Photography Quotes and Art Quotes

Quotes on artmaking, the creative process, self-expression, and photography

“To be an artist really is to be a freak, in the greatest sense of the word. You’re not interested in living but you’re interested in a substitute life, which is what it means to be an artist.
– John Cassavetes

Like many of us, I’m a collector of quotes that resonate with me. One of my favourites is the Cassavetes quote above that hit me between the eyes when I first came across it in an interview with the filmmaker, because it put into words something I’d never seen put in words before and it expressed something elemental about my experience of life and of the world.

Below you’ll find a personal selection of quotes on the subject of artmaking, the creative process, self-expression, and photography that have been meaningful and helpful to me. There are valuable truths in each and every one of these quotes. I’ll add to this list from time to time.


Making art … means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward. Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next. Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.
— David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

In large measure, becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.
— David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good, the parts that aren’t yours. It’s called feedback, and it’s the most direct route to learning about your own vision. It’s also called doing your work.
— David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

Photography is not a sport. It has no rules.
— Bill Brandt

Photographers should follow their own judgment, and not the fads and dictates of others.
— Bill Brandt

But I did not always know just what it was I wanted to photograph. I believe it is important for a photographer to discover this, for unless he finds what it is that excites him, what it is that calls forth at once an emotional response, he is unlikely to achieve his best work.
— Bill Brandt

To be an artist really is to be a freak, in the greatest sense of the word. You’re not interested in living but you’re interested in a substitute life, which is what it means to be an artist.
– John Cassavetes

As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armour themselves against wonder.
-Leonard Cohen, The Favorite Game

I am afraid that there are more people than I can imagine who can go no further than appreciating a picture that is a rectangle with an object in the middle of it, which they can identify. They don’t care what is around the object as long as nothing interferes with the object itself, right in the centre. Even after the lessons of Winogrand and Friedlander, they don’t get it. They respect their work because they are told by respectable institutions that they are important artists, but what they really want to see is a picture with a figure or an object in the middle of it. They want something obvious. The blindness is apparent when someone lets slip the word ‘snapshot’. Ignorance can always be covered by ‘snapshot’. The word has never had any meaning. I am at war with the obvious.
– William Eggleston

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.
– Elliott Erwitt

A garbage can, occasionally, to me at least, can be beautiful. That’s because you’re seeing. Some people are able to see that—see it and feel it. I lean toward the enchantment, the visual power, of the aesthetically rejected subject.
— Walker Evans

I only wanted Uncle Vern standing by his new car (a Hudson) on a clear day. I got him and the car. I also got a bit of Aunt Mary’s laundry and Beau Jack, the dog, peeing on a fence, and a row of potted tuberous begonias on the porch and seventy-eight trees and a million pebbles in the driveway and more. It’s a generous medium, photography.
Lee Friedlander

When you get to the point where you say ‘I don’t know what to photograph’, that’s when you actually begin the process of being an artist
– Brooks Jensen

Life is about turning up. The more you get yourself out there, whether you wake up at 5:00 a.m. to pouring rain or not, the more you’re likely to experience the wonderful happenings that are going on all around you. Sometimes the most interesting visual phenomena occur when you least expect it. Other times, you think you’re getting something amazing and the photographs turn out to be boring and predictable. So I think that’s why, a long time ago, I consciously tried to let go of artist’s angst, and instead just hope for the best and enjoy it. I love the journey as much as the destination. If I wasn’t a photographer, I’d still be a traveler.
– Michael Kenna

I don’t need exotic places to be stimulated. Out of familiarity comes nuance. The more you revisit a subject the more you’re likely to discover.
Ray K. Metzker

The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of ‘how to do’. The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.
— Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll be the pope.’ Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.
– Pablo Picasso

Without great solitude no serious work is possible
— Pablo Picasso

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in
having new eyes.
—Marcel Proust

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there. We have been conditioned to expect… but, as photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs.
—Aaron Siskind

Above all, look at the things around you, the immediate world around you. If you are alive, it will mean something to you, and if you care enough about photography, and if you know how to use it, you will want to photograph that meaningfulness. If you let other people’s vision get between the world and your own, you will achieve that extremely common and worthless thing, a pictorial photograph. But if you keep your vision clear, you may make something which is at least a photograph, which has a life of its own, as a tree or a matchbox has a life of its own.
– Paul Strand

The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.
— Orson Welles

It has to do with the discipline of being actively receptive. At the core of this receptivity is a process that might be called soft eyes. It is a physical sensation. You are not looking for something. You are open, receptive. At some point you are in front of something that you cannot ignore.
— Henry Wessel

It’s a pleasure for me. The process of photographing. Being physically in the world, eyes open, attentive, sensing, and at some point, connecting. To be in the world and of the world. To be, at the same time, out of your head, yet absolutely, exactly, there. It’s thrilling when your eyes get ahead of your brain.
— Henry Wessel

I would say to any artist: ‘Don’t be repressed in your work, dare to experiment, consider any urge, if in a new direction all the better.
– Edward Weston

Anything that excites me for any reason, I will photograph; not searching for unusual subject matter, but making the commonplace unusual.
– Edward Weston

One does not think during creative work, any more than one thinks when driving a car. But one has a background of years – learning, unlearning, success, failure, dreaming, thinking, experience, all this – then the moment of creation, the focusing of all into the moment. So I can make ‘without thought,’ fifteen carefully considered negatives, one every fifteen minutes, given material with as many possibilities. But there is all the eyes have seen in this life to influence me.
– Edward Weston

One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.
— Minor White

[Being out on the street and photographing] … I get totally out of myself. I mean, it’s the closest I come to not existing, I think. Which to me is attractive.
— Garry Winogrand

Photography is not about the thing being photographed. It’s about how that thing looks photographed.
— Garry Winogrand