Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Harold Rosenberg

American Writer, Educator, Philosopher and Art Critic

"The function of art is no longer to satisfy wants, including intellectual wants, but to serve as a stimulus to further creation. The Sistine Chapel is valuable not for the feelings it aroused in the past but for the creative acts it will instigate in the future. Art comes into being through a chain of inspiration."

"No degree of dullness can safeguard a work against the determination of critics to find it fascinating."

"One of the grotesqueries of present-day American life is the amount of reasoning that goes into displaying the wisdom secreted in bad movies while proving that modern art is meaningless. They have put into practice the notion that a bad art work cleverly interpreted according to some obscure Method is more rewarding than a masterpiece wrapped in silence."

"Today, each artist must undertake to invent himself, a lifelong act of creation that constitutes the essential content of the artist's work. The meaning of art in our time flows from this function of self-creation."

"The internationalization of art becomes a factor contributing to the estrangement of art from the artist. The sum of works of all times and places stands against him as an entity with objectives and values of its own. In turn, since becoming aware of the organized body of artworks as the obstacle to his own aesthetic self-affirmation, the artist is pushed toward anti-intellectualism and willful dismissal of the art of the past."

"Greatness in art is always a by-product."

"Only through apprehending, by means of present-day creations, how art is created, can the creations of other periods be genuinely appreciated."

"It is not logical for art to be logical. Art goes against the grain of the times as readily as it goes with it and at the very same moment. Instead of seeking the nearest exit, art responds to a new situation by uncovering a labyrinth of problems."

"Art has arrived at the paradox that tradition itself requires the occurrence of radical attacks on tradition."

"Not only the artist but everyone "becomes someone else" in becoming someone. One is thought about, thus invented. Or as Steinberg put it with memorable succinctness in his Cogito drawings, "I think, therefore Descartes is." One creates not oneself but another. Being is in the act."

"The struggle to make an absolute statement in an individually conceived vocabulary accounts for the profound tensions inherent in the best modern work."

"A painter with prestige among painters is bound to be discovered sooner or later."

"Advanced art today is no longer a cause - it contains no moral imperative. There is no virtue in clinging to principles and standards, no vice in selling or in selling out."

"A painting that is an act is inseparable from the biography of the artist."

"America is the civilization of people engaged in transforming themselves. In the past, the stars of the performance were the pioneer and the immigrant. Today, it is youth and the Black."

"American time has stretched around the world. It has become the dominant tempo of modern history, especially of the history of Europe."

"An artist is a person who has invented an artist."

"At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act – rather than a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyze or 'express' an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event."

"Cease to regard the canvas as a surface on which to paint a picture, but instead as a surface on which to record an event."

"Co-operating critics comb the studios like big-league scouts, prepared to spot the art of the future and to take lead in establishing reputations. Art historians stand by ready with cameras and notebooks to make sure every novel detail is safe for the record. The tradition of the new has reduced all other traditions to triviality..."

"Form, color, composition, drawing, are auxiliaries, any one of which... can be dispensed with."

"The aim of every authentic artist is not to conform to the history of art, but to release himself from it in order to replace it with his own history."

"Only conservatives believe that subversion is still being carried on in the arts and that society is being shaken by it. Advanced art today is no longer a cause -- it contains no moral imperative. There is no virtue in clinging to principles and standards, no vice in selling or in selling out."

"The artist does not exist except as a personification, a figure of speech that represents the sum total of art itself. It is painting that is the genius of the painter, poetry of the poet, and a person is a creative artist to the extent that he participates in that genius."

"No dealer, curator, buyer or critic, or any existing combination of these, can be depended on to produce a reputation that is more than a momentary flurry."

"The decision to be revolutionary usually counts for very little… The most radical changes have come from personalities who were conservative and even conventional."

"The differences between revolution in art and revolution in politics are enormous. Revolution in art lies not in the will to destroy but in the revelation of what has already been destroyed. Art kills only the dead."

"The values to which the conservative appeals are inevitably caricatured by the individuals designated to put them into practice."

"The purpose of education is to keep a culture from being drowned in senseless repetitions, each of which claims to offer a new insight."

"The story of Americans is the story of arrested metamorphoses. Those who achieve success come to a halt and accept themselves as they are. Those who fail become resigned and accept themselves as they are."

"Whoever undertakes to create soon finds himself engaged in creating himself."

"They had enough. They wanted to enjoy their life."

"What better way to prove that you understand a subject than to make money out of it?"