Quotations about   art

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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.
Added on 28-Dec-18 | Last updated 28-Dec-18
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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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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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Added on 8-May-17 | Last updated 8-May-17
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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)
Added on 31-Jan-17 | Last updated 31-Jan-17
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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)
Added on 24-Oct-16 | Last updated 24-Oct-16
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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.)
Added on 27-Sep-16 | Last updated 27-Sep-16
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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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Added on 9-Aug-16 | Last updated 9-Aug-16
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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)
Added on 31-May-16 | Last updated 31-May-16
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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)]
Added on 11-May-16 | Last updated 11-May-16
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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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Added on 22-Feb-16 | Last updated 22-Feb-16
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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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Added on 15-Feb-16 | Last updated 15-Feb-16
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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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Added on 7-Oct-15 | Last updated 7-Oct-15
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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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Added on 16-Apr-15 | Last updated 16-Apr-15
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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").
Added on 8-Jan-15 | Last updated 8-Jan-15
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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)
Added on 24-Dec-14 | Last updated 24-Dec-14
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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.
Added on 9-Dec-14 | Last updated 9-Dec-14
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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)
Added on 3-Nov-14 | Last updated 3-Nov-14
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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)
Added on 22-Oct-14 | Last updated 22-Oct-14
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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.
Added on 15-Oct-14 | Last updated 15-Oct-14
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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.
Added on 3-Oct-14 | Last updated 3-Oct-14
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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)
Added on 24-Jun-14 | Last updated 24-Jun-14
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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)
Added on 19-Jun-14 | Last updated 19-Jun-14
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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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Art is a jealous mistress, and, if a man have a genius for painting, poetry, music, architecture or philosophy, he makes a bad husband and an ill provider.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Wealth,” The Conduct of Life (1860)
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Any fool can paint a picture but it takes a wise man to be able to sell it.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
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Perfect works are rare, because they must be produced at the happy moment when taste and genius unite; and this rare conjuncture, like that of certain planets, appears to occur only after the revolution of several cycles, and only lasts for an instant.

François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) French writer, politican, diplomat
(Attributed)
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Quoted in James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893).
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Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

Scott Adams (b. 1957) American cartoonist
The Dilbert Principle (1996)

Sometimes misquoted as "Design is knowing which ones to keep." Sometimes misattributed to Douglas Adams or Ricky Gervais. More information here.
Added on 24-Feb-14 | Last updated 26-Oct-14
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The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines — so they should go as far as possible from home to build their first buildings.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) American architect, interior designer, writer, educator [b. Frank Lincoln Wright]
“Frank Lloyd Wright Talks of His Art,” New York Times Magazine (4 Oct 1953)
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A work is perfectly finished only when nothing can be added to it and nothing taken away.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées, #1809 (1838) [tr. Auster (1983)]
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You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoyevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone. This is why art is important. Art would not be important if life were not important, and life is important.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American author [James Arthur Baldwin]
“An interview with James Baldwin” by Studs Terkel (1961), in Conversations With James Baldwin (1989)

See also this related quotation.
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Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
Artist Descending a Staircase (1972)
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In this country the Episcopalians have done some good, and I want to thank that church. Having on an average less religion than the others — on an average you have done more good to mankind. You preserved some of the humanities. You did not hate music; you did not absolutely despise painting, and you did not altogether abhor architecture, and you finally admitted that it was no worse to keep time with your feet than with your hands. And some went so far as to say that people could play cards, and that God would overlook it, or would look the other way. For all these things accept my thanks.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“What Must We Do to Be Saved?” Sec. 7 (1880)
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The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference,
indifference between life and death.

Wiesel - indifference - wist_info quote

Elie Wiesel (b. 1928) Romanian-American novelist, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate.
“One Must Not Forget,” interview by Alvin P. Sanoff, US News & World Report (27 Oct 1986)
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One of the pleasant things those of us who write or paint do is to have the daily miracle. It does come.

G. B. Stern (1890-1973) British writer [Gladys Bronwyn Stern]
Paris France, Part I (1940)
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I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) American writer
“…like captured fireflies” (1955)
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You ask, What makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art. Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Neil Gaiman’s Journal, “Why defend freedom of icky speech?” (1 Dec 2008 )
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Added on 30-Dec-08 | Last updated 9-Jan-15
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The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavor in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness.

In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.

Einstein - sense of the mysterious - wist_info quote

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“My Credo,” speech, German League of Human Rights, Berlin (Autumn 1932)
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I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.

Einstein - imagination is more important than knowlege - wist_info quote

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“What Life Means to Einstein,” Interview with G. Viereck, Saturday Evening Post (26 Oct 1929)

Quoted as "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world," in Viereck, "What Life Means to Einstein," Glimpses of the Great (1930).
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Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
“Our Note Book,” Illustrated London News (5 May 1928)

Often misattributed to Oscar Wilde (and as "Morality, like art ..."). For more info, see here.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 21-Jul-14
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In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished — a word that for them has no sense — but abandoned; and this abandonment, whether to the flames or to the public (and which is the result of weariness or an obligation to deliver) is a kind of an accident to them, like the breaking off of a reflection, which fatigue, irritation, or something similar has made worthless.

[Aux yeux de ces amateurs d’inquiétude et de perfection, un ouvrage n’est jamais achevé, – mot qui pour eux n’a aucun sens, – mais abandonné ; et cet abandon, qui le livre aux flammes ou au public (et qu’il soit l’effet de la lassitude ou de l’obligation de livrer) est une sorte d’accident, comparable à la rupture d’une réflexion, que la fatigue, le fâcheux ou quelque sensation viennent rendre nulle.]

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
“Au sujet du ‘Cimetière marin,'” La Nouvelle Revue Française (Mar 1933)
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Often rendered as: "A poem is never finished, only abandoned."

Alt. trans.: "In the eyes of those who anxiously seek perfection, a work is never truly completed -- a word that for them has no sense -- but abandoned; and this abandonment, of the book to the fire or to the public, whether due to weariness or to a need to deliver it for publication, is a sort of accident, comparable to the letting-go of an idea that has become so tiring or annoying that one has lost all interest in it." [tr. Maggio]

In the same vein, in "Recollections," Valery wrote: "A work is never completed except by some accident such as weariness, satisfaction, the need to deliver, or death: for, in relation to who or what is making it, it can only be one stage in a series of inner transformations."

Also attributed to W. H. Auden, Oscar Wilde, and Jean Cocteau, For more discussion of the origin of this phrase, see here.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 25-Mar-19
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More quotes by Valéry, Paul