Quotes about art by famous artists and other commentators. Subjects include: the definition and purpose of art, the artistic spirit, reality and abstraction, the creative process, style, beauty, and the artist in society.
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What is Art?
The Purpose of Art
The Artistic Spirit
The Creative Process
What About Beauty?
Responding to Art
The Artist in Society
What is Art?
Art is the imagination expressed through the senses.
Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.
Art is thought expressed through the hands.
A work of art is a world in itself reflecting senses and emotions of the artist's world.
A work becomes a work of art when one re-evaluates the values of nature and adds one's own spirituality.
We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.
Art is what reveals to us the state of perfection.
All great art is a visual form of prayer.
The work of art itself is
Art renders accessible to men of the latest generations all the feelings experienced by their predecessors and also those felt by their best and foremost contemporaries
The Purpose of Art
Art is a union between the physical and the spiritual, between the human and the divine. That is the very purpose of art.
The function of the artist is the mythologization of the culture and the world. In the visual arts there were two men whose work handled mythological themes in a marvelous way: Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso.
[The vegetative/agricultural traditions manifest] the notion of an identity behind the surface display of duality. . . . All [aspects of life and death] are manifestations of the One; the One radiance shines through all things. The function of art is to reveal through the object the radiance. And that's what you get when you see the beautiful organization of a fortunately composed work of art: You just say "Aha!" Somehow it speaks to the order in your own life. It's a realization through art of the very thing that the religions are concerned to render . . . that you have to have a balance between death and life; they are two aspects of the same thing, which is Being/Becoming.
What a work of art does is to make us see or comprehend something singular, not judge or generalize. This act of comprehension accompanied by voluptuousness is the only valid end, and sole sufficient justification, of a work of art.
The aim of art, so far as one can speak of an aim at all, has always been the same: the blending of experience gained in life with the natural qualities of the art medium.
But the purpose of art is always, ultimately, to give pleasure
You might read volumes of contemporary art theory and never guess that pleasure is the big reason the arts exist.
To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.
The Artistic Spirit
Art is nature seen through a temperament.
We don't see things as they are; we see things as we are.
I have never exchanged my childhood for my maturity.
It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep [your unique expression] yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
The strength of imagination lies precisely in its friction with a sense of reality that is equally strong.
Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts -- only in the truth. -- Ursula K. LeGuin, writer
In art one is concerned with the condition of the spirit for three quarters of the time; one must therefore care for oneself if he wishes to make something great and lasting.
Inside, there is an inner patron with whom the artist is communicating, and I think that this is the unseen audience that every artist has. If an artist becomes overly concerned about a true external audience, then his work will deteriorate and have a hackneyed quality, or a practiced quality or a contrived quality: so it's a very delicate balance, which is why there are so few artists.
[Artistic spirituality is] the emotional and intellectual synthesis of relationships perceived in nature, rationally, or intuitively. Spirituality in an artistic sense should not be confused with religious meaning
What interests me most is
Although the dream is a very strange phenomenon and an inexplicable mystery, far more inexplicable is the mystery and aspect our minds confer on certain objects and aspects of life. Psychologically speaking, to discover something mysterious in objects is a symptom of cerebral abnormality related to certain kinds of insanity. I believe, however, that such abnormal moments can be found in everyone, and it is all the more fortunate when they occur in individuals with creative talent or with clairvoyant powers. Art is the fatal net which catches these strange moments on the wing like mysterious butterflies, fleeing the innocence and distraction of common men.
At ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things; at a hundred I shall certainly have reached a marvelous stage; and when I am a hundred and ten everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive.
Reality and Abstraction
Art is the opposite of nature.
Some advice: do not paint too much after nature. Art is an abstraction; derive this abstraction from nature while dreaming before it, and think more of the creation which will result than of nature. Creating like our Divine Master is the only way of rising toward God.
A picture should be a re-creation of an event rather than an illustration of an object; but there is no tension in the picture unless there is the struggle with the object.
Both Plato and Aristotle were aware that art ought not to imitate individual things and actions so much as to imitate their underlying ideas.
Formerly we used to represent things visible on earth, things we either liked to look at or would have liked to see. Today we reveal the reality that is behind visible things, thus expressing the belief that the visible world is merely an isolated case in relation to the universe and that there are many more other, latent realities.
Recognizing Pablo Picasso in a train compartment, a man inquired of the artist why he did not paint people "the way they really are." Picasso asked what he meant by that expression. The man opened his wallet and took out a snapshot of his wife, saying, "That's my wife." Picasso responded, "Isn't she rather small and flat?"
It is a poverty-stricken convention to place animals into landscapes as seen by men; instead, we should contemplate the soul of the animal to divine its way of sight
[Modern] art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.
It is well to remember that a picture
There are, however, many who imagine that they are too fond of life, particular reality, to be able to suppress figuration, and for that reason they still use in their work
One might truthfully say that abstract art is stripped bare of other things in order to intensify it, its rhythms, spatial intervals, and color structure. Abstraction is a process of emphasis
The Creative Process
Talent is a paradox: If you don't have it, it means everything, and if you have it, it means nothing.
Art lies in the continual struggle to come near to the sensory side of objects.
Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.
When I paint my goal is to show what I have found and not what I am looking for.
You are lost the instant you know what the result will be.
One does not imitate appearance; the appearance is the result.
I cannot work without a model. I won't say that I don't turn my back on nature ruthlessly in order to turn a study into a picture, arranging the colors, enlarging and simplifying; but in the matter of form I am too afraid of departing from the possible and the true.
It is well for young people to have a model so long as they draw a curtain over it while they paint
The only problem in art is to achieve a balance between the subjective and the objective.
Ideas and emotions will in the end be prisoners in [the] work. Whatever they do, they can't escape from the picture. They form an integral part of it, even when their presence is no longer discernible.
My friends, works of a personal vision alone will live. One must create a personal pictorial science, and be excited before beauty as before a woman one loves. Let us work with love and without fear of our faults, those inevitable and habitual companions of the great qualities. Yes, faults are qualities; and fault is superior to quality . . .; it is human, it is everything, it will redeem the work.
So if you believe that the subconscious has wonderful patterns, and if you allow it to form its designs, if you just trust to that design, in the end all these clusters form a pattern, sometimes a very unexpected one.
But though the nonlogical, instinctive, subconscious part of the mind must play its part in his work, [the artist] also has a conscious mind which is not inactive. The artist works with a concentration of his whole personality, and the conscious part of it resolves conflicts, organizes memories, and prevents him from trying to walk in two directions at the same time.
Reason is the enemy of art. Artists dominated by reason lose all feeling, powerful instinct is enfeebled, inspiration becomes impoverished and the heart lacks its rapture. At the end of the chain of reason is suspended the greatest folly
I would rather be sure that I had placed two colors in true relationship to each other than to have exposed a wealth of emotionalism gone wrong in the name of richness of personal expression.
All good art has contained both abstract and surrealist elements, just as it has contained both classical and romantic elements
I want to reach that state of condensation of sensations which constitutes a picture. Perhaps I might be satisfied momentarily with a work finished at one sitting but I would soon get bored looking at it; therefore, I prefer to continue working on it so that later I may recognize it as a work of my mind
When you begin a picture, you often make some pretty discoveries. You must be on guard against these. Destroy the thing, do it over several times. In each destroying of a beautiful discovery, the artist does not really suppress it, but rather transforms it, condenses it, makes it more substantial. What comes out in the end is the result of discarded finds. Otherwise, you become your own connoisseur.
In the old days pictures went forward toward completion by stages. Every day brought something new. A picture used to be a sum of additions. In my case a pictures is a sum of destructions. I do a picture
I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.
But there is one very odd thing
Every creative act requires elimination and simplification. Simplification results from a realization of what is essential.
. . . Then a moment comes when every part has found its definite relationship and from then on it would be impossible for me to add a stroke to my picture without having to paint it all over again
To me a work is finished when all parts involved communicate themselves, so that they don't need me.
How do I know when a work is finished? When it has taken away from me everything I have to give. When it has become stronger than myself. I become the empty one and it becomes the full one. When I am weak and it is strong the work is finished.
The most important tool the artist fashions through constant practice is faith in his ability to produce miracles when they are needed. Pictures must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended. He is an outsider.
A work of art is finished, from the point of view of the artist, when feeling and perception have resulted in a spiritual synthesis.
Although art is fundamentally everywhere and always the same, nevertheless two main human inclinations, diametrically opposed to each other, appear in its many and varied expressions. One aims at the direct creation of universal beauty, the other at the aesthetic expression of oneself, in other words, of that which one thinks and experiences. The first aims at representing reality objectively, the second subjectively. Thus we see in every work of figurative art the desire, objectively to represent beauty, solely through form and color, in mutually balanced relations, and at the same time, an attempt to express that which these forms, colors, and relations arouse in us
I think the idea of a "finished" picture is a fiction. I think a man spends his whole lifetime painting one picture of working on one piece of sculpture.
Style is the perfection of a point of view.
Whatever the artist depicts
A work of art is like a crystal
Great art is the play of the relative on the ground of the absolute.
Fig leaves, no matter what fantastic shapes they assume, are always unmistakably fig leaves.
Since art is timeless, the significant rendition of a symbol, no matter how archaic, has as full validity today as the archaic symbol had then.
All the arts derive from the same and unique root
Philosophically, every work which possesses intrinsic greatness is at once decorative and symphonically focused and integrated.
I think that man has certain moments of playfulness, and infantile things, far from being injurious to his serious work, endow it with grace, gaiety and naiveté.
It can only do you good to be forced to decorate. But beware of modeling. The simple stained-glass window, attracting the eye by its divisions of colors and forms, that is still the best. A kind of music.
Actually, you work with few colors. But they seem like a lot more when each one is in the right place.
Think also of the musical role color will henceforth play in modern painting. Color, which is vibration just as music is, is able to attain what is most universal yet at the same time most elusive in nature: its inner force.
Can you analyze the difference, in fact, between paint which conveys directly, and paint which conveys through illustration? It's a very close and difficult thing to know why some paint comes across directly on to the nervous system and other paint tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain.
A painting must have form and light unity. It must light up from the inside through the intrinsic qualities which color relations offer. . . When it lights up from the inside, the painted surface breathes, because the interval relations which dominate the whole cause it to oscillate and to vibrate.
I have turned to bas-relief, which allows one to reunite technically many contrary elements and to assure their interaction. The undulation of the relief can unite form and background. It also gives a spatial sensation without perspective; light makes its way across the surface little by little.
The whole arrangement of my picture is expressive. The place occupied by figures or objects, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything plays a part
I envy the Japanese the extreme clearness which everything has in their work. It is never tedious, and never seems to be done too hurriedly. Their work is as simple as breathing, and they do a figure in a few sure strokes with the same ease as if it were as simple as buttoning your coat.
A drawing must have a power of expansion which can bring to life the space which surrounds it.
There is a right physical size for every idea. . . .[And] the very small or the very big takes on an added size emotion.
It will be seen that stylistic decisions, by focusing our attention on some things, are also a narrowing of our attention, a refusal to allow us to see others. But the greater interestingness of one work of art over another does not rest on the greater number of things the stylistic decisions in that work allow us to attend to, but rather on the intensity and authority and wisdom of that attention, however narrow its focus
Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before.
I can't understand
This whole question of "imitation" has not nearly the significance which is again attributed to it by the critics. What is living remains. What is dead disappears
Western art is built on the biographical passion of one artist for another
I am less and less interested in exploration. I don't want to show, in my work, what can be done; I do that in my teaching. I want to make simple declaratory statements in a visual language I can control.
I believe that it is more significant to keep one's painting in a condition of severe experimentalism than to become a quick success by means of cheap repetition.
I want to cry aloud, when I see the work of the young men for whom painting is no longer an adventure, and whose only goal is the impending first one-man show which will first start them on the road to fame.
As for myself, I don't know whether I am in or out of step
I feel very strongly the bond between my old works and my recent ones. But I do not think the way I thought yesterday. My fundamental thoughts have not changed but have evolved and my modes of expression have followed my thoughts. I do not repudiate any of my paintings, but I would not paint one of them in the same way had I to do it again. My destination is always the same but I work out a different route to get there.
The artist [overcomes tedium] by the invention of new formal combinations and by more daring advances in previously established directions. These advances obey a rule of gradual differentiation because they must remain as recognizable variations upon the dominant memory image. The differentiatons are bolder among young designers and their tempo becomes more rapid as a style approaches its end. If a style is interrupted early for any reason, its unused resources become available for adaptation by participants in other styles. -- George Kubler, The Shape of Time
The form is the outer expression of the inner content. Therefore one should not make a deity of form. And one should fight for the form only insofar as it can serve as a means of expression of the inner resonance. Therefore one should not seek salvation in one form
And so, as a last conclusion it must be established that it is not more important whether the form is personal, national, or has style; whether or not it is in accordance with the major contemporary movements; whether or not it is related to many or few other forms; whether or not it stands completely by itself: but rather the most important thing in the question of form is whether or not the form has grown out of the inner necessity . . .
. . . The fearful clinging to one form leads finally and inevitably into a dead end. The open feeling leads toward freedom. The former is to restrict oneself to the material substance. The latter is to follow the spirit: the spirit creates one form and goes on to others.
Style is like a rainbow. It is a phenomenon of perception governed by the coincidence of certain physical conditions.
What About Beauty?
It is easy in our world to see what mankind is doing wrong. So to see even small places where man is doing something right is very inspiring. That is why every work of beauty is important. -- unknown
Painting is the most beautiful of all arts. . . Like music, it acts on the soul through the intermediary of the senses: harmonious colors correspond to the harmonies of sounds. But in painting a unity is obtained which is not possible in music
The work of a man is the explanation of that man. Hence two kinds of beauty: one that results from instinct and another which would come from studying. The combination of the two, with its necessary modifications, produces certainly a great and very complicated richness
The only difference between "kitsch" and "beautiful" is time. -- unknown
Responding to Art
One good picture with ten holes in it is better than ten bad pictures with no holes.
And [the viewer] should not approach the work with the question: "What has the artist not done?" or put differently: "Where has the artist allowed himself to neglect my desires?"; but he should ask himself: "What has the artist done?" or: "Which of his inner desires has the artist expressed here?"
The effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities. In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art
. . . to quote Mallarme: "A critic is someone who meddles with something that is none of his business."
The ideal art critic, then, would not be the critic who would seek to discover the "mistake," "aberrations," "ignorance," "plagiarisms," and so forth, but the one who would seek to feel how this or that form has an inner effect, and would then impart expressively his whole experience to the public. Here, of course, the critic would need the soul of a poet
The Artist in Society
What is important now is that we recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.
The West, at the very moment of its triumph, has reached that point which comes to all civilizations: when, if they're not to decline, they must transform themselves by learning from others.
It is the social function of great poets and artists to continually renew the appearance nature has for the eyes of men.
A great work of art is never simply (or even mainly) a vehicle of ideas or of moral sentiments. It is, first of all, an object modifying our consciousness and sensibility, changing the composition, however slightly, of the humus that nourishes all specific ideas and sentiments.
A really artistic production cannot be made to order, for a true work of art is the revelation
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which might be for every mental worker, be he businessman or writer, like an appeasing influence, like a mental soother, something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.
The unfriendliness of society to his activity is difficult for the artist to accept. Yet this very hostility can act as a lever for true liberation
The artist's life is the best in the world, if you can get through the first forty years.
Man Ray, at age eighty-one, attending a lavish exhibition of his own work in a wheelchair: "If this had only happened forty years ago, I might well have been encouraged."
We painters, we who are condemned to penury, accept the material difficulties of life without complaining, but we suffer from them insofar as they constitute a hindrance to work. How much time we lose in seeking our daily bread! The most menial tasks, dilapidated studios, and a thousand other obstacles. All these create despondency, followed by impotence, rage, violence.
Surely art is not merely decorative, a sort of unrelated accompaniment to life. In a genuine sense it should have use; it should be interwoven with the very stuff and texture of human experience, intensifying that experience, making it more profound, rich, clear, and coherent. This can be accomplished only if the artist is functioning freely in relation to society, and if society wants what he is able to offer.
It is not the solitary genius but a sound general movement which maintains art as a vital, functioning part of any cultural scheme. Art is not a matter of rare, occasional masterpieces. The emphasis upon masterpieces is a nineteenth-century phenomenon. It is primarily a collector's idea and has little relation to an art movement
There's the old idea [of "Volksdichte"]: that the art and ideas of a culture come out of the "Volk." They do not. They come out of an elite experience: the experience of people particularly gifted, whose ears are open to the song of the universe. And they speak to the folk, and there is an answer from the folk that is then received. There's an interaction, but the first impulse comes from above, not from below, in the shaping of traditions.
Despite the inventor's solitary appearance he needs company; he requires the stimulus of other minds engaged upon the same questions.
Each man's lifework is also a work in a series extending beyond him in either or both directions
Each great branch of art calls upon a different temperament. Painting and poetry more than all others invite the solitary nature.
Today the artist is neither a rebel nor an entertainer. To be a rebel requires more effort away from his work than the artist wants to make. The entertainers have formed professional guilds in those many categories of public amusement from which the artist is now almost completely excluded. Only the playwright still functions both as an artist and as an entertainer. More lonely than ever, the artist today is like Dedalus, the strange artificer of wonderful and frightening surprises for his immediate circle. -- George Kubler, The Shape of Time
I think that abstract art is uniquely modern
. . . [Since the mid-twentieth century] changing socioeconomic conditions have dramatically narrowed the scope of art. Gone are the great patrons whose courts supported whole artistic communities and ensured intimate communication between art and politics. Instead we have a vast art bazaar
Serious artists, of course, still abound, but alienated from a unified social context, they abound as a class unto themselves, a group whose vision and technique evolve independently rather than interfacing with its
These changes in ideology and market conditions have had inevitable effects on the quality of art. The Romantic mandate for self-expression, dutifully observed by generations of artists, long ago succeeded in exhausting the potentialities of Western individual "self" and is now condemned either to endless repetitions or evasive ironies.
Oakland, San Francisco Bay Area, East Bay, northern California