Dieter Roth’s Diaries

September 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

Book: Dieter Roth Diaries by The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 


Over a brief 12 weeks working on a digital humanities project in which I analyzed the text in Van Gogh’s letters to his friend, Emile Bernard, I started to grow a larger interest in artist letters and writings. I stumbled upon this book in the stacks about Dieter Roth and his diaries, a book that has caused me to generate my own questions about private/vs/public art and private/vs/public self.

With my Van Gogh project, I was trying to explore what his letters to Emile Bernard could tell us about his work, and if there was any correlation between certain details in the letters and certain details in his paintings (I looked at color more specifically). In the book on Dieter Roth’s diaries, Fiona Bradley discusses the book’s publication and the exhibition it is based off of as a way to “examine the impact they [his diaries] may have on the production, reception and interpretation of his work” (31). I was immediately fascinated because of the interest to explore similar veins in my own research this past summer.



Dieter Roth’s diaries date from 1964 to 1997—the last one is a video diary called A Diary (33). Roth describes himself as being a compulsive diary-keeper, and throughout his life was enamored with the concept of diary-keeping, even collecting other diarists (32). He was very aware that someday someone might read his diaries, and he often wrote them with that very assumption in mind (33). While holding to this assumption, the practice of diary-keeping was complicated by his own feelings of self-consciousness (47). He writes:

I write as if I’m writing for a typesetter/fear of writing incorrectly/I can’t let myself go/as soon as I have the feeling of being observed (e.g. the reader), I want to appear correct (even if it’s only the spelling).” (48)


The fact that he often felt self-conscious about doing something so personal, and worried about how it might appear to others, but simultaneously assumed others would read it, generates some interesting questions:

How can the truest self be revealed through writing if an individual can’t let himself “go”?

What does it mean for that individual’s identity if they are constantly going between a public and private self in the act of diary-keeping?

When the self is revealed through writing and bound in a material form, and it is poetry and art process, drawings and paintings, even material waste, and a document of everyday life down to the most mundane details, but it is also meant to be seen as an art object—although with self-conscious feeling attached to the process of creating it—the boundaries of public and private self and art become so unclear that the boundaries could even be said to be broken all together.

 I believe his diary-keeping and the questions it implies are important to think about for any artist who may want to keep a journal or diary, especially if the keeping of it is even partially meant to document artistic practice and process.


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