Notebook, 1993-


2oth Century Artists
on Art

Ashton, Dore, ed. Twentieth-Century Artists on Art. New York: Pantheon Books. 1985. [NOTE: Dore Ashton presents the words of 20th c. artists in 4 sections: A Preliminary Section of Early [older] Modern Masters in Statements After 1940; Three other sections: 1900-1920; 1920-1940; 1940-Present]

Pablo Picasso
Henri Matisse
Joan Miró
Piet Mondrian
Fernand Lèger
Jesús Rafael Soto
Richard Diebenkorn
Jim Dine
Marcel Duchamp
Oska Kokoschka
Egon Schiele
Francis Picabia
Ernst Barlach
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Giacomo Balla
Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova
Mikhail Fedodrovich Larionov
Ferdinand Hodler
Georgia O'Keeffe
Maurice Brazil Prendergast
René Magritte
Georges Vantongerloo
Constantin Brancusi
Victor Brauner
Alberto Giacometti
Juan Gris
Otto Dix
Jirí Kolár
Mordecai Ardon
Victor Pasmore
Richard Long
Roger Hilton
Frank Auerbach
Heinz Mack


When Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves edited Artists on Art, they were obliged to limit their edition to artists born no later than 1890, remarking that "the younger men deserve another book." This, I hope, is the other book, although like my predecessors, I must lament the restrictions of space.

No one knows exactly how many artists there are in the twentieth century. The Oxford Companion to Modern Art mentions more than four thousand artists of note, and another four thousand could probably have been added. My task has been to select artists who are known to many people in many countries and to try to find their characteristic recorded thoughts . . . .

A Preliminary Section of Early [older] Modern Masters in Statements After 1940:

Pablo Picasso [1881-1973]
Son of a painter, José Ruiz Blasco, Picasso took his mother's name--Picasso--around the time of his first exploratory visit to Paris in 1900. After two more visits, the Barcelona-trained painter settled in Paris in 1904. There he quickly became the center of a lively band of poets and painters, among them Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, intent on establishing an antitraditional aesthetic. Picasso's shifts in style--from the muted nostalgia of his figure paintings during the so-called blue Period; to the figure studies inspired by his perusal of both archaic and primitive cultures, known as the Rose Period; to his invention of a pictorial language, together with Georges Braque, known as Cubism--were attentively followed by other artists in Paris during the years 1904-1914. The interruption of the First World War led Picasso to Rome to design costumes and sets for the Ballets Russes managed by Diaghilev. He participated for a time in a revival of classicism during the early 1920s, and in the late 1920s showed an interest in Surrealism. In the 1930s, he returned to Cubist principles for his great mural protest against Franco's Fascist insurrection, Guernica [1937]. After the Second World War, Picasso settled in the South of France, where he produced innumerable sculptures, ceramics, paintings, drawings, etchings, lithographs, and linoleum-block prints. His fecundity left an indelible mark on the entire evolution of twentieth-century art.

"No doubt, it is useful for an artist to know all the forms of art which have preceded or which accompany his. That is a sign of strength if it is a question of looking for a stimulus or recognizing mistakes he must avoid. But he must be very careful not to look for models. As soon as one artist takes an other as model, he is lost. There is no other point of departure than reality. Why should I copy this owl, this sea urchin? Why should I try to imitate nature? I might just as well try to trace a perfect circle. What I have to do is utilize as best I can the ideas which objects suggest to me, connect, fuse, and color in my way the shadows they cast within me, illumine them from the inside. And since of necessity my vision is quite different from that of the next man, my painting will interpret things in an entirely different manner even though it makes use of the same elements." [c. 1948]

"The secret of many of my deformations--which many people do not understand--is that there is an interaction, an intereffect between the lines in a painting : one line attracts the other and at the point of maximum attraction the lines curve in toward the attracting point and form is altered."

This change through attraction, that's what the collector never sees and will never understand in a painting. And often one does a painting really for a corner of the canvas that no one looks at.

"One does a whole painting for one peach and people think just the opposite--that that particular peach is but a detail." [c. 1954]

"I consider a work of art as the product of calculations, calculations that are frequently unknown to the author himself. It is exactly like the carrier pigeon, calculating his return to the loft. The calculation that precedes intelligence. Since then we have invented the compass, and radar, which enable even fools to return to their starting point . . . . Or else we must suppose, as Rimbaud said, that it is the other self inside us who calculates." [c. 1955]

"Braque always said that the only thing that counts, in painting, is the intention, and it's true. What counts is what one wants to do, and not what one does. That's what's important. In Cubism, in the end what was important is what one wanted to do, the intention one had. And that one cannot paint." [c. 1963]

"Something holy, that's it. It's a word something like that we should be able to use, but people would take it in the wrong way. You ought to be able to say that a painting is as it is, with its capacity to move us, because it is as though it were touched by God. But people would think it a sham. And yet that is what's nearest to the truth.

You can search for a thousand years, and you will find nothing. Everything can be explained scientifically today. Except that. You can go to the moon or walk under the sea, or anything else you like, but painting remains painting because it eludes such investigation. It remains there like a question. And it alone give the answer. " [c. 1963]

"What I find horrible nowadays is that people are always trying to find a personality for themselves. Nobody bothers about what you might call a painter's ideal . . . . the kind that's always existed [I say ideal because that's what comes nearest to it]. No. They couldn't care less about that.

All they're trying to do is to make the world a present of their personality. It's horrible.

Besides, if you're trying to find something, it means you haven't got it. And if you find it simply by looking for it, that means it's false.

For my part, I can't do anything else but what I am doing." [c. 1965]

Matisse [1869-1954]
". . . . I have always sought to be understood and, while I was taken to task by critics or colleagues, I thought they were right, assuming I had not been clear enough to be understood. This assumption allowed me to work my whole life without hatred and even without bitterness toward criticism, regardless of its source. I counted solely on the clarity of expression of my work to gain my ends. Hatred, rancor, and the spirit of vengeance are useless baggage to the artist. His road is difficult enough for him to cleanse his soul of everything which could make it more so." [1951]

". . . . From Bonheur de Vivre--I was thirty-five then--to this cut-out--I am eighty-two--I have not changed; not in the way my friends mean who want to compliment me, no matter what, on my good health, but because all this time I have looked for the same things, which I have perhaps realized by different means . . . . " [1951]

". . . . Thus the sign for which I forge an image has no value if it doesn't harmonize with other signs, which I must determine in the course of my invention and which are completely peculiar to it. The sign is determined at the moment I use it and for the object of which it must form a part. For this reason I cannot determine in advance signs which never change, and which would be like writing: that would paralyze the freedom of my invention.

There is no separation between my old pictures and my cut-outs, except that with greater completeness and abstraction, I have attained a form filtered to its essentials and of the object which I used to present in the complexity of its space, I have preserved the sign which suffices and which is necessary to make the object exist in its own form and in the totality for which I conceived it . . . ." [1951]

Joan Miró [1893-1983]
"In a picture, it should be possible to discover new things every time you see it. But you can look at a picture for a week together and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life. For me, a picture should be like sparks. It must dazzle like the beauty of a woman or a poem. It must have radiance, it must be like those stones which Pyrenean shepherds use to light their pipes."

"I feel the need of attaining the maximum of intensity with the minimum of means. It is this which has led me to give my painting a character of even greater bareness.

My tendency towards bareness and simplification has been practiced in three fields: modeling, colors, and the figuration of the personages.

In 1935, in my pictures, space and forms were still modeled. There was still chiaroscuro in my painting. But, little by little, all that has gone. Round about 1940, modeling and chiaroscuro were completely eliminated.

A modeled form is less striking than one which is not. Modeling prevents shock and limits movement to the visual depth. Without modeling or chiaroscuro depth is limitless: movement can stretch to infinity.

Little by little, I've reached the stage of using only a small number of forms and colors. It's not the first time that painting has been done with a very narrow range of colors. The frescoes of the tenth century are painted like this. For me, they are magnificent things. " [1958]

Piet Mondrian [1872-1944]
"Reality manifests itself as constant and objective--independent of us, but as changeable in space and time. Consequently, its reflection in us contains both properties.

Mixed up in our mind, these properties are confused and we do not have a proper image of reality.

This fact explains the multiple conceptions, and, in art, the so different expressions.

The purer the artists' "mirror" is, the more true reality reflects in it.

Overseeing the historical culture of art, we must conclude that the mirror only slowly is purified. Time producing this purifying shows a gradual more constant and objective image of reality. " [c. 1943]

End of the section of early modern masters

Jesús Rafael Soto [1923- ]
Soto had studied art in his native Venezuela before coming to Paris in 1950, where he undertook experiments with kinetic imagery. His large-scale, optically animated installations incorporated colored elements--standing or suspended--which created the illusion of motion. They established Soto as one of the most important international figures in the movement away from static painting and sculpture.

"Penetrables, the new works placed on the floor, the integrations with the architecture, are, in essence, the result of all my earlier experiments. I have always worked in the spirit of a researcher wanting to make a discovery; just as my serial works led to the optical vibration of the painting, the superposition of works one upon another toward real movement, the explorations in the direction of a new language, model phrases, demonstrative elements, all led me toward pure abstraction. With my particular idea of the universal, there are no further limits: In principle, I could create a work which would stretch from Paris to Le Havre, or which would span the ocean--it would be the same process. Simply put, for a long while, I was only able to create small, laboratory-scale works. But for me, it's the same whether I do a painting which I would describe as a studio work, or a work of unlimited scale. I continue to experiment. I believe that art is a science, or a form of science."

"The immaterial is the sensory reality of the universe. Art is the sensory knowledge of the immaterial. To become conscious of the immaterial in its state of pure structure, is to make the final leap toward the absolute.

I cannot conceive of art in any other sense, and as soon as you begin to think in this way, you come upon a fabulous world which has never been explored. That's why whenever I hear anyone say that abstract art is dead [a current view around 1950] I have to laugh."

I separate art and politics because I view politics as a series of transitory phases; if I submitted my work to politics, my art would lose whatever solidity it has. I would have to deviate from my speculative method. I would gradually have to abandon my experiments as an artists to political demands. I find it altogether normal that a politician should give priority to politics, but for me, an artist, my own priority is the domain of art." [1967]

Richard Diebenkorn [1922-1993]
"All paintings start out of a mood, out of a relationship with things or people, out of a complete visual impression. To call this expression abstract seems to me often to confuse the issue. Abstract means literally to draw from or separate. In this sense every artist is abstract . . . . a realistic or nonobjective approach makes no difference. The result is what counts . . . .

A forceful quality in art, truly representative of our modern situation, will rise above the labels of abstraction and realism . . . . a painter is bound to reflect himself and his times." [1957]

Jim Dine [1935 -]
Out of a background of Happenings, Dine went into painting. At first he included real objects, such as chairs or hatchets which he affixed to his canvases, but later merely used images of mundane objects drawn from popular imagery. He was associated with Pop Art, although his own interests, he always insisted, lay elsewhere.

"What is your attitude to Pop Art?"
"I don't feel very pure in that respect. I don't deal exclusively with the popular image. I'm more concerned with it as part of my landscape. I'm sure everyone has always been aware of that landscape, the artistic landscape, the artist's vocabulary, the artist's dictionary."

"Does that apply to the Abstract Expressionists?"
"I would think so--they have eyes, don't they? I think it's the same landscape only interpreted through another generation's eyes. I don't believe there was a sharp break and this is replacing Abstract Expressionism. I believe this is the natural course of things. I don't think it is exclusive or that the best painting is being done as a movement . . . . Pop Art is only one facet of my work. More than popular images I'm interested in personal images, in making paintings about my studio, my experience as a painter, about painting itself, about color charts, the palette, about elements of the realistic landscape--but used differently. " [1963]

"Who are you, Jim Dine? What's your pitch?"
I'm not a Pop artist. For me Pop never was. My pitch is that I'm turned on to the world."

"Why do you say you're not a Pop artist?"
"Because I'm too subjective. Pop is concerned with exteriors. I'm concerned with interiors. When I use objects, I see them as a vocabulary of feelings. I can spend a lot of time with objects, and they leave me as satisfied as a good meal. I don't think Pop artists feel that way. " [1966]

Marcel Duchamp [1887-1968]
"In 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn.

A few months later I bought a cheap reproduction of a winter evening landscape, which I called Pharmacy after adding two small dots, one red and one yellow, in the horizon.

In New York in 1915 I bought at a hardware store a snow shovel on which I wrote 'in advance of the broken art.'

It was around that time that the word 'readymade' came to mind to designate this form of manifestation.

A point which I want very much to establish is that the choice of these 'readymades' was never dictated by aesthetic delectation.

This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste . . . . in fact a complete anaesthesia.

One important characteristic was the short sentence which I occasionally inscribed on the 'readymade.'

That sentence instead of describing the object like a title was meant to carry the mind of the spectator toward other regions more verbal.

Sometimes I would add a graphic detail of presentation which, in order to satisfy my craving for alliterations, would be called 'readymade aided.'

At another time wanting to expose the basic antimony between art and readymades I imagined a 'reciprocal readymade': Use a Rembrandt as an ironing board!

I realized very soon the danger of repeating indiscriminately this form of expression and decided to limit the production of 'readymades' to a small number yearly. I was aware at that time that, for the spectator even more than for the artist, art is a habit forming drug and I wanted to protect my 'readymades' against such contamination.

Another aspect of the 'readymade' is its lack of uniqueness . . . . the replica of a 'readymade' delivering the same message; in fact nearly every one of the 'readymades' existing today is not an original in the conventional sense.

A final remark to this egomaniac's discourse:
Since the tubes of paint used by the artist are manufactured and readymade products we must conclude that all the paintings in the world are 'readymades aided' and also works of assemblage." [1961]

Oskar Kokoschka [1886-1980]
"'Man know thyself,' the device of ancient Greek philosophy, has guided the European whenever he proved himself mature enough to realize that this, the power of reasoning, was all he had received from the hands of the gods . . . . " [1947]

"The difference between experience and all desiccated theory is that, so to speak, the this-worldly embraces the other-worldly: A moment, in the Beyond, reappears as infinity. The torpor of human impulses is a necessary background to the divine shaft of light, as silence is broken by a cry or as dull habit is swept away by the unexpected and unpredicted. " [1953]

"Let us be clear to begin with that I am content with the world as it is and must be, and would not change it for the moon. Even a successful moon landing would not, I feel sure, make much difference to our world. Only experience can shake a man out of his lethargy, as it shows that life generally turns out contrary to plan." [1961]

Egon Schiele
"I have become aware: earth breathes, smells, listens, feels in all its little parts; it adds to itself, couples itself, falls to pieces, and finds itself, enjoys what life is, and seeks the logical philosophy of all, all in all; days and years of all transitoriness, as far as one wishes and is able to think, as far as the spirit of beings is with great contents; through our air, our light, [the earth] has become something or many things, even to creators who are necessary, and has partially perished, consumed in itself, back into itself again, and begins the smaller or greater cycle, everything that I want to call divine germinates anew and brings [forth] and creates, out of the power which few see, a creature.

The transitoriness of the material is determined in the sense of an existence; a sure becoming and passing away, a coming; life, in which concept one should understand the endless disintegration which, however, can be kept in life . . . . I am so rich that I must give myself away." [1911]

Francis Picabia [1879-1953]
"If you want to have clean ideas, change them as often as you change your shirts."

A conviction is a disease.

There is only one way to save your life: sacrifice your reputation.

One must go through life, be it red or blue, stark naked and accompanied by the music of a subtle fisherman, prepared at all times for a celebration.

We are not responsible for what we do; we are ignorant of our acts until we accomplish them.

When I have finished smoking, I am not interested in the butts.

Crime is less criminal than human justice.

What improves our personality represents what is good; what harms it represents evil. That's why God has no personality.

There's nothing modern about making love; however, it's what I like to do best.

Everything for today, nothing for yesterday, nothing for tomorrow." [1920]

Ernst Barlach [1870-1938]
"Just like a dramatist who feels the need for an absolute standard and then with the consciousness of this standard within him forms and elevates, simplifies, and clarifies, so to there lives in the sculptor's soul something which compels him to imbue his intention with a heroic boldness and with a joy in achieving monumental effects, in overcoming triviality and in transforming the unnatural into the natural. The rules which he obeys are no longer the petty ones of common sense but the great ones of a free intelligence . . . .

People have suppressed visions in favor of merely looking at things. Creating visions is a god-like act, art in a higher and therefore better sense than just realistic imitation which involves mere technical know-how. Shouldn't this 'feast of vision' be a higher sacrament than the others? Are visions unreal? Actually, they are the basis for such ideas as 'self-evident,' 'correct,' as much as they are for physical objectivity.

The most conscientious studies can be experienced as false just like the most audacious vision can be experienced as true.

Merely to demonstrate how mystical everything is is futile since it only reminds the public that it must continue living in this gloomy world. But when the artist gives sensuous form to the mystical in such a way that it becomes intimately familiar he has elevated the observer above what is conventional and has placed him in the realm of the infinite. And he has revealed: see, the whole world is grand, everywhere, since the commonplace, everywhere, has mystical significance . . . .

Making something simple, making something monumental gives me a conception of eternal ideas. Part of nature's face is stripped of its wrinkles and little hairs and I try to show myself how it really looks. This process signifies an exaltation of my individuality to a status equal to nature, person to person." [1906]

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner [1880-1938]
"Years went by as I continued my studio study, mostly drawing on the streets, in city squares, and in cafés. I attempted to translate these drawings into pictures. Technically, I first used thick oil colors, then in order to cover larger surfaces I applied the colors more thinly with a painting knife, and then I used benzine [my secret for the mat finish] with a wax additive. Every day I studied the nude, and movement in the streets and in the shops. Out of the naturalistic surface with all its variations I wanted to derive the pictorially determined surface. This is why I rejected academically correct drawing. Old masters like Cranach and Beham supported me in this effort. When the simple two-dimensional surface was purified I began shading the surface in order to enrich the composition, first with black and white, nowadays with other colors. At the same time I gained a deeper understanding of human psychology by getting to know my subjects better as human beings. I never had real models in the academic sense. Of course, you have quite a bit of private information about all this. Then, with insight into the limits of human interaction, I undertook the withdrawal of the self from itself and its dissolution within the other person's psyche for the sake of a more intense expression. The less I was physically involved in something which quickly occurred as a result of my mood, the more easily and completely I entered into and depicted my subject. My technique kept pace with the inner development until my induction into the army made me afraid of people and revealed new things to me in landscape.

What you write about art, and creation in general, is easy for me to understand. I also understand what you mean about the artist and philosopher creating their own world. Actually, such a world is only a means of making contact with others in the great mystery which surrounds all of us. This great mystery which stands behind all events and things [sometimes like a phantom] can be seen or felt when we talk to a person or stand in a landscape or when flowers or objects suddenly speak to us. We can never represent it directly, we can only symbolize it in forms and words. Think of it, a person sits across from us and we talk, and suddenly there arises the intangible something which one could call mystery. It gives to his features his innate personality, and yet at the same time it lifts those features beyond the personal. If I am able to join him in such a moment, I almost call it ecstasy, I can paint his portrait. And yet this portrait, as close as it is to his real self, is a paraphrase of the great mystery and, in the last analysis, it does not represent a single personality but a part of that spirituality or feeling which pervades the whole world."

"I don't know whether I can express myself intelligibly. I can only give you an example of what I understand by passivity. It is the ability of so losing one's own individuality that one can make this contact with others. It takes immense effort to achieve this, yet it is achieved without willing it, to some extent unconsciously without one's having to do with it. To create at this stage with whatever means--words or colors or notes--is art." [1917]




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