Note: Please also see the sub-category Mental Illness and Creativity, which is located on the Madness quotes page, for quotes on correlations between writing/creativity and madness.






Can it be that I’ll never take pen in hand? If I won’t be able to write, I’ll perish. Better fifteen years of imprisonment and a pen in hand! –an 1849 letter from Fyodor Dostoyevsky, spotted at, “Dostoyevsky On His Execution And The Meaning of Life”

... once when I was ten years old I asked my big brother for the loan of a two-króna coin and I bought a notepad and pen, I assumed the pose and felt the beauty of the world surrounding me as I began to stab the pen down, letters beginning to arrange themselves, the words taking shape from each other on the page, meaning accruing, the world opening up! –Ófeigur Sigurðsson, Öræfi: The Wasteland

[Diary writing is] a mode of creating meaning in a meaningless world, and thus maintaining subjectivity in the face of its annihilation. –Rachel Langford and Russell West, Marginal Voices, Marginal Forms: Diaries in European Literature and History

Every writer is cursed or blessed with a unique creative metabolism: the distinctive speed and efficiency with which he or she converts the raw fuel of life into the mystical, dancing blue smoke of art. –Sam Anderson, “Junot Diaz Hates Writing Short Stories”

Sometimes stories cry out to be told in such loud voices that you write them just to shut them up. –Stephen King, in the afterward to “The Man in the Black Suit”

… stories are artifacts: Not really made things which we create (and can take credit for), but preexisting objects which we dig up. –Stephen King, in the foreward to “Everything’s Eventual”

If you are a writer, it’s the writing that matters and no amount of battery acid in your stomach over who got what for what book they wrote is going to help you in your cause. Your cause is to write a great book and then to write another great book and to keep writing them for as long as you can. That is your only cause. It is not to get a six figure book deal. I’m talking about the difference between art and money; creation and commerce. It’s a beautiful and important thing to be paid to make art. Publishers who deliver our books to readers are a vital part of what we do. But what we do—you and I—is write books. Which may garner six-figure book deals for the reasons I outlined above. Or not. –Dear Sugar, March 31, 2011

In the afternoon I sat down and I began to write a story. I hadn’t ever written a story and I didn’t know if I would be able. I didn’t know how to make money in the land of milk and honey, and I didn’t know lots of other things, and I certainly didn’t know how to write. Yet there was something magical about how the words tumbled out, separate and connected, and became sentences and paragraphs that ran down the page and became, however clumsy, something more coherent than my life. This was freedom. –Philip Ó Ceallaigh, “My Life as an Artist”

... there I was in my rented room with the wooden floorboards, getting up each morning and creating beautiful dancing prose, drinking buckets of tea, pacing about as the world in my head became brilliant, flashed, gave off sparks—sitting down again for lines that ran and flowed and surprised even me the creator. But that was the joy of it, I wasn’t the maker. It wasn’t me hammering it out, hacking at the reluctant material. I was the conduit for a magic energy. I was possessed of it, there to deliver it, deliver myself of it. The delivery boy. I was elated and humble. It was a holy time. –Philip Ó Ceallaigh, “Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse”

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
     This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose ...
     ... Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty—describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds—wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it. –Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

[re: journaling] Whatever coaxes us out of hiding, to write, record, and express, is a revolutionary act. It says that we believe our lives count. Our lives do count. –Sark, Succulent Wild Woman

I think writers are always failed social animals. I certainly am. –Rick Moody, quoted in the December 26, 2008, issue of Entertainment Weekly

Why one writes is a question I can easily answer, having so often asked it myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me—the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own like a climate, a country, an atmosphere where I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That I believe is reason of every work of art. We also write to heighten our awareness of life. We write to lure, enchant, and to console others. We write to serenade. We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and once in retrospection. We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak to others, to record the journey into the labyrinth. We write to expand our world when we feel strangled or restricted or lonely. If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it. –Anaïs Nin, “A New Woman”

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath. –F. Scott Fitzgerald, in an undated letter to his daughter

Writing is easy. Just put a sheet of paper in the typewriter and start bleeding. –Thomas Wolfe, quoted in Gene Olson’s Sweet Agony

And to write is to sow and to reap at the same time. –Elie Wiesel, Memoirs

These hours of beauty have meant so much to me, somewhat in the writing, but much more in the long incalculable hours and days out of which the writing has risen like the blue smoke out of woods, that I want to share them with others. –Fiona Macleod

To write meant then, and still does, catching sparks of thought in a hard-backed notebook balanced on my knees. –Doug Robinson, A Night on the Ground, A Day in the Open

... writing is magic because it harnesses the energy generated by the chaos within. Writing works better at cleaning up the mess than doing laundry or making beds. –Linda Gray Sexton, Searching for Mercy Street

... the only way I could bear to live without her was to write a book. My book. The one that I’d known was in me since way before I knew people like me could have books inside of them. The one I felt pulsing in my chest like a second heart, formless and unimaginable until my mother died, and there it was, the plot revealed, the story I couldn’t live without telling. My debut. –Dear Sugar, August 19, 2010

... I’d finally reached a point where the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than the one of writing a book that sucked. And so at last, I got to serious work on the book.
     When I was done writing it, I understood that things happened just as they were meant to. That I couldn’t have written my book before I did. I simply wasn’t capable of doing so, either as a writer or a person. To get to the point I had to get to write my first book, I had to do everything I did in my twenties. I had to write a lot of sentences that never turned into anything and stories that never miraculously formed a novel. I had to read voraciously and compose exhaustive entries in my journals. I had to waste time and grieve my mother and come to terms with my childhood and have stupid and sweet and scandalous sexual relationships and grow up. –ditto

I didn’t know if people would think my book was good or bad or horrible or beautiful and I didn’t care. I only knew I no longer had two hearts beating in my chest. I’d pulled one out with my own bare hands. I’d suffered. I’d given it everything I had.
     I’d finally been able to give it because I’d let go of all the grandiose ideas I’d once had about myself and my writing—so talented! so young! I’d stopped being grandiose. I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely no-where-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do. –ditto

So write ... Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker. –ditto

Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. –ditto

You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet. –ditto

Once they asked me
why my writing was so obscure.
They might ask the night that,
or minerals, or roots.
I didn’t know what to answer ...
–Pablo Neruda, “Autumn Testament”

Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one. –Salman Rushdie, “In Good Faith”

There is a mystery in all great writing and that mystery does not dissect out. It continues and is always valid. –Ernest Hemingway

Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time. –Carl Sagan, Cosmos

The three things that help writing the most are living, writing, and reading. In that order. –Hisham Matar, in an interview in Goldlink

Writing isn’t as precious as we think it is. Of course, there is something that is mysterious about writing, but tasks and rituals are important. –ditto

It is what is left over when everything explainable has been explained that makes a story worth writing and reading. –Flannery O’Connor

I have often thought that the best mode of life for me would be to sit in the innermost room of a spacious locked cellar with my writing things and a lamp. Food would be brought and always put down far away from my room, outside the cellar’s outermost door. The walk to my food, in my dressing gown, through the vaulted cellars, would be my only exercise. I would then return to my table, eat slowly and with deliberation, then start writing again at once. And how I would write! From what depths I would drag it up! –Franz Kafka, in a 1913 letter his fiancée, Felice Bauer

I write only because
there is a voice within me
that will not be still.
–Sylvia Plath, from an untitled poem written in 1948

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. –EL Doctorow

They ask me if I were on a desert island and knew nobody would ever see what I wrote, would I go on writing. My answer is most emphatically yes, I would go on writing for company. –William S. Burroughs

Not till [the memories] have turned to blood within us, to glance and gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves—not till then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them. –Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

You digest and absorb your life by turning it into stories ... Other events—the ones you can’t digest—they poison you. Those worst parts of your life, those moments you can’t talk about, they rot you from the inside out. ... But the stories that you can digest, that you can tell—you can take control of those past moments. You can shape them, craft them. Master them. And use them to your own good. Those stories as important as food. Those are stories you can use to make people laugh or cry or sick. Or scared. To make people feel the way you felt. To help exhaust that past moment for them and for you. Until that moment is dead. Consumed. Digested. Absorbed. –Chuck Palahniuk, Haunted

It would not be inaccurate to say that I write to bring order into chaos, to share with myself a knowledge that is useful even if it hurts and which would make life more bearable, not only for myself but also for others. –Christer Kihlman, The Blue Mother

Writing is to seek. –ditto

I write to find this pattern, this binding network of roots in the soil that is our reality, of trees which have become invisible, perhaps the tree of God, or the tree of original flesh, or the tree of the spirit, how do I know, which has perhaps died, ceased to exist, dried out and left the earth our reality, this trembling, cracking, wonderful era, a desert, open to disintegration, the end, a tree we ourselves have perhaps ravaged and betrayed. –ditto

Very few people can write in a crowd. This is a very solitary occupation. I have known people more talented than me who never made it. And the primary reason was always that they couldn’t stand to be alone for several hours a day. Any writer worth anything has mastered the art. The art of solitude. –Tom Robbins

Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking. –Jessamyn West

Thus the fiction shelves in any library are heavy with novels—look at their checkout slips—that have not been lent for years. Thus the writer, knowing this as writers do, is even more alone. Who will deem my work worth his time to read? The few. Yet writers write. And knowing what they know makes their isolation almost a sacrament. –Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners’Manifesto

You can’t be a proper writer without a touch of madness, can you? –Kate Winslet, in Quills

I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays. I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life. –George Orwell, “Why I Write”

If we had to say what writing is, we would define it essentially as an act of courage. –Cynthia Ozick

If you see nothing you write nothing: you compel yourself to see. –Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar

To write is to tell the truth. –Ursula LeGuin

I don’t really have any advice, other than to say it’s the most appallingly difficult thing I’ve ever tried to do and I wish I had a better idea of how to do it. In my experience what you end up with is the by-product of your failure to achieve what you set out to do. It may turn out OK, but it wasn’t what you meant and you’ve no idea how you got there. –Douglas Adams, on writing

There is nothing sexier than great writing. –comment from Brett in the Letters section of Details

Anyway, the force from somewhere in Space commands you to write in the first place, gives you no choice. You take up the pen when you are told, and write what is commanded. There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you. –Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road

Write hard and clear about what hurts. –Ernest Hemingway

A man’s goal in everything is to be invisible to others (defense), and there are but two means to this end: absolute reserve and total openness. A writer is the latter. We know all and nothing about him. That is why, after his death, we try so intently (with the same uncontrollable greed as in glancing at someone else’s sheet of paper) to establish just who he was—letters, memoirs, medical records—and have no success. This man who lived so openly, so on display, so in the public eye, turns out to have been the most secretive, the most invisible. He has carried his secret to the grave. For this to be true, writers must be geniuses, and hacks crystal-pure and sincere. –Andrei Bitov, Pushkin House

If I didn’t have writing, I’d be running down the street hurling grenades in people’s faces. –Paul Fussell

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else. –Gloria Steinem

There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn’t because the book is not there and worth being written—it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself. –Mark Twain

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart ... –William Wordsworth

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. –Ray Bradbury

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. –Anaïs Nin

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. –EL Doctorow

A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. –Charles Peguy

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. –Sylvia Plath, journal, undated entry from summer 1953

I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all. –Richard Wright, American Hunger

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. –Norbet Platt

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone ... –Vita Sackville-West

Writing let me escape. ... It let me escape the insistent tug of my family, and its ongoing misery. Writing was like slipping into the ocean, a place where I could move easily, where I could be graceful, and playful, and invisible and visible all at once-a byline, not a body. Sitting in front of the computer, with the screen blank and the cursor blinking, was the best escape I knew. And there was plenty to escape from. –Jennifer Weiner, Good in Bed

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible. –Vladimir Nabakov

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. –Anton Chekhov

Easy reading is damn hard writing. –Nathaniel Hawthorne

The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it. –Jules Renard, Diary, February 1895

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. –James Michener

It seems to me that the problem with diaries, and the reason that most of them are so boring, is that every day we vacillate between examining our hangnails and speculating on cosmic order. –Ann Beattie, Picturing Will

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. –Francis Bacon

Every writer I know has trouble writing. –Joseph Heller

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. –Arthur Polotnik

I am a man, and alive ... For this reason I am a novelist. And being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet, who are all great masters of different bits of man alive, but never get the whole hog. –DH Lawrence, preface to All Things Are Possible

In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself; to understand himself, to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratifications, is a curious anticlimax. –Alfred Kazin

Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself. –Franz Kafka

What things there are to write, if one could only write them! My mind is full of gleaming thought; gay moods and mysterious, moth-like meditations hover in my imagination, fanning their painted wings. But always the rarest, those streaked with azure and the deepest crimson, flutter away beyond my reach. –Logan Pearsall Smith

A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end ... but not necessarily in that order. –Jean Luc Godard

The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s neurosis, and we’d have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads. –William Styron

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. –Winston Churchill

Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. –Rainer Maria Rilke

I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can’t be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living. –Sylvia Plath, journal, May 14, 1953

Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don’t like—then cultivate it. That’s the only part of your work that’s individual and worth keeping. –Jean Cocteau

Writers get exactly the right amount of fame: just enough to get a good table in a restaurant but not enough so that people are constantly interrupting you while you’re eating dinner. –Fran Lebowitz

Unlike profiling serial killers, writing is a lonely and depressing profession. –Jose Chung, in Millennium

I sometimes need to write things which I cannot completely control but which therefore prove that what is in me is stronger than I am. –Albert Camus

One does not only wish to be understood when one writes; one wishes just as surely not to be understood. –Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

The more I write, the more the silence seems to be eating away at me. –CK Williams

The act of writing is the act of making soul, alchemy. –Gloria Evangelina Anzaldua

The world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. –ditto

Nothing matters but writing. There has been nothing else worthwhile ... a stain upon the silence. –Samuel Beckett

If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and, no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework ... you can still be writing, because you have that space. –Joyce Carol Oates

We recognize vivid writing when we come across it, and we know the bad stuff, too—it makes us squirm instinctively. –in an issue of The Editorial Eye

A piece of writing always begins at the beginning. But for a writer, getting to that beginning is often a struggle. –ditto

Those who have children can relate: there comes a time for a writer when she has to let her book go into the world, not knowing what’s in store. Just like a child, it might be labeled, misinterpreted, put into the wrong class. It could end up in places its creator never dreamed it would. Or it might be understood, praised and cherished by those its creators never dreamed would even encounter it. –Sara Wildberger

How is it that I can want to do something as badly as I want to write, and not do it? –Crescent Dragonwagon, The Year it Rained

All my life I have written, much more than I’ve ever shown anyone, most of which I’ve thrown out. All my life I had to: simple. Possibly the only thing in my life which has ever been simple, this draw to put things in words. The one thing about me worth envying ...
      What stopped me, this past year? –ditto

Connected to the fear of revealing myself to others is a fear of speaking or writing my own mind. Ever since I was eight, I’ve known that I wanted to be a writer, but for so many years I had a block because I had this irrational (or maybe not so irrational) fear that if I spoke out, someone might want to do me harm. In this life, I’ve always believed in the Chinese proverb, “The nail that stands out always gets hammered down.”It was only when I was 32 years old that I finally allowed myself to begin writing. –a member of my listserv

Why had I become a writer in the first place? Because I wasn’t fit for society; I didn’t fit into the system. –Brian Aldiss

Writing is ultimately a lonely pursuit and you should never forget that it always comes down to you and the page. –Christa Faust, in a 1998 issue of Carpe Noctem

I loved to write. It was in this yearning that I located—probably pretty accurately—that difference which generated my isolation. –Nancy Mairs, “On Living Behind Bars”

If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing. –Kingsley Amis

It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page. –Joan Baez

Journal writing is a voyage into the interior. –Christina Baldwin, One to One

The Journal is not essentially a confession, a story about oneself. It is a Memorial. What does the writer have to remember? Himself, who he is when he is not writing, when he is living his daily life, when he is alive and real, and not dying ... –Maurice Blanchot

Fill your journal. Fill it with inspiration and rage and tears and boredom and chaos and random pieces that happened to float past while you dreamed on that moonlit night. I began to fill my journals with the light as well as the dark sides of myself. ... A journal is like pages from your soul ... –Sark, Living Juicy

It’s not a bad idea to get in the habit of writing down one’s thoughts. It saves one having to bother anyone with them. –Isable Colegate

The process of writing—any form of creativity—is a power intensifying life. –Rita Mae Brown, Starting from Scratch

There are ... intangible realities which float near us, formless and without words; realities which no one has thought out, and which are excluded for lack of interpreters. –Natalie Clifford Barney

My stories run up and bite me in the leg—I respond by writing them down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off. –Ray Bradbury

You never know what you will learn till you start writing. Then you discover truths you never knew existed. –Anita Brookner

Writing is more than anything a compulsion, like some people wash their hands thirty times a day for fear of awful consequences if they do not. It pays a whole lot better than this type of compulsion, but it is no more heroic. –Julie Burchill

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad. As to that regular, uninterrupted love of writing ... I do not understand it. I feel it as a torture, which I must get rid of, but never as a pleasure. –George Gordon Byron

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make. –Truman Capote

I start a lot more songs than I finish, because I realize when I get into them, they’re no good. I don’t throw them away, I just put them away, store them, get them out of sight. –Johnny Cash

I continue to create because writing is a labor of love and also an act of defiance, a way to light a candle in a gale wind ... –Alice Childress

I don’t think you get to good writing unless you expose yourself and your feelings. –Judy Collins

Writing is a voice that calls us from dreams, that peeks out of the corner of our eyes when we think no one is looking, the longing that breaks our hearts even when we think we should be happiest, and to which we cannot give a name. –Judy Collins

Writing does not cause misery, it is born of misery. –Montaigne

... being safe is the last thing that will serve you as a writer. As a writer, you spend time forgetting rules, forgetting what you know, so you can write, instead, those things your characters know. Quite often, characters serve the function of informing writers of things he or she does not know. –Ann Beattie, “Melancholy and the Muse”

Writers are such private, solitary people. They may become things other than that, but the writing almost without exception gets done because of an inwardness, a sense of privacy that you retain, even though you know that the piece you write may go public. –ditto

Writing is such a private activity that going public with it later can be doubly difficult for someone who has spent long periods listening to voices in his or her head, correcting and amending those voices, letting those voices out, and bringing them back again. Writers know that this has nothing to do with ordinary social intercourse. The whole process is antithetical to being sociable. What people outside the profession rarely recognize is that writers’ contradictory and/or self-destructive behavior ... can be deliberately contrived to build tension, rather than to dissipate it. –ditto

[writing is] a way of leaving no space for death, of pushing back forgetfulness, of never letting oneself be surprised by the abyss. Of never becoming resigned, consoled; never turning over in bed to face the wall and drift asleep again as if nothing had happened; as if nothing could happen. Writing offers the means to overcome separation and death, to give yourself what you would want God-if-he-existed to give you. –Hélène Cixous, “Coming to Writing”

It’s all there: where separation doesn’t separate; where absence is animated, taken back from silence and stillness. In the assault of love on nothingness. My voice repels death; my death; your death; my voice is my other. I write and you are not dead. The other is safe if I write. –ditto

A best-seller is the gilded tomb of a mediocre talent. –Logan Pearsall Smith

He feels a kind of holy exaltation as he goes about the business of writing this story; he even feels that he is not so much telling the story as he is allowing the story to flow through him. ... his head seems to bulge with the story; it is a little scary, the way it needs to get out. He feels that if it cannot escape by way of his racing hand that it will pop his eyes out in its urgency to escape and be concrete. ... after ten years of trying he has suddenly found the starter button on the vast dead bulldozer taking up so much space inside his head. It has started up. It is revving, revving. It is nothing pretty, this big machine. It was not made for taking pretty girls to proms. It is not a status symbol. It means business. It can knock things down. If he isn’t careful, it will knock him down. –Stephen King, It

Writing is nothing more than a guided dream. –Jorge Luis Borges, Doctor Brodie’s Report

Satire should, like a polished razor keen,
Wound with a touch that’s scarcely felt or seen.
–Lady Mary Wortley Montage, “To the Imitator of the First Satire of Horace”

A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones. –Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle

I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write. –Voltaire, in a letter to M. le Riche


Creativity, Talent, Imagination, Genius, Inspiration


[Note: As mentioned above, there are numerous quotes in the Madness quotes category that deal with the correlation between creativity/artistic talent and mental illness.]

I have never held the shortcomings of the unimaginative against them; sometimes I’ve even envied them. They had an easier and more pleasant life than everyone else. –Marlen Haushofer, The Wall

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see. –Arthur Schopenhauer, attributed in Gregory Bergman’s The Little Book of Bathroom Philosophy: Daily Wisdom from the Greatest Thinkers?

There’s something palpable when your abilities fill you with a divine sense of fate. –Scott Frankel, quoted in Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. –Albert Einstein, quoted in Matthew Kelly’s The Rhythm of Life : Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose (Did Einstein actually say this quote? If so, where did he say or write it? I haven’t been able to find a proper attribution anywhere, so perhaps it’s apocryphal. But it’s intensely lovely, so for now, I’m keeping it here. –JB)

... if we look at how the brain generates creativity, we will see that it is not a rational process at all; creativity is not born out of reasoning. –Rodolfo Llinás, I of the Vortex

Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered—either by themselves or by others. –Mark Twain, Autobiography

In one creative thought a thousand forgotten nights of love revive, filling it with sublimity and exaltation. –Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, letter #4

Talent is not given to a man by God; rather, man is doomed to carry the cross of talent. –Andrei Tarkovsky, journal, December 5, 1973

If a man has talent and cannot use it, he has failed. If he has a talent and uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he has a talent and learns somehow to use the whole of it, he has gloriously succeeded, and won a satisfaction and a triumph few men ever know. –Thomas Wolfe, The Web and the Rock

It has always been the creative mind, the original thinker, that has moved the world ahead in terms of ideas. And so often those very people—the creative ones—are the ones deemed crazy, or dangerous, or useless, by those in power. Remember Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. Think of van Gogh. James Joyce. Stravinsky. The early Impressionists. Think of today’s NEA. Of the teachers out there who can no longer be creative because they have to prepare students for standardized tests. –Lois Lowry

... practically all creative people, and certainly most geniuses, have preferred to be alone for long periods, especially when producing their best work. –Raj Persaud, “One Hundred Tears of Solitude”

What is a genius—but the power of expressing a new individuality? –Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in a letter to Mary Russell Mitford

Since when was genius found respectable? –Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius. –Oscar Wilde, Intentions

When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign: the dunces are all in confederacy against him. –Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless. –Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Imagination is more important than knowledge. –Albert Einstein, On Science

Inspiration is a flash. A momentary flicker that—if the would-be recipient is mired in endless chatter—might easily die unseen. It cannot be repeated, duplicated, slowed down, cached for viewing at some more convenient time. The mind awaiting inspiration must be primed, ever awake, aware. For this it is best off alone. –Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners’Manifesto

There is no force that can claim you like imagination can; a force, I find, which brings nothing into something and insists that you acknowledge your authorship. –Lauren Slater, “Noontime”

After inspiration must come the plunge down inner passages, the search which suffocates but liberates: the spelunking where no one could help even if you wanted them to. Instead, plucking souvenirs from those depths, you must keep asking yourself, in a tongue only you an speak, What next? But how? while shapes and colors swirl out of control. A gift, but a subpoena. –ditto

Genius is the capacity for seeing what is not there. –George Stewart, Earth Abides

Everybody has a given amount of calories to burn up—you either burn them up by living or by creating. You can’t burn the same calories both ways. You make poetry out of your unhappiness, and you might argue that you can also make poetry out of your happiness. But why should you make poetry when you are happy instead of living it out? Creativity is a secondary expression. The primary expression is living.–Arthur Koestler

Genius is not having enough talent to do it the way it has been done before. –James Broughton

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create—so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off... They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating. –Pearl S. Buck

Several times in his life he’d gone through periods of extremely, almost painfully intense creativity. He loved the monastic, obsessional feel of it, a spiritual agony in intellectual form, the interior emotional buzz of the thing. –Chandler Burr, The Emperor of Scent

Don’t underestimate the power of a strange talent, boys! –Violenze

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow talent to the dark place where it leads. –Erica Jong, “The Artist as Housewife”

Talent is nurtured in solitude ... –Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Every kind of creative work demands solitude, and being alone, constructively alone, is a prerequisite for every phase of the creative process. –Barbara Powell

I believe talent is like electricity. We do not understand electricity. We use it. Electricity makes no judgment. You can plug into it, and light up a lamp, keep a heart pump going ... or you can electrocute a person with it. ... I think talent is like that. –Maya Angelou, quoted in Claudia Tate’s Black Women Writers at Work

Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. –Abraham Lincoln

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. –Mark Twain

The only sin is mediocrity. –Martha Graham

In short, I believed myself—not unusually for an adolescent—possessed of a special gift that could transform life from the drudgery of French assignments and allergy shots and arguments with my disappointingly ordinary boyfriend into a valiant quest: “Sometimes, vaguely, in the murkiness of my mind, my creativity, my genius, flashes a glimpse of this greatness which is pure pain & pure joy. Yet I do not know what it is or where to find it. I do know this—that when I find it, if I find it, I will discard all else as meaningless & follow it for the rest of my life.” ... But I never made it. I never became a writer. Instead I became The Gifted Girl with Lots of Potential, as I christened her twenty years and more later. I never got one foot in the stirrup, let alone sat astride the beast. And because I failed to do so, I almost died of sorrow. I believed my failure the result of my personal shortcomings. The gift was simply not good enough. “I know that deep within me lies something,” I had written, “But I see it in comparison with the talents of others & it is so pitifully small.” ... Much more damaging than my disgust at my work, however, was my self-repugnance. The gift might be pitifully small, but worse yet, I failed to use it. “Something in me is crying out,” I wrote. “The desire to create. I cannot. My brain is frayed with the need to produce, but I am paralyzed. I keep saying—when I have time. Yet when I do have a free moment, I waste it. I feel pent up, desperate. My ability rides me. My lack of it tortures me. I am torn apart.” This paralysis would lie at the core of my depression after. –Nancy Mairs, “On Living Behind Bars”

The worse enemy to creativity is self-doubt. –Sylvia Plath, journal, undated entry from Summer 1953

Creativity is not so much a boundless well, but an all-you-can-eat buffet of elements for your creative endeavor. Eventually you’ve eaten your fill, and it’s time to digest and then make something. But at some point, it will be time to return to the restaurant. –Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

The creative person, the person who moves from an irrational source of power, has to face the fact that this power antagonizes. Under all the superficial praise of the “creative” is the desire to kill. It is the world war between the mystic and the nonmystic, a war to the death. –May Sarton, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing

Creation is an act of withdrawal. –Zadie Smith, The Autograph Man

Creative times are quiet, very secretive, and lustful. –Ingmar Bergman

When I’m doing a lot of complaining, it’s usually because I need to be creating. Some part of me is aching to express something, so I fixate instead on something that is not working, and use the energy to complain. –Sark, Living Juicy

Often my creative life has seemed like a long tunnel, dark and damp. And sometimes I wondered whether I could live through it. But I did. –Ai Qing

When a man feels the pangs of loneliness, he is able to create. As soon as he reaches detachment, he ceases to create, for he loves no more. Every creation originates in love. –Lu Xun

The soul without imagination is what an observatory would be without a telescope. –HW Beecher

Here we arrive at an idea long dear to us, that there is no talent—there’s only the man. No separate “talent” exists, like height, weight, or eye color. People exist: good and evil, wise and foolish—people and nonpeople. Thus the good and the wise are talented, and the bad and the foolish are not. And if a man has intelligence of the heart, and wants to disclose to the world what he has, then he will inevitably be talented in his words, provided he believes himself. For the word is the most accurate tool inherited by man, and never yet (which constantly comforts us) has anyone managed to hide anything in a word: if he lied, the word betrayed him, but if he knew the truth and told it, the word came to him. Man does not find the word, the word finds him. The pure man will always be found by the word—and if only for an instant, he will be talented. –Andrei Bitov, Pushkin House

The passion for destruction is also a creative passion. –Michael Bakunin, Jahrbuch für Wissenschaft und Kunst

The frustration of creation that is stifled/unreached is one of the greatest agonies possible in life. It is like the loss of a child, the death of a beloved wife or husband, the destruction of an irreplaceable shrine... –from one of my listservs

I do have to say that for years my pain has been compounded by the added insult that I’ve felt “shoo-shooed,”ridiculed, and questioned by others who just have no idea what I’m talking about—people close to me, who love me, and who I love, people who in a sense don’t really know me because they don’t know how to look into a creative psyche or that creative drive [that] rules you ... –ditto

The phrase “Divine Curse” for a creative gift expresses for me the ambiguity, complexity, depth of sensitivity, and “inability to control” that its “victims” experience. Then, of course, the Curse tears you to pieces if it is not getting its way; if you are not living it out, getting out of its way, using your hands to complete the building of the idea ... –ditto

Is this a stage creative people go through? That we must let our creativity out in some form or another, and when we reach a certain point in our lives and we have been trying to express this creative need for so many years, we suddenly look at all our efforts with eyes wide open and ask ourselves: Is this all I have done? It falls so far short of what I have felt in my heart and thought in my mind and tried to do with my life. Is this all I have to show for it? –ditto

When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap. –Cynthia Heimel, “Lower Manhattan Survival Tactics”

... the compelling force of all times has been the force of originality and creation profoundly affecting the roots of human spirit. –Ansel Adams


Art, Artists


Art is wired into us. It is the act of making the ordinary extraordinary. –Melanie Falick, paraphrasing scholar Ellen Dissanayake in Jennifer Forker’s “Makers gotta make: finding solace, joy in dangerous times” (available at

I know it’s not easy being an artist. I know the gulf between creation and commerce is so tremendously wide that it’s sometimes impossible not to feel annihilated by it. A lot of artists give up because it’s just too damn hard to go on making art in a culture that by and large does not support its artists. But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They’ve taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too. –Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Art is a reconstruction of the world, and violence and horror are absolutely as much part of the world as butterflies and happy faces. There are so many more people trying to sell us the bullshit that the world has to be happy and the world has to be sunny, and you have to have good breath and shiny hair. With this, we lose touch with imperfection and that makes for a really harsh, cold measure to live by. I think horror makes us human, because it reminds us of our imperfection. –Guillermo del Toro, in a June 1, 2009, interview with Staci Layne Wilson at

Humans are imperfect, broken, weary, alienated, and it is the artist’s calling to find beauty in the pain. –Eric G. Wilson, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away

I have pretended to go mad in order to tell you the things I need to. I call it art. Because art is the word we give to our feelings made public. And art doesn’t worry anyone. –Iain S. Thomas, “The First Sign Is Taking Strange Pictures”

Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me—they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team. –Steve Wozniak, iWoz

... all art is a travesty of real life, because real life happens in private, alone, before an empty house, without the gaze of an audience to ennoble or redeem it. –Lev Grossman, “Unfinished Business: Resurrecting David Foster Wallace’s Last Novel”

Walking and talking helped me tremendously when I was lost in my own wild thicket of shit in my twenties. But you know what helped me the most? Art. Music and paintings and books and poems and films and songs that told me who I was and who I wasn’t and who I wanted to be and who others were and how the most impossibly broken and beautiful people manage to live with both grief and joy. –Dear Sugar, April 8, 2010

In life, we have to make ourselves. In art, we have to make that self over and over again and present it to the world. We have to put it up on the wall or down on the page or project it on a screen or allow it to resound or glide or crackle across the room. And each time we do that, we must endure the sense that perhaps all has failed, that no one wants this, that we are too much that. Too ordinary or female or obsessed with turtles or experimental or rural or Jewish or derivative or slutty or neurotic or sentimental or gay or Jesus-worshipping or Asian or emotionally restrained or outside-the-whole-MFA-thing or linguistically dense or offensively lewd or just incredibly stupid and weird and boring. –Dear Sugar, August 18, 2011

But the whole deal with making art is you have to be brave. Which is different from not being afraid. You have to dare to inhabit the alternate universe of your original mind and create something for us from that and then stand by and hear what we have to say. –ditto

I know it’s not easy being an artist. I know the gulf between creation and commerce is so tremendously wide that it’s sometimes impossible not to feel annihilated by it. A lot of artists give up because it’s just too damn hard to go on making art in a culture that by and large does not support its artists. But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They’ve taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too. –Dear Sugar, March 31, 2011

Make art, and you are only in competition with yourself, with the impulse or the obstacles to producing the best, most moving, challenging, weird and beautiful work you can.  –Helen, in the comments section of the March 31, 2011, Dear Sugar column

… the longing for art, like the longing for love, is a malady that blinds us, and makes us forget the things we already know, obscuring reality. –Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence

... art can be like a new tongue that allows us to speak and pray in ways that might otherwise be impossible. And if we listen, we may come to understand that we are always on our spiritual journey—even when we feel most lost. –Frank Warren, PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God

Painting is like a thundering collision of different worlds that are destined in and through conflict to create that new world called the work. Technically, every work of art comes into being in the same way as the cosmos—by means of catastrophes, which ultimately create out of the cacophony of the various instruments that symphony we call the music of the spheres. The creation of the work of art is the creation of the world. –Wassily Kandinsky (this was quoted on a wall at a Kandinsky exhibit at the Tate Modern in September 2006)

Form itself, even if completely abstract, resembling a geometric form, has its own inner sound. –ditto

For the artist is a being who strives (but not in secret or in hiding, nor moving in circles, nor in the spaciousness of some kind of ecological niche) to master ultimate truth. The artist masters that truth every time he creates something perfect, something whole. –Andrei Tarkovsky, journal, December 5, 1973

The most beautiful art in the world is the art which is freest from the demands of convention. –Robert Henri

Art is the only thing that matters. In comparison with art, wealth and rank and power are not worth a straw. –Somerset Maugham, “The Alien Corn”

The power of art is that it can connect us to one another, and to larger truths about what it means to be alive and what it means to be human. –Daniel J. Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

Artists hear what no one else hears. They see what no one else sees. They say what no one else says. They must. And to do this, they traffic in the slippery yield of their own souls. They bring to earth the wrack and lode of depths that only they can reach and still come back alive. –Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto

Art breeds loners. Loners breed art. –ditto

The most horrifying thing about art is its honesty, the truth lashed to the mast. This, too, makes artists loners and loners artists. –ditto

An artist is always alone—if he is an artist. –Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

… the task which the artist implicitly sets himself is to overthrow existing values, to make of the chaos about him an order which is his own, to sow strife and ferment so that by the emotional release those who are dead may be restored to life … –ditto

Great art is as irrational as great music. It is mad with its own loveliness. –George Jean Nathan, The House of Satan

And in fact artistic experience lies so incredibly close to that of sex, to its pain and its ecstasy, that the two manifestations are indeed but different forms of one and the same yearning and delight. –Rainer Maria Rilke, “Rilke’s Letters on Love,” in John JL Mood’s Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties

The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies. –Kate Chopin, The Awakening

Art is the only work open to people who can’t get along with others and still want to be special. –Alasdair Gray, Lanark

Art is not a thing: it is a way. –Elbert Hubbard, One Thousand and One Epigrams

All art requires courage. –Anne Tucker, The Woman’s Eye

Artistic temperament ... sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling. –Madeleine L’Engle, A Severed Wasp

Every genuine work of art has as much reason for being as the earth and the sun. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Society and Solitude

True art reveals there is no void
Or darkness.
–Hafiz, “In a Handful of God”

People are sexually aroused by pictures and sculptures; they break pictures and sculptures; they mutilate them, kiss them, cry before them, and go on journeys to them; they are calmed by them, stirred by them, and incited to revolt. They give thanks by means of them, expect to be elevated by them, and are moved to the highest levels of empathy and fear. They have always responded in these ways; they still do. They do so in societies we call primitive and in modern societies; in East and West, in Africa, America, Asia, and Europe. –David Freedberg, The Power of Images

No work of art is blasphemous in and of itself; it must be deemed so from within religious and/or political power structures, whether small or large scale, and there are many examples in which an image has appeared without comment in one setting only to explode with controversy in another. In short, a blasphemous image needs both an artist and an accuser. –S. Brent Plate, Blasphemy: Art that Offends

Despite what they say graffiti is not the lowest form of art. Although you might have to creep about at night and lie to your mum it’s actually one of the more honest art forms available. There is no elitism or hype; it exhibits on the best walls a town has to offer and nobody is put off by the price of admission.
      A wall has always been the best place to publish your work.
      The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit, which makes their opinion worthless. They say graffiti frightens people and is symbolic of the decline in society, but graffiti is only dangerous in the mind of three types of people: politicians, advertising executives, and graffiti writers.
      The people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff. They expect to be able to shout their message in your face from every available surface but you’re never allowed to answer back. Well, they started the fight and the wall is the weapon of choice to hit them back. –Banksy, Wall and Piece

Art is the most passionate orgy within man’s grasp. –Jean Dubuffet, “Notes for the Well-Read”

Art should always make people laugh a little and frighten them a little. Anything but bore them. Art has no right to be boring. –Jean Dubuffet, “Popular Lecture in Painting”

Everyone loathes his own country and countrymen if he is any sort of artist. –Lawrence Durrell, in a letter to Henry Miller, March 1948

No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell. –Antonin Artaud, Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society

Art is a revolt against man’s fate. –André Malraux, Les Voix du Silence

... industry without art is brutality. –John Ruskin, Lectures on Art

Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. –Saul Bellow, quoted in George Plimpton’s Writers at Work

There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall. –Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise

Art—the one achievement of Man which has made the long trip up from all fours seem well advised. –James Thurber, in the June 1939 issue of Forum and Century

Feminist art is not some tiny creek running off the great river of real art. It is not some crack in an otherwise flawless stone. It is, quite spectacularly I think, art which is not based on the subjugation of one half of the species. It is art which will take the great human themes—love, death, heroism, suffering, history itself—and render them fully human. It may also, though perhaps our imaginations are so mutilated now that we are incapable even of the ambition, introduce a new theme, one as great and as rich as those others-should we call it “joy”? –Andrea Dworkin, in a April 16, 1974, speech at Smith College

Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible. By getting us used to what, formerly, we could not bear to see or hear, because it was too shocking, painful, or embarrassing, art changes morals. –Susan Sontag, On Photography

In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it. –Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art

Art for art’s sake? I should think so, and more so than ever at the present time. It is the one orderly product which our middling race has produced. It is the cry of a thousand sentinels, the echo from a thousand labyrinths, it is the lighthouse which cannot be hidden ... it is the best evidence we can have of our dignity. –EM Forster, in an address to PEN Club Congress

The moment you think you understand a great work of art, it’s dead for you. –Robert Wilson, in the May 22, 1990, Paris edition of the International Herald Tribune

Art, like Nature, has her monsters, things of bestial shape and with hideous voices. –Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse. –Winston Churchill, in the May 11, 1954, issue of Time

Art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. –Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the Narcissus

An artist must be a reactionary. He has to stand out against the tenor of the age and not go flopping along. –Evelyn Waugh, in George Plimpton’s Writers at Work

Art is a private thing, the artist makes it for himself ... –Tristan Tzara, Dada 3

All great art … springs from the anguish of great souls. –Alexander Trocchi, Cain’s Book

Art is so wonderfully irrational, exuberantly pointless, but necessary all the same. Pointless and yet necessary, that’s hard for a puritan to understand. –Gunther Grass, in a June 22, 1990, interview in New Statesman & Society

Art, that great undogmatized church. –Ellen Key, The Renaissance of Motherhood

Irresponsibility is part of the pleasure of all art; it is the part the schools cannot recognize. –Pauline Kael, Going Steady

If we are to change our world view, images have to change. The artist now has a very important job to do. He’s not a little peripheral figure entertaining rich people, he’s really needed. –David Hockney, Hockney on Photography

Good art can not be immoral. By good art I mean art that bears true witness ... –Ezra Pound, quoted in Humphrey Carpenter’s A Serious Character

There is nothing fiercer than a failed artist. The energy remains, but, having no outlet, it implodes in a great black fart of rage which smokes up all the inner windows of the soul. Horrible as successful artists often are, there is nothing crueler or more vain than a failed artist. –Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

There is no logical reason why the camel of great art should pass through the needle of mob intelligence. –Rebecca West, The Strange Necessity

It’s amazing what you can do with an E in A-level art, twisted imagination, and a chainsaw. –Damien Hirst, after winning the 1995 Turner Prize, in the Observer, December 3, 1995

Do you know how to tell if a work is art? True art changes the artist. The artist puts something into the work and he changes. That’s how you tell. –Pat Murphy, The City, Not Long After

Art is the most intense form of individualism that the world has known. –Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism

All art requires courage. –Anne Tucker, The Woman’s Eye

The more frightening the world becomes … the more art becomes abstract. –Wassily Kandinsky

Color is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many chords. The artist is the hand that, by touching this or that key, sets the soul vibrating automatically. –ditto

Throughout my life, I’ve tried to make sense of the world by making art. –Velcrow Ripper, in Scared Sacred

Among the languages of American Indians there is no word for “art.” For Indians everything is art ... therefore it needs no name. –Jamake Highwater

Surely, all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further. –Rainer Maria Rilke, in a June 24, 1907, letter to his wife

The artist speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder; to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with creatures; to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts; to the solidarity which binds together all humanity—the dead to the living and the living to the unborn. –Joseph Conrad

Art is frozen zen. –RH Blyth

Everything is art. A cook, a shoemaker, a hairdresser are all artists according to how talented they are. This whole mess of labels and titles has nothing to do with me. I am absolutely indifferent to the noise and commotion. It isn’t the medium that’s important but the person that expresses himself through it. I just continue to look for those special moments, the way a fisherman does when he tells you, “They’re biting today.” –Jacques Henri Lartigue, when asked if he thought that photography can be labeled as art

I don’t take the photograph. The photograph takes me. –Henri Cartier-Bresson

A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know. –Diane Arbus, in Patricia Bosworth’s Diane Arbus: A Biography

The only valid thing in art is the one thing that cannot be explained. To explain away the mystery of a great painting would do irreplaceable harm, for whenever you explain or define something you substitute the explanation or the definition for the image of the thing. –Henri Matisse

For me the artist simply means one who can transform ordinary life into a beautiful creation, with his craft. But I did not mean creation strictly applied only to the arts. I meant creation in life, the creation of a child, a garden, a house, a dress. I was referring to creativity in all its aspects. Not only the actual products of art, but the faculty for healing, consoling, raising the level of life, transforming it by our own efforts. –Anaïs Nin

In order to be created, a work of art must first of all make use of the dark forces of the soul. But not without channeling them, surrounding them with dikes, so that the water in them rises. (A great garden of silence.) –Albert Camus

I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum. –Claes Oldenberg

Art does not come and lie in the beds we make for it. It slips away as soon as its name is uttered: it likes to preserve its incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets its very name. –Jean Dubuffet

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. –Albert Camus

Art is a dialogue we have always carried out with the unknown. –André Malraux

All good art is an indiscretion. –Tennessee Williams

You must travel at random, like the first Mayans. You must risk getting lost in the thickets, but that is the only way to make art .–Tezcatillipoca

Fear no art. –slogan on the front of a shirt I bought at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

Never apologize for your art. –slogan on a magnet

Art is meant to disturb ... –Georges Braque, Le Jour et la Nuit: Cahiers 1917-52

Any startling piece of work has a subversive element in it, a delicious element often. ... In what we call art, it’s one of the most desirable characteristics of a piece of work. –Leonard Cohen

No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time; it is just that others are behind the times. –Martha Graham

... I rarely draw what I see. I draw what I feel in my body. –Barbara Hepworth, World of Art Series

Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it. –Vladimir Mayakovsky

Good art speaks truth, indeed is truth, perhaps the only truth. –Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince

The worst thing that can happen to an artist is to be subsidized by the state. It leads to an intellectual and artistic castration. –Mario Vargas Llosa

For an artist to do creative work ... He needs both serenity and gloom. –Yukio Mishima

That’s how art should be. It should go on in the midst of life and not be put on a pedestal. It should be what you do between sips of tea. –Emma Thompson

The artist is the only lover; he alone has the pure vision of beauty ... –Isadora Duncan, My Life

Art is a form of catharsis. –Dorothy Parker

Art must hurt. First, it must hurt the artist himself; the artist must experience pain before he creates. Otherwise, he won’t be able to produce tears. A true artist must describe the things he is most afraid of, all that which he wished to avoid. –Itamar Yaoz-Kest

All works of art are commissioned in the sense that no artist can create one by a simple act of will but must wait until what he believes to be a good idea for a work “comes” to him. –WH Auden

All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up. –James Baldwin

Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable. –George Bernard Shaw

If more than ten percent of the population likes a painting it should be burned, for it must be bad. –ditto

Art is long, life is short. –anonymous

The object of art is to give life shape. –Jean Anouilh, “The Rehearsal”

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. –Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

Art without life is a poor affair. –Henry James, The Art of Fiction

Great artists have no country. –Alfred de Musset, Lorenzaccio

Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees. –Marcel Proust, Maxims

Architecture in general is frozen music. –Friedrich von Schelling, Philosophie der Kunst

With color one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft. –Henri Matisse

I somehow got the money and paid him. I would resist the next adventure into art and craft, perhaps resist for several months. But this self-denial would not last. So, always, the necessities were going by default to save the luxuries until I hardly knew which were necessities and which luxuries. –Frank Lloyd Wright, Autobiography, Book 3: Groceries, Rent

Dietary caution is probably the last thing one should look for in an artistically active person. Did Dostoyevsky watch his weight? The artists I have known best never give up anything—sex, rich food, Baby Ruths, Dr Pepper, Opium. –Larry McMurtry, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen

It seems to me that today, if the artist wishes to be serious—to cut out a little original niche for himself, or at least preserve his own innocence of personality—he must once more sink himself in solitude. –Edgar Degas

An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way. –Charles Bukowski


Poetry, Poets


I am not a religious person. I don’t meditate, chant, or pray. But lines from poems I love run through my head and they feel holy to me in a way. –Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

He is, of course, truly mad, but a real poet has to enter the moonlight, go to the altar of madness and return afterward to mass, it’s perhaps not until after death that the poet returns: the mental patient remains in madness, unable to control his travels; the poet walks out of the church, the poet does not even need to go into the church ... poets don’t need anything but the smallest fragment in order to describe the entire world, one little seed becomes a whole field of ideas, and all these ideas the world ... –Ófeigur Sigurðsson, Öræfi: The Wasteland

We maintain this
A poet is no alchemist
A poet is a man like all men
A bricklayer building his wall:
A maker of windows and doors.
–Nicanor Parra, “Manifesto”

Poetry is the one thing that isn’t contaminated, the one thing that isn’t part of the game. ... Only poetry—and let me be clear, only some of it—is good for you, only poetry isn’t shit. –Roberto Bolaño, 2666

A poet is someone who can pour light into a cup, then raise it to nourish your beautiful parched, holy mouth. –Hafiz, quoted in Daniel Ladinsky’s The Subject Tonight Is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz

Poetry reveals that there is no empty space. –Hafiz, “In a Handful of God”

Poetic power is great, strong as a primitive instinct; it has its own unyielding rhythms in itself and breaks out as out of mountains. –Rainer Maria Rilke, “Rilke’s Letters On Love,” in John JL Mood’s Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties


This is how it always is
when I finish a poem.

A great silence overcomes me,
and I wonder why I ever thought
to use language.
–Rumi, “A Thirsty Fish”

There’s magic in poetry,
its power
Can pull down the bloody moon,
Turn back the sun, make serpents burst asunder
Or rivers flow upstream.
Doors are no match for such spellbinding, the toughest
Locks can be open-sesamed by its charms.
–Ovid, “Elegies 2.i”

This is sometimes very hard, like gravel in a deep wound, because the world is often harsh, but poetry is extremely beautiful, far more beautiful than the world is harsh. –Vivienne Loomis, in her 1972 application to the Cambridge School of Weston

People cannot stand the saddest truth I know about the very nature of reading and writing imaginative literature, which is that poetry does not teach us how to talk to other people: it teaches us how to talk to ourselves. What I’m desperately trying to do is to get students to talk to themselves as though they are indeed themselves, and not someone else. –Harold Bloom, in the Guardian, March 6, 1999

The poet is the one who is able to keep the fresh vision of the child alive within the mature man. –Anaïs Nin

Publishing a volume of poetry is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo. –Don Marquis

The poem is the point at which our strength gave out. –Richard Rosen

And what, after all, is the poem but the constant threading of a needle? You have used the same thread over and over, sewing clouds, sewing a damaged heart, perfecting the things you know well. –Norman Rosten

Your eyelash will write on my cheek the poem that hasn’t been thought of. –Rumi

Poetry is a zoo in which you keep demons and angels. –Les Murray

Poetry is what makes the invisible appear. –Nathalie Sarraute

Poetry speaks a universal language. Unlike longer prose, which tends to relate more specifically to a character, poems evoke images that resonate for each of us, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. With a few spare lines of text, they capture a world of experience. We don’t need an advanced degree in literature to appreciate the meaning of a well-written poem. The words speak right to our heart. The poet’s metaphors connect our actions as humans with the larger life forces in nature. And they focus on the momentary glimpses we gain through experience. –Wendy Maltz, introduction to Passionate Hearts: The Poetry of Sexual Love

Poetry is truth a-blazing, blood that pulses through my veins which, despite my better judgement, I can’t long in hiding keep. –Anna Haava

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. –Leonard Cohen

The poet speaks to all men of that other life of theirs that they have smothered and forgotten. –Edith Sitwell, Rhyme and Reason

For the poet, the very act of making the poem is an act of divination, a sacred practice. –Sam Hamill, preface to The Erotic Spirit: An Anthology of Poems of Sensuality, Love, and Longing

The agent that provokes both the erotic act and the poetic act is imagination. Imagination turns sex into ceremony and rite, language into rhythm and metaphor. The poetic image is an embrace of opposite realities, and rhyme a copulation of sounds; poetry eroticizes language and the world because its operation is erotic to begin with. –Octavio Paz

What we feel is beyond words. We should be ashamed of our poems. –Nizar Qabbani

If it makes my body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. –Emily Dickinson

When you explain poetry, it becomes banal. Better than any explanation is the experience of feelings that poetry can reveal to a nature open enough to understand it. –Philippe Noiret, in Il Postino

Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it; it belongs to those who need it. –Massimo Troisi, in Il Postino

Poetry helps us understand common things better...Poetry will not teach us how to live well, but it will incite in us the wish to. –David Constantine

Poetry is the voice of spirit and imagination and all that is potential, as well as of the healing benevolence that used to be the privilege of the gods. –Ted Hughes

All poets are mad. –Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

Poetry does not necessarily have to be beautiful to stick in the depths of our memory. –Colette, “Under the Blue Lantern”

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. –TS Eliot, Dante

The poet is the priest of the invisible. –Wallace Stevens, “Adagia”

It’s a phantom who swallows that scored pink oval each night, and a phantom who writes my poems. –Chase Twichell, “Toys in the Attic”

The courage of the poet is to keep ajar the door that leads into madness. –Christopher Morley

Poetry is nobody’s business except the poet’s, and everybody else can fuck off. –Philip Larkin

To make a single poem
We need to kill
We must kill many things
Shoot, murder, poison many of the things we love.
–Tamura Ryuichi, “Four Thousand Days and Nights”

Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat. –Robert Frost

The poet becomes a seer through a long, immense, and reasoned derangement of the senses. All shapes of love, suffering, madness. He searches himself, he exhausts all poisons in himself, to keep only the quintessences ... –Allen Ginsberg, in his journal

Poets are all who love—who feel great truths—and tell them. –Bailey

Poetry is not penned to the page waiting for us to admire; it is only a lonely thought, caught by tears on fire. –Charles Ghigna

Poets are damned but they are not blind; they see with the eyes of angels. –William Carlos Williams, in the introduction to “Howl”

Poetry is the eloquence of truth. –Thomas Campbell

Poetry has been to me “its own exceeding great reward”; it has soothed my afflictions; it has multiplied and refined my enjoyments; it has endeared solitude, and it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the good and the beautiful in all that meets and surrounds me. –Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Life is an illusion
only a poet can shatter it
poets are the creators of silence
holders of faith
and dreamers of reality.

Poetry begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a loneliness. –Robert Frost

A quality of ignorance, self-deception may be necessary to the poet’s survival. –Jim Morrison

Poets and painters are outside the class system, or rather they constitute a special class of their own, like the circus people and the gipsies. –Gerald Brenan

Poetry is a religion without hope. –Jean Cocteau

My little self-indulgent corner (used to inspire me when I have writer’s block!)