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For the Contemplative Artist

In Interviews with Artists, Michael Peppiatt writes about his meetings with a variety of artists, architects, and photographers, such as R.B. Kitaj, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Claes Oldenburg, Norman Foster and Henry Moore. He begins his introduction by saying, “I have always thought that if you can get the artist to talk directly about his or her work, you are likely to find out more, more rapidly and more memorably, than if you try to write about it yourself or read the opinions of other critics and commentators.” Below are some highlights from the rest of the book:

Brassaï on the everyday in Paris:

“I loved that whole side of Paris at night—it was part of the reality of the city. I never went after subjects just because they were extraordinary. What interested me was their reality—even, in a way, their banality. That’s why I never fully agreed with the Surrealists, who adored everything exotic and strange. I’ve always loved the ordinary, the everyday—because I think that, if you really look at them, they are so often the most astonishing things of all.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson on giving up photography for painting:

“One thing that drives me really mad,” Henri Cartier-Bresson says, “is when people want to bury me alive—’So you’re the well-known photographer’, they say. It’s as if they’re talking to me about a woman I lived with for fifty years, with joy and passion, but whom I haven’t seen for the last fifteen. It’s not that we’ve completely fallen out, we’re still on speaking terms. But I have another love now—for drawing, photography’s elder sister—and I’m monogamous.”

Francis Bacon on translating thought to painting:

Michael Peppiatt: . . . When you were in France recently you spent the day in Versailles and had all these images for painting simply dropping in. Do images keep dropping into your mind?

Francis Bacon: Images do drop in, constantly, but to crystallize all these phantoms that drop into your mind is another thing, you see. A phantom and an image are two totally different things.

MP: You never get what you imagine, of course.

FB: No—very, very occasionally you get something slightly better.

MP: That’s real luck.

FB: That’s real luck.

Balthus on the public reception of art:

“The trouble is,” he continued, “that people have become so much more interested in the artist’s ‘personality’ than in his work. What can it matter how Picasso eats?”

Balthus is extremely wary of the publicity boom in modern art. He believes it can do nothing but harm to the artist and the meaning of art. And especially dangerous, he feels, is the belief that art is for everyone. “It is part of the modern sickness that craves a report on everything that is happening, irrespective of its importance. Why, for instance, do tens of thousands of people crowd into art exhibitions? One would think they were trying to fill some kind of terrible inner emptiness.”

From Interviews with Artists: 1966-2012 by Michael Peppiatt. Copyright 2012.

Michael Peppiatt is a well-known writer and curator, who began his career as an art critic in London and Paris in the 1960s. He is the author of Alberto Giacometti in Postwar Paris, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait, and In Giacometti’s Studio.

Further Reading:

Interviews with Artists

Featured Image: palette by Art Crimes via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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