Quotations about   creativity

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I realize that all society rests upon force. But all the great creative actions, all the decent human relations, occur during the intervals when force has not managed to come to the front. These intervals are what matter. I want them to be as frequent and as lengthy as possible, and I call them “civilization”.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Added on 10-Apr-19 | Last updated 10-Apr-19
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Democracy is not a beloved Republic really, and never will be. But it is less hateful than other contemporary forms of government, and to that extent it deserves our support. It does start from the assumption that the individual is important, and that all types are needed to make a civilization. It does not divide its citizens into the bossers and the bossed — as an efficiency-regime tends to do. The people I admire most are those who are sensitive and want to create something or discover something, and do not see life in terms of power, and such people get more of a chance under a democracy than elsewhere. They found religions, great or small, or they produce literature and art, or they do disinterested scientific research, or they may be what is called “ordinary people”, who are creative in their private lives, bring up their children decently, for instance, or help their neighbours. All these people need to express themselves; they cannot do so unless society allows them liberty to do so, and the society which allows them most liberty is a democracy.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Added on 1-Jan-19 | Last updated 1-Jan-19
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May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Comment (31 Dec 2001)
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Added on 12-Feb-18 | Last updated 12-Feb-18
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I’m convinced if I keep going one day I will write something decent. On very bad days I will observe that I must have written good things in the past, which means that I’ve lost it. But normally I just assume that I don’t have it. The gulf between the thing I set out to make in my head and the sad, lumpy thing that emerges into reality is huge and distant and I just wish that I could get them closer.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
“This Much I Know,” The Guardian (5 Aug 2017)
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Added on 2-Oct-17 | Last updated 2-Oct-17
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Why do I write? I guess that’s been asked of every writer. I don’t know. It isn’t any massive compulsion. I don’t feel, you know, God dictated that I should write. You know, thunder rends the sky and a bony finger comes down from the clouds and says, “You. You write. You’re the anointed.” I never felt that. I suppose it’s part compulsion, part a channel for what your brain is churning up.

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 3-Jul-17 | Last updated 3-Jul-17
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There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Dust Tracks on a Road, ch. 8 (1942)

Sometimes misattributed to Maya Angelou.
Added on 16-Jun-17 | Last updated 16-Jun-17
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If poetry is like an orgasm, an academic can be likened to someone who studies the passion-stains on the bedsheets.

Irving Layton (1912-2006) Romanian-Canadian poet [b. Israel Pincu Lazarovitch]
“Obs II,” The Whole Bloody Bird (1969)
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Added on 1-Jun-17 | Last updated 1-Jun-17
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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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Coming up with ideas is the easiest thing on earth. Putting them down is the hardest.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
“Writing for Television – Conversations with Rod Serling,” Ithaca College (1972)
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Added on 24-Apr-17 | Last updated 24-Apr-17
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Imitation is the sincerest form of television.

Fred Allen (1894-1956) American humorist [b. John Florence Sullivan]
(Attributed)

Sometimes attributed to Steve Allen.
Added on 24-Mar-17 | Last updated 24-Mar-17
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Most men love money and security more, and creation and construction less, as they get older.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
“Clissold” (1927)
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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)
Added on 9-Jan-17 | Last updated 9-Jan-17
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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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A harmless hilarity and a buoyant cheerfulness are not infrequent concomitants of genius; and we are never more deceived than when we mistake gravity for greatness, solemnity for science, and pomposity for erudition.

Colton - never more deceived - wist_info quote

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, #202 (1821 ed.)
Added on 2-Aug-16 | Last updated 2-Aug-16
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Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking, just as the man, who spends too much time in the theatre, is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
(Attributed)

Quoted in George Sylvester Viereck, Glimpses of the Great (1930).
Added on 28-Jul-16 | Last updated 28-Jul-16
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The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.

Antony Jay (b. 1930) English writer, broadcaster, director
Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life (1967)
Added on 11-Jul-16 | Last updated 11-Jul-16
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If you have a good idea, get it out there. For every idea I’ve realized, I have ten I sat on for a decade till someone else did it first. Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.

Whedon - make - wist_info quote

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) American screenwriter, author, producer [Joseph Hill Whedon]
“Dollhouse’s Joss Whedon Answers Your Questions,” Hulu Blog (9 Mar 2009)
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Added on 17-Jun-16 | Last updated 17-Jun-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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Hasten slowly, and without losing heart,
Put your work twenty times upon the anvil.

[Hâtez-vous lentement ; et, sans perdre courage,
Vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage.]

Boileau - twenty times upon the anvil - wist_info quote

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) French poet and critic
The Art of Poetry [L’Art Poétique], Canto 1, l. 171 (1674)
Added on 11-May-16 | Last updated 11-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)]
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There are three difficulties in authorship: to write anything worth the publishing, to find honest men to publish it, and to get sensible men to read it.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, Preface (1820)
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Added on 14-Mar-16 | Last updated 14-Mar-16
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Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” (1979)
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Added on 21-Dec-15 | Last updated 21-Dec-15
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The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a room packed with archaic furniture. You must get the old furniture of what you know, think, and believe out before anything new can get in. Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.

Dee W. Hock (b. 1929) American businessman
In M. Mitchell Waldrop, “Dee Hock on Management,” Fast Company (Oct/Nov 1996)
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Added on 20-Nov-15 | Last updated 20-Nov-15
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What nobody tells people who are beginners, and I really wish someone had told this to me, is that […] all of us who do creative work, we get into it, and we get into because we have good taste. […] But you get into this thing […] and there’s a gap. For the first couple of years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. That you can tell it’s still sort of crappy. A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. […] The thing I want to tell you is, everybody goes through that. […] It’s totally normal. And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. […] Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. […] It’s going to take you awhile. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.

Ira Glass (b. 1959) American report, radio personality, producer
“This American Life,” Public Radio International (Aug 2009)
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Added on 12-Oct-15 | Last updated 12-Oct-15
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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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No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.

Robert Frost (1874-1963) American poet
“The Figure a Poem Makes” (1939)
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Songwriting is about getting the demon out of me. It’s like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won’t let you. So you have to get up and make it into something, and then you’re allowed to sleep. It’s always in the middle of the bloody night, or when you’re half-awake or tired, when your critical faculties are switched off. So letting go is what the whole game is.

John Lennon (1940-1980) English rock musician, singer, songwriter
Interview, Playboy (Sep 1980)
Added on 24-Mar-15 | Last updated 24-Mar-15
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If this is a dream, then perhaps our dreaming
Can touch life’s height to a finer fire:
Who knows but the heavens and all their seeming
Were made by the heart’s desire?

Edwin Markham (1852-1940) American poet
“The Crowning Hour” (2), The Shoes of Happiness, and Other Poems (1913)
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Creativity is constantly in danger of being destroyed by success. The more effectively the environment is mastered, the greater is the temptation to rest on one’s oars.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
The Necessity for Choice: Prospects of American Foreign Policy, 8.3 (1961)
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Creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity; the ditchdigger, dentist, and artist go about their tasks in much the same way, and any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.

John Updike (1932-2009) American writer
Picked-Up Pieces, Foreward (1966)
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You and I know that there is a correlation between the creative and the screwball. So we must suffer the screwball gladly.

Kingman Brewster, Jr. (1919-1988) American educator, diplomat
“The Enduring American Press” symposium, Harvard (30 Oct 1964)
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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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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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There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“Daedalus, or Science and the Future,” speech, Cambridge (24 Feb 1923)
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Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce … Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.

Sarah Waters (b. 1966) Welsh novelist
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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HENRY: I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
The Real Thing, Act 2, sc. 5 (1982)
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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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Readers usually grossly underestimate their own importance. If a reader cannot create a book along with the writer, the book will never come to life. Creative involvement: that’s the difference between reading a book and watching TV. In watching TV, we are passive — sponges; we do nothing. In reading, we must become creators, imagining the setting of the story, seeing the facial expressions, hearing the inflection of the voices. The author and the reader “know” each other; they meet on the bridge of words.

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007) American writer
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (1982)
Added on 12-Aug-14 | Last updated 12-Aug-14
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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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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)
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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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For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
Fahrenheit 451, “Coda” Afterword (1979 ed.)
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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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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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When you feel the story is beginning to pick up rhythm — the characters are shaping up, you can see them, you can hear their voices, and they do things that you haven’t planned, things you couldn’t have imagined — then you know the book is somewhere, and you just have to find it, and bring it, word by word, into this world.

Isabel Allende (b. 1942) Chilean-American writer
In Meredith Maran, ed., Why We Write, ch. 1 (2013)
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Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Commencement address, University of the Arts, Philadelphia (2012)
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Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hand away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there for a lifetime.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Added on 26-Dec-13 | Last updated 26-Dec-13
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There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) Russian composer
Letter to N. F. von Meck (15 Mar 1878)
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If children had teachers for judgment and eloquence as they have for languages, if their memory was exercised less than their energy or their natural genius, if instead of deadening their vivacity of mind we tried to elevate the free scope and impulses of their souls, what might not result from a fine disposition? As it is, we forget that courage, or love of truth and glory are the virtues that matter most in youth; and our one endeavor is to subdue our children’s spirits, in order to teach them that dependence and suppleness are the first laws of success in life.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) French moralist, essayist, soldier
Reflections and Maxims [Réflexions et maximes] (1746) [tr. Lee (1903)]
Added on 5-Dec-13 | Last updated 5-Dec-13
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And perhaps there is no advice to give a writer more important than this: — Never write anything that does not give you great pleasure.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
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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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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)
Added on 21-Jul-09 | Last updated 20-Apr-15
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The idea is like the seed corn; it grows imperceptibly in secret. When I have invented or discovered the beginning of a song …, I shut up the book and go for a walk or take up something else; I think no more of it for perhaps half a year. Nothing is lost, though. When I come back to it again, it has unconsciously taken a new shape, and is ready for me to begin working at it.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) German composer and pianist
Conversation with George Henschel
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Quoted in a letter to Herr and Frau von Herzogenberg in Max Kalbeck, ed., the Brahms-Gesellschaft collection of correspondence, Vol. 2 [tr. Bryant (1909)], as cited in John Alexander Fuller-Maitland, Brahms, ch. 3 (1911).
Added on 1-Jul-09 | Last updated 29-May-14
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There is nothing more fearful than imagination without taste.

[Es ist nichts furchterlicher als Einbildungskraft ohne Geschmack.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Prosa [Proverbs in Prose], 3 (1819)
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There’s a statistical theory that if you gave a million monkeys typewriters and set them to work, they’d eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. Thanks to the Internet, we now know this isn’t true.

Ian Hart (contemp.) Australian media academic, documentary producer
“Between the Idea and Reality, The Case for Qualitative Research,” ITForum Paper #20 (Mar 1997)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Mar-14
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