Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Hans Hoffman

German-born American Abstact Painter

"The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak."

"A thing in itself never expresses anything. It is the relation between things that gives meaning to them and that formulates a thought. A thought functions only as a fragmentary part in the formulation of an idea."

"Art and science create a balance to material life and enlarge the world of living experience. Art leads to a more profound concept of life, because art itself is a profound expression of feeling."

"A glimpse heavenward at a constellation or even at a single star only suggests infinity; actually our vision is limited. We cannot perceive unlimited space; it is immeasurable. The universe, as we know it through our visual experience, is limited. It first came into existence with the formation of matter, and will end with the complete dissolution of matter."

"A line cannot control pictorial space absolutely. A line may flow freely in and out space, but cannot independently create the phenomenon of push and pull necessary to plastic creation. Push and pull are expanding and contracting forces which are activated by carriers in visual motion. Planes are the most important carriers, lines and points less so ... the picture plane reacts automatically in the opposite direction to the stimulus received; thus action continues as long as it receives stimulus in the creative process. Push answers with pull and pull with push. ... At the end of his life and the height of his capacity C‚zanne understood color as a force of push and pull. In his pictures he created an enormous sense of volume, breathing, pulsating, expanding, contracting through his use of colors."

"A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops."

"A thought that has found a plastic expression must continue to expand in keeping with its own plastic idiom. A plastic idea must be expressed with plastic means just as a musical idea is expressed with musical means, or a literary idea with verbal means. Neither music nor literature are wholly translatable into other art forms; and so a plastic art cannot be created through a superimposed literary meaning. The artist who attempts to do so produces nothing more than a show-booth. He contents himself with visual story-telling. He subjects himself to a mechanistic kind of thinking which disintegrates into fragments."

"A work based only on a line concept is scarcely more than a illustration; it fails to achieve pictorial structure. Pictorial structure is based on a plane concept. The line originates in the meeting of two planes ... we can lose ourselves in a multitude of lines, if through them we lose our senses for the planes."

"A work of art is a world in itself reflecting senses and emotions of the artist's world."

"All our experiences culminate in the perception of the universe as a whole, with man as its center."

"An idea can only be materialized with the help of a medium of expression, the inherent qualities of which must be surely sensed and understood in order to become the carrier of an idea."

"Art cannot result from sophisticated, frivolous, or superficial effects."

"Art is magic. So say the surrealists. But how is it magic? In its metaphysical development? Or does some final transformation culminate in a magic reality? In truth, the latter is impossible without the former. If creation is not magic, the outcome cannot be magic. To worship the product and ignore its development leads to dilettantism and reaction. Art cannot result from sophisticated, frivolous, or superficial effects."

"Art is something absolute, something positive, which gives power just as food gives power."

"Art is to me the glorification of the human spirit, and as such it is the cultural documentation of the time in which it is produced."

"Art leads to a more profound concept of life, because art itself is a profound expression of feeling. The artist is born, and art is the expression of his overflowing soul. Because his soul is rich, he cares comparatively little about the superficial necessities of the material world; he sublimates the pressure of material affairs in an artistic experience."

"As a teacher I approach my students purely with the human desire to free them from all scholarly inhibitions, and I tell them, "Painters must speak through paint ? not through words.""

"Basically I hate categorical labels. As a young artist I already was very clear about this ? that "objectification" is not the final aim of art. For there are greater things than the object. The greatest thing is the human mind."

"Being inexhaustible, life and nature are a constant stimulus for a creative mind."

"Color is a plastic means of creating intervals... color harmonics produced by special relationships, or tensions. We differentiate now between formal tensions and color tensions, just as we differentiate in music between counterpoint and harmony."

"Colors must fit together as pieces in a puzzle or cogs in a wheel."

"Creation is dominated by three absolutely different factors: First, nature, which works upon us by its laws; second, the artist, who creates a spiritual contact with nature and his materials; third, the medium of expression through which the artist translates his inner world. Of those three components only one, the medium, is material."

"Depth, in a pictorial, plastic sense, is not created by the arrangement of objects one after another toward a vanishing point, in the sense of the Renaissance perspective, but on the contrary (and in absolute denial of this doctrine) by the creation of forces in the sense of push and pull. Nor is depth created by tonal gradation (another doctrine of the academician which, at its culmination, degraded the use of color to a mere function of expressing dark and light)."

"Dreams and reality are united in our imagination. The artist possesses the means to create only after he has effective command of his faculty of empathy which he must develop simultaneously with his imaginative capacity."

"Each expression-medium has a life of its own. Regulated by certain laws, it can be mastered only by intuition during the act of creating. It is in the nature of the laws which govern every expression medium that two separate entities, related through empathy, always produce a higher third of a purely spiritual nature. This spiritual third manifests itself as a quality which carries emotional content. This quality is the opposite of illusion; it is the reality of the spirit."

"Every art expression is rooted fundamentally in the personality and temperament of the artist."

"Every creative act requires elimination and simplification. Simplification results from a realization of what is essential."

"Everything rhythmically organic is true. Everything, which results from the proper feeling for rhythmically organized spiritual units, is true and alive ? alive within itself. When we lose the sense for such true beauty we lose our natural sense for the rich flavor of life, which is the basis for all inspirational work."

"I can't understand how anyone is able to paint without optimism. Despite the general pessimistic attitude in the world today, I am nothing but an optimist."

"I do not want to avoid immersing myself in trouble ? to be a mess ? to struggle out of it. I want to invent, to discover, to imagine, to speculate, to improvise ? to seize the hazardous in order to be inspired. I want to experience the manifestation of the absolute ? the manifestation of the unexpected in an extreme and unique relation. I know that only by following my creative instincts in an act of creative destruction will I be able to find it."

"In nature, light creates the color; in the picture, color creates light. Every color shade emanates a very characteristic light ? no substitute is possible."

"It is not the form that dictates the color, but the color that brings out the form."

"It is the greatest injustice done to Mondrian that people who are plastically blind see only decorative design instead of the plastic perfection which characterizes his work. The whole De Stijl group from which Mondrian's art was derived must be considered a protest against such blindness."

"It isn?t necessary to make things large to make them monumental; a head by Giacometti one inch high would be able to vitalize this whole space."

"It makes no difference whether a work is naturalistic or abstract; every visual expression follows the same fundamental laws."

"It takes intelligence and training, self-discipline and fine-sensibility, to gain renewed life through leisure occupation. America now suffers spiritual poverty, and art must become more fully American life before her leisure can become culture."

"Just as a flower, by virtue of its existence as a complete organism is both ornamental and self-sufficient as to color, form, and texture, so art, because of its singular existence is more than mere ornament."

"Just as counterpoint and harmony follow their own laws, and differ in rhythm and movement, both formal tensions and color tensions have a development of their own in accordance with the inherent laws from which they are separately derived. Both, however, aim toward the realization of the same image. And both deal with the depth problem."

"Monumentality is an affair of relativity. The truly monumental can only come about by means of the most exact and refined relation between parts. Since each thing carries both a meaning of its own and an associated meaning in relation to something else ? its essential value is relative. We speak of the mood we experience when looking at a landscape. This mood results from the relation of certain things rather than from their separate actualities. This is because objects do not in themselves possess the total effect they give when interrelated."

"My aim in painting is to create pulsating, luminous, and open surfaces that emanate a mystic light, in accordance with my deepest insight into the experience of life and nature."

"Nature's purpose in relation to the visual arts is to provide stimulus ? not imitation. ... From its ceaseless urge to create springs all Life ? all movement and rhythm ? time and light, color and mood ? in short, all reality in Form and Thought."

"Nobody would dispute that I'm giving him a centrality he doesn't generally have."

"One must realize that, apart from considerations of color and form, there are two fundamentally different ways of regarding a medium of expression: one is based on taste only ? an approach in which the external physical elements of expression are merely pleasingly arranged. This way results in decoration with no spiritual reaction. Arrangement is not art. The second way is based on the artist?s power of empathy, to feel the intrinsic qualities of the medium of expression. Through these qualities the medium comes to life. ... In this life, an intuitive artist discovers the emotive and vital substance which makes a work of art."

"Painters must speak through paint, not through words."

"Painting is aesthetic enjoyment; I want to be a "poet". As an artist I must conform to my nature. My nature has a lyrical as well as a dramatic disposition. Not one day is the same. One day I feel wonderful to work and I feel an expression, which shows in the work. Only with a very clear mind on a clear day I can paint without interruptions and without food because my disposition is like that. My work should reflect my moods and the greatest enjoyment I had when I did the work..."

"People say 'Hofmann has different styles'. I have not. I have different moods; I am not two days the same man."

"Since light is best expressed through differences in color quality, color should not be handled as a tonal gradation, to produce the effect of light."

"Since one cannot create "real depth" by carving a hole in the picture, and since one should not attempt to create the illusion of depth by tonal gradation, depth as a plastic reality must be two dimensions in a formal sense as well in the sense of color. "Depth" is not created on a flat surface as an illusion, but as a plastic reality. The nature of the picture plane makes it possible to achieve depth without destroying the two-dimensional essence of the picture plane. ... A plane is a fragment in the architecture of space. When a number of planes are opposed one to another, a spatial effect results. A plane functions in the same manner as the walls of a building. ... Planes organized within a picture create the pictorial space of its composition. ... The old masters were plane-consciousness. This makes their pictures restful as well as vital..."

"Space expands or contracts in the tensions and functions through which it exists. Space is not a static, inert thing. Space is alive; space is dynamic; space is imbued with movement expressed by forces and counterforces; space vibrates and resounds with color, light and form in the rhythm of life."

"Speech has arisen through the need for expression. Certain factors have contributed to making it the paramount utilitarian method of expression. There are ideas and things expressible in words, but there are ideas better expressed in music, the person with no musical ear, or without discipline in the language of music, lacks the key to the door of the world of musical experience. But we live in a world of volume and space; it is hard to conceive of the person who is space-blind or volume-deaf. The great majority of people have the means of approach to plastic beauty as part of their natural equipment. The teacher can develop this natural endowment as Necessity, the greatest teacher, has developed speech."