Inspirations: 12 Great Quotes About Painting

Claude Monet Painting in his Garden at Argenteuil by Renoir
Claude Monet Painting in his Garden at Argenteuil by Renoir

If a painting of a tree was only the exact representation of the original, so that it looked just like the tree, there would be no reason for making it; we might as well look at the tree itself. But the painting, if it is of the right sort, gives something that neither a photograph nor a view of the tree conveys. It emphasizes something of character, quality, individuality. We are not lost in looking at thorns and defects; we catch a vision of the grandeur and beauty of a king of the forest.
-Calvin Coolidge, speech, Jan. 17, 1925

Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations.
-Paul Cezanne

Jackson Pollock painting
Jackson Pollock painting

I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.
-Jackson Pollock

Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.
-Jackson Pollock

Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.
-Edgar Degas

Portrait as an Artist by van Gogh
Portrait as an Artist by van Gogh

“If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint“, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
-Vincent van Gogh

“You must forget all your theories, all your ideas before the subject. What part of these is really your own will be expressed in your expression of the emotion awakened in you by the subject.”
-Henri Matisse

After the first brush-stroke, the canvas assumes a life of its own; at this point, you become both governor and spectator to your own event.

Turner on Varnishing Day by William Parrott
Turner on Varnishing Day by William Parrott

When making a painting, only one thing counts: what you do next.
-Darby Bannard

“Painting should never look as if it were done with difficulty, however difficult it may actually have been.”
– Robert Henri, in his book The Art Spirit, p135.

Churchill Painting at the Easel by
Churchill Painting at the Easel by

In Cezanne’s paintings, “edges aren’t boundaries but places where paint, surging across the surface, changes color.”
– Art critic Peter Schjeldahl, “Cezanne versus Pissarro”, New Yorker magazine, 11 July 2005

The painter’s work will be of little merit if he takes the painting of others as his standard, but if he studies from nature he will produce good fruits.
-Leonardo da Vinci, Thoughts on Art and Life

Friday Features


Hot hummingbird action the last few days. Two Allen’s hummers competing for control of the plants outside my studio window. I have now found an absolutely reliable way for animal artists, or anyone else for that matter, to procrastinate. Plant hummingbird-friendly plants right outside the window next to your desk. Wait for that “humming” sound, stop work and watch. Perfect.

Outside my studio window is what I call “the tropical garden”. South-facing and it’s where I’m putting all the hot color combinations; red, orange, yellow, lavender, etc. Front to back is red verbena, crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, kangaroo paw and red dragon persicaria.

One of the little gladiators. I sometimes think that they are really Rottweilers in bird costumes.

Looked up a few days ago when I was outside and saw what looks like a northern goshawk escorting a turkey vulture, probably away from the nest. I got about six photos. This one reminds me of some I’ve seen in my husband’s aviation books of comparatively tiny American fighter jets “escorting” truly huge Soviet “Bear” bombers.


So, to follow up on the source of the Wednesday post title “Pot of Paint”. James McNeil Whistler (of “Whistler’s Mother” fame) had utterly buffaloed the art community in London with what he called his “nocturnes”, impressionistic paintings of night scenes which he showed at a time when the eyes of the public and art critics were conditioned to seeing a high level of detail and what was called “finish”.

The leading art reviewer and taste-maker of the Victorian era was John Ruskin, the first prominent critic to champion the Pre-Raphaelites, who never let the vein of a leaf go unpainted if they could help it.

In his review of Whistler’s show at the Grosvenor Gallery, then known for showing “advanced” work, Ruskin wrote that he “he never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” So there.

Whistler sued for libel. What followed was one of the most celebrated lawsuits of the time. What makes it fascinating and relevant even today is that it turned into a monumental struggle between two very different philosophies concerning the creation of art. Ruskin represented the establishment view that art had a duty to be beautiful, uplifting and moral. Whistler adamantly insisted that Art had no duty outside itself, in other words, “Art for Art’s Sake”.

The trial lasted for eight hours. The jury deliberated for two and, in the end, returned the verdict for Whistler, but only awarded him only one farthing, approximately a quarter of a penny, in damages. Whistler mounted it on his watch fob. The good news was that the verdict saved him from having to pay Ruskin’s court costs, but it left him in debt, albeit with a moral victory.

If you would like to know all the delicious, gory details, buy, what else, A Pot of Paint- Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler vs. Ruskin, by Linda Merrill.

The debate goes on today, although without the level of consciousness that existed in the Victorian art arena. There has been more than one art show here in Humboldt County through the years that had a painting in it that someone found objectionable. The reason is usually some variation of the un-thought out idea that art is supposed to be beautiful, pretty and not make the viewer uncomfortable. Poppycock. Art has no responsibility other than to express the creativity of the maker. No one has the right to pre-censor what an artist creates or shows. No one has to buy what is produced, but they don’t have the right to demand its removal either.



It is this sense of persistent life force back of things which makes the eye see and the hand move in ways that result in true masterpieces. Techniques are thus created as a need.

It is thus necessary to work very continuously and very valiantly, and never apologetically. In fact, to be ever on the job so that we may find ourselves there, brush in hand, when the great moment does arrive.

Robert Henri

Art and Kittens, How Can I Lose?


I have spent most of my professional life for the last ten years trying to gain some competence in the craft of oil painting. Although some artists proudly describe themselves as “self-taught”, I’m not one of them except in the sense that, in the end, we all have to figure out for ourselves what marks to make on the canvas (or other support) and how and with what to make them in order to express our vision. I’ve found that good instruction is a great timesaver, so I’ve tried to learn from those who have gone before me, either as a student in art school or workshops or by gathering a small collection of “how to do it” or “how I do it” books to learn from past and present masters. It’s those books that I plan to “draw” on in order to share some of what I have found useful, valuable and thought-provoking over the years.

So, we will begin with a quote from Robert Henri’s (pronounced Hen-rye) The Art Spirit:

“Technique must be solid, positive, but elastic, must not fall into formula, must adapt itself to the idea. And for each new idea there must be new invention special to the expression of that idea and no other. And the idea must be valuable, worth the effort of expression, must come from the artist’s understanding of life and be a thing he greatly desires to say.”

(Note: many of these quotes date from a time when women were barely tolerated in the fine arts, so the male pronoun dominates; however, that does not invalidate the content)


These three came into the shelter on June 4 and weren’t in very good shape, either health-wise or willingness to be handled by people. In fact, they started out labeled “feral and fearful”. Shelter staff was able to get them to the point where they could be picked up and petted. I brought them home a week ago on the 17th and will have them until they weigh 2 pounds plus a few ounces, which is the minimum for neutering. They were at around 1 pound, 3 oz,, their coats were dry and I could feel their rib cages since they had no fat. I could feel the vertebrae on the littlest one, who was visibly weaker than his two sisters.

It is one week later and they are much improved, thanks to room to play and high-octane wet food everyday. Coats are soft and tummies filling out. They come running, demanding to be petted now and like tummy rubs. They also have names (fosters get to name their charges); Raven, Kestrel and Merlin. So, here they are at age seven weeks or so:

Raven, whose name suggested the bird theme:

Kestrel, who has vocal opinions about almost everything:

And Merlin, quieter so far, but he was the weakest of the three when he arrived