Photography and Art Quotes

Quotes on artmaking, the creative process, self-expression, solitude, 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

Below you’ll find a selection of quotes on the subject of art-making, the creative process, self-expression, photography, etc, that I’ve copied down over the years.

“As I understand my job, it is, while suggesting order, to make things appear as much as possible to be the way they are in normal vision.”
— Robert Adams

The challenge for artists is just as it is for everyone else: to face facts and somehow come up with a yes, to try for alchemy.
– Robert Adams

Even if most artists work first from a sense of obligation to themselves, however, they usually believe that if they answer their private demands they will in the course of doing so also fulfill their duty to others. It is a risky and arrogant proposition, defensible only after the fact of successful pictures, but it is an attitude as common to the calling as is the brittle behaviour of its adherents.
– Robert Adams, Why People Photograph

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

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

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

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

The most anyone of us can seem to do is to fashion something — an object or ourselves — and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force”
— Ernest Becker

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

A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.
— Jorge Luis Borges

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

It is part of the photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveler who enters a strange country.
— Bill Brandt

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To them, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create ― so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or building or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off from them. They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.”

― Pearl S. Buck

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

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

When you start working, everybody is in your studio — the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas — all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”


Having shut the door, you find yourself alone before a canvas, a sheet of paper, a lump of clay, a computer screen. Other tools and materials lie around, close at hand, waiting to be used. You resume your silent conversation with the work. This is a two-way process: you create the work and then you respond to it. The work can inspire, surprise, and shock you … The solitary act of making art involves intense, wordless dialogue.
— John Cage

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

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

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

“The photographs that excite me are photographs that say something in a new manner; not for the sake of being different, but ones that are different because the individual is different and the individual expresses himself. I realize that we all do express ourselves, but those who express that which is always being done are those whose thinking is almost in every way in accord with everyone else. Expression on this basis has become dull to those who wish to think for themselves. I wish more people felt that photography was an adventure the same as life itself and felt that their individual feelings were worth expressing. To me, that makes photography more exciting.”
— Harry Callahan

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

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

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

You’re not an artist until you find out you are, you know? Until you can’t live any other way. You try everything else and then, if you can’t do anything else, you become an artist. It’s the last choice on everyone’s list. The last resort.
– John Cassavetes, Cassavetes on Cassavetes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.
― Glenn Gould

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

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

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

The end will be what it will be. The object is intense living, fulfillment; the great happiness in creation.
― Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Solitude is independence.
— Hermann Hesse

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

In each picture is a whole lifetime imprisoned, a whole lifetime of fears, doubts, hopes, and joys. Whither is this lifetime tending? What is the message of the competent artist? … To harmonize the whole is the task of art.
— Wassily Kandinsky

Every object has its own life and therefore its own appeal; man is continually subject to these appeals. But the results are often dubbed either sub- or super-conscious. Nature, that is to say the ever-changing surroundings of man, sets in vibration the strings of the piano (the soul) by manipulation of the keys (the various objects with their several appeals).
— Wassily Kandinsky

It is very important for the artist to gauge his position aright, to realize that he has a duty to his art and to himself, that he is not king of the castle but rather a servant of a nobler purpose. He must search deeply into his own soul, develop and tend it, so that his art has something to clothe, and does not remain a glove without a hand. The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.


The artist is not born to a life of pleasure. He must not live idle; he has a hard work to perform, and one which often proves a cross to be borne. He must realize that his every deed, feeling, and thought are raw but sure material from which his work is to arise, that he is free in art but not in life.
— Wassily Kandinsky

“Outer need” … never goes beyond conventional limits, nor produces other than conventional beauty. The “inner need” knows no such limits, and often produces results conventionally considered “ugly.” But “ugly” itself is a conventional term, and only means “spiritually unsympathetic,” being applied to some expression of an inner need, either outgrown or not yet attained. But everything which adequately expresses the inner need is beautiful.


That is beautiful which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul.
— Wassily Kandinsky

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

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

The camera is my tool. Through it I give a reason to everything around me.
— André Kertész

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

The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)
― C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

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

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

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

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
— Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island

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

It is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true.
— Piet Mondrian

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

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

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

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.
— Mary Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”
—Robert Louis Stevenson

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 allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.
– Andrei Tarkovsky

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

The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
– Kurt Vonnegut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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

Photographs are about what is photographed, and how what is photographed is changed by being photographed, and how things exist in photographs.
— Garry Winogrand