number of female action heroes now, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, I mean that’s really magnificent.


Marilyn Minter:

I cried during Wonder Woman.


Debbie Millman:

Did you really? Well, I cried at the end of Avengers: Endgame for so many reasons. I mean we can have a whole conversation about how Scarlett Johansson’s death was just so wrong in so many ways. You probably know this given your art history knowledge, but I was in Italy over the summer and saw David, the statue, and I learned that back then the artists were sculpting the male organs, the penises smaller than they actually were, because otherwise they looked vulgar.


Marilyn Minter:

Too sexual. Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

Too vulgar. Because I’ve always wondered why David’s penis was so much smaller than his hands or feet would indicate.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, there was a kind of fear of sexuality even back then. Religion, it’s always religion. Religion has always been about policing bodies.


Debbie Millman:

I don’t know if you know this, Roxane and I were looking at the website where small businesses could apply for the tax-free loans because of the pandemic, and there’s a caveat for the applications if you run a business of a sexual nature, or they used the word prurient work, they will not give you a loan.


Marilyn Minter:

That doesn’t surprise me at all.


Debbie Millman:

No, it doesn’t surprise me at all, but it’s just one of those shaking-my-head moments.


Marilyn Minter:

This administration is just the pits. I can’t think of one single positive thing about it.


Debbie Millman:

You mentioned Pamela Anderson, and that reminded me that I had a question for you. The work that you’ve done in the last decade includes a series of portraits with Pamela Anderson, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, and in all of them you asked them to cut their hair into bangs.


Marilyn Minter:

That’s true.


Debbie Millman:

How come?


Marilyn Minter:

Well, I didn’t have to do it at all with Miley. She had bangs. But I think with Pam she was 40 and I wanted to make her look so innocent because she is such a really hardcore animal rights activist, and I am too. I mean I’m not even close to her, but I’m a vegetarian basically, and I wouldn’t wear fur. But I’m still a hypocrite, I wear leather shoes. But I thought it was so interesting that she took that cause on, always while she was a pin-up.


Marilyn Minter:

And I wanted to show that empathy, because she’s so empathetic with animals. I thought if I cut her bangs and took all her makeup off, I mean she’s one of those … all of these people that you mentioned kind of glow in the dark. They’re born to look like that, and you just want to watch them.


Debbie Millman:

They shimmer, they really do shimmer.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah. You know that. I just wanted to create that kind of innocence that identifies with animal cruelty and suffering, and so that’s why I cut her bangs. And with Gaga, it was right before A Star Is Born, the movie came out, and she had no makeup on and I just wanted to, I don’t know, same kind of thing, she was like reinventing herself. And I was working with her at a moment when she wasn’t paying attention.


Marilyn Minter:

She didn’t think I could see her, and she let her guard down and that’s the picture I used for The New York Times.


Debbie Millman:

Those pictures are stunning.


Marilyn Minter:

Thank you.


Debbie Millman:

She had never looked more beautiful in those pictures.


Marilyn Minter:

She’s a real beauty. You can’t really … because I’m behind glass and there’s a lot of the steam on it, but I can see right through it, but they don’t know that. So I could just change my lens, so that’s how I got that. I could trick people that way, because they don’t think you’re looking at them, because they can’t see you. So I just gave away my secret.


Debbie Millman:

Do you approach commercial work versus noncommercial work in any sort of different manner?


Marilyn Minter:

Well, I turned down almost every commercial job, because I’m not going to learn anything from it. But we’re never going to learn anything like that. I learned all kinds of photography techniques because I worked with commercial photographers and commercial lighting directors. And I learned about lenses, I learned about makeup, I don’t know anything about any of that. Fashion, I only do closeups anyway. I’ve never shot a whole person.


Marilyn Minter:

So nothing scares me in terms of technology, even though I’m an old lady. But I’ve never been afraid of it, so I just dive into anything that might make my work better.


Debbie Millman:

What did you learn during the shoot with Gaga?


Marilyn Minter:

With Gaga, OK, you know what I learned really, that I could set up my studio in another city. I could do everything I needed to do, and I’ve always shot everything in New York City at the studios here, and I didn’t know if I could replicate it. And I saw I could replicate everything.


Debbie Millman:

Did you shoot her in LA?


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, I shot her in LA, and then I’ve got to shoot somebody else pretty soon. But it was just making these portraits of people, these paintings of icons. And I’m not afraid of going there now and creating the … I think I can recreate, because I have a very specific thing that I do, and my studio is just geared to it, and so I found out that I could be portable. And that was a big learning curve.


Debbie Millman:

We’ve talked a little bit about your fascination with Playboy magazine. I also actually was really fascinated by it as a kid. My father stashed some Playboy magazines in one of the second bedrooms, and I found them and loved reading them and looking at them.


Marilyn Minter:

God, I learned so much from them.


Debbie Millman:

So did I.


Marilyn Minter:

Because I didn’t have any other outlets to read about … it was just such a conservative area, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And then Evergreen, Playboy, those were … and the new Playboy, it just breaks my heart that the pandemic has closed it down, because it’s all run by women. One of their latest centerfolds is transgender. A real beauty.


Debbie Millman:

Oh, wow. I have to go look at that.


Marilyn Minter:

They’re so interesting now. I’m surprised Roxane wasn’t approached to do an article.


Debbie Millman:

I think they featured her. They featured her recently in the magazine. And yeah, she has a relationship with Playboy. I think they should do a centerfold of her. That would be gorgeous.


Marilyn Minter:

Oh god, that would be amazing.


Debbie Millman:

So regarding Playboyand our mutual fascination, but certainly your professional fascination with hair, talk about Bush, your collaboration with them?


Marilyn Minter:

Right, right. I teach. I teach at the same place you do actually.


Debbie Millman:

School of Visual Arts.


Marilyn Minter:

[crosstalk] across the street. And I knew students who were lasering all their hair. And I thought, Jesus, I remember plucking all my eyebrows out and they didn’t grow back. And I thought, Wow, it’s not so terrible, pubic hair, why don’t you … I know what it looks like. I remember. And I thought, Well, let me show you pictures of it. So Playboycommissioned me to shoot … my idea was to have different all races and all colors of pubic hair, and so I had models growing out their pubic hair.


Marilyn Minter:

It took about eight months, and Playboy paid for each one of these shoots. And then I gave them a whole bunch of images and they were appalled.


Debbie Millman:

Why?


Marilyn Minter:

They didn’t want to use them.


Debbie Millman:

I mean I’ve seen them because they’ve been published elsewhere, but they’re beautiful.


Marilyn Minter:

Well, they were published in the new Playboy, the one that these young smarty pants girls just took over, and then because of that I started making paintings from it. I thought really I want to make pubic hair so beautiful that you could put it in your living room. Once in a while it happens, because it’s pretty abstract by the time I get to it, by the time I finish the painting.


Marilyn Minter:

So I’ve been working with pubic hair for years now. And yes, most people won’t buy them, but I will have them, and sooner or later I’m going to make a whole show of it.


Debbie Millman:

Why do you think that pubic hair has been so erased in art history and in current culture?


Marilyn Minter:

Isn’t it amazing?


Debbie Millman:

It’s really astonishing.


Marilyn Minter:

It’s amazing. I have a beautiful van Gogh reproduction where there was pubic hair and armpit hair. And it’s so rare, there’s Korbay and there’s a couple, the Manet of course, the famous Origin of the World. But it was considered really pornographic. Probably drawings were passed around back in the 19th century, 18th century, this was probably too vulgar, just like tiny penises and ball sacks on David. They somehow considered it too base.


Marilyn Minter:

There’s that very famous story of Bernard Raskin taking his wife … he’d never seen a naked woman, and he’d only seen art history and he thought his wife was misformed. He ran out of the room because she had pubic hair. Isn’t that funny?


Debbie Millman:

Yes.


Marilyn Minter:

I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s definitely all over art history.


Debbie Millman:

Marilyn, you’ve written about how you always get stressed before you start a new project and totally feel like you’re going to fail, but go on to question who doesn’t have self-doubt. And so I want to ask you, do you know anybody who thinks everything that they do is great?


Marilyn Minter:

I do know people that work from arrogance, but every good artist has self-doubt. I don’t know, I don’t really sit around and talk with the artists that are making the most money and having the most acclaim. I do actually, that’s not true. But I know the ones I do know have self-doubt. I think it’s part of the creative process and you just act as if, pretend that you know what you’re doing. Then hopefully something interesting comes out of it.


Marilyn Minter:

So actually I do know people. I was thinking of the ones the market thinks are the most, which are usually male, white male, but all the good artists I’ve ever met, really good ones, aren’t arrogant. They’re pretty nice people.


Debbie Millman:

I find that the people that are really the most comfortable—


Marilyn Minter:

Insecure.


Debbie Millman:

But and the most comfortable acknowledging that tend to be the most interesting to me.


Marilyn Minter:

Well, I just think failure’s part of the creative process, and I also think that self-doubt is, and you have to just act as if and do it anyway, face your fears, and make the work.


Debbie Millman:

The last thing I want to talk to you about is your political activism. You’ve been doing a lot of activist work now, thank you, with organizations like Swing Left, Downtown for Democracy, Halt Action Group, Planned Parenthood, and regarding the desire to do this work you’ve stated the following, and I really love this quote. You’ve said that, “Pleasure is transitory and that you have to find pleasure in being of service, or doing activism, or helping other individuals. That last longer than great sex, because even when you have all the things you thought would satisfy you, they never do.”


Marilyn Minter:

No, they never do.


Debbie Millman:

Why is that? What is that, that they never … I mean, I think that’s a fairly universal sentiment that it’s sort of this hedonistic treadmill we’re on.


Marilyn Minter:

Well, that’s just been my experience. You get true, real joy out of helping someone, helping others, and fighting injustice. And I think if I didn’t do it, I’d be going crazy right now. So it makes me feel I can make my work, I can compartmentalize somewhat, I can make my art, but if I wasn’t an activist—I mean, if you’re not upset right now, you’re asleep.


Debbie Millman:

How are you feeling about our future? Talk about how you feel about what might come ahead of us?


Marilyn Minter:

I’ve been asked this so many times lately, and I think we’re in the middle of it. I mean we’re not even in the middle. If we only have 3,000 deaths and we’re expecting 100,000 to 200,000 deaths in the next month or so, I don’t think there’s any way, shape or form we’re going to come out of this being the same culture we knew going into it.


Marilyn Minter:

And hopefully the best case scenario is to, for me anyway, is that we start to work in terms of climate change, and work as a global, especially for pandemics, work together and come together as a nation that wants to stay healthy with clean air and oceans and mitigate the cruelty that’s in the world now.


Marilyn Minter:

But that’s never happened, so I don’t know why it would this time. I don’t know what’s going to happen.


Debbie Millman:

I know that you are living with your husband and are still working. How are you managing your work through this experience?


Marilyn Minter:

Well, I’m pretty lucky, we have a house we built upstate, so I could walk around here. I’m immune compromised a little bit, and my husband is definitely too, so we’re really careful. But I can work remotely all the time. My studio might have to go. We definitely have to tighten our belt, but I’ve been working with the same team for years, and one person for over 20 years.


Marilyn Minter:

And we’re just making art anyway, and I’m making it every day. I’ll pile it up in a corner, but I’m trying to keep everybody that works for me … I have all freelancers and they go in and out, but keep them employed so they have money. And also, if we can still make art, if I can still make art, that’s one of my run relief all day long. That’s where I get true pleasure.


Marilyn Minter:

I watch the news and I get so distracted. I thought I’d get so much more done being isolated, because I don’t know an artist who doesn’t love being isolated and just making their work. That’s like we’re in heaven. But then the news come in and then you get so distracted.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah, I think it’s really hard to expect that we’re all going to be super productive during a global pandemic.


Marilyn Minter:

No, it’s too hard. But if I can do a couple of hours every day, then that’s all I need to do, and the rest is to try and keep my team alive, because those are the people I feel responsible for. I don’t see people buying art when this is over. That’s not going to be a priority.


Debbie Millman:

Has your work changed at all in this period?


Marilyn Minter:

Of course, yeah. I’m making some really nasty things. I can’t help it.


Debbie Millman:

Can you talk about what kind of nasty things you’re making?


Marilyn Minter:

Well, I don’t think they’re that nasty, but what they are is how I’m feeling. I’m out of breath metaphorically. It’s devastating when you think about what’s going to happen in the next while. But I’m not an illustrator, I’m just trying to make metaphorical images that mirror what I’m feeling. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them, I have no idea, but I’m still making them. I can work remotely, I work with two other people and Photoshop all day long, and we just change everything.


Marilyn Minter:

And then I can’t print anything, because I don’t have a printer up here, but I go down to the city and I get paper out of the studio and I take it to … because I can drive and just drop it off.


Debbie Millman:

In my research for this show I learned something that I thought was really helpful given the time that we’re living in, and I learned from you that sunlight is a disinfectant.


Marilyn Minter:

Absolutely. Yeah, and I think a distortion happens from secrets.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah.


Marilyn Minter:

Look at what happens to trans people, people born in the wrong body. Secrets will distort you. If you talk about it, you can find health and self-love instead of feeling like the monster from hell or whatever the monster is. Fantasies happen when you feel like you’re just … Shame is just terrible. Guilt you can work with. Guilt you can change your actions. Shame is just you being alive is a terrible thing.


Debbie Millman:

I think it’s the most destructive emotion we can experience.


Marilyn Minter:

Exactly. Exactly. Shame is the worst, and that’s why I’m talking about suspending judgment up to the point. I mean we have an administration, it’s like out of a Marvel comic sort of cruelty. Let’s kill the elephants now.


Debbie Millman:

It’ll take decades to undo the damage that’s been done in the last four years.


Marilyn Minter:

Yeah, yeah, isn’t that the truth?


Debbie Millman:

Well, that’s why we need people like you more than ever Marilyn. You’re helping to wake up the world.


Marilyn Minter:

I don’t know if that’s true, but I do it really because that’s how I can go to sleep at night. It makes me feel better.


Debbie Millman:

Well, it makes many people all over the world feel better too. Thank you.


Marilyn Minter:

Thank you so much. This was really interesting.


Debbie Millman:

Thank you for really waking up the world with your work.


Marilyn Minter:

Thanks for all your research.


Debbie Millman:

My pleasure. You can find out more about Marilyn Minter’s work on her website, marilynminter.net, and she also has an Instagram feed.


Marilyn Minter:

Thank you.


Debbie Millman:

This is the 15th anniversary of Design Matters and I’d like to thank you for listening all these years. And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both. I’m Debbie Millman, and I look forward to talking with you again soon.

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman