Quotations about   art

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In art, there are only two types of people: revolutionaries and plagiarists. And in the end, doesn’t the revolutionary’s work become official, once the State takes it over?

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) French painter [Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin]
Letter in Le Soir (25 Apr 1895)

Collected in Daniel Guérin, ed., The Writings of a Savage (1996) [tr. Levieux].

Often given as "Art is either plagiarism or revolution," or sometimes "Art is either a revolutionist or a plagiarist." This is often cited from James Huneker, The Pathos of Distance (1913), but there it is given as a paraphrase: "Paul Gauguin has said that in art one is either a plagiarist or a revolutionary."

(Huneker's book elsewhere contains the parallel paraphrase, "Paul Gauguin has said that all artists are either revolutionists or reactionists.")
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TANNER: The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Man and Superman, Act 1 (1903)
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One must not always think that feeling is everything. Art is nothing without form.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) French writer, novelist
Letter to Louise Colet (12 Aug 1846)
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In art as in lovemaking, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill, but what you want is passionate virtuosity.

John Barth (b. 1930) American writer
Quoted in Charles B. Harris, Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth (1983)
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Quoted as such in the introductory materials, without specific citation. Barth used the phrase on multiple occasions, including:
  • "My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in love-making. That is to say, on the one hand, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and, on the other hand, so does heartless skill; but what you want is passionate virtuosity." [first used, in Alan Prince, "An Interview with John Barth," Prism (Spring 1968)]
  • "Heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal, Dunyazade; so does heartless skill. But what you want is passionate virtuosity." [Barth, Chimera (1972)]
Added on 12-Mar-20 | Last updated 12-Mar-20
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Art is an adventure. When it ceases to be an adventure, it ceases to be art.

Robert Ardrey (1908-1980) American playwright, screenwriter and science writer
The Hunting Hypothesis: A Personal Conclusion Concerning the Evolutionary Nature of Man (1976)
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To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce use, that is one great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the things they must perforce make, that is the other use of it.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Decorative Arts: Their Relation to Modern Life and Progress,” Lecture (4 Dec 1877)
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Morris' first public lecture. Later published as "The Lesser Arts" in Hopes and Fears for Art (1882).
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In art as in politics we must deal with people as they are, not as we wish them to be. Only by working with the real can you get closer to the ideal.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
In Her Day, Preface, “A Note to the Feminist Reader” (1976)
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True art selects and paraphrases, but seldom gives a verbatim translation.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907) American writer, poet, critic, editor
“Leaves From a Notebook,” Ponkapog Papers (1903)
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Simplicity of life, even the barest, is not a misery, but the very foundation of refinement: a sanded floor and whitewashed walls, and the green trees, and flowery meads, and living waters outside; or a grimy palace amid the smoke with a regiment of housemaids always working to smear the dirt together so that it may be unnoticed; which, think you, is the most refined, the most fit for a gentleman of those two dwellings?

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Prospects of Architecture in Civilization,” speech, London (10 Mar 1880)
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There is a contingent of the digital-effects community to whom that is the holy grail — to create photographically real humans. To me that is the dumbest goal that you could possibly have. What’s wonderful about the medium of animation isn’t recreating reality. It’s distilling it.

Brad Bird (b. 1957) American director, animator and screenwriter [Phillip Bradley Bird]
“How Pixar Conquered the Planet,” The Guardian (12 Nov 2004)
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The greatest foe to art is luxury, art cannot live in its atmosphere.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Beauty of Life,” lecture, Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design (19 Feb 1880)
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ANTON EGO: In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

Brad Bird (b. 1957) American director, animator and screenwriter [Phillip Bradley Bird]
Ratatouille (2007)
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The art object is always passive in relation to its audience. It is alarmingly active, however, in relation to its creator. Far from being like a receptacle in which you, the artist, drop your ideas, and far from being like a lump of clay which you pummel until it fits your notion of an ashtray, the art object is more like an enthusiastic and ill-trained Labrador retriever which yanks you into traffic.

Annie Dillard (b. 1945) American author
Living by Fiction (1983)
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Often paraphrased, "Art is like an ill-trained Labrador retriever that drags you out into traffic."
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That the beauty of life is a thing of no moment, I suppose few people would venture to assert, and yet most civilized people act as if it were of none, and in so doing are wronging themselves and those that are to come after them; for that beauty, which is what is meant by art, using the word in its widest sense, is, I contend, no mere accident to human life, which people can take or leave as they choose, but a positive necessity of life, if we are to live as nature meant us to; that is, unless we are content to be less than men.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Beauty of Life,” lecture, Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design (19 Feb 1880)
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If you explain the basics of any one of these ideas, they probably will sound as nutty as a cooking French rat or a silent film starring robots in a post-apocalyptic world. Each one of those films, when we were in preparation on them, the financial community said each one of them stunk and none of them had the ability to be a financial success. And then the film would come out and they’d go, “Well, they did it that time but the next one sounds like a piece of crap.”

Brad Bird (b. 1957) American director, animator and screenwriter [Phillip Bradley Bird]
Interview with Drew Tailor, IndieWire (20 Dec 2011)
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Our golden rule: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Beauty of Life,” lecture, Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design (19 Feb 1880)
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Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

Scott Adams (b. 1957) American cartoonist
Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain, Appendix B (2007)
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Added on 10-Oct-19 | Last updated 10-Oct-19
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Life is not only full of sound and fury. It also has butterflies, flowers, art.

Claude Simon (1913-2005) French novelist, critic, Nobel Laureate (Literature)
“The Art of Fiction,” #128, Interview with A. Eyle, The Paris Review (Spring 1992)
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See Shakespeare.
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“Classic.” A book which people praise and don’t read.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 25, epigraph (1897)
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Detective inspector John “Call me Jack, everyone does” Robinson did not like theatres. Bit of a night out at the variety or even the Tiv was fair enough, but ever since a high-minded relative had forced him to sit through an Ibsen festival at an impressionable age, theatres had always been synonymous with what he called ‘high art’, a portmanteau term for everything self-indulgent, terminally tedious and incomprehensible in the world of culture.

Kerry Greenwood (b. 1954) Australian author and lawyer
Ruddy Gore, ch. 3 (1995)
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Added on 7-Jun-18 | Last updated 7-Jun-18
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The greatest works of art speak to us without knowing of us.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 5 “Consolation for a Broken Heart” (2000)
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I suppose we think euphemistically that all writers write because they have something to say that is truthful and honest and pointed and important. And I suppose I subscribe to that, too. But God knows when I look back over thirty years of professional writing, I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything that’s important. Some things are literate, some things are interesting, some things are classy, but very damn little is important.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
“Rod Serling: The Facts of Life,” Interview with Linda Brevelle (4 Mar 1975)
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Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) Swiss-German artist
“Creative Credo,” sec. 1 (1920)
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Christopher Columbus discovered the West Indies, and Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. We do not call their achievements creations because they are not personal enough. The West Indies were there all the time; and as for the telephone, we feel that Bell’s ingenious thought was somehow not fundamental. The groundwork was there, and if not Bell then someone else would have stumbled on the telephone almost as accidentally as on the West Indies.

By contrast, we feel that Othello is genuinely a creation. This is not because Othello came out of a clear sky; it did not. There were Elizabethan dramatists before William Shakespeare, and without them he could not have written as he did. Yet within their tradition Othello remains profoundly personal; and though every element in the play has been a theme of other poets, we know that the amalgam of these elements is Shakespeare’s; we feel the presence of his single mind. The Elizabethan drama would have gone on without Shakespeare, but no one else would have written Othello.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
“The Creative Process,” Scientific American (Sep 1958)
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The test of a religion or philosophy is the number of things it can explain: so true it is. But the religion of our churches explains neither art not society nor history, but itself needs explanation.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1838)
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A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.

maslow-first-rate-soup-creative-wist_info-quote

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) American psychologist
Toward a Psychology of Being (1968 ed.)
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There was really only one thing for her to say, those three words that all the terrible art, the worst pop songs and movies, the most seductive lies, can somehow never cheapen. I love you.

McEwan - I love you - wist_info quote

Ian McEwan (b. 1948) English novelist and screenwriter
“Only love and then oblivion,” The Guardian (15 Sep 2001)
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I shut my eyes in order to see.

Gauguin - shut my eyes - wist_info quote

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) French painter [Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin]
(Attributed)
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You should make something. You should bring something into the world that wasn’t in the world before. It doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a table or a film or gardening — everyone should create. You should do something, then sit back and say, “I did that.”

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Interview with Scott Raab, Esquire (12 Jan 2012)
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Variant: "If you spend your days doing what you love, it is impossible to fail. So I go about my days trying to bring something into the world that wasn’t in the world before. And then everyone gets furious about it. And then I sit back and say, 'I did that!'" [Biography interview (11 Jan 2016)]
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Art is not living. It is a use of living.

Lorde - art is not living - wist_info quote

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“My Words Will Be There”
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I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” speech, Modern Language Association (28 Dec 1977)
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When I was introduced to art school, everybody was 20, 22, and 25 years old. Many of them had graduated from college. So there I was, and I was about half their height. And I looked at these guys and I thought, “I can’t compete with these birds!” So at the end of the first week I went home. I was so disillusioned. I was a failure at 15. So my uncle, who lived with us occasionally, came up and he said, “You look awful. You look like something the dog had under the front porch. What’s the matter?” “I can’t compete with these guys at school. They draw like Leonardo da Vinci. I’ll never catch up with them.” I felt like it was the end of the world for me. I could draw a little bit. But I couldn’t keep up with the big guys. So I suddenly blurted out and I said, “You can’t make a racehorse out of a pig!” And my uncle looked at me very gently, and he patted me on the knee, and he said, “No. But you can make a very fast pig.” And I realized that’s what it was really all about. I could only be as good as I could be, whatever my limits were. And I learned a second thing: creative work is never competitive.

Chuck Jones (1912-2002) American animator, screenwriter, producer, and director
Interview with Tom Sito, Archive of American Television (17 Jun 1998)
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We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Diary [Grace] (2003)
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Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Back to Methuselah, Part 5 (1921)
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The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.

Orson Welles (1915-1985) American writer, director, actor
Comment to Henry Jaglom

Quoted by Jaglom in his essay "The Independent Filmmaker" in Jason E. Quire, ed. The Movie Business Book (1992). See here for more information. Sometimes paraphrased in reverse ("The absence of limitations is the enemy of art").
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First Shakespeare sonnets seem meaningless; first Bach fugues, a bore; first differential equations, sheer torture. But training changes the nature of our spiritual experiences. In due course, contact with an obscurely beautiful poem, an elaborate piece of counterpoint or of mathematical reasoning, causes us to feel direct intuitions of beauty and significance. It is the same in the moral world.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Ends and Means (1937)
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A modern poet has characterized the personality of art and the impersonality of science as follows: Art is I: Science is We.

Claude Bernard (1813-1878) French physiologist, scientist
Bulletin of New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. IV (1928)

Often only the summary at the end is quoted.
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If the world were clear, art would not exist.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
“Absurd Creation,” The Myth of Sisyphus (1942)
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‘Patriotism is not enough.’ But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
The Island, “Notes on What’s What” (1962)
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All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet — it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) American screenwriter, author, producer [Joseph Hill Whedon]
“I Am Joss Wedon — AMA,” Reddit (10 Apr 2012)
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On fan fiction and academic analysis.
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JOYCE: An artist is the magician put among men to gratify — capriciously — their urge for immortality. The temples are built and brought down around him, continuously and contiguously, from Troy to the fields of Flanders. If there is any meaning in any of it, it is in what survives as art, yes even in the celebration of tyrants, yes even in the celebration of nonentities. What now of the Trojan War if it had been passed over by the artist’s touch? Dust. A forgotten expedition prompted by Greek merchants looking for new markets. A minor redistribution of broken pots. But it is we who stand enriched, by a tale of heroes, of a golden apple, a wooden horse, a face that launched a thousand ships —– and above all, of Ulysses, the wanderer, the most human, the most complete of all heroes — husband, father, son, lover, farmer, soldier, pacifist, politician, inventor and adventurer.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
Travesties. Act 1 (1974)

Stoppard called this "the most important" speech in the play.
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“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

John Keats (1795-1821) English poet
“Ode on a Grecian Urn,” st. 5 (1819)
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There is nothing that I tell you with more eager desire that you should believe — nothing with wider ground in my experience for requiring you to believe, than this, that you never will love art well, till you love what she mirrors better.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) English art critic, painter, writer, social thinker
Eagle’s Nest, Lecture 3, “Relation of Wise Art to Wise Science,” sec. 41 (15 Sep 1872)
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The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.

Emile Zola (1840-1902) French author, journalist
(Attributed)
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Paradox though it may seem — and paradoxes are always dangerous things — it is none the less true that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
“The Decay of Lying: A Dialogue,” Littell’s Living Age (16 Feb 1889)
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Human beings can be beautiful. If they are not beautiful it is entirely their own fault. It is what they do to themselves that makes them ugly. The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes. If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) American architect, interior designer, writer, educator [b. Frank Lincoln Wright]
(Attributed)
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Richard found himself, on otherwise sensible weekends, accompanying her to places like the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery, where he learned that walking around museums too long hurts your feet, that the great art treasures of the world all blur into each other after a while, and that it is almost beyond the human capacity for belief to accept how much museum cafeterias will brazenly charge for a slice of cake and a cup of tea.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Neverwhere (1996)
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A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts.

Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) British painter, critic
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Bolster's Quarterly Magazine (Jul 1827)
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The pain passes, but the beauty remains.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) French Impressionist artist
(Attributed, 1919)
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Quoted in Sisley Huddleston, Paris Salons, Cafés, Studios (1928). When asked by a young Henri Matisse why he still painted when suffering from painful, twisting arthritis in his hands.
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The truth is, as every one knows, that the great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man — that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense — has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“The Blushful Mystery: Art and Sex,” Prejudices: First Series (1919)
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Dead he is not, but departed — for the artist never dies.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“Nuremberg,” st. 13
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Abstract art? A product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.

Al Capp (1909-1979) American cartoonist and humorist [Alfred Gerald Caplin]
In The National Observer (1 Jul 1963)
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One picture in ten thousand, perhaps, ought to live in the applause of mankind, from generation to generation until the colors fade and blacken out of sight or the canvas rot entirely away.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) American writer
The Marble Faun (1860)
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Buy old masters. They fetch a better price than old mistresses.

Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook (1879-1964) Anglo-Canadian business tycoon, publisher, politician, writer
(Attributed)
Added on 29-Apr-14 | Last updated 29-Apr-14
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Do not imagine you can exorcise what oppresses you in life by giving vent to it in art.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) French writer, novelist
Letter to Louise Colet (25 Nov 1853)
Added on 22-Apr-14 | Last updated 23-Jan-20
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