What is Art?

Artists and Thinkers Describe Art

"All real works of art look as though they were done in joy."

Robert Henri

"Sometimes it is better not to talk about art by using the word 'art'. If we just act with awareness and integrity, our art will flower, and we don't have to talk about it at all."

Thich Nhat Hanh

"To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom."

Joseph Beuys

I stat a picture and I finish it. I don't think about art while I work. I try to think about life."

Jean-Michel Basquiat

"Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art."

Claude Debussy

"Old art offers just as good a criticism of new art as new art offers of old."

Jasper Johns

"His judgement demonstrates that one can be a genius and understand nothing of an art that is not one's own."

Victor Hugo

"Artistic symbols and myths speak out of the primordial, preconscious realm of the mind which is powerful and chaotic. Both symbol and myth are ways of bringing order and form into this chaos."

Rollo May

"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist."

Pablo Picasso

"For a true artist, difficulties become opportunities and clouds become solid present."

Alejandro Jodorowsky

"Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul."

W. Somerset Maugham

"I wanted to paint a picture some day that people would stand before and forget that it was made of paint. I wanted it to creep into them like a bar of music and mushroom there like a soft bullet."

O. Henry

"The painter will produce pictures of little merit if he takes the works of others as his standard."

Leonardo da Vinci

"every good artist paints what he is"

Jackson Pollock

"My weakness has always been to prefer the large intention of an unskilful 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

"The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes - ah, that is where the art resides."

Artur Schnabel

"We suffered for our art. You have to suffer for our art as well!"

Terry Gilliam

"Art enables us to find ourselves and loose ourselves at the same time."

Thomas Merton

"All art is abstract, because art is an abstraction of the truth."

Milford Zornes

"Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art."

Andy Warhol

"It's up to the artist to use language that can be understood, not hide it in some private code. Most of these jokers don't even want to use language you and I know or can learn . . . they would rather sneer at us and be smug, because we 'fail' to see what they are driving at. If indeed they are driving at anything--obscurity is usually the refuge of incompetence."

Robert Heinlein

"The cruelest thing you can do to an artist is tell them their work is flawless when it isn't."

Yahtzee Croshaw

"Any powerful work of art invades our being and changes it forever."

Karen Armstrong

"...a society without jaywalkers might indicate a society without artists."

Paul Theroux

"Art is either plagiarism or revolution."

Paul Gauguin

"Art is long, and time is fleeting."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography."

Federico Fellini

"Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand."

Pablo Picasso

"Art is what you can get away with."

Andy Warhol

"Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it."

Robert Motherwell

"Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world."

Leonardo da Vinci

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious - the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science."

Albert Einstein

"The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding."

Leonardo da Vinci

"There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people."

Vincent van Gogh

"Art is the proper task of life."

Friedrich Nietzsche

"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."

J.D. Salinger

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


"Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere."

G.K. Chesterton

"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 and his head and his heart is an artist."

Francis of Assisi

"A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened."

Albert Camus

"All forms of madness, bizarre habits, awkwardness in society, general clumsiness, are justified in the person who creates good art."

Roman Payne

"Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it."

Pope John Paul II

"Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. To perform this difficult office it is sometimes necessary for him to sacrifice happiness and everything that makes life worth living for the ordinary human being."

Carl Jung

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

Pablo Picasso

"A line is a dot that went for a walk."

Paul Klee

"If critics say your work stinks it's because they want it to stink and they can make it stink by scaring you into conformity with their comfortable little standards. Standards so low that they can no longer be considered "dangerous" but set in place in their compartmental understandings."

Jack Kerouac

"All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn't your pet -- it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you."

Joss Whedon

"It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure."

Albert Einstein

"Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism."

Raymond Chandler

"I don't think it was pain that made [Vincent Van Gogh] great - I think his painting brought him whatever happiness he had."

David Lynch

"You don't have to make something that people call art. Living is an artistic activity, there is an art to getting through the day."

Viggo Mortensen

"Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril."

Oscar Wilde

"There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life."

Federico Fellini

"The object isn't to make art, it's to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable."

Robert Henri

"Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artists metaphysical value judgments."

Ayn Rand

"Clear thinking at the wrong moment can stifle creativity."

Karl Lagerfeld

"Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all."

Ray Bradbury

"the way to create art is to burn and destroy ordinary concepts and to substitute them with new truths that run down from the top of the head and out of the heart."

Charles Bukowski

"A photograph is usually looked at- seldom looked into."

Ansel Adams

"Treat a work of art like a prince: let it speak to you first."

Arthur Schopenhauer

"Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures."

Henry Ward Beecher

"When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty........ but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong."

Buckminster Fuller

"Do whatever you do intensely."

Robert Henri

"The business of art lies just in this, -- to make that understood and felt which, in the form of an argument, might be incomprehensible and inaccessible."

Leo Tolstoy

"Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything."

Eugene Delacroix

"The greatest artist does not have any concept which a single piece of marble does not itself contain within its excess, though only a hand that obeys the intellect can discover it."


"I have things in my head that are not like what anyone taught me ? shapes and ideas so near to me,so natural to my way of being and thinking."

Georgia O'Keeffe

"When the writer (or the artist in general) says he has worked without giving any thought to the rules of the process, he simply means he was working without realizing he knew the rules."

Umberto Eco

"It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied."

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

"To create art with all the passion in one's soul is to live art with all the beauty in one's heart."


"Art is not a thing; it is a way."

Elbert Hubbard

"Art is, after all, only a trace ? like a footprint which shows that one has walked bravely and in great happiness."

Robert Henri

"The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."

Marcel Duchamp

"...I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few..."

William Morris

"No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead."

T.S. Eliot

"I shut my eyes in order to see."

Paul Gauguin

"In art as in love, instinct is enough."

Anatole France

"The Artist always has the masters in his eyes."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Art is everywhere you look for it, hail the twinkling stars for they are God's careless splatters."

El Greco

"Man's naked form belongs to no particular moment in history; it is eternal, and can be looked upon with joy by the people of all ages."

Auguste Rodin

"Absurdity and anti?absurdity are the two poles of creative energy."

Karl Lagerfeld

"You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life."

Joan Miro

"A poor original is better than a good imitation."

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

"The artistic image is not intended to represent the thing itself, but, rather, the reality of the force the thing contains."

James Baldwin

"Art is a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious."

Jean Cocteau

"Proportion is the heart of beauty."

Ken Follett

"Genius is not a possession of the limited few, but exists in some degree in everyone. Where there is natural growth, a full and free play of faculties, genius will manifest itself."

Robert Henri

"One thing about great art: it made you love people more, forgive them their petty transgressions."

Nick Hornby

"The French say you get hungry when you?re eating, and I get inspired when I?m working. It?s my engine."

Karl Lagerfeld

"Why shouldn?t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world."

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

"Any great art work ? revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world - the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air."

Leonard Bernstein

"Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life."

Irving Stone

"The artist is a collector of things imaginary or real. He accumulates things with the same enthusiasm that a little boy stuffs his pockets. The scrap heap and the museum are embraced with equal curiosity. He takes snapshots, makes notes and records impressions on tablecloths or newspapers, on backs of envelopes or matchbooks. Why one thing and not another is part of the mystery, but he is omnivorous."

Paul Rand

"After all, what is art? Art is the creative process and it goes through all fields. Einstein?s theory of relativity ? now that is a work of art! Einstein was more of an artist in physics than on his violin. Art is this: art is the solution of a problem which cannot be expressed explicitly until it is solved."

Piet Hein

"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"We're artists too, but we do a good job hiding it, don't we?"

Roberto Bolano

"What is fair in men, passes away, but not so in art."

Leonardo da Vinci

"The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question."

James Joyce

"So. Lie there, my art."

William Shakespeare

"Without enthusiasm nothing great can be effected in art."

Robert Schumann

"A deliberate plan is not always necessary for the highest art; it emerges."

Paul Johnson

"Every great artist has the sense of provocation."

Arthur Cravan

"Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement."

Jackson Pollock

"There are only two styles of portrait painting: the serious and the smirk."

Charles Dickens

"Artists, by their free expressions, encourage others to be free. This is the quality that makes works of art enduring."

Marty Rubin

"Like the sundial, my paint box counts no hours but sunny ones."

Arthur Rackham

"I love my old paintings as postulates as fresh starting points but I have to destroy them. I have to make a new manifesto."

Georg Baselitz

"Art is the expression of the invisible by means of the visible."


"The artist's world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep."

Paul Strand

"I'm never proud of my old work. I always feel as though my skills have since improved."

Criss Jami

"One thing a man must have: either a naturally light disposition or a disposition lightened by art and knowledge."

Friedrich Nietzsche

"The enemy of art is the absence of limitations."

Orson Welles

"All we have, it seems to me, is the beauty of art and nature and life, and the love which that beauty inspires."

Edward Abbey

"Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought as doth eternity..."

John Keats

"Keating stood still, because he understood for the first time what it was that artists spoke about when they spoke of beauty."

Ayn Rand

"What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things."


"The painting has a life of its own."

Jackson Pollock

"A work of art is the trace of a magnificent struggle."

Robert Henri

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others."

Jonathan Swift

"Through art they confuse us and blind us to our enslavement. Art adorns our prison walls, keeps us silent and diverted and indifferent."

Jim Morrison

"Observation is a dying art."

Stanley Kubrick

"Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things I love."

Marc Chagall

"I hate when art becomes a religion. I feel the opposite. When you start putting a higher value on works of art than people, you?re forfeiting your humanity."

Woody Allen

"I don't want to think too much about art, you see. I don't want to attend symposia, listen to papers, or discuss it at cocktail parties ... What I want to do is clutch my heart and fall down when I see it."

Stephen King

"Art is Alchemy."

Elle Nicolai

"Art arises from life, inspires life and makes the impossible become possible."

Kelly Liang

"Ars longa vita brevis."


"The great thing about improvisation is that it allows us to establish an uncensored form of theater. Freedom of speech is absolutely inherent to artistic expression."

Lucien Bourjeily

"Create with the heart; build with the mind."

Criss Jami

"In peace, continue your art; in war, continue your art; in freedom, continue your art; in captivity, continue your art!"

Mehmet Murat Ildan

"People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to compositions as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times."

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

"Beauty isn't what you see on TV or in magazine ads or even necessarily in art galleries. It's a lot deeper and a lot simpler than that. It's realizing the goodness of things, it's leaving the world a little better than it was before you got here. It's appreciating the inspiration of the world around you and trying to inspire others."

Charles de Lint

"Art is a hot soup in this cold world!"

Mehmet Murat Ildan

"Wherever there is art, there is a staircase over there where you can ascend to the high places!"

Mehmet Murat Ildan

"In art intentions are not sufficient and, as we say in Spanish, love must be proved by deeds and not by reasons. What one does is what counts and not what one had the intention of doing."

Pablo Picasso

"I have fallen in love with a painting. Though that phrase doesn?t seem to suffice, not really?rather?s it that I have been drawn into the orbit of a painting, have allowed myself to be pulled into its sphere by casual attraction deepening to something more compelling. I have felt the energy and life of the painting?s will; I have been held there, instructed. And the overall effect, the result of looking and looking into it?s brimming surface as long as I could look, is love, by which I mean a sense of tenderness toward experience, of being held within an intimacy with the things of the world."

Mark Doty

"I would like to paint the way a bird sings."

Claude Monet

"Art, like Nature, has her monsters."

Oscar Wilde

"Love is a more wonderful thing than art."

Oscar Wilde

"He found himself weeping. Not for the future or for the emperor. These were the tears of a man who saw before himself a masterpiece. True art was more than beauty; it was more than technique. It was not just imitation. It was boldness, it was contrast, it was subtlety."

Brandon Sanderson

"Art was as much in the activity as in the results. Works of art were not just the finished product, but the thought, the action, the process that created them."

Jean M. Auel

"At times such as this, it becomes more important for art to survive."

Jennifer Niven

"The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable."

Steven Pressfield

"Works of art are meant to be lived with and loved, and if we try to understand them, we should try to understand them as we try to understand anyone?in order to know them better, not in order to know something else."

William H. Gass

"The universe will express itself as long as somebody will be able to say, "I read, therefore it writes."

Italo Calvino

"A painting was a translation of the language of my heart."

Amy Tan

"A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say."

Italo Calvino

"Every serious novel is, beyond its immediate thematic preoccupations, a discussion of the craft, a conquest of the form, a conflict with its difficulties and a pursuit of its felicities and beauty."

Ralph Ellison

"True art awakens the Extraordinary Ovation."


"Books and Art. What would one be ... without the other?"

Peggy Kopman-Owens

"An artist's concern is to capture beauty wherever he finds it."

Kazuo Ishiguro

"Before he goes into the water, a diver cannot know what he will bring back."

Max Ernst

"Every time I create something, whether an idea or a work of art, initially, its supposed completion seems absolutely perfect to me. However the more I think about it, stare it down, the more it marinates in my soul over the hours, days, and weeks, the more flaws I start to find in it; and finally, the more I'm pressed to continue enhancing it. It essentially turns out that whatever thing a flawed and imperfect, human eye once thought was amazing begins to appear quite wretched. This is why, eternally, God cannot be impressed by mere talents or by mortal achievements. To perfect eyes, I imagine that great is not really that great; rather, humility is ultimately a human being's true greatness."

Criss Jami

"Only the mediocre artist is always at his best."

Victor J. Banis

"An artist is the magician put among men to gratify--capriciously--their urge for immortality."

Tom Stoppard

"Bad art is always basically creepy; that is its first and most obvious identifying sign."

John Gardner

"That's what art does: it breaks down walls."

Marty Rubin

"Art is a passion or it is nothing."

Robert Fry

"What he was after hangs between the visible and the invisible, between the here and now and the seemingly elsewhere."

Andre Aciman

"Art actually happens somewhere in the space between clarity and ambiguity, concept and intuition, thought and feeling."

Bert Dodson

"It would be a lowly art that allowed itself to be understood all at once."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"When Art becomes a Science it is no longer an Art."

Kevin James Breaux

"Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable."