Robert Indiana: . . . My painting is cerebral . . . It’s about as unemotional as any painting can get.
Arthur Carr: But is that true when you think of words such as “Eat” or “Die” which just by the inflection with which one reads them—“Die” or “Die”—become emotionally laden terms?
Indiana: I think that’s so dependent on the, upon the individual reaction of the viewer, Arthur. After all, the word, “Die,” or “Eat,” leaves quite a latitude of reaction. People react very, very differently and that’s rather a complicated situation. That isn’t like painting a luscious still life where one could want to eat it or painting a gruesome scene where death, like a crucifixion, where death is obviously the theme. Although “Die” and “Eat” seem very definite judging from the reactions of people that I know, people are very confused and a little bewildered by those words.
[ . . . ]
Indiana: . . . But they were done unemotionally on my part. I was not intending “Die” or “Eat” as a command. That is not—this is not my intention. They are the briefest of two—in word forms—they are the briefest forms of two thoughts that I wish to deal with. It could have been “Life” and “Death,” but “Eat” and “Die” are more brief and one of the problems in my paintings, and particularly from the emblematic standpoint, I must always find the, that which is less or that which is least in length, and in bulk and in everything else. So, therefore “Eat” and “Die” is a reduction to the absolute minimum of an idea. Certainly never intended in my mind as commands. The same is, the same was “Hug” and “Err,” although they might suggest the same thing. With “Hug” I’m talking about love and with “Err” I’m talking about mortality. I’m not saying, “Go out, go out and sin.”
Excerpt from “The Reminiscences of Robert Indiana.” New York, November 1965. Arthur C. Carr papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.