Photography Quotes and Art Quotes

Quotes on artmaking, the creative process, self-expression, solitude 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 I first came across it in an interview with the filmmaker. 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.


The object of art is not to make salable pictures. It is to save yourself.
– Sherwood Anderson tweet

No one has ever written or painted, sculpted, modeled, built, invented, except to get out of hell.
— Antonin Artaud tweet

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 tweet

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 tweet

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 tweet

Something about making art has to do with overcoming things, giving us a clear opportunity for doing things in ways we have always known we should do them.
— David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear tweet

Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, in the eye of the storm… Art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.
— Saul Bellow tweet

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

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

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 tweet

In solitude, where we are least alone.
— Lord Byron tweet

The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.
— John Cage tweet

Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe.
— Susan Cain tweet

I think I came alive when I started photography.
— Harry Callahan tweet

I really didn’t have much to teach. I didn’t even believe in it. I felt so strongly that everybody had to find their own way. And nobody can teach you your own way …. in terms of art, the only real answer that I know of is to do it. If you don’t’ do it you don’t know what might happen.
— Harry Callahan tweet

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There’s no new ideas in the world, there’s only new arrangements of things. Everything is new, every minute is new. That means re-examining. Life changes every minute. The world is being created every minute and the world is falling to pieces every minute.
Henri Cartier-Bresson tweet

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 tweet

I don’t know – somehow I got hooked. I got hooked on movies being an expression. A substitute for living! And a good one. I don’t know how to live. I mean, I don’t know how to dress or – get on with people. I don’t even understand all that stuff. It drives me crazy.
– John Cassavetes, Cassavetes on Cassavetes tweet

High creativity is responding to situations without critical thought.
– John Cleese tweet

To be creative you must create a space for yourself where you can be undisturbed… separate from everyday concerns.
– John Cleese tweet

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

The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself; and the agony of the Artist, far from being the result of the world’s failure to discover and appreciate him, arises from his own personal struggle to discover, to appreciate and finally to express himself. Look into yourself, reader; for you must find Art there, if at all.
– E. E. Cummings tweet

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 tweet

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 tweet

The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.”
– Elliott Erwitt tweet

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 tweet

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 tweet

If music is the language of the soul, photography is the language of the spirit.
— Oliver Gagliani tweet

Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening everything must be said again.
— Andre Gide tweet

I was cut off from the world. There was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.
— Joseph Haydn tweet

The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.
— Ernest Hemingway tweet

The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.
— Robert Henri tweet

Solitude is independence.
— Hermann Hesse tweet

Art comes from everywhere. It’s your response to your surroundings.
— Damien Hirst tweet

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 tweet

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.
– Steve Jobs tweet

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 tweet

Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever, and yet each moment has infinite photographic possibilities.
– Michael Kenna tweet

I spent a great deal of my life being ignored. I was always very happy that way. Being ignored is a great privilege. That is how I think I learned to see what others do not see and to react to situations differently. I simply looked at the world, not really prepared for anything.
– Saul Leiter tweet

It’s always been my philosophy to try to make art out of the everyday and ordinary… it never occurred to me to leave home to make art.
– Sally Mann tweet

Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous — to poetry.
— Thomas Mann, Death in Venice tweet

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.
— Herman Melville tweet

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 tweet

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 tweet

To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.
— Claude Monet tweet

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 tweet

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
— Friedrich Nietzsche tweet

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 tweet

Without great solitude no serious work is possible
— Pablo Picasso tweet

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

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.
— Ayn Rand tweet

Whoever undertakes to create soon finds himself engaged in creating himself.
— Harold Rosenberg tweet

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

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 tweet

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 tweet

In any art, you don’t know in advance what you want to say — it’s revealed to you as you say it. That’s the difference between art and illustration.
— Aaron Siskind tweet

The business of making a photograph may be said in simple terms to consist of three elements: the objective world (whose permanent condition is change and disorder), the sheet of paper on which the picture will be realized, and the experience that brings them together.
— Aaron Siskind tweet

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Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity; be intensely yourself. Don’t try to be outstanding; don’t try to be a success;don’t try to do pictures for others to look at — just please yourself.
– Ralph Steiner tweet

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 tweet

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
– Henry David Thoreau tweet

How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.
— David Foster Wallace, The Pale King tweet

Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals, and intelligent and sensitive people from morons.
— Alan Watts, The Book on The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are tweet

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

Photography is a holding together of opposites: Light and dark, beautiful and ugly, sublime and banal, conscious and unconscious. I am still struck by the power of photography to strip away the bark of the mind and reveal the visceral workings underneath.
— Jack Welpott tweet

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 tweet

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 tweet

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 tweet

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

I should be able to look down at my feet and see something to photograph.”
– Edward Weston tweet

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 tweet

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

My great mistake, the fault for which I can’t forgive myself is that one day I ceased my obstinate pursuit of my own individuality.
— Oscar Wilde tweet

[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 tweet

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

Last updated: August 2018

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