Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Bernard Berenson

American Art Historian Specializing in the Renaissance, Major figure in pioneering art attribution and therefore establishing the market for paintings by the "Old Masters"

"Miracles happen to those who believe in them. Otherwise, why does the Virgin Mary not appear to Lamaists, Mohammedans, or Hindus?"

"Art is not based on actuality, but on the wishes, dreams and aspirations of a people."

"The artist, depicting man disdainful of the storm and stress of life, is no less reconciling and healing than the poet who, while endowing Nature and Humanity, rejoices in its measureless superiority to human passions and human sorrows."

"Death is always imminent."

"A complete life may be one ending in so full an identification with the not-self that there is no self left to die."

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago."

"All we really want is otherness, tossing from side to side, and greeting every toss with shouts of welcome, and of contempt for the previous toss"

"All of the arts, poetry, music, ritual, the visible arts, the theater, must singly and together create the most comprehensive art of all, a humanized society, and its masterpiece, free man."

"Art is mind and heart and touch as much and more than it is mere instrument, technique - without which however it cannot exist at all."

"As I got warmed up, and felt perfectly at home in talk, I heard myself boasting, lying, exaggerating. Oh, not deliberately, far from it. It would be unconvivial and dull to stop and arrest the flow of talk, and speak only after carefully considering whether I was telling the truth."

"Between truth and the search for it, I choose the second."

"From childhood on I have had the dream of life lived as a sacrament... the dream implied taking life ritually as something holy."

"Boast is always a cry of despair, except in the young it is a cry of hope"

"Enemies could become the best companions. Companionship is based on a common interest, and the greater the interest the closer the companionship. What makes enemies of people, if not the eagerness, the passion for the same thing?"

"Genius is the capacity for productive reaction against one's training."

"German is of stone, limestone, pudding stone, marble, granite even, and so to a considerable degree is English, whereas French is bronze and gives out a metallic resonance with tones that neither German nor English tolerate."

"Government lasts as long as the under-taxed can defend themselves against the over-taxed."

"Government is the art of the momentary feasible, of the least bad attainable, and not of the rationally most desirable."

"I am only a picture-taster, the way others are wine- or tea-tasters."

"Governments last only as long as the undertaxed can defend themselves against the overtaxed"

"I never felt that there was anything enviable in youth. I cannot recall that any of us, as youths, admired our condition to excess or had a desire to prolong it."

"I would willingly stand at street corners, hat in hand, begging passerby to drop their unused minutes into it."

"I wonder whether art has a higher function than to make me feel, appreciate, and enjoy natural objects for their art value?"

"I wish I could stand on a busy street corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours."

"I walk in the garden, I look at the flowers and shrubs and trees and discover in them an exquisiteness of contour, a vitality of edge, or a vigour of spring, as well as an infinite variety of colour that no artefact I have seen in the last sixty years can rival...each day, as I look, I wonder where my eyes were yesterday."

"In figure painting, the type of all painting, I have endeavoured to set forth that the principal if not sole source of life enchantments are Tactile Values, Movement and Space Composition."

"I would I could stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours."

"It makes me happy to encounter goodness, love of work, humane intelligence, and people no matter at what kind of job, be it ever so humble, or ever so exalted, who do it well and con amore."

"It is a library with living rooms attached. [Describing his house]"

"International affairs will be placed on a better footing when it is understood that there is no way of punishing a people for the crimes of its rulers."

"It was a morning in early summer. A silver haze shimmered and trembled over the lime trees. The air was laden with their fragrance. The temperature was like a caress. I remember - I need not recall - that I climbed up a tree stump and felt suddenly immersed in Itness. I did not call it by that name. I had no need for words. It and I were one."

"Life has taught me that it is not for our faults that we are disliked and even hated, but for our qualities."

"Literature in its most comprehensive sense is the autobiography of humanity."

"No artifact is a work of art if it does not help to humanize us. Without art...our world would have remained a jungle."

"Pessimism like calumny is easy to do, and attracts immediate attention. The gossiper and the writer may find this out soon enough, and a little encouragement from the current mood will procure them successes that bring endless imitators in their trail. On the other hand saying good things about life in general and individuals in particular and making it interesting is a serious task which few can achieve with credit."

"Not what man knows but what man feels, concerns art. All else is science."

"Miracles happen to those who believe in them."

"Psychoanalysts are not occupied with the minds of their patients; they do not believe in the mind but in a cerebral intestine."

"Reaction You can parody and make fun of almost anything, but that does not turn the universe into a caricature."

"The average European does not seem to feel free until he succeeds in enslaving and oppressing others."

"The Renaissance had resulted in the emancipation of the individual, in making him feel that the universe had no other purpose than his happiness. This brought an entirely new answer to the question, 'Why should I do this or that?' It used to be, 'Because self-instituted authority command you.' The answer now was, 'Because it is good for men.' In this lies our greatest debt to the Renaissance, that it instituted the welfare of men as the end of all action."

"You can parody and make fun of almost anything, but that does not turn the universe into a caricature."

"The ultimate justification of the work of art is to help the spectator to become a work of art himself."

"We define genius as the capacity for productive reaction against one's training."

"We usually meet all of our relatives only at funerals where somebody always observes: "Too bad we can't get together more often"."

"There are two futures, the future of desire and the future of fate, and man's reason has never learned to separate them."

"When everything else physical and mental seems to diminish, the appreciation of beauty is on the increase."

"Who will free me from hurry, flurry, the feeling of a crowd pushing behind me, of being hustled and crushed? How can I regain even for a minute the feeling of ample leisure I had during my early, my creative years? Then I seldom felt fussed, or hurried. There was time for work, for play, for love, the confidence that if a task was not done at the appointed time, I easily could fit it into another hour. I used to take leisure for granted, as I did time itself."