Ai Weiwei Quotes

In honor of Ai Weiwei’s current show at the Gardiner Museum (which I have yet to see), here are a few of his best quotes. He’ll be at the Gardiner until June 9, 2019.


Above: An Ai Weiwei sculpture as seen at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche

“If my art has nothing to do with people’s pain and sorrow, what is ‘art’ for?”

“An artwork unable to make people feel uncomfortable or to feel different is not one worth creating. This is the difference between the artist and the fool.”

“When human beings are scared and feel everything is exposed to the government, we will censor ourselves from free thinking. That’s dangerous for human development.”

“I call on people to be ‘obsessed citizens,’ forever questioning and asking for accountability. That’s the only chance we have today of a healthy and happy life.”

“To the media, I have become a symbolic figure, critical of China. According to the government, I am a dangerous threat.”

“A nation that has no music and no fairytales is a tragedy.”

“People are always wondering if I am an artist or political activist or politician. Maybe I’ll just clearly tell you: Whatever I do is not art. Let’s say it is just objects or materials, movies or writing, but not art, OK?”

“My work has always been political, because the choice of being an artist is political in China.”

“Why are you so concerned about society?’ That is always the question. And my answer is simple: ‘Because you are an artist, you have to associate yourself with freedom of expression.”

“The people who control culture in China have no culture.”

Art Quotes – Impressionist Edition

As much as I love them, it’s been awhile since I posted some artist quotes. As such, here are some of my favorites, from some of my favorite impressionists.


Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (English: The Luncheon on the Grass), 1863, oil on canvas,  81.9 × 104.1 inches

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.” Claude Monet

“It is not enough to know your craft – you have to have feeling. Science is all very well, but for us imagination is worth far more.” Édouard Manet

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

“A work of art that did not begin in emotion is not art.” Paul Cézanne

“I don’t paint things. I only paint the difference between things.” Henri Matisse

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” Paul Gauguin

“Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There enough unpleasant things in the world.” Pierre-Auguste Renior

“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing.” Camille Pissaro

Art Book Quotes

I recently visited my local bookstore and picked up The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich. I’ve yet to read it, but it did inspire me to search for quotes from famous art books.


“There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.” E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art

“First you do everything possible to make sure your world is antibourgeois, that it defies bourgeois tastes, that it mystifies the mob, the public, that it outdistances the insensible middle-class multitudes by light-years of subtlety and intellect – and then having succeeded admirably, you ask with a sense of See-what-I-mean?” Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word

“The Painted Word hit the art world like a really bad, MSG-headache-producing, Chinese lunch” Rosalind E. Krauss, Partisan Review

“Oil painting, before anything else, was a celebration of private property. As an art-form it derived from the principle that you are what you have.” John Berger, Ways of Seeing

“Art needs motives that are more profound than profit if it is to maintain its difference from – and position above – other cultural forms.” Sarah Thornton, Seven Days in the Art World

“What does one prefer? An art that struggles to change the social contract, but fails? Or one that seeks to please and amuse, and succeeds?” Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New

“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.” Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.” Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

Art Quotes: Part 3

I love quotes and I love searching them out on the internet – especially when I’m too lazy to write a short blog post. This is one of those weeks. So, here goes.


ABOVE: Banksy, Naked Man, graffiti, Park Street, Bristol

“The function of the artist in a disturbed society is to give awareness of the universe, to ask the right questions, and to elevate the mind.” Marina Abramovic

“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint.” Bansky

“I don’t feel any real animosity towards critics when they write negative things. I think some are more perceptive than others. Some are very knowledgeable about painting. But it isn’t something I have any influence over, so there isn’t any point in worrying about it.” Peter Doig

“The reason artists want to have works in museums is that we want our works to be seen by as many people as possible and we want our ideas to be understood in more complicated ways.” Theaster Gates

“Every time I have had a problem, I have confronted it with the ax of art.” Yayoi Kusama

“My job is not to produce answers. My job is to produce good questions.” Glenn Ligon

“Focusing isn’t just an optical activity, it is also a mental one.” Bridget Riley

“Nowadays, with digital printing, it’s so easy to make everything perfect, which is not always a good idea. Sometimes the mistakes are really what make a piece.” Cindy Sherman 

“Artists live in unknown spaces and give themselves over to following something unknown.” Kiki Smith

“The artist is like an abuser of everything, picture, history, and other people.” Kara Walker

Canadian Art Quotes

I’m feeling lazy this week, so instead of writing another post, here are a few quotes from some of Canada’s greatest artists. I’ll post more when I’m feeling lazy again.


Emily Carr

I think that one’s art is a growth inside one. I do not think one can explain growth. It is silent and subtle. One does not keep digging up a plant to see how it grows.

Be careful that you do not write or paint anything that is not your own, that you don’t know in your own soul.

The men resent a woman getting any honour in what they consider is essentially their field. Men painters mostly despise women painters. So I have decided to stop squirming, to throw any honour in with Canada and women.

Lawren Harris

Beauty is a living abiding presence completely untouchable by all the devices of man, such as moral codes, creeds, intellectual analysis, games and cliches, the acquisitive instinct, or lust for anything whatsoever.

Art must take to the road and risk all for the glory of adventure.

Every work of art which really moves us is in some degree a revelation – it changes us.

Norval Morrisseau

Among the Indians, as among other nations, some people are born artists, but most are not. I am a born artist. I have as much interest in my people as any anthropologist, and I have studied our culture and lore. My aim is to reassemble the pieces of a once proud culture, and to show the dignity and bravery of my people.

My goal is to break the barrier between the white world and mine. I wish only one thing, to be an artist and to be respected as one – and my paintings to be seen by all people.

My heart and soul is reflected into my mind and my mind is reflected into my hands.

They Said What?

When it comes to art, we often have strong opinions, and sometimes, when those opinions are expressed, they come with a backlash. The following people found that out the hard way.


ABOVE: Remains of a mostly detsroyed Banksy work in New Orleans, Photo: Infrogmation of New Orleans

In art and politics, opinions beget opinions:

“[A] lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career. But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might make with an art history degree. Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree – I love art history. So I don’t want a bunch of emails from everybody.” Barak Obama, U.S. President

“Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed.” Barack Obama, U.S. President


“I have fundamental questions about why the Federal Government is involved in supporting artists that taxpayers have refused to support in the marketplace. My concern in this regard is heightened when I hear the arts community and the media saying that any restriction at all on Federal funding would amount to censorship. What they seem to be saying is that we in Congress must choose between: First, absolutely no Federal presence in the arts; or second, granting artists the absolute freedom to use tax dollars as they wish, regardless of how vulgar, blasphemous, or despicable their works may be.”  Jesse Helms, U.S. Senator

“The first time [Helms’s office called] they basically expressed displeasure that we had withdrawn. I have to conclude they really wanted that exhibition in Washington, so it would fuel their fire.” Christina Orr-Cahal, Director of Corcoran Gallery of Art, after cancelling a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at the museum


“I’m obsessed with getting graffiti out of the city and keeping it out of the city. As you know, I’ve been fighting since I was first elected to get this city as clean as possible by removing all the graffiti.” Rob Ford, Toronto Mayor

“Every time he does this we get more graffiti. The graffiti artists see it as a taunt and they respond by tagging people – usually it’s anti-Ford stuff.” Adam Vaughan, Toronto city councilor

Art Quotes: Part 2

Sometimes I just don’t feel like writing. When that happens, I hit the internet in search of quotes. I love quotes. Here are some of my favorites.


“Art is the only serious thing in the world and the artist is the only person who is never serious.” Orson Wells

“I paint flowers so they will not die.” Frida Kahlo

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Leonardo da Vinci

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.” Ernst Fischer

“Art is the proper task of life.” Friedrich Nietzsche

“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.” Pablo Picasso

“I feel there is something unexplored about a woman that only a woman can explore.” Georgia O’Keeffe

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head; almost nothing.” Marc Chagall

“Art is meant to disturb.” Georges Braque

“An artist can show things that other people are terrified of expressing.” Louise Bourgeois

“To be an artist is to believe in life.” Henry Moore

“I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Michelangelo Buonarroti

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dali

“Don’t be an art critic, but paint. There lies salvation.” Paul Cezanne

They Said What?

I love artist quotes. Oftentimes, they are insightful, informative, and inspirational. The following statements are none of the those things.


With Dead Head 1991 by Damien Hirst born 1965

ABOVE: Damien Hirst, With Dead Head, 1991, photograph, 22.5 x 30 inches, Tate/National Galleries of Scotland, Photo: © Tate, London [2014]

I love quotes. Oftentimes, they are insightful, informative, and inspirational. The following are none of the above:

“I’m the closest thing to Picasso that you’ll see in this fuckin’ world.” Julian Schnabel

“I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it.” Damien Hirst

“A lot of my work is about sales.” Jeff Koons

“I’ve nothing to say.” Anish Kapoor

All is not lost. Here’s Ai Weiwei to save the day:

“For me, it is OK as long as I can breathe, as long as my heart is pumping, as long as I can express myself.”

“If my art has nothing to do with people’s pain and sorrow, what is ‘art’ for?”

Thanks Ai.