Quotations about   creativity

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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 highest exercise of imagination is not to devise what has no existence, but rather to perceive what really exists, though unseen by the outward eye, — not creation, but insight.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“Table-talk”
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Added on 28-May-21 | Last updated 28-May-21
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Imagination continually frustrates tradition; that is its function.

John Pfeiffer (1914-1999) American anthropologist, author
“Nature, the Radical Conservative,” New York Times (29 Apr 1979)
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Book review of Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature. This quotation is frequently misattributed to Jules Feiffer.
Added on 12-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“Thinking and Moral Considerations: A Lecture,” Social Research (Fall 1971)
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Referring to Adolf Eichmann's use of "cliché-ridden language" as a sign of his "thoughtlessness." Reprinted in The Life of the Mind, Part 1 "Thinking," Introduction (1974).
Added on 18-Mar-21 | Last updated 18-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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When a little child hears a pleasant sound, it cries, “Again! again!” But soon mere repetition fails to satisfy. The child imitates the sound, and that fails, too. At last it achieves happiness in the creation of a new sound. Older children always sit down to paint or write after they have seen a picture or read a story that appeals to them, and attempt to create. So life ought to be a struggle of desire towards adventures whose nobility will fertilise the soul and lead to the conception of new, glorious things. To avoid the ordeal of emotion that leads to the conception is the impulse of death. Sterility is the deadly sin.

Rebecca West (1892-1983) British author, journalist, literary critic, travel writer [pseud. for Cicily Isabel Fairfield]
“The Gospel According to Granville-Parker,” The Freewoman (7 Mar 1912)
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Re-published in The Young Rebecca: Writings of Rebecca West, 1911-17 (1982).
Added on 15-Feb-21 | Last updated 15-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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Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. […] Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
On Writing (2000)
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Added on 4-Feb-21 | Last updated 4-Feb-21
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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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Most artists, ashamed of their need for encouragement, try to carry their work to term like a secret pregnancy. … We bunker in with our projects, beleaguered by our loneliness and the terrible secret that we carry: We need friends to our art. We need them as desperately as friends to our hearts. Our projects, after all, are our brainchildren, and what they crave is a loving extended family, a place where “How’d it go today?” can refer to a turn at the keys or the easel as easily as a turn in the teller’s cage.”

Julia Cameron (b. 1948) American teacher, author, filmmaker, journalist
“Taking Heart,” The Sound of Paper (2005)
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Added on 10-Sep-20 | Last updated 10-Sep-20
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The wretched Artist himself is alternatively the lowest worm that ever crawled when no fire is in him: or the loftiest God that ever sang when the fire is going.

Caitlin Thomas (1913-1994) British author, wife of Dylan Thomas [née Macnamara]
Not Quite Posthumous Letter to My Daughter (1963)
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Added on 27-Aug-20 | Last updated 27-Aug-20
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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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Added on 26-Aug-20 | Last updated 26-Aug-20
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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.

Erica Jong (b. 1942) American writer, poet
Serenissima, ch. 4 (1987)
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Added on 13-Aug-20 | Last updated 13-Aug-20
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Ideas come when we do not expect them, and not when we are brooding and searching at our desks. Yet ideas would certainly not come to mind had we not brooded at our desks and searched for answers with passionate devotion.

Max Weber (1864-1920) German sociologist, philosopher, political economist [Maximilian Karl Emil Weber]
“Science as a Vocation [Wissenscahft als Beruf],” Speech, Munich University (1918) [tr. Gerth & Mills (1948)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "Ideas come when they are least expected, rather than while you are racking your brains at your desk. But, by the same token, they would not have made their appearance if we had not spent many hours pondering at our desks or brooding passionately over the problems facing us." [tr. Livingstone]
  • "[Ideas] come, at any rate, when one does not expect them, not while racking one's brains and pondering at one's desk. Of course, the ideas would not have occurred to us without our having been through the state of racking our brains and being engaged in impassioned questioning." [tr. Wells (2018)]
Added on 6-Aug-20 | Last updated 6-Aug-20
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In relation to his public, the artist of to-day […] walks at first with his companions, till one day he falls through a hole in the brambles, and from that moment is following the dark rapids of an underground river which may sometimes flow so near the surface that the laughing picnic parties are heard above, only to re-immerse itself in the solitude of the limestone and carry him along its winding tunnel, until it gushes out through the misty creeper-hung cave which he has always believed to exist, and sets him back in the sun.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
“Writers and Society, 1940-3” (1943), The Condemned Playground (1946)
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Added on 17-Jul-20 | Last updated 17-Jul-20
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More gold has been mined from the brains of men than has ever been taken from the earth.

Napoleon Hill (1883-1970) American author, motivational writer
Think and Grow Rich (1937)
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In some editions this is given as: "More gold has been mined from the thoughts of men than has ever been taken from the earth."
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The brain is only three pounds of blood, dream, and electricity, and yet from that mortal stew come Beethoven’s sonatas. Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz. Audrey Hepburn’s wish to spend the last month of her life in Somalia, saving children.

Diane Ackerman (b. 1948) American poet, author, naturalist
A Natural History of Love, “Brain-Stem Sonata: The Neurophysiology of Love” (1994)
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The first step — especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money — the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Closing remarks on an eClass forum, Barnes & Noble University (5 Dec 2004)
Added on 9-Jun-20 | Last updated 9-Jun-20
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If the artist does not throw himself into his work as Curtius sprang into the gulf, as a soldier leads a forlorn hope without a moment’s thought, and if when he is in the crater he does not dig as a miner does when the earth has fallen in on him; if he contemplates the difficulties before him instead of conquering them one by one, like the lovers in fairy tales, who to win their princesses overcome ever-new enchantments, the work remains incomplete; it perishes in the studio where creativeness becomes impossible, and the artist looks on the suicide of his own talent.

[Si l’artiste ne se précipite pas dans son oeuvre, comme Curtius dans le gouffre, comme le soldat dans la redoute, sans réfléchir; et si, sans ce cratère, il ne travaille pas comme le mineur enfoui sous un éboulement: s’il contemple enfin les difficultés au lieu de las vaincre une à une, à l’example de ces amoureux des féeries, qui pour obtenir leurs princesses, combattaient des enchantements renaissants, l’oeuvre reste inachevée, elle périt au fond de l’atelier où la production devient impossible, et l’artiste assiste au suicide de son talent.]

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) French novelist, playwright
Cousin Betty [La Cousine Bette] (1846) [tr. Waring (1899)]
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Curtius is the young Roman patrician, Marcus Curtius. In 362 BC, a chasm opened up in Rome's forum, and soothsayers proclaimed it could only be filled by Rome's greatest treasure. Curtius mounted his horse and leapt into the chasm, which then closed over him.

Alt. trans.:
  • "If the artist does not throw himself into his work, like Curtius into the gulf beneath the Forum, like a soldier against a fortress, without hesitation, and if, in that crater, he does not work like a miner under a fall of rock, if, in short, he envisages the difficulties instead of conquering them one-by-one, following the examples of lovers in fairy-tales who, to win their princesses, struggle against recurring enchantments, the work remains unfinished, it expires in the studio, wher production remains impossible and the artist looks on at the suicide of his own talent." [tr. Raphael (1992)]
  • "If the artist does not fling himself, without reflecting, into his work, as Curtius flung himself into the yawning gulf, as the soldier flings himself into the enemy's trenches, and if, once in this crater, he does not work like a miner on whom the walls of his gallery have fallen in; if he contemplates difficulties instead of overcoming them one by one ... he is simply looking on at the suicide of his own talent." [Source]
  • Original French.
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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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business business business
grind grind grind
what a life for a man
that might have been a poet

Don Marquis (1878-1937) American journalist and humorist
“pete the parrot and shakespeare,” archy and mehtabel (1927)
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As a carpenter can make a gibbet as well as an altar, a writer can describe the world as trivial or exquisite, as material or as idea, as senseless or as purposeful. Words are wood.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“Sand Dabs, Six,” Winter Hours (1999)
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Added on 21-Apr-20 | Last updated 21-Apr-20
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I always make the first Verse well, but I’m perplex’d about the rest.

[Je fais toujours bien le premier vers: mais j’ai peine à faire les autres.]

Molière (1622-1673) French playwright, actor [stage name for Jean-Baptiste Poquelin]
The Romantick Ladies [Les Précieuses Ridicules], Act 1, sc. 11 (1659)
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Alt. trans.: "I always make the first verse well, but I have trouble making the others."
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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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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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I hate writing. I love having written.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
(Attributed)
Added on 16-Mar-20 | Last updated 16-Mar-20
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Yet I think that to all living things there is a pleasure in the exercise of their energies, and that even beasts rejoice in being lithe and swift and strong. But a man at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body. Memory and imagination help him as he works. Not only his own thoughts, but the thoughts of the men of past ages guide his hands; and, as a part of the human race, he creates. If we work thus we shall be men, and our days will be happy and eventful.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“Useful Work versus Useless Toil,” lecture (1884)
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Printed in Signs of Change (1888).
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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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His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar. When he attempted the highest flights, he became ridiculous; but, while he remained in a lower region, he outstripped all competitors.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“John Dryden,” Edinburgh Review (Jan 1828)
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Review of John Dryden, The Political Works of John Dryden (1826)
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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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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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A successful party is a creative act, and creation is always painful.

Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978) American author, poet
“Party Line,” Ladies’ Home Journal (1962)
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Later reprinted in Sixpence in Her Shoe (1964).
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Certainly it is presumptuous to say that we cannot improve, and that Man, who has only been in power for a few thousand years, will never learn to make use of his power. All I mean is that, if people continue to kill one another as they do, the world cannot get better than it is, and that, since there are more people than formerly, and their means for destroying one another superior, the world may well get worse. What is good in people — and consequently in the world — is their insistence on creation, their belief in friendship and loyalty for their own sakes; and, though Violence remains and is, indeed, the major partner in this muddled establishment, I believe that creativeness remains too, and will always assume direction when violence sleeps.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.
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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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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.
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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)
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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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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.)
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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 theater is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“What Life Means to Einstein,” Interview with G. Viereck, Saturday Evening Post (26 Oct 1929)
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Reprinted in George Sylvester Viereck, Glimpses of the Great (1930).
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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)
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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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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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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)
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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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