One of the most influential and prolific artists in history, Pablo Picasso famously said that “every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Well, the folks on this list held on to that creativity and wonder, and became some of the most collected — and quoted — creators in the game.
From the sculptural mobiles of Alexander Calder to the abstracted flowers of Georgia O’Keefe, from pop art to abstract expressionism, from Paris to New York, these artists have changed the world with their iconic paintings, unforgettable photography, stunning sculpture, and immersive installations. In the process, they have earned insights about creativity and imagination, process and progress, and seeing the truth in beauty and form. These 23 quotes offer wisdom, inspiration, and motivation that a new generation of artists can take to heart.
MAKE IT YOURS
They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.
– Frida Kahlo
Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.
– Vincent van Gogh
The only way art lives is through the experience of the observer. The reality of art begins with the eyes of the beholder, through imagination, invention and confrontation.
– Keith Haring
KNOWING MIGHT NOT BE SEEING
A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know.
– Diane Arbus
CREATE WHAT YOU KNOW
The texture of experience is prior to everything else.
– Willem de Kooning
SEEING THE EXTRAORDINARY IN THE ORDINARY
The artist is a receptacle for emotions derived from anywhere: from the sky, from the earth, from a piece of paper, from a passing figure, from a spider’s web. This is a spider’s web. This is why one must not make a distinction between things. For them there are no aristocratic quarterings. One must take things where one finds them.
— Pablo Picasso
CREATE WITH INTENTION
I can control the flow of paint; there is no accident.
– Jackson Pollock
ART IS NEVER DONE
I tell myself that anyone who says he has finished a canvas is terribly arrogant. Finished means complete, perfect, and I toil away without making any progress, searching, fumbling around, without achieving anything much.
– Claude Monet
BE WHO YOU ARE
Originality is neither a matter of inventiveness nor method, it is the essence of personality.
– Edward Hopper
SEE BEAUTY, SHARE BEAUTY
The herculean task of a photographer is to capture a momentary frame as beautiful in reality, as it would be in a dream.
– Ansel Adams
DO THE WORK
If you refuse to study anatomy, the arts of drawing and perspective, the mathematics of aesthetics, and the science of color, let me tell you that this is more a sign of laziness than of genius.
– Salvador Dalí
LET ART GROUND YOU
Art is a guarantee of sanity.
– Louise Bourgeois
LEARN FROM ART
I think there are many open-ended questions that artists can pose and we can ask communities to feel empowered enough to reply, respond, rebel, and feel amazed by the relentless spiraling of thought and image and action that is the artist’s profession.
– Kara Walker
EVERYONE HAS A FAN
A creator needs only one enthusiast to justify him.
– Man Ray
APPROXIMATION AND INTERPRETATION
The admission of approximation is necessary, for one cannot hope to be absolute in his precision. He cannot see, or even conceive of a thing from all possible points of view, simultaneously. While he perfects the front, the side, or rear may be weak; then while he strengthens the other facade he may be weakening that originally the best. There is no end to this. To finish the work he must approximate.
– Alexander Calder
PAINT YOUR STORY
I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music.
– Joan Miró
MAKE IT MEMORABLE
Great art — or good art — is when you look at it, experience it and it stays in your mind. I don’t think conceptual art and traditional art are all that different. There’s boring conceptual art and there’s boring traditional art. Great art is if you can’t stop thinking about it, then it becomes a memory.
– Damien Hirst
THERE IS BEAUTY IN EVERYTHING
I’ve never met a person I couldn’t call a beauty.
– Andy Warhol
MAKE IT MEAN SOMETHING
Art without content is like sex without intimacy: technically sufficient, but emotionally empty.
– Judy Chicago
TREASURE EXPERIENCE AND INTUITION
Artists and religionists are never far apart, they go to the sources of revelation for what they choose to experience and what they report is the degree of their experiences. Intellect wishes to arrange — intuition wishes to accept.
– Georgia O’Keeffe
LIFE ALWAYS INSPIRES
I don’t think about art while I work … I try to think about life.
– Jean Michel-Basquiat
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer. As examples of such obstacles, I give (among others) memory, history or geometry, which are swamps of generalization from which one might pull out parodies of ideas (which are ghosts) but never an idea in itself. To achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood.
– Mark Rothko
ART IS EVERYTHING
Art doesn’t transform. It just plain forms.
– Roy Lichtenstein
Photo Credit: Agnieszka Cymbalak/ Unsplash