Five Great Quotes by American Artists

“I don’t get art,” TV’s George Costanza complains to his best friend, Jerry, in a classic Seinfeld moment. “There’s nothing to get,” Jerry replies, suggesting his friend just relax and take art in, quit working so hard. Part of the challenge, of course, is that most visual art is just that: nonverbal. But for those of us who suspect an artist has an explicit point we’re not getting, it’s nice when one of them puts aside paint or wood and turns to words. Five quotations from American artists that offer insight into their works at the NCMA:

“I get letters from people about my work. The thing that pleases me most is that my work touches their feelings. In fact, they don’t talk about the paintings. They end up telling me the story of their life or how their father died.

—Andrew Wyeth, Interview, Smithsonian.com, 2006

“During the war there was a shortage of materials, and I decided that creativity was the important thing and I would see things that I could use, everywhere. I always wanted to show the world that art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind.”

—Louise Nevelson, Dawns and Dusks, 1976

“It is the creation of an object for sensing that is the artist’s task; and it is the qualities of this object that constitute its felt content … It is Cezanne’s feeling that determined the form of his pictorial structure. It is his pictorial structure that gives off his feeling. If all his pictorial structures were to disappear from the world, so would a certain feeling.”

—Robert Motherwell, “Beyond the Aesthetic,” Design, 1946

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­“I’d rather risk an ugly surprise than rely on things I know I can do. The whole business of spotting; the small area of color in a big canvas; how edges meet; how accidents are controlled; all this fascinates me.”

—Helen Frankenthaler, Art Forum interview, 1965

 “You just can’t think of art in terms of progress. It is not progressive. It is just different from age to age … You can’t get anything better in the world of art than a fully realized form, and such forms have been made by artists since the dawn of history. We were as good, as artists, when we began our history as we are now.”

—Thomas Hart Benton, interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library mural project, 1964

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