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Quotations about art

Leonardo da Vinci

Great love springs from the full knowledge of the thing one loves; and if you do not know it, you can love it but little or not at all.
            Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks

Michelangelo and Raphael

Is an artist who does one thing well superior to an artist who does lots of things well? Is less, or more, more? Although Michelangelo was unsurpassed in the depiction of the male nude, Aretino accused him of monmaniacally depicting the same stock figure again and again. Raphael was far more versatile, able to do portraits and landscape backgrounds and distinguish between sexes and ages.
            James Hall


I confess that I am by natural instinct better fitted to execute very large works than small curiosities.
             Peter Paul Rubens


Tintoretto encouraged the use of a nickname which identified him as the son of a humble dyer, and sought the patronage of middle-class and artisan Venetians.
             Peter Humfrey

El Greco (1541-1614)

El Greco was mainly ... a teller of old familiar stories, .. but he told them in his own peculiar manner, and that manner tells another story, so enigmatic that pore over it in fascinated bewilderment, trying to construe its meaning.
             Aldous Huxley

Caravaggio (1573-1610)

There is no diversity in Caravaggio... His originality lies elsewhere; it is less in the creation of the immediately identifiable, intensely personal style ... but rather a look, a look which is his, and his alone... So Caravaggio is original in this rather new sense: his style has a presence which bears his name. This is invention not as diversity and multiplicity of talent, but as an impassioned personalized narrowness. It is genius as obsession.
             Stephen Koch


When our eyes rest on a painting by Rembrandt (on those he did in the last years of his life), our gaze become heavy, somewhat bovine. Something holds it back, a weighty force. Why do we keep looking, since we are not immediately enchanted by the intellectual liveliness that knows everything and all at once? ... Rembrandt not only stops the time that made the subject flow into the future, but makes it flow back to the remotest ages. By means of this operation, Rembrandt achieves solemnity.
             Jean Genet


Velasquez, with formidable audacity, executes the supreme gesture of disdain that calls forth a whole new painting... Until then, the painter's eye had Ptolemaically revolved about each object, following a servile orbit. Velasquez despotically resolves to fix the one point of view. The entire picture will be born in a single act of vision, and things will have to contrive as best they may to move into the line of vision. It is a Copernican revolution, comparable to that promoted by Descartes.
             Jose Ortega y Gasset


Working up from that base, he will set down their bodies, in thin white tonal washes, tamp these back into the ground, with earthy or sooty overlays; re-gather for another move upward into the light; conceal his traces again, glazing however with more forceful hues, before committing himself to the declamatory flash of impasto.... More often a brush load of near-dry paint rasps over the grain of the canvas with an irritative sensuality, here dragging a cool opaque bloom over the deep translucent heat of plum-flesh...
             Julian Bell on the Bowl of Plums, Peach and Water Pitcher


Turner lived all his life in great simplicity, with his working-man father, and two successive mistresses who were both illiterate. He amassed an immense fortune and left it, with all his paintings, the best of which he refused to sell, to his native country and to charity. (His will was broken by remote and greedy heirs.)
             Kenneth Rexroth


For Whistler the nocturne was a concept as much as it was a perception, as much an idea as an image. He could take it almost anywhere and, in addition to paint, could use any number of painterly means. ("Paint should not be applied thick," he had said. "It should be like breath on the surface of a pane of glass.")
             Stanley Plumly


No man ever had more than one conception. Milton emptied his mind in his first book of Paradise Lost, all the rest is transcript of self. The Odyssey is a repetition of the Iliad. .. I can think of no exception but Shakespeare; he is always varied, never mannered.
             James Hall


Each epoch must have its artists who express it and reproduce it for the future.
             Gustave Courbet


Monet announces: "Here is nature as you don't usually see it, as I myself don't usually see it, but as you can see it - not necessarily this particular effect but, in my wake, others which resemble it. The vision I offer you is superior to the one we put up with; my painting will change reality for you..."
             Michael Butor


A minute in the world's life passes! To paint it in its reality, and forget everything for that! To become that minute, to be the sensitive plate...


The truly original artist invents his own signs... The importance of an artist is to be measured by the number of new signs he has introduced into the language of art.
             Matisse: the artist speaks


Hostile critics have seen his shifts in subject matter and style as somersaults of a dilettante and common, while admirers see them as evidence of God-like fertility.
             James Hall

Cubism and Surrealism

Cubism was a way of painting which a group of painters imposed on themselves, Surrealism a philosophy of life put forward by a band of poets. The first was essentially a method of breaking up the object and putting it together again according to concepts of pictorial structure... The second was the attempt of a highly organized group to change life altogether, to make a new kind of man...
             Cyril Connolly


Thieaud's streets live tremendously while people exist only by implication, like the invisible drivers of a child's toy trucks and cars.
             Leonard Michaels

Paolo Uccello (1397-1495)

We see no birds in the paintings of Paolo Uccello. In all his teeming world the skies are empty. One looks up in hope, and sees no feathered creatures in flight or perched on the branches of trees. Lowering one's eyes onto a tranquil landscape peopled by hermits, one can discern, at the most, a pair of wading birds and three swans.
             Italo Calvino

Piero Della Francesca (1439-1492)

Friends say: well, you've been there and seen a lot; you liked Duccio, the Dorian columns, the stained glass at Chartres and the Lascaux bulls - but tell us what you've chosen for yourself; who is the painter closest to your heart, the one you'll never exchange? A reasonable question since every love, if true, should efface the previous one, should enter, overwhelm and demand exclusiveness. So I pause and reply: Piero della Francesca.
             Zbigniew Herbert

Hans Holbein the Younger

Holbein's lords no longer ride hunting. They are inmates of palaces, their flesh is rounded, their limbs at rest, their eyes skeptical or contemplative. They are indolent statesmen, they deal in intrigues; they have already learnt the meaning of the words "The balance of the powers," and in consequence they wield the sword no longer; they have become sedentary rulers.
             Ford Madox Ford

The Painter: A Novel of Pursuit

While Julian goes to hang my painting in the dining room, I fix myself a generous vodka tonic and look around the conversing couplets and triplets gathered in the living room.

I notice several men and women wearing the unwashed garb of artists. The off-putting facade no doubt proves authenticity and commitment.
              From The Painter: A novel of pursuitpage 63


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