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On Art, Creativity

Scott Adams: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

Sherwood Anderson: “The life of reality is confused, disorderly, almost always without apparent purpose, where in the artist’s imaginative life there is purpose. There is determination to give the talk, the song, the painting, form — to make it true and real to the theme, not to life.  … others besides practicing artists have imaginations. But most people are afraid to trust their imaginations and the artist is not.”

Maya Angelou: “Not everything you create will be a masterpiece, but you get out there and you try and sometimes it really happens. The other times you’re just stretching your soul.”

John Baldessari: “Art comes out of failure . . . You have to try things out. You can’t sit around, terrified of being incorrect.”

James Baldwin: “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers.”

Banksy: “All artists are willing to suffer for their work. But why are so few prepared to learn to draw?”

Susan Batson: “One must believe in order to act. One must have faith; not only the basic faith in self — one must have faith in the unseen. You create from the unseen. You have to have that openness and that willingness. . . . [T]o stay alive you have to have this enormous curiosity about what things are, what is going on and if there is more to explore. That gives you joy, particularly if you have a love of your craft, to keep exploring it.”

Peter S. Beagle: “Real artists of every kind… work to be working, because that’s what they do, and they die when they stop.”

Jo Ann Beard: “Understand that you will always be just starting out.”

Romare Bearden: “An artist is an art lover who finds that in all the art he sees, something is missing: to put there what he feels is missing becomes the center of his life’s work.”

Zdzisław Beksiński: “I wish to paint in such a manner as if I were photographing dreams.”

Alexander Graham Bell: “I have my periods of restlessness when my brain is crowded with ideas tingling to my fingertips when I am excited and cannot stop for anybody.”

Carolyn L. E. Benesh: “Artistic evolutions breathe positive energy into our worldview. Artists help nourish planet Earth, giving us a little better perspective, replenishing it through their search for purity and truthfulness in the forms their art objects take.”

Paulus Berensohn: “I have seven art forms at least: reading, writing, clay-work, stitchery, book-making, dancing, doodling. And all of it is to slow me down.”

Ingmar Bergman: “I have been working all the time and it’s like a flood going through the landscape of your soul. It’s good because it takes away a lot. It’s cleansing.”

Frank Bidart: “Art is constantly saying, ‘And that’s true too.’ “

David Biespiel: “As much as we profess to favor originality in art, it might be more accurate to say that we want originality not to be made out of nothing, but to be refashioned out of something — something real. The very act of refashioning from the real is what we notice as original.”

Kate Bishop: “For me, this is the idea of community. You take bits of others’ work and use them in a way not recognizable, but that honors them.”

Robert Bly: “The more you interact with others in the making of art, the greater your originality of voice.”

Louise Bogan: “No woman should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to the world, through her work, a portion of its lost heart.”

Daniel Boorstin: “The amateur is not afraid to do something for the first time . . . the rewards and refreshments of thought and the arts come from the courage to try something, all sorts of things, for the first time.”

Alain de Botton: “What if we learned to use art to guide us to certain truths and ideas, not theological ones, but psychological ones?”

Ray Bradbury: “If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer . . . For the first thing a writer should be is excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms.”

Jacob Bronowski: “All created works, in science and in art, are extensions into new realms.”

Gwendolyn Brooks: “Art hurts. Art urges voyages.”

Joan Brossa: “I regard research as a journey into the unknown, a plunge into the mirror of the imagination; I cannot therefore be sure where my present experiences are taking me or what I will think in a few years’ time.”

Pearl S. Buck: “The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive . . . Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, and create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him . . . By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

David Burlyuk: “What is the good of a poet who does not summon you to change life, does not explode things, does not wallop you in the jaw, but only emotionalizes ‘democratically’ and professorializes?”

Edward Burne-Jones: “The artist has the opportunity to supply the beauty which most lives noticeably lack and for which they cry out, even if they scarcely know it.”

Will Butler: “I love art as a conversation, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s just something beautiful that you do for your own self.”

Willa Cather: “An artist’s limits are quite as important as his powers. They are definite assets, not a deficiency, and go on to form his flavor and personality.”

Vija Celmins: “I tend to do images over and over again because each one has a different tone, slant, a different relationship to the plane, and so a different meaning . . . I feel that the image is just a sort of armature on which I hang my marks and make my art.”

Paul Cézanne: “Nature is not on the surface, it is inside. Colors, on the surface, show that inside. They show the roots of the world.”

Vera Chytilova: “You don’t really begin working creatively until you are at a point where you don’t know.”

Polly Clark: “To me, art speaks while life never says a word, or if it does, it’s rarely the truth.”

Rubén Darío: “Art is not a set of rules but a harmony of whims.”

Maya Deren: “A work of art is skin for an idea.”

Annie Dillard: “Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.”

Clarence Dutton: “Great innovations, whether in art or literature, in science or in nature, seldom take the world by storm. They must be understood before they can be estimated, and they must be cultivated before they can be understood.”

Charles Eames: “We don’t do art, we solve problems.”

Albert Einstein: “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.”

Samantha Ellis: “There are no regrets in improvisation, and no mistakes. All accidents are happy accidents, invitations to go in a new and exciting direction, to change the game. . . . I don’t know if I’ll get a happy ending. But why worry about a happy ending? Why worry about any ending at all? I don’t know where I’m going next, and for the first time in forever, I don’t want to. I want my life to be picaresque. Fantastical. I want to say yes and.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant and broken the monotony of a decorous age.”

Robert Engman: “A piece of art is never a finished work. It answers a question which has been asked, and asks a new question.”

Brian Eno: “Stop thinking about art works as objects and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.”

Jonathan Farmer: “Humility is, I think, a kind of ambition. These values can work on art like form. The imagination, asked to reimagine itself in joy and doubt, grows larger. Aware of its failures, the kind heart still struggles in complexity and manages to sing.”

Grant Faulkner: “My tendency to endlessly smooth and shape essentially kept ideas out instead of letting them in.”

Annie Finch: “When I invent a stanza, match a rhyme, ease a meter through, I feel spiritually connected to timeless traditions of crafts worldwide such as embroidery, weaving, and pottery.”

Perle Fine: “When I paint something I am very much aware of the future. If I feel something will not stand up forty years from now, I’m not interested.”

Janet Flanner: “The only utility of art [is that] it is something to be looked at with aesthetic enjoyment and in a way to be deeply thought about, although it remains inexplicable. Words and language do not explain it. What artists say about it usually casts little light. They prove their knowledge of it by creating it.”

St. Francis of Assisi: “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist.”

Tess Gallagher: “Gradually I, too, would form this habit with my writing, reading, and musing — to do my own bidding, which is one of the primary mandates of any writer or artist . . . serving one’s passionate engagement.”

Yair Garbuz: “Art demands a period of confusion. You see the work of a new painter and you say: What is this nonsense? Anyone can do it! Then in ten years it becomes a legitimate part of the discipline.”

Pascale Girardin: “What is architecture but great big sculptures that people can walk into and visit or even stay a while?”

Louise Glück: “The love of form is a love of endings.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Every day one should at least hear one little song, read one good poem, see one fine painting, and if possible, speak a few sensible words.”

Bo Goldman: “Live life. Be in life. Try to tell the truth about it.”

Kenneth Goldsmith: “Artists ask questions and they don’t give answers. Artists make messes and leave [them] for others to clean up.”

Blake Gopnik: “Art becomes a kind of accidental side effect of being born to act.”

Glenn Gould: “The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, that gradual lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”

Traci Gourdine: “Aren’t we as poets and writers working whether or not we are seated and spilling ink? Photographers are seeing and composing whether they have the lens in front of their eye, the same way a sculptor sees possibility in a snow drift, the dancer in the steps of a harried waitress, the musician within the tease of hesitant rain in wind on leaves.”

Joanne Greenbaum: “If [a painting] is not going well, or it turns out to be a mistake, I put it away rather than destroy it. Usually, when I take it out months or sometimes a year later, I realize that I can use what’s there and just continue. Very often the mistakes turn into my best works.”

Carolyn Gregoire: “Artists really may be more complicated people.”

Andrew Greig: “Your job is to listen, to nurture, to make right as best you can, then let it go.”

Benjamin S. Grossberg: “To explore a new mode in an art is to risk discontinuity, to risk that your work won’t seem like art at all.”

Anna Halprin: “I began to find inspiration in the way nature works. I observed its inner operation and then transferred that to the way my body works as a natural phenomenon. … I think of my body in relation to the air I breathe. Nature is not a backdrop to life but a dynamic influence. Our natural environment brings out emotions and psychological associations.”

Bessie Harvey: “I think of art as being like a puzzle. There are so many pieces to be placed and if they’re placed in the right way, one day we will see the results of what art is really about.”

Robert Hass: “People who want to practice an art have to figure out their way to work.”

Kathryn Haydon: “Creativity requires openness, curiosity, and courage.”

Margaret H’Doubler: “It is only in art that all the aspects of man’s complex nature are united in expression.”

Patricia Highsmith: “There is no real life except in working, that is to say in the imagination.”

Susan Hiller: “Self-doubt is always present for artists because we have the job and the privilege of defining problems and then asking ourselves whether we have solved them.”

Jane Hirshfield: “For an artist, everything interests, instructs, is put to use.”

Michael Hoeye: “Creative work is physical and pragmatic. Engagement and accountability are its hallmarks — not self-absorption or idle freedom. Creativity is a form of problem solving that uses time and logic differently than traditional analytical thinking. It is a continuum of computations, assessments, and adjustments in which solutions evolve through time. Creativity uses thinking itself differently, linking it much more closely to action of some sort.”

Erin Coughlin Hollowell: “Be untamed. Be untranslatable. . . . Make art from everything, and be comforted to know that all you encounter will someday flower in your life which is, of course, the highest form of art after all.”

Meg Johnson: “Art explains who we are. People need art in their lives to challenge and alter their perceptions. Good art does that.”

Bill T. Jones: “You will never know if what you do is valid. You will never know the truth about anything. You will only know the doing.”

David Jones: “One is trying to make a shape out of the very things of which one is oneself made.”

Erica Jong: “Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow that talent to the dark place where it leads.”

Louis Kahn: “Art is a journey into the most unknown thing of all — oneself. Nobody knows his own frontiers.”

Tibor Kalman: “You don’t want to do too many projects of a similar type. I did two of a number of things. The first one, you fuck it up in an interesting way. The second one, you get it right . . . As long as I don’t completely know how to do something, I can do it well.”

Scott Barry Kaufman: “Imaginative people have messier minds.”

Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Stephen Kellogg: “It’s better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than the top of the one you don’t.”

Elaine de Kooning: “A painting to me is primarily a verb, not a noun, an event first and only secondarily an image.”

Steven Kotler: “Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often.”

George Kubler: “Every important work of art can be regarded both as a historical event and as a hard-won solution to some problem.”

Annie Leibovitz: “My work turns out to be the greatest relationship of my life.”

Leonardo da Vinci: “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

Jean Lescure: “An artist does not create the way he lives, he lives the way he creates.”

Sarah Lewis: “We build out of the unfinished idea, even if that idea was our former self.”

Murray Louis: “Stimulants for the sense are part of the artist’s challenge. Art is a stimulant for living and for life.”

Thomas Mann: “Who can unravel the essence, the stamp of the artistic temperament? Who can grasp the deep, instinctual fusion of discipline and dissipation on which it rests!”

Agnes Martin: “To feel confident and successful is not natural to the artist.”

Donald McKayle: “If you are open and ready to receive what comes your way, you will never run out of creative energy. Step out on those edges and ledges. It’s in that off-balance movement that you will find what you are looking for.”

James Melchert: “What a great many artists do is investigate. For that matter, art can be thought of as aesthetic investigation.”

Dominique de Menil: “Great artists have extreme conceptions. The greater they are, the more revolutionary they appear. Public opinion does not follow them.”

James Merrill: “Life’s advantage over art is its genius for the unexpected.”

Henry Miller: “One doesn’t become an artist overnight. You have to be carbonized and mineralized in order to work upwards from the last common denominator of the self.”

Czesław Miłosz: “I myself have been all contradiction; I am composed of contradictions, which is why poetry is a better form for me than philosophy.”

Robert Motherwell: “Art — like love — is an active process of growth and development, not a God-given talent.”

Roman Muradov: “I think idleness is a form of art, one that should be praised, contemplated, and exercised daily.”

Eileen Myles: “I came to the idea of being an artist out of a hope of individuation, and now I feel like my hope in being an artist is to find a way out of that, that almost the only valid way to approach it now is to deindividuate and create work that can be entered.”

Elizabeth Neel: “I like to get in there and tangle things up, bring them to the edge of collapse. I want to feel anxiety about whether or not it’s a painting.”

Bob Nickas: “Is it painting which is abstract, or is it life? And even if there is no recognizable subject, doesn’t a painting still have content? And doesn’t that content have everything to do with an active engagement with painting itself?”

Friedrich Nietzsche: “You need chaos in your head to give birth to a dancing star.”

Anaïs Nin: “Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.

Georgia O’Keeffe: “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.”

Claes Oldenburg: “I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum. I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all.”

Oliver de la Paz: “Therefore, the artist takes her brush and paints the cliffs in a way that expresses their joy. Therefore the artist sets to make something beyond a paper understanding. To make certain the pines are understood.”

Mark Peiser: “I approach just about everything as an experiment. Frequently I have no idea what to expect . . . Sometimes I get lucky.”

Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Edgar Allen Poe: “The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature entitles no man to the sacred name of ‘Artist’.”

Henri Poincaré: “To create consistently [proceeds from] not making useless combinations and in making those which are useful and which are only a small minority. Invention is discernment, choice.”

Eleo Pomare: “I think struggle is important. I think reality is important. I can’t think of anything I want really badly that I can’t make myself, that doesn’t come to me naturally, or that I don’t already have. … I don’t care if the work makes money. I am a survivor, and I’m not afraid of anything. . . What I’ve learned as an artist is not to be afraid of the outcome of my life.”

Maria Popova: “Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity.”

Richard Powers: “In some ways, art is the most terrifying of human inventions. It preserves the right to undermine all the categories. The history of art is the history of iconoclasm, the history of some new voice saying that everything you know is wrong.”

Jennifer Quarrie: “Creativity is the process of recognizing needs within their own environment of change, then striving for unique solutions from a place of depth and awareness.”

Jacques Rancière: “Artists, just as researchers, build the stage where the manifestation and the effect of their competences become dubious as they frame the story of a new adventure in a new idiom. The effect of the idiom cannot be anticipated. It calls for spectators who are active as interpreters, who try to invent their own translation in order to appropriate the story for themselves and make their own story out of it. An emancipated community is in fact a community of storytellers and translators.”

J. W. Redhouse: “The ‘Pleasures of Imagination’ are the inheritance of the whole human race, barbarous or civilized. None are so untutored as not to indulge in reverie.”

Alan Rickman: “If only life could be a little more tender and art a little more robust.”

Bryan Robertson: “What I look for in art of any period is imaginative energy, radiance, equilibrium, composure, color, light, vitality, poise, buoyancy, a transcendent ability to soar above life and not be subjugated by it.”

Favianna Rodriguez: “I identify myself as an artist, first and foremost, before I say that I am a woman. Because for me art is being a critical thinker . . . Artists are risk takers and truth speakers.”

Neil V. Rosenberg: “Revivals are artistic movements, and art characteristically leads science in the generation of new ideas, giving free rein to intuition, while science is compelled to tests its intuitions.”

Caddy Rowland: “If you’re a creative, you must create or your purpose here is unfulfilled . . . It must be shared. It must be given authenticity, regardless of if we ‘make it’ as an artist or not. See, for creatives, it isn’t necessarily a blessing. It’s something that eats at us. It consumes us, and makes us step out, baring our souls — knowing full well there will be many who shame us, humiliate us, make fun of us, and tear our work down . . . We keep going anyway. We have no choice. It’s what we’re here for.”

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmi: “Let the beauty we love be what we do.”

George Saunders: “Any work of art quickly reveals itself to be a linked system of problems.”

Dani Shapiro: “My inner life is an inaccessible landscape when I’m not writing, a foreign and unfamiliar place. It doesn’t feel dangerous so much as remote. I don’t know any other way to get there.”

Jim Shepard: “Follow your weird.”

Steven Siegel: “When you look at my work, the techniques that you’re seeing [are things] somebody else might be doing, sort of, but nobody ever taught me. I just figured them out — because I want to be the new cells in the petri dish that grow into something. I’m really interested to see whatever things I have, how they evolve.”

Beverly Sills: “A craftsman needs to know how a thing will turn out, an artist does not.”

Anna Deavere Smith: “Your pain can be a source, like the color blue, or orange, for that matter. It can be one of your colors; it can be a tool . . . As artists, we can tolerate, for a while, great discomfort in order to explore discomfort.”

David Smith: “Art is made from dreams and visions, and things not known, and least of all from things that can be said. It comes from the inside of who you are when you face yourself.”

Gus Solomons Jr.: “Art is like the main course, the protein; entertainment is the dessert. The art nourishes you because it makes you think about things outside the moment. Entertainment satisfies the moment; it lets you escape from your reality. Art helps you deal with your reality.”

Stephen Spender: “It is the artists one knows who do really have the closest contact with reality — the good artists — and in whom some kind of development seems to be going on throughout the whole of their lives.”

Kim Stafford: “Practice your life story in an art that is your own . . . Your path to your art is your art. You will make of your path a beauty and a puzzling maze.”

William Stafford: “An artist is someone who decides, not someone who goes to another and says, ‘is this good?’ “

Mark Strand: “The farther you are from the world that everybody recognizes as the world, the stranger things look.”

Dorothea Tanning: “Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity.”

Twyla Tharp: “When it all comes together, a creative life has the nourishing power we normally associate with food, love, and faith.”

Rosemary Tonks: “If I make what I want to say well enough, somebody will respond to it, perhaps. I have to create my own sensibility forcefully enough for them first of all to recognize that it is valid, and also to like the sort of world I am giving them, because I am giving them a new world.”

Mark Twain: “Expression — expression is the thing — in art. I do not care what it expresses, and I cannot tell, generally, but expression is what I worship, it is what I glory in, with all my impetuous nature.”

Brenda Ueland: “So you see imagination needs noodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering.”

Luis Urrea: “You are the place.  And you are made of stories. And so is the place all around you.”

Vincent Van Gogh: “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

Robert Venturi: “I am for messy vitality over obvious unity.”

Kurt Vonnegut: “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”

Tom Waits: “The creative process is imagination, memories, nightmares and dismantling certain aspects of the world and putting them back together in the dark.”

William Warmus: “We need to look at more art, encourage more art . . . We need to encourage even more messiness.”

Jeanette Winterson: “The riskiness of Art, the reason why it affects us, is not the riskiness of the subject matter, it is the risk of creating a new way of seeing, a new way of thinking.”

Virginia Woolf: “The success of the masterpieces seems to lie not so much in their freedom from faults — indeed we tolerate the grossest errors in them all — but the immense persuasiveness of a mind which has completely mastered its perspective.”

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Last updated 10.31.2017

 

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