To an artist, a picture is both a sum of ideas and a blurry memory of 'pushing paint,' breathing fumes, dripping oils and wiping brushes, smearing and diluting and mixing.

— James Elkins

The most unique James Elkins quotes that are proven to give you inner joy

Paint records the most delicate gesture and the most tense.

It tells whether the painter sat or stood or crouched in front of the canvas. Paint is a cast made of the painter's movements, a portrait of the painter's body and thoughts.

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All seeing, I think, is painful. Every photograph is a little sting, a hurt inflicted in its subject, but even more: every glance hurts in some way, freezing and condensing what's seen into something that it is not.

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Painting is a fine art: not merely because it gives us trees and faces and lovely things to see, but because paint is a finely tuned antenna, reacting to very unnoticed movement of the painter's hand, fixing the faintest shadow of a thought in color and texture.

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Seeing is metamorphosis, not mechanism.

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The opposite of a glance... is a glimpse: because in a glance, we see only for a second, and in a glimpse, the object shows itself only for a second.

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Water and stones. Those are the unpromising ingredients of two very different endeavors... painting, because artists' pigments are made from fluids... mixed together with powdered stones to give color... and the other is alchemy, the stone the ultimate goal.

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The material memories are not usually part of what is said about a picture, and that is a fault in interpretation because every painting captures a certain resistance of paint, a prodding gesture of the brush, a speed and insistence in the face of mindless matter.

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As the decades go by, a painter's life becomes a life lived with oil paint, a story told in the thicknesses of oil. Any history of painting that does not take that obsession seriously is incomplete.

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The purple light or glow, which appears roughly fifteen or twenty minutes after sunset... looks like an isolated bright spot fairly high in the sky over the place the sun has set, and then it quickly expands and sinks until it blends with the colors underneath.

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Modern paintings often seem to have been made quickly, by comparison with the paintings of earlier centuries, and that seems to give us the license to look at them quickly - to consume them and move on.

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I'd like to understand why it seems normal to look at astonishing achievements made by unapproachably ambitious, luminously pious, strangely obsessed artists, and toss them off with a few wry comments.

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It is the fertile hallucination that makes paint so compelling.

Paint is like the numerologist's numbers, always counting but never adding up, always speaking but never saying anything rational, always playing at being abstract but never leaving the clotted body.

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About James Elkins

Quotes 31 sayings
Profession Art critic
Birthday 1955

If paintings are so important - worth so much, reproduced, cherished, and visited so often - then isn't it troubling that we can hardly make emotional contact with the artists? Few centuries, it seems, are as determinedly tearless as ours.

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It is as if only irrelevance can be promoted as art.

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A few moments before the sun sets, the dark Earth shadow begins to rise in the east... It is nothing less than the shadow of the entire Earth, cast upward onto the atmosphere itself... I saw it over the great plains, and I felt as if I could sense the Earth pivoting silently under my feet.

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To a nonpainter, oil paint is uninteresting and faintly unpleasant.

To a painter, it is the life's blood: a substance so utterly entrancing, infuriating, and ravishingly beautiful that it makes it worthwhile to go back into the studio every morning, year after year, for an entire lifetime.

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The range in brightness from the purple glow [of the sunset] to the dark sky above is too great for most films, and naturally it is beyond the range of printed pictures.

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Most people would guess that the sun is fifty or a hundred times brighter than the moon, but it's a half million times brighter - evidence of the amazing capacity of our eyes to adjust to light and dark.

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A painter knows what to do by the tug of the brush as it pulls through a mixture of oils, and by the look of coloured slurries on the palette.

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Every meaning is a projection of the viewer's inarticulate moods.

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Substances are like mirrors that let us see things about ourselves that we cannot quite understand.

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What kinds of problems, and what kinds of meanings, happen in the paint? Or as one historian puts it, 'What is thinking in painting, as opposed to thinking about painting?' These are important questions, and they are very hard to answer using the language of art history.

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To put it as simply as possible - and this is a simple answer, not a total answer - I know when a painting's finished when I understand why I wanted to do it in the first place.

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Seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer

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Painters love paint itself: so much that they spend years trying to get paint to behave the way they want it to.

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The muddy moods of oil paints are the painter's muddy humors, and its brilliant transformations are the painter's unexpected discoveries.

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In the context of a question regarding what an artist might be, I would want to raise the question of what a theorist might be, to signal how inextricably linked these existences and practices might be.

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Painting is an unspoken and largely unrecognized dialogue, where paint speaks silently in masses and colors and the artist responds in moods.

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At concerts, for me, the orchestra was like a painter.

It flooded me with all the colours of the rainbow. If the violin came in by itself, I was suddenly filled with gold and fire, and with red so bright I could not remember having seen it on any object.

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Perhaps art criticism cannot be reformed in a logical sense because it was never well-formed in the first place. Art criticism has long been a mongrel among academic pursuits, borrowing whatever it needed from other fields.

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