View Full Version : Great Art Quotes

03-11-2008, 05:45 PM
In reading I often come across quotes from great or sometimes not so famous artists that really strike a chord with me. I have peppered some around in my posts, but I thought it might be nice to have a place where we could share inspirational quotes about art that we find meaningful. I hope others will share some of their favorites or new ones they encounter.

To kick things off, I'll put a couple here I've used in posts and periodically try to post ones that I find and think are good. I hope others will share their favorites.





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Pat Isaac
03-11-2008, 06:52 PM
I like this one.
Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
Pablo Picasso


Rose Queen
03-11-2008, 07:07 PM
Oh, now here's a thread that strikes a chord with me! Herewith is my modest collection...

The mark of greatness of any particular work of art is that you can't safely think about it while shaving. ~ A. E. Housman

Art happens--no hovel is safe from it, no prince can depend on it, the vastest intelligence cannot bring it about. ~ Whistler

Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees. ~ Marcel Proust, Maxims.

Perhaps you are wondering about the kind of encouragement Bonnat is giving me. He tells me:
"Your painting isn't bad, it is 'chic,' but even so, it isn't bad, but your drawing is absolutely atrocious."
So I must gather my courage and start once again.
~ Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

Art being quite useless, except to the soul, is the highest of all human endeavors. ~ Bruce M. Rogers

On our way back from one of our visits to Matisse, Pablo said, laughing, Matisse has such good lungs. I asked what he meant. It's in the way he uses color, he said. In Matisse's work, when you find three tones that are put on close to one another -- let's say a green, a mauve, and a turquoise -- their relationship evokes another color which one might call the color. That is the language of color. ~Françoise Gilot, Life with Picasso

It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with, we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it. ~ Anais Nin

On a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was standing near two women who were admiring a painting. One of the women remarked: What a beautiful painting. I wonder who the artist was? The other volunteered to find out and walked over to read the wall plaque beside it. She reported that the painting had been done by Circa, in 1878. Oh, the first woman said, of course, Circa the Greek. No, the second woman replied. You’re thinking of Zorba. Circa was Italian. ~ Kenneth R. Lee

When you get to the point where you cheat for the sake of beauty, you’re an artist. ~Max Jacob

I learned...that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness. ~Brenda Ueland

A plausable mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive, just a little bit. ~Kurt Vonnegut

Max Ernst said that collage is the meeting of two distant realities on a plane foreign to them both.

Works of art can wait: indeed they do nothing but that and do it passionately. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

I can’t think much of a people who drew cats the same for four thousand years. ~Lord Kitchener on Egyptian art

Art is frozen Zen ~ R.H. Blyth

You know, I have a theory about the decay of art in advanced civilizations. Perhaps it’s a joke, but I believe it may be serious. It is that people want to make ugly things, but at the beginning their tools don’t allow them to. When you find figures or vases in Mycenae or Guatemala or Peru, every one is a masterpiece. But when the perfection of technique allows men to do what they want, it is bad. Perfection of technique – sophistication – has nearly destroyed the movies. ~Jean Renoir

A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth. ~John Singer Sargent

I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers ~ Claude Monet

Matisse once told the Hollywood film star Edward G. Robinson that the only thing that drove him to paint was the rising urge to strangle someone.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. ~ Scott Raymond Adams

My weakness has always been to prefer the large intention of an unskillful artist to the trivial intention of an accomplished one: in other words, I am more interested in the high ideas of a feeble executant than in the high execution of a feeble thinker. ~ Thomas Hardy

Art can stir up trouble; art can fight trouble; art is a vice for some and a virtue for others. The artist whose work does not embarrass someone occasionally is no more effective than the coward who looks the other way while a victim cries for help. Try to make every work have some quality that someone will disapprove. Expect to be criticized for your views and be prepared to continue expressing them. ~ Evan Lindquist, professor of art, Arkansas State University, quoted in The studioNOTES Treasury

The two most common subjects in art are food and naked ladies. These symbolize man's survival instinct, and sex drive. In fact, you will find that there are more paintings of food than there are of naked ladies. This does not mean that the survival instinct is stronger than the sex drive. It's just easier to get food to pose for you. A few of the truly great masters were able to combine these grand themes. The French painter Edouard Manet, for example, painted the famous Dejeuner sur l'herbes, depicting a naked lady eating lunch. ~ Peter Davis

Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for? ~ Alice Walker

I am still trying to find out what painting is, and the only way to do that is to be alone. The loneliness has to do with what you do. ~Estaban Vicente

It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else. ~Henri Matisse

The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he's in business. ~John Berryman

Art is still the only place in the world where you can do exactly what you want if you pay the price, which is having no one else want it. ~Grace Hartigan

When you've painted for years and discovered finally that you never get any nearer to a real mastery over your trade a lot of very doubtful moments come on. Such moments increase with the years, and, no matter what your success, they keep occurring. ~ Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975)

For many, the Bohemian lifestyle has romantic connotations: adventure, freedom, intensity. But we should not forget that making this life choice can have painful consequences: poverty and isolation. Vincent van Gogh is a fine example of a painter who had almost no friends and was forced to use his mailman for a model. ~ Peggy Hadden, The Quotable Artist [2002]

Many intelligent people have accepted the false idea that accuracy in representing visual facts is a sign of progress in art. Such imitation of superficial effects has nothing to do with art, which is and always has been the making of mental concepts. Even the scientist is interested in effects only as a phenomena from which to deduce order in life. ... ‘Looks like' is not the test of a good painting. It indicates merely visual similarity and shows that the artist has not put his brain to work. ~John Sloan in Gist of Art, 1939

Institutes, pensions, and honors are intended only for idiots, tricksters, and knaves. Don't be an art critic; paint. ~ Cezanne

Sometimes I am horribly afraid to turn round canvases which I have piled against the wall; I am constantly afraid of finding monsters where I believed there were precious gems! . . . .
Thus it does not astonish me that the critics in London relegate me to the lowest rank. Alas! I fear that they are only too justified! However, at times I come across works of mine which are soundly done and really in my style, and at such moments I find great solace. But no more of that.
Painting, art in general, enchants me. It is my life. What else matters? When you put all your soul into a work, all that is noble in you, you cannot fail to find a kindred soul who understands you, and you do not need a host of such spirits. Is not that all an artist should wish for? ~ Camille Pisarro

There is a vitality, a life-force, a energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever anytime. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others. If I add something to my time, then that is my prize. ~ Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

The artist does not draw what he sees, but what he must make others see. ~ Edgar Degas, Notebooks

A picture is something which requires as much knavery, trickery, and deceit as the perpetration of a crime. Paint falsely, and then add the accent of nature. ~ibid

I have always sought to be understood and, while I was taken to task by critics or colleagues, I thought they were right, assuming I had not been clear enough to be understood. This assumption allowed me to work my whole life without hatred and even without bitterness toward criticism, regardless of its source. I counted solely on the clarity of expression of my work to gain my ends. Hatred, rancor, and the spirit of vengeance are useless baggage to the artist. His road is difficult enough for him to cleanse his soul of everything which could make it more so. ~ Matisse

Nature is garrulous to the point of confusion; let the artist be truly taciturn. ~ Paul Klee

That which is static and repetitive is boring
That which is dynamic and random is confusing
In between lies art
~ John Locke

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home ~ Twyla Tharp

What is art but a way of seeing? ~ Saul Bellow

Each of the arts whose office is to refine, purify, adorn, embellish and grace life is under the patronage of a muse, no god being found worthy to preside over them. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Art is the signature of civilizations. ~ Beverly Sills

Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art. ~ Leonardo da Vinci

“It takes two to paint. One to paint, the other to stand by with an axe to kill him before he spoils it.” William Merritt Chase

How to be an artist…
Your life should always be arranged just as if you were studying theology, or philosophy, or other sciences, that is to say, eating and drinking moderately, at least twice a day, electing light and wholesome dishes and thin wines; saving and sparing your hand, preserving it from such strains as heaving stones, crowbars, and many other things which are bad for your hand, from giving them a chance to weary it. There is another cause which, if you indulge it, can make your hand so unsteady that it will waver more, and flutter more, than leaves do in the wind, and this is indulging too much in the company of women. ~ Cennino Cennini, Book of the Art, 1437

Everyone wants an artist on the wall or on the shelf, but nobody wants him in the house. ~ James Baldwin

The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable.
~ H. L. Mencken, Prejudices, First Series

When he [W. B. Yeats] sat for me he wore a velvet coat and a huge loose bow tie and a big lock of hair fell across his brow. He told me that he did these things to remind himself of his own importance as an artist!
Why, quietly interrupted Fox, didn't he tie a string around his finger? ~ John Singer Sargent, Martin Birnbaum, John Singer Sargent: A Conversation Piece

Hardening of the categories causes art disease. ~ W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978)

I think that 95 percent of what passes for art in this world is complete and utter ****. And 4 of the other 5 percent is **** with an asterisk. But oh, that 1 percent makes you proud to be a human, doesn't it? ~ Dennis Miller

What garlic is to food, insanity is to art. ~ anonymous

When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden's green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, It's pretty, but is it Art?

I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. ~ Albert Einstein

Most writers in the course of their careers become thick-skinned and learn to accept vituperation, which in any other profession would be unimaginably offensive, as a healthy counterpoise to unintelligent praise. -- Evelyn Waugh, The New York Times, 1952

The Belgian surrealist painter Renee Magritte entered a cheese store in Brussels to purchase a wheel of Swiss cheese. The owner pulled a wheel from the front window, but Magritte said he preferred the one on the back counter. “But they are identical,” the owner protested. “No,” Magritte insisted. “This one’s been stared at.”

Art is not the bread, but the wine of life. ~John Paul Richter

How important are the visual arts in our society? I feel strongly that the visual arts are of vast and incalculable importance. Of course I could be prejudiced. I am a visual art. ~Kermit the Frog, muppet

There are countless artists whose shoes I am not worthy to polish whose prints would not pay the printer, the question of judgement is a puzzling one. ~ Maxfield Parrish

Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead. ~W.H. Auden

"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." -Aristotle

"The purpose of art is to open a door to other dimensions." -unknown

"The task of the artist is to make the human being uncomfortable." -Lucian Freud

"Art is meant to upset people, science reassures them." -Georges Braque

"All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography." -Federico Fellini

"Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail." -Theodore Dreiser

"Art is a kind of illness." -Giacomo Puccini

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Pat Isaac
03-12-2008, 09:38 AM
Wow, Diana, now there is a list of quotes. Some great ones there.

03-12-2008, 10:48 AM
Thanks for the quotes, Diana. :clap: :clap:

I think my quick pick favorite is

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. ~ Scott Raymond Adams

Although the one probably most applicable to me is

“It takes two to paint. One to paint, the other to stand by with an axe to kill him before he spoils it.” William Merritt Chase

I am definitely lacking the axeman! Bloody shame!

Thanks for taking time to share these.

:music: :heart: :music:

03-15-2008, 05:34 PM
From Winston Churchill:

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

I have always had a curious nature; I enjoy learning, but I dislike being taught.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It's the courage to continue that counts.

When you get a thing the way you want it, leave it alone.


For more Winston Churchill quotes, check out:


Pat Isaac
03-15-2008, 05:40 PM
I like these, Bill. Especially the third one. I love learning....always have...


03-27-2008, 02:21 AM
I regret very much that I have painted a picture that requires any description.
- Winslow Homer, when asked for a few
descriptive lines about The Gulf Stream

:music: :heart: :music:

Rose Queen
03-27-2008, 01:43 PM
Here are sources for some more art quotations:


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03-27-2008, 03:09 PM
Thanks for the links, RQ!!!!

:music: :heart: :music:

04-29-2008, 06:14 PM
Artists don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working. - Stephen DeStaebler

04-29-2008, 06:18 PM
Artists don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working. - Stephen DeStaebler

Xeno--What a great quote. Thanks!

08-15-2008, 09:51 PM
Suffice it to say that black and white are also colors... for their simultaneous contrast is as striking as that of green and red, for instance. (Vincent van Gogh)

One never knows what one is going to do. One starts a painting and then it becomes something quite else. It is remarkable how little the 'willing' of the artist intervenes. (Pablo Picasso)

Every artist was first an amateur. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. (Anonymous)

I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. (Vincent van Gogh)

Do not quench your inspiration and your imagination; do not become the slave of your model. (Vincent van Gogh)

When using colors to recreate a general harmony of tones in nature, one loses it by painfully exact imitation. One keeps it by recreating in an equivalent color range, and that may not be exactly, or far from exactly, like the model. (Vincent van Gogh)

Art demands constant observation. (Vincent van Gogh)

08-16-2008, 12:08 AM
Oh I got one, that I made up myself. "If your a starving artist, you can always eat a paint brush.":)

08-16-2008, 11:20 AM
This is a great thread, just sorry I don't have any great quotes.....well, maybe this....

"Would you mind speaking into my other ear?" Vincent Van Gogh

Therman :angel:

08-16-2008, 04:47 PM
Therman and Elizabeth,

Good quotes, only time will tell if thy become Great Art quotes.

Not that I doubt you, but is that one verifiable or something that went in one ear and had no way to get out the other???:evil:


08-16-2008, 07:22 PM
:lol: :lol: :lol: Touche'

08-19-2008, 12:34 AM
Our Deepest fear (below) is a quote that once changed my outlook as it helped me to face the truth of my own fear. While in itself not an art quote, as intended. To me life itself is art; perfection in motion.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?" ~ Marianne Williamson (Often mistaken to be quoted by Nelson Mandela who quoted it in his Inauguration Speech, 1994)

The artist simply reveals the art that already exists, much in the same way that art reveals itself to the non-artist. ~ JesterDev

Rose Queen
08-19-2008, 01:35 AM
Here's the full text, Jester:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.

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08-19-2008, 02:26 AM
Thanks Rose for the full text. I only have the short, short version memorized. :)

08-22-2008, 07:28 AM
Just discovered this thread even though it has been here awhile. Loved reading all the quotes! Many of them I found particularly encouraging right now and also feel the need to choose one soon for my signature. Thanks all of you for this thread. Angela

08-25-2008, 06:17 PM
Thanks Michael, RQ and Angela for the quotes and comments.