This section is a repository for miscellaneous quotations, ideas or other output that seem to me important, or to resonate in some way
‘To do a painting that one knows how to do is not art; it’s painting. Painting has got all sorts of interesting things about it, but art is discovery. Art is adding something to the world.’
Frank Auerbach, artist
‘Every time I write a novel I feel I’ve just about got away with it, by the skin of my teeth’
Kazuo Ishiguro, novelist
‘In no art, properly speaking, can one say ‘the same thing’, the same thing which has been said once before, least of all in music.’
Schoenberg, Problems of Harmony
‘Debussy was far too sincere and too intelligent an artist to recklessly change his style, for to him musical style was not a matter of good taste and objective selection but part of his very being. He had revolted against academic technique not in a wilful and deliberate search for novelty but in an attempt to find a sincere and personal expression.'
Constant Lambert, Music Ho! A Study of Music in Decline
‘I can without difficulty think up something like a cantilena in 3/4 time, as in La Traviata, complete with pizzicato accompaniment, but I consider it neither desirable nor worthwhile to turn such an idea into a composition, since a structure of this type, divorced from its century-old musical context and placed down in a present-day context, would not be consistent.... consistency is not a matter confined solely to the piece that is actually being composed; there is a historical aspect as well.’
György Ligeti, composer (Ligeti In Conversation, 1983)
‘How many sensitive songs can you write before you're just writing a 'sensitive song' - then it's not sensitive, because it's not real. You can't live up to expectations. You can only be 'that band' for so long before you've got to be something else; you can't stick - see, you can't just 'do it again'; it doesn't work. We couldn't even if we wanted to.’
Neil Young, songwriter
‘Tonality is not an end in itself, then; it is one of the technical resources facilitating (but not guaranteeing) unity in the comprehension of tone-progressions.’
Schoenberg, Opinion or Insight?
‘All music is nothing more than a succession of impulses that converge towards a definite point of repose. That is as true of Gregorian chant as it is of a Bach fugue, as true of Brahms's music as it is of Debussy's. This general law of attraction is satisfied in only a limited way by the traditional diatonic system, for that system possesses no absolute value.
In view of the fact that our poles of attraction are no longer within the closed system which was the diatonic system, we can bring the poles together without being compelled to conform to the exigencies of tonality.’
Stravinsky, The Poetics of Music
‘The intervals - the gaps between the notes: that’s why Scottish music sounds Scottish, why Spanish music sounds Spanish, why Hebrew music sounds Hebrew – it’s to do with the intervals, it’s the flavour of the intervals; and that’s what I’ve exploited more than anything. So if my music sounds like anything, it’s because of this thing of the interval, rather than the pitches. If you take an ash-tree, you can tell an ash-tree immediately; you don’t have to look at the leaf. So there is something to do with the accumulation of the detail that equals the whole.'
Sir Harrison Birtwistle, composer
‘Unlike many students, my enthusiasms were seldom balanced by antagonisms. My great admiration for the music of Schoenberg, for instance, was not enhanced by any counter-irritation for the Viennese Romantics of a generation before. Sadly, today it seems almost inevitable that admiration be the parent of snobbery... I, for one, have never been willing to admit that any love must be balanced by a concurrent disaffection, that every adoption must cause a rejection.'
Glenn Gould, The Glenn Gould Reader
‘There will be no central, common practice in the arts, no stylistic "victory". In music, for instance, tonal and non-tonal styles, aleatoric and serialized techniques, electronic and improvized means will all continue to be employed. Because a past paradigm has led us to expect a monolithic, all-encompassing style, the cultural situation has seemed bizarre and perplexing. The "crisis" dissolves when the possibility of a continuing stylistic coexistence is recognized and the delights of diversity are admitted. The question then becomes not is this style going to be THE style, but is this particular work well-made, challenging and enjoyable.'
Leonard Meyer, Music, The Arts and Ideas (1967)
‘The rule is a question of culture, the exception a question of art. Everyone speaks the rule: cigarettes, computers, t-shirts, tourism, war. No-one speaks the exception. It cannot be spoken. It can be written: Flaubert, Dostoyevsky. It can be composed: Gershwin, Mozart. It can be painted: Cezanne, Vermeer. It can be filmed: Antonioni, Vigo. Or it can be lived, and is thus called the art of living: Srebenica, Mostar, Sarajevo. It is part of the rules to want the death of the exception. It is the rule of European culture to organise the death of the art of living.'
Jean-Luc Godard, JLG/JLG
‘Celebrity has taken over from Heaven as the thing to go for, a place where people think everything will fall into place.'
Jarvis Cocker, singer
‘Music class permitted oddity in its practitioners. I knew from the off that it was a privilege; what I had yet to learn was that music wasn’t just music - it was history, nations and politics. It was social science, the class system, livery, patronage, and the sale of manual labour. It was comparative religion and languages, the mathematical divisions of the Pythagorean scale and the extraordinary things that collective human effort could produce. Almost as a side-line we learned the instruments of the orchestra and their colours, the symbols of tablature, harmony, polyphony and the 12-note system. And I loved every bit of it. Music was a way of approaching the world, not just a way of passing tests.'
Janice Galloway, All Made Up
‘Saying there are no universal truths in science really means that… I don’t think there’s anything in science that tells you that you can’t have a religious faith; the battle between science and religion, I think, is unhelpful and unfounded..'
Professor Brian Cox, particle physicist
'Judgement is the precondition of true enjoyment, and the prelude to understanding art in all its forms'
Roger Scruton, philosopher
‘Once you get to a certain point in your career as a playwright people are reluctant to tell you anything unpleasant and useful, preferring instead to honour your reputation by fobbing you off with compliments, and the truth is that however much you want the compliments you need the truth more, and you always know you’re getting it when you feel a cold stab of mortification, right into the heart of your vanity.'
Simon Gray, The Smoking Diaries
‘If I understand a play the first time through, then I become suspicious; I don’t think it can be a good play.'
T.S. Eliot, poet
‘Something I love about Rauschenberg is that every formal choice that he made came from meeting the world head on. Art should make us see the world more clearly; it should give us sensations which otherwise we would not have had. If art can’t tell us about the world we live in, I don’t think there’s much point in having it.'
Robert Hughes, writer on art
‘When (a work) is finished there is always that time when I am not sure. It is not that I am not sure of my work, but I have to keep it around for months to become acquainted with it and sometimes it is as if I've never seen it before; and as I work on other pieces and look at it all the kinship returns, the battle of arriving, its relationship to the preceding work and its relationship to the new piece I am working on. Now comes the time I feel very sure of it, that it is as it must be and I am ready to show it to others and be proud I made it.'
David Smith, sculptor
‘Readers are in thrall to the idea of inspiration, as though the whole damn thing, poem novel or short story, descended fully formed to land on your shoulder and whisper into your ear. Some mystical writers do describe this happening, but I suspect they are a bit manic. For most of us, it doesn't work that way. But though I find the idea of inspiration too passive I can't get rid of it entirely. The beginning of a good book contains the entire book: your job as a writer is to look at that first page until you see what you have done; to stare and stare until your fractal sentences yield their inner fractals and you fall into the world that you have made.'
Anne Enright, novelist
‘How long can we retain at least part of the variety of our languages?
There can be no doubt about it: weak languages will die very quickly where they are not assisted by central government. We would not let our great cathedrals and other national monuments crash to the ground, so why do so many look on with indifference at the destruction of something fashioned by endless generations of people – by an act of collective creativity across the millennia? In reality, the sums of money are not enormous, in spite of the hysterical rants of those who have a voice in our societies. Speakers of minority languages are also taxpayers, and very probably they and their ancestors have been paying for their own culture to be destroyed for many centuries.‘
Allan Cameron, In Praise of the Garrulous
‘When we lose spoken traditions - when we lose a language - we lose an orchestra of voices that permeate the mind. We lose music, we lose poetry and we lose the knowledge that’s tied up in those stories, in those drum songs and in that language.'
Dr Stephen Pax Leonard, anthropologist
‘It’s no more use trying to be traditional than it is trying to be original; nobody invents very much.'
T.S. Eliot, poet
‘I couldn’t go on if I were satisfied with what I did. How can you be satisfied, because everything escapes you? You know that perfectly well; you know even if you are in love with a person, everything escapes you. You would want to be nearer that person; how can you cut your flesh open and join it with the other person? It is an impossibility to do. So it is with art; it is almost like a love-affair with objects – and images – and it’s almost like a love-affair, with images, and appearances, and sensations, and passions. You may love somebody very much, but how near can you get to them? You’re still always, unfortunately, sort of strangers.'
Francis Bacon, artist
'The problem with music is that as a composer you’re dealing with silence in some respects, and one thing that you can’t calculate is how the piece speaks, how it unfolds, how time works within the piece. I’ve never been surprised by the moment – by a chord, or a relationship, or a rhythmic device maybe, which is in the detail of the piece, but I am surprised by how the piece speaks in time, and how it makes sense, or doesn’t make sense, or – doesn’t do what you want it to do, or it does do what you want it to do…or in the end, what is it you’re controlling? Because in the end you can’t control everything. Within the nature of writing music, there are certain things you can’t control. I can’t imagine anyone being satisfied with what they do. You get near it somewhere; you get another chance. This time it’s going to be good – now, you wait!'
Sir Harrison Birtwistle, composer
‘'You see people looking at paintings and they move from one foot to the other, and they're trying to get comfortable, physically, with the picture - they're trying to get in touch with the picture; and that's what I think I'd like people to do with my sculpture - to get in touch with it. So it's going to say some things, I don't quite know what; it's like music. I don't want to give any rules to anybody; it's about the spirit.'
Sir Anthony Caro, British sculptor
‘Of course most new music is bad. It always was.’ Attributed to Stravinsky