Quotations about:
    art


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Perhaps the meaning of all human activity lies in the artistic consciousness, in the pointless and selfless creative act? Perhaps our capacity to create is evidence that we ourselves were created in the image and likeness of God?

Andrei Tarkovsky
Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) Russian film director, screenwriter, film theorist [Андрей Арсеньевич Тарковский]
Sculpting in Time (1986) [tr. Hunter-Blair]
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Added on 3-Nov-22 | Last updated 3-Nov-22
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Death is an endless night so awful to contemplate that it can make us love life and value it with such passion that it may be the ultimate cause of all joy and all art.

Paul Theroux
Paul Theroux (b. 1941) American novelist and travel writer
“D is for Death,” Hockney’s Alphabet (1991) [ed. Stephen Spender]
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Added on 24-Oct-22 | Last updated 24-Oct-22
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Science and religion are two human enterprises sharing many features. They share these features also with other enterprises such as art, literature and music. The most salient features of all these enterprises are discipline and diversity. Discipline to submerge the individual fantasy in a greater whole. Diversity to give scope to the infinite variety of human souls and temperaments. Without discipline there can be no greatness. Without diversity there can be no freedom. Greatness for the enterprise, freedom for the individual — these are the two themes, contrasting but not incompatible, that make up the history of science and the history of religion.

Freeman Dyson
Freeman Dyson (1923-2020) English-American theoretical physicist, mathematician, futurist
Infinite in All Directions, Part 1, ch. 1 “In Praise of Diversity” (1988)
    (Source)

Based on a lecture on "Science and Religion," National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Detroit (Sep 1986).
 
Added on 10-Oct-22 | Last updated 10-Oct-22
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Never try to convey your idea to the audience — it is a thankless and senseless task. Show them life, and they’ll find within themselves the means to assess and appreciate it.

Andrei Tarkovsky
Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) Russian film director, screenwriter, film theorist [Андрей Арсеньевич Тарковский]
Sculpting in Time (1986) [tr. Hunter-Blair]
 
Added on 3-Oct-22 | Last updated 3-Oct-22
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The man who has stolen in order never to thieve again remains a thief. Nobody who has ever betrayed his principles can have a pure relationship with life. Therefore when a film-maker says he will produce a pot-boiler in order to give himself the strength and the means to make the film of his dreams — that is so much deception, or worse, self-deception. He will never now make his film.

Andrei Tarkovsky
Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) Russian film director, screenwriter, film theorist [Андрей Арсеньевич Тарковский]
Sculpting in Time (1986) [tr. Hunter-Blair]
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Added on 26-Sep-22 | Last updated 26-Sep-22
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Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual, for the ideal: that longing which draws people to art. Modern art has taken the wrong turn in abandoning the search for the meaning of existence in order to affirm the value of the individual for his own sake.

Andrei Tarkovsky
Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) Russian film director, screenwriter, film theorist [Андрей Арсеньевич Тарковский]
Sculpting in Time (1986) [tr. Hunter-Blair]
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Added on 19-Sep-22 | Last updated 19-Sep-22
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The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.

Andrei Tarkovsky
Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) Russian film director, screenwriter, film theorist [Андрей Арсеньевич Тарковский]
Sculpting in Time (1986) [tr. Hunter-Blair]
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Added on 12-Sep-22 | Last updated 12-Sep-22
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The relation between the artist and reality is an oblique one, and indeed there is no good art which is not consciously oblique. If you respect the reality of the world, you know that you can approach that reality only by indirect means.

Richard Wilbur
Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) American poet, literary translator
“The Bottles Become New, Too” (1953), Responses: Prose Pieces, 1953-1976 (1976)
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Originally published in Quarterly Review of Literature, Vol. 7, No. 3 (1953).
 
Added on 4-Aug-22 | Last updated 4-Aug-22
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Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has conquered all the difficulties, after one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges in all its charm as the crowning reward of art. Whoever wants to obtain this immediately will never achieve it: you can’t begin with the end. One has to have studied a lot, tremendously, to reach this goal; it’s no easy matter.

[La dernière chose c’est la simplicité. Après avoir épuisé toutes les difficultés, après avoir joué une immense quantité de notes, et de notes, c’est la simplicité qui sort avec tout son charme, comme le dernier sceau de l’art. Quiconque veut arriver de suite à cela n’y parviendra jamais, on ne peut commencer par la fin. II faut avoir étudié beaucoup, mème immensement pour atteindre ce but, ce n’est pas une chose facile.]

Frederic Chopin
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) Polish composer and pianist
In the diary of Friederike Streicher (née Müller) (21 Apr 1840)
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When told by Müller that what impressed her most about Franz Liszt's playing was his "calmness in overcoming the greatest technical difficulties." Müller was a premiere student of Chopin, 1839-41. Excerpts from her diary are printed in Frederick Niecks, Frederick Chopin: As A Man and Musician, Vol. 2, Appendix 3 (1888).
 
Added on 11-Jul-22 | Last updated 11-Jul-22
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The reason I can’t take myself seriously as a “creative artist,” Guy dear, is because I’m not one. It’s not somehow not in me to bear very patiently with my own mediocrity. If I can’t — and I can’t — be Shakespeare or Goethe, I’d rather raise good cabbages. And that is why I would not write at all, except that there is more money in writing than in cabbages, not only more money, but more freedom. […] This is why I’m not “filled with my art.” I ain’t got no art. I’ve got only a kind of craftsman’s skill, and make stories as I make biscuits or embroider underwear or wrap up packages.

Rose Wilder Lane
Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968) American journalist, travel writer, novelist, political theorist
Letter to Guy Moyston (25 Jun 1925)
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Quoted in William Holtz, The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane, ch. 9, sec. 5 (1995).
 
Added on 30-Jun-22 | Last updated 30-Jun-22
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Art for Art’s Sake means, for its adepts, the pursuit of pure beauty — without any other consideration.

[L’art pour l’art signifie, pour les adeptes, un travail dégagé de toute préoccupation autre que celle du beau en lui-même.]

Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) French poet, writer, critic
L’Art Moderne, “Beauty in Art [Du Beau Dans L’Art]” (1856) [tr. Ruckstull (1925)]
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Added on 5-May-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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All passes. — Only strong art
Passes to eternity.
The bust
Survives the city.

And the austere coin
That a workman finds
Underground
Reveals an emperor.

[Tout passe. — L’art robuste
Seul a l’éternité,
     Le buste
Survit à la cité.

Et la médaille austère
Que trouve un laboureur
     Sous terre
Révèle un empereur.]

Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) French poet, writer, critic
“L’Art,” l. 41ff, Émaux et Camées (1852)
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(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Everything passes. --
Only robust art is eternal.
The bust outlives the city.

And the simple coin
Unearthed by a peasant
Reveals the image of an emperor.
[Source]

All passes, Art alone
Enduring stays to us;
The Bust outlasts the throne, --
The Coin, Tiberius.
[Austin Dobson, "Ars Victrix" (1876), in imitation]

Everything passes -- Robust art
Alone is eternal.
The bust
Survives the city.
[Source]

Everything disappears -- Robust art
   alone is eternal:
      The Bust survives the city.
[Source]

Everything passes away. -- Robust Art
   Alone has eternity;
      The bust
   Survives the city.
[Source]

 
Added on 7-Apr-22 | Last updated 7-Apr-22
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I, having built a house, reject
The feud of eye and intellect,
And find in my experience proof
One pleasure runs from root to roof,
One thrust along a streamline arches
The sudden star, the budding larches.

The force that makes the winter grow
Its feathered hexagons of snow,
and drives the bee to match at home
Their calculated honeycomb,
Is abacus and rose combined.
An icy sweetness fills my mind,

A sense that under thing and wing
Lies, taut yet living, coiled, the spring.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
“The Abacus and the Rose” (1965)
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First published in Bronowski, Science and Human Values (1965 ed.).
 
Added on 14-Feb-22 | Last updated 14-Feb-22
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It is true that most madboy devices are built for purely utilitarian purposes: I want to go faster; How can one person stack all of these starfish; I will gain the respect of my peers if I can turn this entire town into ham, and so on. But there are some things that burst forth from their creator’s brain simply because they want to make the world more aesthetically pleasing. So what if it doesn’t help one conquer the world? It looks awesome. It’s Art.

Phil Foglio (b. 1956) American writer, cartoonist
Agatha H. And the Clockwork Princess (2012) [with Kaja Foglio]
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Added on 3-Jan-22 | Last updated 3-Jan-22
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Popular art is normally decried as vulgar by the cultivated people of its time; then it loses favour with its original audience as a new generation grows up; then it begins to merge into the softer lighting of “quaint” and cultivated people become interested in it, and finally it begins to take on the archaic dignity of the primitive.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Mythical Phase: Symbol as Archetype” (1957)
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Added on 15-Nov-21 | Last updated 15-Nov-21
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Physics is an organized body of knowledge about nature, and a student of it says that he is learning physics, not nature. Art, like nature, has to be distinguished from the systematic study of it, which is criticism.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Polemical Introduction” (1957)
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Added on 8-Nov-21 | Last updated 8-Nov-21
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Those who are concerned with the arts are often asked questions, not always sympathetic ones, about the use or value of what they are doing. It is probably impossible to answer such questions directly, or at any rate to answer the people who ask them.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Polemical Introduction” (1957)
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Added on 1-Nov-21 | Last updated 1-Nov-21
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Art’s distillation. Experience is wine, and art is the brandy we distill from it.

Robertson Davies (1913-1995) Canadian author, editor, publisher
A Mixture of Frailties, ch. 1 (1958)
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Added on 4-Oct-21 | Last updated 4-Oct-21
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A painting in a museum probably hears more foolish remarks than anything else in the world .

[Ce qui entend le plus de bêtises dans le monde est peut-être un tableau de musée.]

Brothers Goncourt
The Brothers Goncourt - Edmond (1822-96) & Jules (1830-70), French writers [a.k.a. J.E. de Goncourt]
Idées et sensations (1866)
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Often mis-cited to just Edmond. Alternate translations:
  • "A painting in a museum hears more ridiculous opinions than anything else in the world."
  • "What hears the most stupid remarks in the world is perhaps a painting in a museum." [Source]
  • "Perhaps what hears the most nonsense in the world is a museum painting." [Source]
 
Added on 28-Sep-21 | Last updated 28-Sep-21
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The way you win as a creative person is to learn to love the work and not the applause.

Bob Dylan (b. 1941) American singer, songwriter
(Misattributed)

Attributed to Dylan, but it actually appears to be from an article by Brian Herzog, "Don't Write for Applause" (28 May 2015), which touched on Dylan.
 
Added on 20-Jul-21 | Last updated 20-Jul-21
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The reward of art is not fame or success but intoxication: that is why so many bad artists are unable to give it up.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
The Unquiet Grave (1944)
 
Added on 15-Jul-21 | Last updated 15-Jul-21
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Every work of art is one half of a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing. Every great novel or comic book convenes the first meeting of a fan club whose membership stands forever at one but which maintains chapters in every city — in every cranium — in the world. Art, like fandom, asserts the possibility of fellowship in a world built entirely from the materials of solitude.

Michael Chabon (b. 1963) American author
“The Loser’s Club,” Manhood for Amateurs (2000)
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Added on 8-Jul-21 | Last updated 8-Jul-21
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Art and Religion are, then, two roads by which men escape from circumstance to ecstasy.

Clive Bell
Clive Bell (1881-1964) English art critic
Art, ch. 1 (1913)
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The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure.

Mikhail Baryshnikov (b. 1948) Latvian-American dancer, choreographer, actor
“Baryshnikov: Gotta Dance,” Time (19 May 1975)
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Added on 23-Jun-21 | Last updated 23-Jun-21
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My definition of art is anything you do after the chores are done, and in that definition of art, Ron Jeremy, Picasso, and the mall Santa all have the exact same job.

Penn Jillette (b. 1955) American stage magician, actor, musician, author
Interview by Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason (Jan 2017)
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Added on 23-Jun-21 | Last updated 23-Jun-21
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You are astonished to find yourself the butt of so much calumny, opposition, indifference and ill-will. You will be more so and have more of it; it is the reward of the good and the beautiful: one may calculate the value of a man from the number of his critics and the importance of a work by the evil said of it.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) French writer, novelist
Letter to Louise Colet (14 Jun 1853) [tr. Hannigan (1896)]
    (Source)

Alternate translation: "You can calculate the worth of a man by the number of his enemies, and the importance of a work of art by the harm that is spoken of it." [Source]
 
Added on 10-Jun-21 | Last updated 10-Jun-21
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Having a large audience does not, of course, prove that something is necessarily good. I subscribe to the theory that only a creation that speaks to succeeding generations can truly be labeled art.

Charles Schulz (1922-2000) American cartoonist
“My Life and Art with Charlie Brown and Others,” My Life with Charlie Brown (2010) [ed. Inge]
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Added on 29-Mar-21 | Last updated 29-Mar-21
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No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell.

Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) French playwright, actor, director
Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society [Le Suicidé de la Société] (1947) [tr. Watson]
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Added on 24-Feb-21 | Last updated 24-Feb-21
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Artists and scientists realize that no solution is ever final, but that each new creative step points the way to the next artistic or scientific problem. In contrast, those who embrace religious revelations and delusional systems tend to see them as unshakeable and permanent.

Anthony Storr (1920-2001) English psychiatrist and author
Feet of Clay: Saints, Sinners and Madmen, Introduction (1996)
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Added on 11-Feb-21 | Last updated 11-Feb-21
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Stealing, of course, is a crime, and a very impolite thing to do. But like most impolite things, it is excusable under certain circumstances. Stealing is not excusable if, for instance, you are in a museum and you decide that a certain painting would look better in your house, and you simply grab the painting and take it there. But if you were very, very hungry, and you had no way of obtaining money, it might be excusable to grab the painting, take it to your house, and eat it.

Lemony Snicket (b. 1970) American author, screenwriter, musician (pseud. for Daniel Handler)
The Wide Window (2000)
 
Added on 30-Dec-20 | Last updated 30-Dec-20
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Great art is as irrational as great music. It is mad with its own loveliness.

George Jean Nathan (1892-1958) American editor and critic
“Intelligence and Drama,” The American Mercury (Dec 1925)
    (Source)

Reprinted in House of Satan (1926).
 
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It is not that love is blind. It is that love sees with a painter’s eye, finding the essence that renders all else background.

Robert Brault (b. c. 1945) American aphorist, programmer
(Attributed)
 
Added on 17-Nov-20 | Last updated 17-Nov-20
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In religions which have lost their creative spark, the gods eventually become no more than poetic motifs or ornaments for decorating human solitude and walls.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) Greek writer and philosopher
Zorba the Greek, ch. 12 (1946)
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Added on 26-Oct-20 | Last updated 26-Oct-20
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To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) Swiss-German artist
Diary 3, #759 (Mar 1906)
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Beauty, like truth and goodness, is a quality that may in one sense be predicated of all great art, but the deliberate attempt to beautify can, in itself, only weaken the creative energy. Beauty in art is like happiness in morals: it may accompany the act, but it cannot be the goal of the act, just as one cannot “pursue happiness,” but only something else that may give happiness.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Mythical Phase: Symbol as Archetype” (1957)
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It is the artists who make the true value of the world, though at times they may have to starve to do it. They are like earthworms, turning up the soil so things can grow, eating dirt so that the rest of us may eat green shoots.

Eric Jong
Erica Jong (b. 1942) American writer, poet
Serenissima, ch. 4 (1987)
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All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.

As commentary on the above, we add, that when artists or art critics make the assertion that art excludes propaganda, what they are saying is that their kind of propaganda is art, and other kinds of propaganda are not art. Orthodoxy is my doxy, and heterodoxy is the other fellow’s doxy.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
Mammonart, ch. 2 “Who Owns the Artists?” (1925)
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A work of art has an author and yet, when it is perfect, it has something which is essentially anonymous about it.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) French philosopher
Gravity and Grace (1947)
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An artist’s job is to make order out of chaos. You collect details, look for a pattern, and organize. You make sense out of senseless facts. You puzzle together bits of everything. You shuffle and reorganize. Collage. Montage. Assemble.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Diary (2003)
 
Added on 27-May-20 | Last updated 27-May-20
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Every great work of art has two faces: one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.

Daniel Barenboim (b. 1942) Argentine-Israeli pianist and conductor
Quoted in the International Herald Tribune (20 Jan 1989)

The above is sometimes cited to his collaborative dialog with Edward Said, Parallels and Paradoxes (2002), but the passage there is slightly different: "I think that every great work of art has two faces: one toward its own time and one toward eternity."
 
Added on 14-May-20 | Last updated 15-May-20
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Leonardo’s Mona Lisa is just a thousand thousand smears of paint. Michelangelo’s David is just a million hits with a hammer. We’re all of us a million bits put together the right way.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Diary (2003)
 
Added on 12-May-20 | Last updated 12-May-20
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A work of art does not answer questions: it provokes them; and its essential meaning is in the tension between their contradictory answers.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer, pianist
“A Sabbatical Report,” sec. 1, New York Times (24 Oct 1965)
    (Source)

Reprinted in The Infinite Variety of Music (1966)
 
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Architecture in general is frozen music.

Friedrich von Schelling (1775-1854) German philosopher
Philosophie der Kunst (1809)

Often attributed to Johann von Goethe, who used a similar description ("frozen music" or "petrified music") in an 1829 letter.
 
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Art — the one achievement of Man which has made the long trip up from all fours seem well advised.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
Forum and Century (Jun 1939)

Also quoted in Clifton Fadiman, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (1939).
 
Added on 13-Apr-20 | Last updated 13-Apr-20
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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.")
 
Added on 2-Apr-20 | Last updated 2-Apr-20
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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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Added on 19-Mar-20 | Last updated 19-Mar-20
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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)]
 
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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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