Love letters and violent manifestos by history's great artists

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On Making Art



All Writings

The Creative Act

Marcel Duchamp — 1957

Millions of artists create; only a few thousands are discussed or accepted by the spectator

The Great Trouble with Art

Marcel Duchamp — 1946

The great trouble with art ... is that there is no spirit of revolt

The 95 Theses

Marcel Duchamp — 1517

The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self...

The Building of Ningirsu's Temple - Cylinder A

Gudea, King of Lagash — -2125

I am Nin-jirsu. No country can bear my fierce stare, nobody escapes my outstretched arms.

A Praise Poem of Iddin-Dagan

Gudea, King of Lagash — -1900

Your kingship is good for the people. The people spend their days in abundance thanks to you.

Lives of the Artists: Giotto

Giorgio Vasari — 1550

The boy not only equalled his master, but ... brought back to life the true art of painting

Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States

Susan B. Anthony — 1876

We ask of our rulers no special favors, no special privileges, no special legislation. We ask justice.

Brief Historical Sketch of the Invention of the Art

William Henry Fox Talbot — 1846

The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid from the artist's pencil.

Germ Vol. 2 — Chapter 10: O When and Where

Thomas Woolner — 1850

All knowledge hath taught me, All sorrow hath brought me, Are smothered sighs That pleasure lies

Germ Vol. 1 — Chapter 2: Of My Lady in Death

Thomas Woolner — 1850

Her breath caught with short plucks and fast:— Then one hot choking strain. She never breathed again:

Germ Vol. 1 — Chapter 1: My Beautiful Lady

Thomas Woolner — 1850

Her spirit sits aloof, and high, Altho' it looks thro' her soft eye Sweetly and tenderly.

Prometheus Bound, by Aeschylus

Thomas Woolner — -430

A stormy sea of wrong and ruining.

Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles

Thomas Woolner — -429

Show me the man whose happiness was anything more than illusion, followed by disillusion.

Antigone, by Sophocles

Thomas Woolner — -442

Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man

The Rosetta Stone, Translation of the Greek Section

Thomas Woolner — -196

The gods have given him health, victory and power, and all other good things, and he and his children shall retain the kingship for all time.

The Book of the Dead

Thomas Woolner — -1550

I am one of those gods, the Powers who effect the triumph of Osiris over his adversaries on the day of the Weighing of the Words : I am thy kinsman, Osiris.

From the Cradle to the Grave, Excerpt

Adolf Wölfli — 1912

Sit today, my dear child: whosoever's hungry, may bark: the warhose flies in the wind: the pointer with the trowel: is truly my worst foe.

Memories of Childhood in Gréville-Hague

Jean-François Millet — 1881

I remember being awakened one morning by voices in the room where I slept.

The Shipwrecks

Jean-François Millet — 1881

Suddenly an immense wave rose up like a raging mountain, caught the vessel and carried it towards the beach.

Lives of the Artists: Piero della Francesca

Giorgio Vasari — 1550

I have heard tell, he had made some heads from nature, so beautiful and so well executed that speech alone was wanting to give them life.

Lives of the Artists: Giorgione

Giorgio Vasari — 1550

He was brought up in Venice, and took unceasing delight in the joys of love

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin — 1887

My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts

The Rosicrucian Manifestos

Charles Darwin — 1616

Therefore one day it will come to pass, that the mouth of those vipers will be stopped and the triple crown will be brought to nought

Paragone of Poetry and Painting

Leonardo da Vinci — 1500

Now which is the worse defect? to be blind or dumb?

Symbolist Manifesto

Leonardo da Vinci — 1886

The essential character of symbolic art consists in never approaching the concentrated kernel of the Idea in itself.

Realist Manifesto — An Open Letter

Gustave Courbet — 1861

Painting is an essentially concrete art and can only consist of the representation of real and existing things

Dada Manifesto

Gustave Courbet — 1918

We are like a raging wind that rips up the clothes of clouds and prayers, we are preparing the great spectacle of disaster, conflagration and decomposition.

A Call to the New Art

Kazimir Malevich — 1920

May the downfall of the old world be etched on the palms of your hands.

The Art of Noises

Luigi Russolo — 1913

Ancient life was all silence. Today, Noise reigns supreme over the sensibility of men.

Concerning the Spiritual in Art — Part 1

Wassily Kandinsky — 1910

Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions.

The Red Rag

James McNeill Whistler — 1878

Art should be independent of all clap-trap—should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like.

Art is not a slave of culture

James McNeill Whistler — 1878

Listen! There never was an artistic period. There never was an Art-loving nation. In the beginning, man went forth each day—all that they might gain and live, or lose and die.

A Letter of Intent

Rosa Bonheur — 1898

I'm sending this letter along with that of your dear daughter Anna, my dear colleague in the arts, in order to tell you of my deep affection for her.

Of the Just Shaping of Letters

Albrecht Dürer — 1525

In what honour and dignity this art was anciently held amongst the Greeks and Romans, the old authors sufficiently testify; though afterwards all but lost, while it lay hid for more than a thousand years.

The Futurist Cinema

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti — 1916

This is how we decompose and recompose the universe according to our marvelous whims, to centuple the powers of the Italian creative genius and its absolute preeminence in the world.

Cubism and the General Culture

Albert Gleizes — 1926

By eliminating everything superfluous to the technical means of their craft the Cubists finally reached the common ground where a general, synthetic culture becomes possible.

The Building of Ningirsu's Temple - Cylinder B

Gudea, King of Lagash — -2125

The day was for supplication, the night was for prayer. The moonlight ... early morning, its master.

The Interrogation of Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich — 1930

Transcript of the OGPU (United State Political Agency) Interrogation of Malevich, September 1930

From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism

Kazimir Malevich — 1915

Abandon love, abandon aestheticism, abandon the baggage of wisdom, for in the new culture, your wisdom is ridiculous and insignificant. I have untied the knots of wisdom and liberated the consciousness of color!

The Rise of Russian Art

Natalia Goncharova — 1913

I shake off the dust of the West, and I consider all those people ridiculous and backward who still imitate Western models in the hope of becoming pure painters and who fear literariness more than death.

Cubism — a Diatribe

Natalia Goncharova — 1912

I condemn without hesitation the position of the Knave of Diamonds, which has replaced creative activity with theorizing.

The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff — The Final Days

Marie Bashkirtseff — 1884

And then everything will be ended. Everything will be ended. I shall die with the dying year.

The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff — Introduction

Marie Bashkirtseff — 1884

What if I should die suddenly, carried away by some swift disease? After my death they would search among my papers; my journal would be found, my family would destroy it, and in a short time, of me there would remain nothing—nothing—nothing!

Tibetan Art

Nicholas Roerich — 1928

The red door, aglow with the gold of ornament, slowly opens. In the twilight of Dukhang, the gigantic image of Maitreya majestically rises into the height.

No Pleasant Memories: Enemies

Romaine Brooks — 1930

Who can hope to attack effectively what indifference has made invincible?

No Pleasant Memories: The Drudgery (Of Society)

Romaine Brooks — 1930

I to bring to these people my spontaneous good-will; my art ... while on the other hand, they bring to me nothing but their unfriendly, inquisitive and mischievous selves.

No Pleasant Memories: War

Romaine Brooks — 1930

I was in my bathtub when the first Big Berthe fell. It was evident that some new terror was upon us.

We Flirted

Florine Stettheimer — 1920

His glasses strangely dulled, his eyes they became an opaque barrier

On Raphael and the Power of Will

Maurice Denis — 1904

What makes a piece of artwork significant, is the fullness of the artist’s efforts, the powerfulness of his or her will.

On Fra Angelico, Chastity and Desire

Maurice Denis — 1886

I used to say: “What is naked is chaste, what is naked is beautiful,” and I didn’t know what it was. Now, I know it and I like it; alas! why must it not be chaste? and why must attractive delights of necessity be indecent?

On Rome and the Wonders of Antiquity

Maurice Denis — 1904

What a pitfall the practice of Antiquity can be. — It is an art that is too rich, too perfect, too general, of bygone idealism, and for which the conventions have become nearly incomprehensible

Memoirs of Vigée Lebrun: Chapter 3 — Work and Pleasure

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun — 1835

My indifference to money no doubt proceeded from the fact that wealth was not necessary to me.

Memoirs of Vigée Lebrun: Chapter 2 — Up The Ladder Of Fame

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun — 1835

On my arrival one of them brought in a jar of rose-water, with which he sprinkled my hands; then the tallest, whose name was Davich Kahn, gave me a sitting. I did him standing, with his hand on his dagger.

Memoirs of Vigée Lebrun: Chapter 1 — Youth

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun — 1835

My young reputation attracted a number of strangers to our house. Several distinguished personages came to see me, among them the notorious Count Orloff, one of Peter the Third's assassins.

Lives of the Artists: Titian

Giorgio Vasari — 1550

...In the first is a river of red wine, about which are singers and musicians, both men and women, as it were drunk, and a naked woman who is sleeping, so beautiful that she might be alive, together with other figures; and on this picture Tiziano wrote his name.

Lives of the Artists: Agnolo Bronzino

Giorgio Vasari — 1550

Beginning with the oldest and most important, I shall speak first of Agnolo called Bronzino, a Florentine painter truly most rare and worthy of all praise.

Lives of the Artists: Preface to the Work

Giorgio Vasari — 1550

It was the wont of the finest spirits in all their actions, through a burning desire for glory, to spare no labour, however grievous, in order to bring their works to that perfection which might render them impressive and marvelous to the whole world.

Lives of the Artists: Raphael Sanzio

Giorgio Vasari — 1550

Meanwhile, pursuing his amours in secret, Raffaello continued to divert himself beyond measure with the pleasures of love; whence it happened that, having on one occasion indulged in more than his usual excess, he returned to his house in a violent fever.

Lives of the Artists: Preface to the Lives

Giorgio Vasari — 1550

Thus far have I thought fit to discourse from the beginning of sculpture and of painting, and peradventure at greater length than was necessary in this place, which I have done, indeed, not so much carried away by my affection for art as urged by the common benefit and advantage of our craftsmen.

Directions for the Construction of the Text or Quadrate Letters

Albrecht Dürer — 1525

This is the antique form of the letters; but in these days there is used a more elegant text —

A prayer for the safety of Martin Luther

Albrecht Dürer — 1521

Dost thou see how the unjust tyranny of worldly power and the might of darkness prevail? Hear, thou knight of Christ, ride on beside the Lord Jesus; guard the truth, win the martyr's crown!

Growing Pains: The Outdoor Sketch Class

Emily Carr — 1946

Sketching outdoors was a fluid process, half looking, half dreaming, awaiting invitation from the spirit of the subject to "come, meet me half way."

Growing Pains: Colour-Sense

Emily Carr — 1946

Three times that morning he had stood behind my easel and roared, "Scrape!" When he came the fourth time and said it again, my face went red.

My Life - Marc Chagall Autobiography: Chapter 1

Marc Chagall — 1922

The town was on fire, the quarter where the poor Jews lived. They carried the bed and the mattress, the mother and the babe at her feet, to a safe place at the other end of town. But, first of all, I was born dead.

Selections from the Diary of Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz — 1911

Then there seems to me nothing special about what I have done. That torments me. Potency, potency is diminishing.

The Sedative

Marie Laurencin — 1917

More than annoyed, sad. More than sad, unhappy. More than unhappy, suffering.

On Illness

Hildegard von Bingen — 1150

From tasting evil, the blood of the sons of Adam was turned into the poison of semen, out of which the sons of man are begotten.

The First Written Description of the Female Orgasm

Hildegard von Bingen — 1150

When a woman is making love with a man, a sense of heat in her brain, which brings with it sensual delight, communicates the taste of that delight.

Writings on the Holy Spirit

Hildegard von Bingen — 1100

She is Divine Wisdom... She is awesome in terror as the Thunderer's lightening, and gentle in goodness as the sunshine.

Songs of Innocence

William Blake — 1789

And I made a rural pen, And I stained the water clear, And I wrote my happy songs — Every child may joy to hear.

Sicilian Scenery and Antiquities — Part 1

Thomas Cole — 1844

The pleasure of traveling, it seems to me, is chiefly experienced after the journey is over; when we can sit down by our own snug fire-side, free from all fatigues and annoyances...

Sicilian Scenery and Antiquities — Part 2

Thomas Cole — 1844

We see that nations have sprung from obscurity, risen to glory, and decayed. Their rise has in general been marked by virtue; their decadence by vice, vanity, and licentiousness. Let us beware!

Essay on American Scenery

Thomas Cole — 1836

The good, the enlightened of all ages and nations, have found pleasure and consolation in the beauty of the rural earth.

Concerning the Spiritual in Art — Part 2: About Painting

Wassily Kandinsky — 1910

A first encounter with any new phenomenon exercises immediately an impression on the soul.

Gustav Klimt — On Fear and Self Portraits

Gustav Klimt — 1900

Whoever wants to know something about me - as an artist which alone is significant - they should look attentively at my pictures...

General Principals of Neo-Plasticism

Piet Mondrian — 1926

Neo-Plasticism demonstrates exact order. Equilibrium through neutralizing opposition annihilates individuals...and creates a future society as true unity.

Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art - Part 1

Piet Mondrian — 1936

Universal beauty does not arise from form, but from the dynamic rhythm of inherent relationships. Art has shown that it is a question of determining the relations.

Van Gogh and Gauguin to Emile Bernard

Vincent Van Gogh — 1888

We’re in the presence of an unspoiled creature with the instincts of a wild beast. With Gauguin, blood and sex have the edge over ambition.

Metamorphosis and Mystery

Georges Braque — 1964

You see, I have made a great discovery: I no longer believe in anything...what I can only describe as a state of peace—

Letters from Paul Cézanne to Emile Bernard

Paul Cézanne — 1904

Nature has more depth than surface, hence the need to introduce in our vibrations of light, represented by reds and yellows, enough blue tints to give a feeling of air.

Letters by Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet — 1870

I quite like the subject of violent exercise. It makes the most surprising painting you can imagine.

Letters between Paul Cézanne and Émile Zola

Émile Zola — 1860

A certain ennui is always with me, and when I forget my sorrow for a moment it’s because I’ve had a drink.

The Futurist Manifesto

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti — 1909

Literature has exalted pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia...The world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.

Notes on Constructivist Art

Liubov Popova — 1921

The organization of artistic elements must be applied to the design of the material elements of everyday life.

A Visit to the 1889 Fair — a play by Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau — 1889

"...don't lose your temper and spoil our fun. After all, it isn't every day we come to Paris and good heavens, since we've seen all these lovely things at the Fair!"

A Russian Orphan's Revenge — a play by Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau — 1899

"Money, lovely Money, don't ever leave me you are worth more than all the women in the world."

Henri Rousseau — Autobiography

Henri Rousseau — 1895

His appearance is notable because of his bushy beard ... believing as he does that complete freedom to produce must be granted to the innovator whose thought is elevated toward the beautiful and the good.

On Rejection and Hard Work

Henri Rousseau — 1884

All these celebrated men were in agreement in saying I should persevere and that notwithstanding my being forty years old it was still not too late.

Manifesto of Futurist Architecture

Antonio Sant'Elia — 1914

Just as the ancients drew inspiration for their art from the elements of nature, we—who are materially and spiritually artificial—must find that inspiration in the elements of the utterly new mechanical world we have created.

Delight in Existence!

Wenzel Hablik — 1920

Come and join the struggle against all things negative and corrupting.

The Aesthetics of Tone, Color, and Line

Georges Seurat — 1890

Art is harmony. Harmony is the analogy of contrary elements and the analogy of similar elements of tone, color and line...

Poems in mockery of painter Giovanni Baglione

Caravaggio — 1603

Without doubt you can call him John Testicle, who sets himself to criticizing someone else who could be his master for a hundred years.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

William Blake — 1790

Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil... Good is heaven. Evil is hell.

All Religions are One

William Blake — 1788

The Poetic Genius is the true Man and the body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic Genius.

The Mental Traveler

William Blake — 1803

I travelled through a land of men, A land of men and women too, And heard and saw such dreadful things, As cold earth wanderers never knew.

Sonnets for Laura Battiferri

Agnolo Bronzino — 1560

And I who am changed through her, as the winged magician wishes, do not see or ask anything but virtue and beauty, whence I could perhaps discern your whole soul.

Heliography: Designs and Engravings

Nicéphore Niépce — 1827

The examples that I have the honor of presenting are the first results of my extensive research on the manner of fixing the image of objects by the action of light.

Description of Heliography (with notes by Louis Daguerre)

Nicéphore Niépce — 1829

Light acts chemically upon bodies. It is absorbed, it combines with them, and communicates new properties. Such, in a few words, is the principle of the discovery.

Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture

Umberto Boccioni — 1912

How can generations of sculptors can continue to construct dummies without asking why the exhibition halls of sculpture have become reservoirs of boredom and nausea?

The Manifesto of Surrealism

André Breton — 1924

I could spend my whole life prying loose the secrets of the insane. These people are honest to a fault, and their naiveté has no peer but my own.