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The Way to Be: A Memoir

Barbara T. Smith

A firsthand account of the life and work of Barbara T. Smith, one of the most important yet underrecognized performance artists in the United States.
For over fifty years, Barbara T. Smith has been at the forefront of artistic movements in California. Her work across many mediums explores concepts that strike at the core of human nature, including sexuality, physical and spiritual sustenance, technology, and death. In this memoir, Smith weaves together descriptive accounts of her pioneering performances with an intimate narrative of her life.
The Way to Be covers the years 1931 to 1981, up to the artist’s fiftieth birthday, resulting in an exhaustive catalogue of her early work. It reveals the personal stories and events behind her pieces and the challenges she faced in an art world dominated by sexism and machismo. Drawing on Smith’s archive at the Getty Research Institute, this enthralling book presents previously unpublished notes, documents, photographs, and firsthand accounts of her life and practice, as well as her more recent reflections on the past. The Way to Be demonstrates Smith’s lasting contributions to the field of contemporary art and provides an engaging commentary on a recent period of great cultural and political change.
This volume is published to accompany an exhibition on view at the Getty Research Institute at the Getty Center from February 28 to July 16, 2023.

Barbara T. Smith is an American artist who has worked in the varied forms of painting, drawing, installation, video, performance, and artist’s books, and often involves her own body as a vehicle for her productions.

“Honest and intimate, performance artist Barbara T. Smith’s memoir chronicles with refreshing candor the difficult realities the radical artist faced throughout her life.”

“Her frankness is compelling, and her refusal to conform to expectation is magnetic.”
—Alice Procter, Hyperallergic

—Michael Ned Holte, Artforum

“The book is far from a historical account of her art, making it all the more unusual to accompany her exhibition, but all the more fitting to her art practice, which similarly prioritizes feelings, emotion, and lived experience over all else.”
—Megan N. Liberty, The Brooklyn Rail 

288 pages 
6 x 9 inches
18 color and 63 b/w illustrations
ISBN 978-1-60606-821-2

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Research Institute