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Arts and Letters

William-Adolphe Bouguereau on Passion and Vocation


Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness I can scarcely wait for the morning to come… My work is not only a pleasure, it has become a necessity. No matter how many other things I have in my life, if I cannot give myself to my dear painting I am miserable.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau on Beauty and Truth in Art


One has to seek Beauty and Truth, Sir! As I always say to my pupils, you have to work to the finish. There’s only one kind of painting. It is the painting that presents the eye with perfection, the kind of beautiful and impeccable enamel you find in Veronese and Titian.

Oscar Wilde on War as Vulgar Not Wicked


The emotions will not make us cosmopolitan, any more than the greed for gain could do so. It is only by the cultivation of the habit of intellectual criticism that we shall be able to rise superior to race prejudices. … Criticism will annihilate race-prejudices, by insisting upon the unity of the human mind in the variety of its forms. If we are tempted to make war upon another nation, we shall remember that we are seeking to destroy an element of our own culture, and possibly its most important element. As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular. … Intellectual criticism will bind Europe together in bonds far closer than those that can be forged by shopman or sentimentalist. It will give us the peace that springs from understanding. ¶ Nor is this all. It is Criticism that, recognizing no position as final, and refusing to bind itself by the shallow shibboleths of any sect or school, creates that serene philosophic temper which loves truth for its own sake, and love it not the less because it knows it to be unattainable.

Vincent van Gogh on Windows to the Soul


I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral, however solemn and imposing the latter may be — a human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a street walker, is more interesting to me.

Vincent van Gogh, on his painting, “At Eternity’s Gate”


It seems to me it’s a painter’s duty to try to put an idea into his work. In this print I have tried to express what seems to me one of the strongest proofs of the existence of the “quelque chose l’-haut” [something on high] in which Millet believed, namely the existence of God and eternity… ¶ [It is] certainly in the infinitely touching expression of a little old man, which he himself is unconscious of, when he is sitting quietly in the corner by the fire. At the same time, there is something noble, something great, which cannot be destined for the worms… This is far from all theology, simply the fact that the poorest little woodcutter or peasant on the hearth or miner can have moments of emotion and inspiration that give him a feeling of an eternal home, and of being close to it.

Vincent van Gogh on the Bible


The work of the French naturalists — Zola, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, de Congourt — is magnificent. Is the Bible enough for us: In these days, I believe Jesus himself would say to those who sit down in a state of melancholy, “It is not here, get up and go forth. Why do you seek the living among the dead?” If the spoken or written word is to remain the light of the world, then it is our right and our duty to acknowledge that we are living in a period when it should be spoken and written in such a way that, in order to find something equally great, and equally good, and equally original, and equally powerful to revolutionize the whole of society, we may compare it with a clear conscience to the old revolution of the Christians. I myself am always glad that I have read the Bible more thoroughly than many people nowadays, because it eases my mind somewhat to know that there were once such lofty ideas.

Edmund Burke on Appreciating Creation

Go The variety of the passions is great, and worthy, in every branch of that variety, of the most diligent investigation. The more accurately we search into the human mind, the stronger traces we everywhere find of His wisdom who made it. If a discourse on the use of the parts of the body may be considered as a hymn to the Creator, the use of the passions, which are the organs of the mind, cannot be barren of praise to Him, nor unproductive to ourselves of that noble and uncommon union of science and admiration, which a contemplation of the works of Infinite Wisdom alone can afford to a rational mind; whilst referring to Him whatever we find of right, or good, or fair, in ourselves, discovering his strength and wisdom even in our own weakness and imperfection, honoring them where we discover them clearly, and adoring their profundity where we are lost in our search, we may be inquisitive without impertinence, and elevated without pride; we may be admitted, if I may dare to say so, into the counsels of the Almighty, by a consideration of his works. This elevation of the mind ought to be the principal end of all our studies, which, if they do not in some measure effect, they are of very little service to us.

David Hume on Art and Taste


It is a great mortification to the vanity of man, that his utmost art and industry can never equal the meanest of nature’s productions, either for beauty or value. Art is only the under-workman, and is employed to give a few strokes of embellishment to those pieces, which come from the hand of the master. … Art may make a suit of clothes; but nature must produce a man. … All sentiment is right; because sentiment has a reference to nothing beyond itself, and is always real, wherever a man is conscious of it. But all determinations of the understanding are not right; because they have a reference to something beyond themselves, to wit, real matter of fact; and are not always conformable to that standard. … Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.