quotes about art, architecture and other important things

a collection of quotes that I gathered over the years through my reading.  I don't necessarily agree with all of the ideas and opinions expressed herein but those that either provoked thought or tickled were included.

literary criticism Archives - studio of Glenn Williams Architect NCARB

beauty is the thing

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“Beauty is the only thing of any importance.” — Phillip Johnson [1906-2005] American architect advocating the the modernist then the postmodernist idiom

Philip Cortelyou Johnson

Philip Cortelyou Johnson

“Beauty is the highest and finest kind of morality.” – – Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-1882] American philosopher essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century


Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Beauty will result from the form and correspondence of the whole, with respect to the several parts, of the parts with regard to each other, and of these again to the whole.”  – – Andrea Palladio [1508-1580] Italian architect active in the Republic of Venice


“Architecture, like the shaft of an axe, must beautifully and precisely symbolize its own good reasons for its necessary existence.  Insight and sincerity will tell us which reasons are good.” – – Ralph Erskine [1914-2005] Swedish architect and planner

Ralph ErskineCBRE, RFS, ARIBA

Ralph Erskine, CBRE, RFS, ARIBA

“The terrifying and edible beauty of Art Nouveau architecture.” – – Salvador Dali [1904–1989] Spanish Catalan surrealist painter

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marqués de Dalí de Pubol

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marqués de Dalí de Pubol

“What beauty is I do not know.  No one knows it except God.” – – Albrecht Dürer [1471-1528] German painter, engraver, printmaker, mathematician, and theorist

Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer

“The root of beauty is audacity.” – –  Boris Pasternak [1890-1960] Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator

Boris Leonidovich Pasternak

“Beauty is a guidepost, a sign that we are on the right road to a more encompassing goal — happiness, wisdom, spiritual vitality.” – –  Mindy Aloff [b. 1947] American editor, journalist, essayist, and dance critic

Mindy Aloff

Mindy Aloff

“The accepted view since Romanticism is that beauty is wholly relative and that every age and every nation has its different ideals.  This was the way in which the classical ideal of beauty was undermined.  I think this has by now been much overstated.  I do think that there is a normal biological reaction to health and harmony and beauty which transcends the different culture modifications… I haven’t gone into it and wouldn’t go out on a limb to say, ‘This must be so.’  But if you look at Indian miniatures, or Persian, or if you look – – and that is a less savory subject — at the success of pinup girls… it seems to me very unlikely that every human being could become a pinup girl.  I do not believe that there are objective criteria from an objective basis, both in perception — I don’t believe that people always saw the world differently — and in beauty.” – –  E. H. Gombrich [1909-2001] Austrian British art historian and writer

Sir Ernst Hans Josef Gombrich, OM, CBE

“We believe that, if we ask why the world is the way it is and then ask why that answer is the way it is, at the end of this chain of explanations we shall find a few simple principles of compelling beauty.  We think this in part because our historical experience teaches us that as we look beneath the surface of things, we find more and more beauty.  Plato and the neo-Platonists taught that the beauty we see in nature is a reflection of the beauty of the ultimate, the nous.  For us, too, the beauty of present theories is an anticipation, a premonition, of the beauty of the final theory.  And in any case, we would not accept any theory as final unless it were beautiful.” – – Steven Weinberg [b. 1933] American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate  and author of Dreams of a Final Theory

Steven Weinberg

Steven Weinberg

“I shall define beauty as a unity of all the parts founded upon a precise law and in such a way that nothing can be added, diminished, or altered but for the worse.”

“Each part of a building must correspond to all the others so as to contribute to the success and beauty of the whole.  The building cannot be beautiful in only one of its parts while the others are neglected; all must harmonise in order to appear as a single, well articulated body; not a jumble of unrelated fragments.”

“Thus beauty resides at the very top of the object that is reduced to unity and invests both the whole and its single parts.  But when the idea takes possession of an object that is already one in itself, in which the parts are already identical, then it overflows, as it were, into the whole completely.  Let us take an example.  Imagine nature conferring beauty upon things in the same way that a body becomes beautiful, through communion with a rational form of divine origin.”

“Some will argue that the beauty of a building is relative, a matter of opinion. They will say that the forms of buildings must vary according to each man’s personal taste, and that they cannot be reduced to any rule of art. It is a physical defect of the ignorant to reject what they cannot understand.”

– – all from Leon Battista Alberti [1404-1472] Italian humanist author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher and cryptographer; he epitomized the Renaissance man

Leon Battista Alberti


but I was just borrowing it

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“Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.” – – Lionel Trilling [1905-1975] American literary critic, writer, teacher

Lionel Mordecai Trilling

Lionel Mordecai Trilling

“Heredity is a strong factor, even in architecture. Necessity first mothered invention. Now invention has little ones of her own, and they look just like grandma.” – – E. B. White [1899–1985] American writer, editor

Elwyn Brooks "E. B." White

Elwyn Brooks “E. B.” White

“Where do architects and designers get their ideas?” The answer, of course, is mainly from other architects and designers, so is it mere casuistry to distinguish between tradition and plagiarism?” – – Stephen Bayley [b. 1951] British design critic, cultural critic, journalist and author

Stephen Paul Bayley

Stephen Paul Bayley

“The secret to originality is carefully concealing one’s sources.” – – Charles Moore [1925-1993] American architect, educator, writer

Charles Willard Moore

Charles Willard Moore FAIA

“Style is something you can use, and you can be like a magpie, just taking what you want. The idea of the rigid style seemed to me then something you needn’t concern yourself with, it would trap you.” – – David Hockney [b. 1937] English painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer – but lived in Los Angeles, California much of his life

David Hockney OM CH RA

David Hockney OM CH RA

“If there is something to be stolen, I steal it.” – – Pablo Picasso [1881-1973] Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright – but lived in France most of his life

Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso

keep it simple

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“To make the simple complex with the useless is both futile and nihilistic.” – – Carlo Aymonino [1926-2010] Italian architect


Carlo Aymonino

“You only have one idea in your life.” – – Frank Gehry [b. 1929] Canadian American architect

Frank Owen Gehry, FAIA

Frank Owen (Goldberg) Gehry, FAIA, CC

“Everything should be made as simple as possible.” – – T. S. Eliot [1888-1965] American British essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic and “one of the twentieth century’s major poets.”

Thomas Stearns Eliot, OM

Thomas Stearns Eliot, OM

“No architecture is so haughty as that which is simple.” – – John Ruskin [1819–1900] English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist

John Ruskin in 1863

John Ruskin in 1863