21 June 2011

Short Takes: Quotations On Writing, Art, & Literature

Josef Albers (1888-1976), artist and art teacher

[A]rt is concerned with the HOW and not the WHAT. . . .
—Lecture to students, Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present [RoseLee Goldberg], 1988

Jean Anouilh (1910-87)

Life is very nice, but it has no shape. The object of art is actually to give it some and to do it by every artifice possible—truer than the truth.
The Rehearsal, 1950

Roger Ascham (1515-68), scholar, writer, and courtier

He that will write well in any tongue, must follow this counsel of Aristotle, to speak as the common people do, to think as wise men do; and so should every man understand him, and the judgement of wise men allow him.
Toxophilus, 1545

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.
—“Of Studies,” Essays, 1625

James Baldwin (1924-1987)

The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate the darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.
—“The Creative Process,” Creative America, 1962

The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question that answer hides.
—“The Creative Process”

Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover's war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself, and with that revelation, make freedom real.
—“The Creative Process”


Julian Beck (1925-85)

The power of art is the power of truth.
The Life of the Theatre: The Relationship of the Artist to the Struggle of the People, 1972

William Blake (1757-1827)

Degrade first the Arts if you’d Mankind Degrade. Hire Idiots to Paint with cold light & hot shade: Give high Price for the worst, leave the best in disgrace, And with Labours of Ignorance fill every place.
—“Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynold’s Discourses,” 1808

Rome & Greece swept Art into their maw & destroy’d it; a Warlike State never can produce Art. It will Rob & Plunder & accumulate into one place, & Translate & Copy & Buy & Sell & Criticize, but not Make.
—“On Virgil,” c. 1822

Nicolas Boileau (1636-1711), poet and critic

Of every four words I write, I strike out three.
Satire, 1665

Georges Braque (1882-1963)

Art is meant to disturb, science reassures.
Le Jour et la nuit: Cahiers 1917-52

Robert Browning (1812-89)

Because it is the glory and good of Art, That Art remains the one way possible Of speaking truth, to mouths like mine at least.
The Ring and the Book, 1868-69

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82)

And so every genuine work of art has as much reason for being as the earth and the sun.
—“Art,” Society and Solitude, 1870

Gustave Flaubert (1821-80)

You can calculate the worth of a man by the number of his enemies, and the importance of a work of art by the hard that is spoken of it.
—Letter to Louise Colet, 14 June 1853

Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)

If you would not be forgotten . . . , either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.
Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1738

Paul Gachet (1828-1909), van Gogh’s psychiatrist

Love of art is not exact; one must call it faith—a faith that maketh martyrs.
—Letter to Theo van Gogh [Vincent’s brother], ca. July-August 1890

Jerzy Grotowski (1933-1999)

Art is a ripening, an evolution, an uplifting which enables us to emerge from darkness into a blaze of light.
Towards a Poor Theatre, 1968

William Hazlitt (1778-1830), essayist

Rules and models destroy genius and art.
Sketches and Essays, 1839

Werner Heisenberg (1901-76)

Therefore, the two processes, that of science and that of art, are not very different. Both science and art form in the course of the centuries a human language by which we can speak about the more remote parts of reality, and the coherent sets of concepts as well as the different styles of art are different words or groups of words in this language.
—“The Relation of Quantum Theory to Other Parts of Natural Science,” 1958

Paul Henri, Baron d’Holbach (1723-89), philosopher


Art is only Nature operating with the aid of the instruments she has made.

Système de la nature, 1780

Hippocrates (ca. 460-357 BCE)
Life is short, the art is long.
Aphorisms

Henry James (1843-1916)

It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.
—“Letter to H. G. Wells, July 10, 1915”

Samuel Johnson (1709-84)

The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.
A Free Enquiry, 1757

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

Art hath an enemy called Ignorance.
Every Man Out of His Humor, 1600

John F. Kennedy (1917-63)

[A]rt establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgement.
—Speech at Amherst College, 26 October 1963

In a free society art is not a weapon.
—Speech at Amherst College

Paul Klee (1879-1940)

Art does not reproduce the visible, rather, it make visible.
—“Creative Credo,” Inward Vision, 1920/1958

Tony Kushner (1956- )

I don’t think you have to earn your income as an artist to be an artist. But if you are an artist, then art is what you do, whether or not you’re paid for doing it; it is what you do, not what you are. I regard artist not as a description of temperament but as a category of profession, of vocation.
—“A Modest Proposal,” American Theatre, January 1998

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), poet

Clear writers, like clear fountains, do not seem so deep as they are; the turbid look the more profound.
Imaginary Conversations, 1824

Susanne Langer (1895-1985), philosopher

[T]he function of art is to acquaint the beholder with something he has not known before.
Feeling and Form, 1953


Art is the creation of forms symbolic of human feeling.

Feeling and Form


David Oppenheim (1922-2007), educator

The world is chaotic. Art is an ordering of that chaos.
—“School of Arts’ Location Belies Educational Status” [McCandlish Phillips], New York Times, 12 Sept. 1971

George Orwell (1903-50)

Good prose is like a window pane.
—“Why I Write,” Collected Essays, 1968

Walter Pater (1839-94)

For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.
The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, 1873

Pablo Picasso (1881-1993)

We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.
Picasso on Art [Dore Ashton], 1972

Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

Artists are the antennae of the race, but the bullet-headed many will never learn to trust their great artists.
—“Henry James,” Literary Essays, 1954

Jules Rénard (1864-1910), novelist and playwright

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.
Journal, 1906

Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

To be an artist, one must first be a man, vitally concerned with all problems of social struggle, unflinching in portraying them without concealment or evasion, never shirking the truth as he understands it, never withdrawing from life. As a painter, his problems are those of his craft. He is a workman and an artisan. As an artist, he must be a dreamer; he must interpret the unexpressed hopes, fears, and desires of his people and of his time; he must be the conscience of his culture. His work must contain the whole substance of morality, not in content, but rather by the sheer force of its aesthetic facts.
Diego Rivera: The Shaping of an Artist, 1889-1921 [Florence Arquin], 1971

All art is propaganda. . . . . The only difference is the kind of propaganda. Since art is essential for human life, it can’t just belong to the few. Art is the universal language, and it belongs to all mankind. All painters have been propagandists or else they have not been painters. . . . . Every artist who has been worth anything in art has been such a propagandist. . . . . Every strong artist has been a propagandist. I want to be a propagandist and I want to be nothing else.. . . . I want to use my art as a weapon.
—“The Revolutionary Spirit in Modern Art,” Modern Quarterly, Autumn 1932

[T]he rôle of the artist is that of a soldier of the revolution.
—“What Is Art For?” Modern Monthly, June 1933

David Salle (1952- ), painter

. . . I feel that the only thing that really matters in art and life is to go against the tidal wave of literalism and literal-mindedness—to insist on and live the life of the imagination.
—“Profile: Forty-one False Starts” [Janet Malcolm], New Yorker, 11 July 1994

George Santayana (1863-1952)

An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.
The Life of Reason, 1905

Leonardo Shapiro (1946-97), stage director

Being provoked and offended by art you don’t like can be a creative, life-enriching experience. It can make you think, it can make you question your values and assumptions. Or if you are a vicious abused puppy it can make you snarl and bite.
“Tough Answers: Rebutting Tom Carson’s NEA Quiz Point by Point,” New York Press, 1-7 August 1990

Not giving the artist the necessary support to create prevents everybody from experiencing that art; supporting the artist and creating the art forces nobody to experience it.
—“Tough Answers”

We . . . confuse art and advertising. But they are not at all the same: art makes the invisible visible, advertising makes the visible attractive.
—“The Tip of the Iceberg,” Performing Arts Journal, September 1991

In a secular society, art is the necessary erotic/spiritual/ritual basis of culture. Art is soul-making.
—“The Tip of the Iceberg”

If art is only telling you what you already know, it isn’t telling you anything. It isn’t art.
—Unpublished interview, 3 March 1992

John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham and Normanby (1648-1721), poet and politician

Of all those arts in which the wise excel, Nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well.
—“Essay on Poetry,” 1682

Learn to write well, or not to write at all.
—“An Essay on Satire,” 1689

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)

The writer is an engineer of the human soul.
Inside Russia Today [John Gunther], 1962

Laurence Sterne (1713-86), novelist

Writing, when properly managed . . . is but a different name for conversation.
Tristram Shandy, 1759-67

John Updike (1932- )

The artist brings something into the world that didn’t exist before, and . . . he does it without destroying something else.
Writers at Work [George Plimpton], 1977

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

Do you know that drawing with words is also an art. . . ?
—Letter to Theo van Gogh, 6 July 1882

Art demands persistent work, work in spite of everything, and continuous observations. By persistent, I mean not only continuous work, but also not giving up your opinion at the bidding of such and such a person.
—Letter to Theo van Gogh, undated [ca. July 1882]

I have a firm faith in art, a firm confidence in its being a powerful stream which carries a man to a harbor . . . .
—Letter to Theo, undated [ca. March 1883]

Art is jealous, and demands our whole strength . . . .
—Letter to Anthon G. A. Ridder van Rappard [Dutch painter (1858-92)], undated [June 1882]

[A]rt is something greater and higher than our own adroitness or accomplishments or knowledge; . . . art is something which, although produced by human hands, is not created by these hands alone, but something which wells up from a deeper source in our souls; and that with regard to adroitness and technical skill in art I see something that reminds me of what in religion may be called self-righteousness.
—Letter to Rappard, undated [April 1884]

Sometimes art seems to be something very sublime, and, as you say, something sacred.
—Letter to Wilhelmina J. van Gogh [Vincent’s youngest sister], undated [Summer or autumn 1887]

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

It is through Art, and through Art only, that we can realise our perfection; through Art, and through Art only, that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.
—“The Critic as Artist,” Intentions, 1891

Robert Wilson (1941- )

Artists are recording our times, and the artists are the diaries of our time. In the future this is what society will look back on as a record of our times, of what artists are saying.
—“Robert Wilson in conversation with Ariel Goldenberg at the Opéra Bastille, Paris, 1 May 1995,” In Contact with the Gods, 1996

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