Thirteen Philosophical Quotes on Art (With References)

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This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes on art, arranged in roughly chronological order. These quotes are all genuine and details about the author, book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable. Quotes that begin with a section of bold text are my personal favourites. Without further ado, here are thirteen philosophical quotes on art:


It is not reasonable that art should win the place of honor over our great and powerful mother Nature. We have so overloaded the beauty and richness of her works by our inventions that we have quite smothered her. Yet whenever her purity shines forth, she wonderfully puts to shame our vain and frivolous attempts. . . . All our efforts cannot even succeed in reproducing the nest of the tiniest little bird, its contexture, its beauty and convenience; or even the web of a puny spider.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 31, Of Cannibals, trans. Donald Frame


How useless is painting, which attracts admiration by the resemblance of things, the originals of which we do not admire!

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, II, 134, trans. W. F. Trotter


The artist has a twofold relation to nature; he is at once her master and her slave. He is her slave, inasmuch as he must work with earthly things, in order to be understood; but he is her master, inasmuch as he subjects these earthly means to his higher intentions, and renders them subservient.

– Goethe, Conversations with Eckermann (Apr. 18, 1827), trans. John Oxenford


Art is a jealous mistress, and, if a man have a genius for painting, poetry, music, architecture, or philosophy, he makes a bad husband, and an ill provider, and should be wise in season, and not fetter himself with duties which will embitter his days, and spoil him for his proper work.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wealth


Literary and artistic productions never grow old, in this sense, that they are expressions of feeling, changeless as human nature.

– Claude Bernard, Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, II, 2


Art makes the sight of life bearable by laying over it the veil of unclear thinking.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, 151, trans. R. J. Hollingdale


Art is that human activity which consists in one man’s consciously conveying to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he has experienced, and in others being infected by those feelings and also experiencing them.

– Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art?, VIII, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky


The artist of the future will understand that to invent a little tale, a touching song, a ditty, an amusing riddle, a funny joke, to make a drawing that will give joy to dozens of generations, or to millions of children and adults, is incomparably more important and fruitful than to write a novel or a symphony or paint a picture that will for a short time divert a few members of the wealthy classes and then be forgotten for ever.

– Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art?, XIX, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky


Art should make it so that the feelings of brotherhood and love of one’s neighbour, now accessible only to the best people of society, become habitual feelings, an instinct for everyone.

– Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art?, XX, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky


No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did he would cease to be an artist.

– Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying


Art is individualism, and individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. There lies its immense value. For what it seeks is to disturb monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine.

– Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism


The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art. To women he is half vivisector, half vampire. He gets into intimate relations with them to study them, to strip the mask of convention from them, to surprise their inmost secrets, knowing that they have the power to rouse his deepest creative energies, to rescue him from his cold reason, to make him see visions and dream dreams, to inspire him, as he calls it. He persuades women that they may do this for their own purpose whilst he really means them to do it for his. He steals the mother’s milk and blackens it to make printer’s ink to scoff at her and glorify ideal women with. He pretends to spare her the pangs of childbearing so that he may have for himself the tenderness and fostering that belong of right to her children. Since marriage began, the great artist has been known as a bad husband. But he is worse: he is a child-robber, a bloodsucker, a hypocrite and a cheat. Perish the race and wither a thousand women if only the sacrifice of them enable him to act Hamlet better, to paint a finer picture, to write a deeper poem, a greater play, a profounder philosophy!

– George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, I


An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world; he is a highly suggestible mind hypnotised by reality.

– George Santayana, The Life of Reason, IV, 3


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