Robert Motherwell


American Abstract Expressionist Artist, Painter, Printmaker and Editor

Author Quotes

Art is an experience, not an object.

I begin a painting with a series of mistakes. The painting comes out of the correction of mistakes by feeling. I begin with shapes and colors which are not related internally nor to the external world; I work without images. Ultimate unifications come about through modulations of the surface by innumerable trials and efforts. The final picture is the process arrested at the moment when what I was looking for flashes into view.

In the end I realize that whatever meaning that picture has is the accumulated meaning of ten thousand brushstrokes, each one being decided as it was painted.

One must agree with Rilke when he says that with ?nothing can one touch a work of art so little as with critical words?? It was Marcel Duchamp who was critical, when he drew a moustache on the ?Mona Lisa?. And so was Mondrian when he dreamt of the dissolution of painting, sculpture, and architecture in to a transcendent ensemble.

The public history of modern art is the story of conventional people not knowing what they are dealing with.

By far the most common task for which the machines are used is writing ? or word processing, as it's known to the same people who call journalism 'content.'

I believe that painter?s judgments of painting are first ethical, then aesthetic, the aesthetic judgments flowing from an ethical context. Doubtless no painter systematically thinks this way; but it does seem to me to be basically what happens when modern painters judge any new manifestations of painting? ?An artist?s ?art? is just his consciousness, developed slowly and painstakingly with many mistakes en route. How dare they collect those ugly early Van Gogh?s like trophies.

Indeed, our society, which has seemed so freedom-giving and passive in its attitudes toward the artist really makes extraordinary demands upon him: on the one side, to be free in some vague spiritual sense, free to act only as an artist, and yet on the other side to be rigorously tested as to whether the freedom he has achieved is great enough to be more solidly dependable than a government?s financial structure? ?No wonder that modern painters, in view of these curious relations to society, have taken art matters into their own hands, decides for themselves what art is, what its subjects are to be, and how they are to be treated. Art like love is an active process of growth and development.

One of the most striking of abstract art's appearances is her nakedness, an art stripped bare.

The 'pure' red of which certain abstractionists speak does not exist. Any red is rooted in blood, glass, wine, hunters' caps and a thousand other concrete phenomena. Otherwise we would have no feeling toward red and its relations...

Collage is the twentieth century's greatest innovation.

I dislike a picture that is too suave or too skillfully done. But, contrariwise, I also dislike a picture that looks too inept or blundering.

It is Paul C‚zanne?s feeling that determined the form of his pictorial structure. It is his pictorial structure that gives off his feeling. If all his pictorial structures were to disappear from the world, so would a certain feeling.

One's art is just one's effort to wed oneself to the universe, to unify oneself through union.

To pick up a cigarette wrapper or wine label or an old letter or the end of a carton is my way of dealing with those things that do not originate in me, in my I.

Don?t underestimate the influence of the Surrealist state of mind on the young American painters.

I have been continuously aware that in painting, I am always dealing with... a relational structure. Which in turn makes permission 'to be abstract' no problem at all.

It is sometimes forgotten how much wit there is in certain works of abstract art. There is a certain point in undergoing anguish when one encounters the comic.

Painting is a medium in which the mind can actualize itself; it is a medium of thought. Thus painting, like music, tends to become its own content.

Walk on a rainbow trail; walk on a trail of song, and all about you will be beauty. There is a way out of every dark mist, over a rainbow trail.

Drama moves us: conflict is an inherent pattern in reality. Harmony moves us too: faced as we are with ever imminent disorder. It is a powerful idea. Van Gogh?s drama and Seurat?s silent harmony were born in the same country and epoch: but they do not contradict one another; they refer to different patterns among those which constitute reality.

I love painting the way one loves the body of a women? ?if painting must have an intellectual and social background, it is only to enhance and make more rich an essentially warm, simple, radiant act, for which everyone has a need.

It is the medium, or the specific configuration of the medium, that we call a work of art that brings feeling into being...

Plastic automatism? as employed by modern masters, like Masson, Mir¢, and Picasso, is actually very little a question of the unconsciousness. It is much more a plastic weapon with which to invent new forms. As such it is one of the twentieth century greatest formal inventions.

We must remember that ideas modify feelings. The anti-intellectualism of English and American artists has led them to the error of not perceiving the connection between the feeling of modern forms and modern ideas. By feeling is meant the response of the ?body-and-mind? as a whole to the events of reality.

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American Abstract Expressionist Artist, Painter, Printmaker and Editor