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December 14, 2004

Quotes for and by Artists


There is more to healing than prescription drugs. And there is also more to healing than diet, supplements and plant remedies.

If you are one of those who sit back comfortably in the reassuring belief that therapies using the healing power of the mind are less at risk than supplements, you are sadly mistaken.

The healing power of the mind is immense, and even the world of psychotherapy is not unthreatened by the snowballing effect of the repressive legislation currently set to tear the heart out of the supplement industry.

The following quotes may be helpful for those who consider art to be a healing therapy and in them we can glimpse the ups and downs, the torments and joys of the act of creation.

The themes range from precise tips for artists to the more philosophical ponderings upon that state of mind that sets the artist free on his or her journey of self discovery.

Paul Klee: (1879 - 1940)

"Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible."

"An active line on a walk, moving freely without a goal. A walk for walk's sake. The agent is a point that shifts position."

"Colour has taken hold of me; no longer do I have to chase after it. I know that it has hold of me forever. That is the significance of this blessed moment"

Jean Arp on Chance:

"The highest and deepest of laws"

Brice Marden:

"Holding together a kind of tension. When you see a painting that's really good that's what it's doing."

"Painters are among the priests - worker priests of the cult of man - searching to understand but never to know."

"Remember that an artist's life is an intense search for truth. This search takes many forms. Everyone of these forms demands its own disciplines. I learned and adapted to my search. I expect nothing from you. Question the truth of anything you confront. How does it apply to yourself and the trail you are pursuing?"

Robert Burton: 'The Anatomy of Melancholy':

"The heavens themselves run continually round, the sun riseth and sets, the moon increaseth, stars and planets keep their constant motions, the air is still tossed by the winds, the waters ebb and flow, to their conservation no doubt, to teach us that we should ever be in motion."

Latin dictum:

SOLVITUR AMBULANO "It is solved by walking."

Bruce Chatwin:

"A Sufi manual, the Kashf-al-Mahjub, says that, towards the end of his journey, the dervish becomes the Way not the wayfarer, i.e. a place over which something is passing, not a traveller following his own free will."

"And when you look along the way we've come, there are spirals of vultures wheeling."

Gautama Buddha:

"You cannot travel on the path before you have become the path itself."

Baudelaire 'Anywhere Out of this World':

"This life is a hospital in which each sick man is possessed by a desire to change beds. One would prefer to suffer by the stove. Another believes he would recover if he sat by the window.

I think I would be happy in that place I happen not to be, and this question of moving house is the subject of a perpetual dialogue I have with my soul."

Rimbaud writing home from Ethiopia:

"What am I doing here?"

Herman Melville 'Journey up the Straits':

"Masonry, and is it man's . . . I shudder at the thought of the ancient Egyptians."

Martin Buber, 'Moses':

"The tradition of the camp fire faces that of the pyramid."

Joseph Kosuth:

"Forget your ideas about art. Make a shopping list of everything you like about what you've done. Include qualities that you've seen in your life, in the world, and possibly in art that you like. Take this list and make a work that satisfies all of the things on your list without caring if it looks like art."

"Change art to include yourself."

"Anything can be art. Art is the relations between relations, not the relations between objects."

Bryan Hunt:

"As you build confidence constructing your vision through the affirmation of its process, you discover more ideas. The ideas then become stronger and dominate the process."

Komar and Melamid:

"The worst thing that could happen to you is to make one style or one gesture all your life."

Lawrence Weiner:

"All art is made from anger."

"The only art I'm interested in is the art I don't understand right away. If you understand it right away it really has no use except as nostalgia."

Dennis Oppenheim:

"An artist works through exposed wounds."

"Make things that carry with them the residue of where they have been."

Jackie Windsor:

"Art is the finite trying to connect with the infinite."

"Choose a purpose and see it through to the end."

Stephen Gianakos:

"Art is a desperate attempt to make friends."

Barry Leva:

"It takes a lot of will power and desire to be an artist hunting for what excites your imagination. It can be difficult because it takes so much discipline to continue."

Richard Serra:

"Art for the most part, is about concentration, solitude and determination. It's really not about other people's needs and assumptions. I'm not interested in the notion that art serves something. Art is useless, not useful."

"Play is a necessary ingredient in art because there is a kind of wonder that goes on when you play. You're directing your activity toward a conclusion that isn't prescribed by a particular method."

Elizabeth Murray:

"Make something be what it is not."

"Think of something you absolutely hate. Make a painting out of it."

Leo Polk Smith:

"Draw on both sides of the line, not just what you're enclosing. The shape you're making on the outside is as important as the one you're making on the inside. Get into the habit of thinking that you are drawing two forms, one on either side of the line."

"Connect a bunch of shapes (like shapes or different shapes) together and compose something that would tie these all together."

Gary Stephan:

"Do a figure drawing and erase as much as you can and still have them be figure drawings."

Roy Lichtenstein:

"Painting stems from a sense of organisation, the sensed positions of contrasts. Not that it is about this."

"Use the worst colour you can find in each place - it usually is the best."

Alex Katz:

"Most important, for openers, work six hours a day, seven days a week for six years. Then if you like it you can get serious about it."

"If you're going to go for 'it' you have a common thing you share with other artists; that's desperation. You jump out a window style-wise. Try to put it together before you hit the ground."

"You usually want to get something out of a painting other than the ideas that you had in your head."

"Paint faster than you can think."

"Make a painting you can work on for a long period, and make it look like it doesn't show any effort."

George Segal:

"You need to make a language of materials that enables you to speak quickly, that works almost as fast as your mind does."

Jennifer Bartlett:

"Do something that attacks the notion of originality."

"Get into the habit of having a spirit of inquiry. Flesh out an idea with what led up to it and what leads away from it."

Will Insley:

"The view becomes more involved as the 'art' becomes more of a puzzle."

"The origin of art at this time in the 20th century is individual mythology."

"Individual art is motivated by some process of unique irregularity."

Barbara Kruger:

"We are obliged to steal pieces of language, both visual and textual."

Bruce Nauman:

"Learn to recognise when you need to know something."

Pat Steir:

"An artist needs to become familiar with that which is most hidden from the self by the self. For this one thing which one fears to know is often the driving force in one's life. These recognitions seen in art are the difference between decent, extraordinary and great."

Malcolm Morley:

"The voice of painterly integrity spoke to me. And the idea was that one would find this anguish, or whatever, and construct it into images that would appear. You already feel very ill and you're trying to put this riddle together because it is the prescription for health. I believe in art as a spiritual health-giving process, not just some style."

"The idea is to have no idea. Get lost. Get lost in the landscape."

Anslem Kiefer:

"A vessel is a line between the interior and the exterior. It can only handle a certain quantity of the whole spirit. If the quantity is too great the vessel will break. Make a vessel. Because the spirit doesn't need vessels."

William Wegman:

"Dangle something in front of the camera. Get something surprising to be released."

"Start with a premise and then somehow invert it."

Deborah Butterfield:

"What is it that you most fear hearing about your work?"

Sandro Chia:

"In a painting you have to create a density of significance."

Susan Rothenburg:

"You must become familiar with your materials so that they are no longer intimidating or precious."

Valerie Jaudon:

"Get a notebook that nobody will ever see. Whenever you finish a piece, write down every single thing you think about this piece. Think about other people's paintings, art history etc. Being critical is a way of working towards one particular goal like making a perfect painting. It's to make yourself think differently all the time, never stay in one place, keep it moving, not be afraid to destroy things. Learn to disrespect your work. Nothing is so precious it can't be changed."

Gary Stephan:

"It is not what the world is like. It is what the world is like to be seen. It's what the world is like to be thought. What the world is like to be made."

Joel Shapiro:

"Take two things and join them together."

Tom Wesselman:

"Draw something without making any two lines the same."

Benny Andrews:

"Keep yourself off balance because the process allows for a certain amount of discovery."

Ross Bleckner:

"The first thing that has to be broken down is your relationship to authority. Your insecurity could possibly be the wedge that opens up your perspective on what you think is possible for you to do."

Chuck Close:

"If it comes out looking like art, it must look like somebody else's art."

Brian Hunt:

"Hold something behind your back and recreate it with your other hand."

David Salle:

"Spend a day talking only in rhyme."

Jasper Johns:

"Take an object. Do something with it. Do something else with it."

"Sometimes I see it and then paint it. Other times I paint it and then see it. Both are impure situations, and I prefer neither."

"At every point in nature there is something to see. My works contains similar possibilities for the changing focus of the eye."

"Generally, I am opposed to painting which is concerned with conceptions of simplicity. Everything looks busy to me."

Vincent van Gogh:

E.H: These quotes are taken from Vincent van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo and friends.

"I was certainly going the right way for a stroke when I left Paris. I paid for it nicely afterwards! When I stopped drinking, when I stopped smoking so much, when I began to think again instead of trying not to think - Good Lord, the depression and the prostration of it! Work in these magnificent natural surroundings (Arles) has restored my morale, but even now some efforts are too much for me: my strength fails me...

If we want to live and work, we must be very sensible and look after ourselves. Cold water, fresh air, simple good food, decent clothes, a decent bed, and no women..."

"For loneliness, worries, difficulties, the unsatisfied need for kindness and sympathy - that is what is hard to bear..."

E.H: On the subject of his brother's financially supporting him, and of his being rejected as an artist:

"And then I dare hope that the burden will be a little less heavy for you, and I even hope, much less heavy. I myself realise the necessity of producing even to the extent of being mentally crushed and physically drained by it, just because after all I have no other means of ever getting back what we have spent.

I cannot help it that my pictures do not sell.

Nevertheless the time will come when people will see that they are worth more than the price of the paint..."

E.H: And in a letter to Paul Gaugin:

"Ah! My dear friend painting is to us what the music of Berlioz and Wagner was before us - a consolatory art for sore hearts! And yet there are only a few like you and me who feel it!!!

My brother understands you and when he tells me you're another unhappy wretch like me that proves he understands us."

E.H: To Theo:

"It astonishes me already when I compare my condition today with what it was a month ago. Before that I knew well enough one could fracture one's legs and arms and recover afterward, but I did not know that you could fracture the brain in your head and recover from that too..."

E.H: And in 1889:

"During the attacks I feel a coward before the pain and suffering - more of a coward than I ought to be, and it is perhaps this very moral cowardice which, whereas i had no desire to get better before, makes me eat like two now, work hard, limit my relations with the other patients for fear of a relapse - altogether I am now trying to recover like a man who meant to commit suicide and, finding the water too cold, tries to regain the bank.

My dear brother, you know that I came to the South and threw myself into my work for a thousand reasons. Wishing to see a different light, thinking that looking at nature under a bright sky might give us a better idea of the Japanese way of feeling and drawing. "

"What I need is courage, and this often fails me. And it is also a fact that since my disease, when I am in the fields I am overwhelmed by a feeling of loneliness to such a horrible extent that I shy away from going out. But this will change all the same as time goes on. Only when I stand a painting before my easel do I feel somewhat alive. Never mind, this is going to change too, for now my health is so good that I suppose the physical part of me will gain the victory"

"Well, I am ploughing on my canvases as they do on their fields (the peasants). It goes badly enough in our profession - in fact that has always been so, but at the moment it is very bad.

And yet never have such high prices been paid for pictures as these days.

What makes us work on is friendship for eachother, and love of nature, and finally, if one has taken all the pains to master the brush, one cannot leave painting alone. Compared with the others, I still belong to the lucky ones...

And those high prices one hears about, paid for work of the painters who are dead and who were never paid so much while they were alive, it is a kind of tulip trade, under which the living painters suffer...And it will also disappear like the tulip trade.

But one may reason that, though the tulip trade has long been gone and is forgotten, the flower growers have remained and will remain...

Your loving Vincent"

"Mme Ginoux said - 'When you are friends, you are friends for a long time...' Personally I believe that the adversities one meets with in the ordinary course of life do us as much good as harm. The very complaint that makes one ill today, overwhelming one with discouragement, that same thing - once the disease has passed off - gives us the energy to get up and to want to be completely recovered tomorrow.

I assure you that last year I almost hated the idea of regaining my health - of only feeling somewhat better for a shorter or longer time- always living in fear of relapses - I almost hated the idea, I tell you - so little did I feel inclined to begin again. Often I said to myself that I preferred that there be nothing further, that this be the end. Ah, well - it would seem that we are not the masters of this - of our existence - it seems that what matters is that one should learn to want to go on living, even when suffering. Oh, I feel so cowardly in this respect; even when my health has returned, I am still afraid. So who am I to encourage others, you will say, for actually this is hardly my style...In my case my disease has done me good - it would be ungrateful not to acknowledge it. It has made me easier in my mind...

Ever yours, Vincent"

E.H: . . . And then he killed himself. But that was because the poor man was suffering from schizophrenia, hallucinations, terrible brain attacks. So we're lucky compared to Vincent. If only he knew that there was a possible cure for his illness in the seeds of all those beautiful sunflowers he painted. He also said to Theo:

"Thank you also very heartily for the Shakespeare. It will help me not to forget the little English I know, but above all is so fine...But what touches me, as in some novelists of our day, is that the voices of these people, which in Shakespeare's case reach us from a distance of several centuries, do not seem unfamiliar to us. It is so much alive that you think you know them and see the thing..."

"In the fullness of artistic life there is, and remains, and will always come back at times, that homesick longing for the truly ideal life that can never come true.

And sometimes you lack all desire to throw yourself heart and soul into art, and to get well for that. You know you are a cab horse and that it's the same old cab you'll be hitched up to again: that you'd rather live in a meadow with the sun, a river and other horses for company, likewise free, and the act of procreation...

I do not know who it was who called this condition - being struck by death and immortality. The cab you drag along must be of some use to people you do not know. And so, if we believe in the new art and in the artists of the futrue, our faith does not cheat us. When good old Corot said a few days before his death - 'Last night in a dream I saw landscapes with skies all pink,' well, haven't they come, those skies all pink, and yellow and green into the bargain, in the Impressionist landscapes? All of which means that there are things one feels coming, and they are coming in very truth.

And as for us who are not, I am inclined to believe, nearly so close to death, we nevertheless feel that this thing is greater than we are, and that its life is of longer duration than ours.

We do not feel we are dying, but we do feel the truth that we are of small account, and that we are paying a hard price to be a link in the chain of artists, in health, in youth, in liberty, none of which we enjoy, any more than the cab horse that hauls a coachful of people out to enjoy the spring...

Ever yours, Vincent"


mandato da Robin Good il Tuesday December 14 2004
aggiornato il Wednesday November 8 2006

URL of this article:


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"Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible." Paul Klee 1879-1940


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