What They Have to Say About Their Work

Artists are pretty chatty types, for people working in a language without words. In fact, maybe that's why they're so talkative. Or maybe they prefer to write about their work so some art historian doesn't come along and do it for them. Here's what some of them have to say about their work, and what they believe.

My work has been continuously based on a clue seen in nature from which the subject of a picture may be projected. Nature, with its profound order, is an inexhaustible source of supply. Its many facets lend themselves to all who would help themselves for their particular needs. Each one may filter out for himself that which is essential to him. Our chief object is to increase our capacity for perception. The degree of accomplishment determines the caliber of the Artist.

—Charles Sheeler

I grew up pretty much as everybody else grows up ... and one day I found myself saying to myself... I can't live where I want to ... I can't go where I want to ... I can't even say what I want to . School and things that painters have taught me even keep me from painting the way I want to. I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to and say what I wanted to when I painted, as that seemed to be the only thing I could do that didn't concern anybody but myself . and that was nobody's business but my own . I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say in any other way ... things I had no words for.

—Georgia O'Keeffe

My aim is to escape from the medium with which I work. To leave no residue of technical mannerisms to stand between my expression and the observer. To seek freedom through significant form and design rather than through the diversion of so-called free and accidental brush handling. In short, to dissolve into clear air all impediments that might interrupt the flow of pure enjoyment. Not to exhibit craft, but rather to submerge it, and make it rightfully the handmaiden of beauty, power, and emotional content.

—Andrew Wyeth

An artist must paint, not what he sees in nature, but what is there. To do so he must invent symbols, which, if properly used, make his work seem even more real than what is in front of him. He does not try to bypass nature; his work is superior to nature's surface appearance, but not to its basic laws.

—Charles Burchfield

There was a long period of searching for something in color which I called a "Condition of Light." It applied to all objects in nature, flowers, trees, people, apples, cows ... To understand that clearly, go to nature, or to the Museum of Natural History and see the butterflies. Each has its own orange, blue, black, white, yellow, brown, green, and black, all carefully chosen to fit the character of life going on in that individual entity.

—Arthur Dove


The Art of Drawing

It does not bore me to write that I can't paint a pawtreet [sic]. On the contrary it is the greatest joy in life—but I prefer writing it to you rather than the lady, if you will be good enough to tell her that I have retired from the business. Tell her that I now only paint landscapes and religious decorations, that I am a waltzer to delirium tremens or whatever you think may make her congratulate herself on her refusal. I really am shutting up shop in the portrait line.

John Singer Sargent

I like to seize one sharp instant in nature, imprison it by means of ordered shapes and space relationships to convey the ecstasy of the moment. To this end I eliminate and simplify, leaving apparently nothing but color and pattern. But with these I attempt to build an organic whole—a canvas which will stand independently. If I capture too some of the beauty, mystery, and timelessness of nature I am happy.

—Milton Avery

The love you liberate in your work is the only love you keep. —Maurice Prendergast

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