Quotes That Guide and Inspire

“You have but one master and that is nature.”

Quotes from admired artists are a great way to remind ourselves of important but often overlooked artistic perspectives. We often become so involved in intense technical study that we lose sight of the big painting journey. Having a collection of these gems, often humorous—sometimes deep—but always insightful, are a wonderful way of having quick reality checks that can get us out of a slump, or propel us farther down the road to our goals.

These quotes are culled from the writings of, or about, the artists. Historically we had to research these obscure books, many long out of print, or rely on a published collective. In this modern technological age we have access to a labyrinth of famous quotes online. Sites like BrainyQuote.com and ArtQuotes.net and ThinkExist.com allow easy access to short quotes that are free. It’s wise to check the resource of these quotes before relying on them. History has a way of propelling mistakes, as I recently learned. One of my favorite quotes is: “You have but one master and that is nature.” I had run across this in a book from the 1980s about Leonardo da Vinci and used it for years, always attributing it to Leonardo. I was stunned one day when Anne Hevener, the editor of The Pastel Journal, pointed out that it really belonged to Rembrandt (thanks Anne). Fortunately, I admire Rembrandt as much as Leonardo so it wasn’t an issue to continue throwing the quote around!

Over the years I’ve collected many inspiring and insightful quotes. One artist I especially enjoy is Sir Alfred East, 1849-1913. This popular British artist penned a book on landscape painting that has influenced generations of representational painters: The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour by Sir Alfred East (U.S. publication 1907 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia). In fact, the first copy of this book I ever saw had the bookplate for the library of John Gamble, the famous California impressionist. Here are a few of his words that I return to often:

  • There’s no royal road in art. In this department of life, as in every other, the students must serve before he can govern. He must learn to construct, to draw, to paint, to observe, and select.
  • Build up your picture from the broad masses; don’t finish your trees, or your sky, or your distance first. Work on them all at the same time, keeping them in tone like an orchestra. Keep them all in hand like a musical conductor. Have no false notes, no discordant line or colour.
  • A boy learns at school the conventional rules of arithmetic, and in after life he probably discovers for himself a system of reckoning which is better suited to his purpose; but had he not first learned the fundamental rules, his own system could not have been so easily evolved. So it is with painting. Technique is of the highest importance. The artist should be able to draw with his brush as easily as a writer uses his pen.
  • Go forward in the world with a purpose, a great purpose. You are responsible for the work you do, and you only. The material is right; Nature is as kind to you as she was to Shakespeare. If there is a fault or failure, do not be so mean as to suggest that it was due to Nature. Shakespeare does not tell you what buttons were on the coat of Hamlet, but he does reveal to you the secret of his character.
  • Nature has so much to offer that her very generosity may prove a snare, since there is a danger of wasting time and labour in the selection of non-essentials; for that which does not help is a positive hindrance. But of this I am certain, that to those who with patience, with minds free from bias and prejudice, determine to become masters, to them will come the pleasure and the ability of expressing their love of Nature in a language that is perhaps the most beautiful mode of human expression-that of landscape painting.

These are but a few of Sir East’s gems. If you have a favorite artist quote that you would like to share, please post it to the comments section of the blog.

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3 thoughts on “Quotes That Guide and Inspire

  1. georgia wenger


    Yet anther wonderful post! These are the quotes I have in my studio near my easel.

    Sculpter Henry Moore said it best "Art is the expression of imagination, not the reproduction of reality."

    Charles Scheeler said "Photography is nature seen from the eyes outward, painting from the eyes inward. Photography records inalterably the singe image, while painting records a plurality of images willfully direct by the artist."

  2. Elsie H. Wilson

    I loved the quotes from Sir Alfred East!
    I must find out more about this fellow.
    I just did a little search and his book, "The Art of Landscape Painting in Colour" is available at Google Books.com, in full text.

  3. Natalie Chambliss

    Oh, thank you for this, it is good stuff. I always expect way too much of myself because so many things have come easily to me – but not art…except when I do it unconsciously. And that is why I love it – I will always be a student and it’s good to be reminded that it is okay and a good thing.