Quotes from artists and writers and things I’ve been reading

I look at art as research. Each artist contributes and art moves on.

—John Kaldor in an interview with Nicholas Baume in the book 40 Years: Kaldor Public Art Projects (this year makes 50).

I prefer to see art as fluid, open and malleable – where everything is up for grabs.

—Nike Savvas, from a wall text alongside her installation Atomic: full of love, full of wonder (2005) in Spacemakers and Roomshakers at AGNSW.


I drew this
And then I died
My body rotted
And my bones
Became a mountain
The drawing melted
With the rain
And the sound of rain
The words we speak

—Part of a wall drawing in Jason Phu’s installation in Playback at AGNSW.

You can’t do anything or make anything if you don’t limit your freedom in certain ways.

—Writer Sheila Heti on limitations in creative practice, in an interview with The Rumpus.

The old ways lie buried but we still take them with us when we move ahead.

—John Mawurndjul, in a video interview in his truly fantastic solo exhibition at the MCA, John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new

Drawing is thinking.

—Shaun Tan in The Garret podcast, because I recently got The Lost Thing out of the library for my kids and discovered it was filled with references to John Brack (among other artists).

—Wall text in Sun Xun solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. “Making animated films for me is like piloting a spaceship. Unlike most pilots, who would avoid black holes, I look for black holes to steer my way directly into them. This is how you can discover new things.” Which reminds me of Daniel Crooks‘ comment.

Your oddness is the only thing you’ve got.

—Writer David Malouf, talking about the editing process in The Garret podcast. Good life advice really.

When I’m happy I notice things around me.


I like the boring as it’s only when you are bored that you can see.

—Julian Opie in a Q&A and The Guardian. I always think it’s interesting when artists acknowledge mood (or mental health, or period pain) and the way it affects their practice. I feel we don’t do this much, maybe because of romantic “muse descending” clichés?

It’s like I’m the test pilot of a plane, but I’m building the plane at the same time.

—Daniel Crooks on making art, in an old story from The Saturday Paper via Anna Schwartz Gallery.

That old question ‘must I always know nothing?’ no longer haunts, but consoles. Because the day I stop feeling like a beginner might be the day I know it’s time to put down the pen.

—Novelist Charlotte Wood in SMH. I had the luck of hearing her speak at an event for AGNSW’s The Lady & The Unicorn exhibition (one of her books mentions the tapestries) and I remember thinking she had a really interesting take on doubt and the importance of making peace with it. I’m sure a lot of visual artists face this too.

My hands are like my heart and head all in one.

—Sarah Contos on figuring it out as you go along, in Artist Profile.

Yes, now I think I am an artist. Perhaps. But I don’t really know where it’s going.

—Hiromi Tango in a lovely NAVA video

Most of my writing usually feels to me like a bad idea, which makes it hard for me to know which ideas feel bad because they have merit, and which ones feel bad because they don’t.

—Maggie Nelson in The Argonauts, a book that pushed at all kinds of boundaries with a raw, searching honesty. This line made me see doubt as something to aspire to.

For me being an artist is like being an anatomist, taking things apart in order to make sense of them.

—Kate Scardifield in Museum Magazine, talking about her exhibition Soft Topologies, currently at UTS Gallery.

I think of drawing as a dance. And a dance is a drawing in space. If you don’t appreciate dancing, these things aren’t possible to create.

—Geta Brătescu in the New York Times.

Looking is, I feel, a vital aspect of existence. Perception constitutes our awareness of what it is to be human, indeed what it is to be alive.

—The indefatigable Bridget Riley. I’m not sure when she first said this. It’s resurfaced in press for her exhibition of new work at David Zwirner in London.

I think photography is always about loss. Lost moments, lost events, lost people, lost things.

—Photographer Anne Zahalka in an old Dumbo Feather interview.

I don’t know much about science, but I know what I like.

—Martin Amis.

Art always admits those who seek a home in it.

—Hannah Kent in an essay on homesickness in The Age.

On judging the art market by looking at auctions:

This approach is the art-market equivalent of the drunk man looking for his keys under the lamppost, just because that’s where the light is, even though he has no particular reason to believe that they’re there. To judge [Damien] Hirst’s fortunes by looking at his auction results is to completely miss just how successful he has been over the past decade…Hirst has built an extremely pure and effective business; it’s just not visible in the way that public auctions are.

—Felix Salmon in a great piece in The New Yorker

Only buy what you love, which sounds like a cliché. But what nobody tells you is that the real challenge is figuring out what you love, what you don’t, and how your taste and collection evolve over time.

—Collector Steven Guttman in The Art Newspaper.

We cannot foretell what truths these artworks might arrive at, or whether in fact they will arrive at any.

—Julian Bell on the sublime in contemporary art, in a fantastic old research paper for the Tate

For a long time I harboured an irrational dislike of the landscape painter John Constable, based mostly on the fact that his paintings appeared on my grandparents’ ‘good’ place mats. To a kid inside on a hot day, marooned between the main and the dessert, Constable’s rivers and hedgerows looked damp, boringly British and disappointingly free of bandits. Years later I turned a corner at the National Gallery in London to encounter one of those paintings and nearly reeled back with its force: a terrific, seething paint-heavy thing – clouds like curds, peaty blacks, and a glitter hanging over it all. I doubt I’m telling you something you don’t already know, but here’s a rule to live by: Never trust a place mat.

—Justin Paton in How to Look at a Painting.

Ah, the ‘good’ placemats. In my family it was McCubbin. So many birthdays and special dinners spent staring at McCubbin. And, because it was the 80s, we had glass plates so I could look straight at those bush scenes as soon as I finished my peas.

‘This show deals with identity and gender…’ could mean ‘I want the person who is writing this to be successful. I want you to like them. I want you to provide them with a flat in the Barbican’ or it could mean ‘Could you place another dob of mayonnaise on their avocado?’ or it could mean ‘Take these people, who I find disgusting, to a deserted and dusty area and kill every one of them’

—BANK artist group via the online archive of the Faxbak London project.