Agnes Martin

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Agnes Bernice Martin (22 March 191216 December 2004), born in Canada, was an American abstract painter. Although she is often considered or referred to as a minimalist artist like Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist artist.

Quotes of Agnes Martin[edit]

sorted chronologically, after date of the quotes of Agnes Martin


  • I am grateful for the [financial] assistance I received last year [1955] through the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. It gave me the materials I needed and a certain amount of security and enabled me to make a very good try for my New York show. This did not succeed but Miss Betty Parsons whose gallery I will eventually show in assured me that in one more year she thought I could make it, which is not discouraging.. .I painted all together one hundred canvasses of which I had a good opinion and sold seven [in a year].
    • In a letter to Helene Wurlitzer, late 1956; as quoted by Christina Bryan Rosenberger, in Drawing the Line: The Early Work of Agnes Martin, Univ of California Press, July 2016, p. 88


  • When I cover the square surface with rectangles, it lightens the weight of the square. Destroys its power.
    • as quoted by Lucy R. Lippard, in 'Hommage to the Square', Art in America, July-August 1967, p. 55
    • This quote is one of the most frequently quoted statements of Agnes Martin. A later variation by her: 'The rectangle is pleasant, whereas the square is not'; Agnes Martin is than 89 - quoted in A House Divided: American Art Since 1955, Anne M. G. Wagner Univ. of California Press 2012, p. 263
  • My [artworks] have neither object nor space nor line nor anything – no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form. You wouldn’t think of form by the ocean. You can go in if you don’t encounter anything. A world without objects, without interruption, making a work without interruption or obstacle. It is to accept the necessity of this simple, direct going into a field of vision as you could cross and empty beach to look at the ocean.
  • I am staying unsettled and trying not to talk for three years. I want to do it very much.
    • In a letter to curator Sam Wagstaff, 1967
    • Agnes Martin stopped painting in 1967 and left New York. Before leaving town she wrote to the curator Sam Wagstaff, who was then working at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford


  • The adventurous state of / mind is a high house // To enjoy life the adventurous / state of mind must be / grasped and maintained // The essential feature of adventure is that it is a / going forward into / unknown territory // The joy of adventure is unaccountable // This is the attractiveness of / art work. It is adventurous, / strenuous and joyful.
    • poem before 1973; in a exh. cat., ed. Suzanne Delehanty (1973; repr., Philadelphia: The Falcon Press, 1976), p. 40
  • Nature is like parting a curtain, you go into it. I want to draw a certain response like this.. ..that quality of response from people when they leave themselves behind, often experienced in nature, an experience of simple joy.. .My paintings are about merging, about formlessness.. .A world without objects, without interruption.
    • Ann Wilson, from her talks in the Summer of 1972 at Agnes Martin's home in Mexico - an unpublished document; as quoted in Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art, Chapter 7 - 'Departures', Nancy Princenthal; Thames and Hudson, New York, p. 195-196
    • Wilson's visit to Cuba in Mexico was to work towards the publication accompanying Martin's exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 1973, curated by Suzanne Delehanty
  • My interest is in experience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this experience can be expressed for me in art work which is also wordless and silent.
  • ..the function of art work is.. ..the renewal of memories of moments of perfection.
    • remark in 1973; as quoted by Amy Flanagan in 'The Subtle emotive; Material and Experience in the Works of Agnes Martin', essay redraft, 2015, p. 1
  • Bring ice, thanks, Agnes
    • as quoted by Olivia Laing, in 'Agnes Martin: the artist mystic who disappeared into the desert', The Guardian, 22 May 2015
    • In June 1974, she appeared out of the blue at Pace gallery [in New York] and asked if they'd like to show her new work. She invited Glimcher to come to Mexico and view it, posting him a hand-drawn map, at the bottom of which she had scrawled 'bring ice thanks Agnes'. When he arrived she showed him five new paintings, made of either horizontal or vertical stripes in ice blue and red so watered it was barely pink. At 62, Martin had found a new visual language
  • Architect/arcetects/arcatects/arcetects/archetes
    • Martin wrote this at the bottom of her notes, 1974; as quoted in 'AGNES MARTIN' by Mira Dayal, Artseen Nov. 2016
    • the rest of the page is a tangle of equations and small diagrams as start of another burst of production: her iconic striped canvases.
  • On a Clear Day: Art work that is completely abstract - free from any expression of the environment is like music and can be responded to in the same way. Our response to line and tone and color is the same as our response to sounds.. .It holds meaning for us that is beyond expression in words.
    These prints [title, 'On a Clear Day'] express innocence of mind. If you can go with them and hold your mind as empty and tranquil as they are and recognize your feelings at the same time you will realize your full response to this work.
    • a passage Martin wrote in 1975 'On a Clear Day', 15 Oct. 1975. Printed in Agnes Martin, eds. Morris and Bell, p. 124

'The Untroubled Mind', 1971[edit]

Quotes from: 'The Untroubled Mind', 1971 - words by Agnes Martin; text by courtesy Pace Gallery, New York (The Agnes Martin Estate is represented by Pace Gallery, New York)
  • People think that painting is about color
    It's mostly composition
    It's composition that's the whole thing
    The classic image-
    Two late Tang dishes, one with a flower image,
    one empty – the empty form goes all the way to heaven
    It is the classic form – lighter weight.
  • My work is anti-nature
    The four-story mountain
    You will not think form, space, line, contour
    Just a suggestion of nature gives weight
    light and heavy
    light like a feather
    you get light enough and you levitate
  • I painted a painting called 'Milk River' [in 1963]
    Cows don't give milk if they don't have grass and water
    Tremendous meaning of that is that painters can't give
    anything to the observer
    People get what they need from a painting
    The painter need not die because of responsibility
    When you have inspiration and represent inspiration
    The observer makes the painting
  • When I draw horizontals
    you see this big plane and you have certain feelings like
    you're expanding over the plane
    Anything can be painted without representation
  • I used to look in my mind for the unwritten page
    if my mind was empty enough I could see it
    I didn't paint the plane
    I just drew this horizontal line
    Then I found out about all the other lines
    But I realized what I liked was the horizontal line
    Then I painted the two rectangles
    correct composition
    if they're just right

'The Untroubled Mind', 1972[edit]

Quotes from: 'The Untroubled Mind' - notes for a lecture at the Cornell University, Jan. 1972, in 'Flash Art 41', June 1973: p. 6-8; as quoted in WRITINGS / SCHRIFTEN, of Agnes Martin; edited by / herausgegeben von Dieter Schwarz, Kuntsmuseum Winterthür / Edition Cantz, 1991, p. 61-62
  • As I describe inspiration I do not want you to think I am speaking of religion.
    That which takes us by surprise - moments of happiness - that is inspiration. Inspiration which is different from daily care.
    Many people as adults are so startled by inspiration which is different from daily care that they think they are unique In having had it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    Inspiration is there all the time.
    • p. 61
  • Inspiration is pervasive but not a power.
    It's a peaceful thing.
    It is a consolation even to plants and animals.
    Do not think that it is unique.
    If it were unique no one would be able to respond to your work.
    • p. 62
  • Of course we know that an untroubled state of mind cannot last. So we say that inspiration comes and goes but really it is there all the time waiting for us to be untroubled again. We can therefore say that it is pervasive. Young children are more untroubled than adults and have many more inspirations.
    • p. 62

'interview, K. Horsfield & L. Blumenthal'[edit]

Quotes of Agnes Martin, from: an interview by Kate Horsfield & Lyn Blumenthal, recorded in 1974 and 1976 in Martin's adobe home, which she built herself in Cuba, New Mexico (re-edited in 2003)
  • To be an artist, you look, you perceive, you recognize what is going through your mind. And it is not ideas. Everything you feel and everything you see and everything that your whole life goes through your mind, you know. But you have to recognize it and go with it and really feel it.
    • 1974
  • You can't be in an unconscious state and paint. Because whatever is in your mind, and not the subject matter, but the feelings that you have related to that subject matter, is what you're going to paint. So, the beginning is not actually painting, you know. The beginning of painting is not you put down green, and then you like pink, and you put down pink.
    Painting's not about that anymore than music is about this sound and that sound.. ..And it's something that drives you to expression. And it's irresistible.
    • 1974
  • It takes time, see. You finish painting the painting and then you turn it to the wall. I mean, you say, does it have it or doesn't it have it? If it doesn't have it, you throw it away, but if you think it has it, you turn it to the wall. And then when you have made some more work, then you turn them all over. And you, again, try to see exactly what it does mean and just exactly how effectively you have rendered this meaning.
    • 1974
  • To neglect your own mind, that's like to neglect your consciousness. That’s like to give up all hope of joy and happiness, really. You're the only one that can discover for you the meaning of anything. What it means to you. By that, I don't mean intellectual meaning. I mean, what it means, how it makes you feel. You have to see whether you really are happy or not. Whether you really are sad or not. And you have to investigate what goes through your mind.
    • 1974
  • Inspiration comes from a clear mind. Right straight through. We have nothing to do with it.
    • 1976

1980 - 2000[edit]

  • To live truly and effectively the idea of achievement must be given up. Put unsentimental piety first, turn your back on the world, and get on with it.
    • In Martin's open letter, 1981 to the Whitney Museum of American Art; as quoted in 'The Heroic Art of Agnes Martin', by Hilton Als, NYR 14 July 2016
  • It is commonly thought that everything that is can be put into words. But there is a wide range of emotional response that we make that cannot be put into words. We are so used to making these emotional responses that we are not consciously aware of them till they are represented in art work.
    • In 'Beauty Is the Mystery of Life', 1989; a lecture by Agnes Martin, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 1989. Printed in Agnes Martin, eds. Morris and Bell, pp. 158–59
  • When a beautiful rose dies beauty does not die because it is not really in the rose. Beauty is an awareness in the mind. It is a mental and emotional response that we make. We respond to life as though it were perfect. When we go into a forest we do not see the fallen rotting trees. We are inspired by a multitude of uprising trees.. .The goal of life is happiness and to respond to life as though it were perfect is the way to happiness. It is also the way to positive art work.
    • In 'Beauty Is the Mystery of Life', 1989; a lecture by Agnes Martin, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 1989. Printed in Agnes Martin, eds. Morris and Bell, pp. 158–59
  • When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then this grid came into my mind and I thought it represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied. I thought, this is my vision.
    • interview by Suzan Campbell, May 15, 1989; transcript in 'Archives of American Art', The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
    • One of her first grid paintings she made in New York in 1964, it was [[1] titled 'The Tree']. Martin often described this painting as her first grid. In fact, she had been making them since at least the beginning of 1960's
  • When we realize that we can see life we gradually give up the things that stand in the way of our complete awareness. As we paint we move along step by step. We realize that we are guided in our work by awareness of life.
    • from her 1989 piece for 'Artspace', 'The Current of the River of Life Moves Us'
  • You can't make a perfect painting. We can see perfection in our minds. But we can't make a perfect painting.
    • interview with Joan Simon, 1995 in Perfection is in the Mind, p. 86; as quoted in A House Divided: American Art Since 1955, Anne M. G. Wagner, Univ. of California Press, 2012, p. 263
  • Some things fail and others succeed. Well, then you get quite desperate, and you think: 'I am going to work and work and I'm not going to have any failures.' But then you find out that failures are inevitable; you can't even draw a straight line, you know that.
    • as quoted in A House Divided: American Art Since 1955, Anne M. G. Wagner, Univ. of California Press 2012, p. 205 - note 8

'The Skowhegan Lecture', 1987[edit]

Quotes from: Martin's lecture: 'The Skowhegan Lecture' 1987, given during her time at Skowhegan
  • When I think of art, I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is in the mind, not in the eye. In our minds, we have an awareness of perfection that leads us on.. .The response to beauty is emotion. Sometimes very subtle emotions of which we are almost not aware, and sometimes our most powerful emotions..
  • Beauty is very much broader than just to the eye. It is our whole, positive response to life. An artist is fortunate in that his work is the inner contemplation of beauty, of perfection in life. We cannot make anything perfectly, but with inner contemplation of perfection, we can suggest it.
  • Although we are all different, we all respond to each other's suggestions of perfection. And we enjoy the same response as the artist. It is the inner contemplation, the wanting to respond to life, that opens our eyes to what is already in the mind.
  • Everything is contemplated in the mind without meditation. We make a very complicated response. Just to look at a floating branch evokes very complicated objective and nonobjective responses. The artist must slow all this down, mentally. It is this mental experience that makes the representation of beauty possible.
  • In the middle of the work of art, an artist often feels that he is failing. And he starts interfering with his inspiration. That is a mistake. The mistake. It is best to push on through. Such works frequently turn out to be the best. To fail is a very ordinary experience for an artist. To fail and fail and still go on, marks his character. Most people cannot bear to fail, even once. They think of security.

'Perfection Is in the Mind', 1995[edit]

Quotes from an interview with Agnes Martin (aged 83), by Joan Simon. The interview took place in Taos, at lunch, 21 August, 1995, after a visit with Martin in her Taos studio and home. Follow-up conversations by phone, on 4 Dec. 1995 and 15 March 1996
  • Take beauty: it's a very mysterious thing, isn't it? I think it's a response in our minds to perfection.. .My paintings are certainly nonobjective. They're just horizontal lines. There's not any hint of nature. And still everybody responds, I think.
  • Pollock was terrific. I think he freed himself of all kinds of worry about this world. Ran around and dripped, and then he managed to express ecstasy.
  • The Minimalists were nonobjective. They just recorded beauty, I guess, without the emotions - or at least without personal emotions. My work is a little more emotional than that.
  • [about Ad Reinhardt:] ..we supported each other.. .He thought I was a good painter, and I thought he was a good painter.
  • The little rectangle contradicts the square. And the square is authoritative.. .The rectangle is pleasant, whereas the square is not.. ..It's too stiff, too authoritative. My paintings are made up of little rectangles, not little squares There was a scholar who dug up a Tantric drawing that was just like my grid, and it was made of rectangles, too, just exactly like mine.. .I was surprised. I didn't think anybody had made a grid quite like that.
  • Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings. That's the end [of the interview].

after 2000[edit]

  • I used to pay attention to the clouds in the sky.. .I paid close attention for a month to see if they ever repeated. They don't repeat. And I don't think life does either. It's continually various. That's the truth about life.
    • Denise Spranger, in 'Center of Attention', Taos News/Tempo Magazine, Mar. 21–27, 2002, p. 22
  • It was so flat, you know, you could see the curves of the earth. And when a train came into vision at nine o'clock in the morning, it was still leaving at noon.. took that long to get across the prairie.
    • In Mary Lance's intimate documentary 'With My Back to the World' (2002)
    • Martin's quote about the landscape of her youth in Macklin, Saskatchewan, where her parents Malcolm and Margaret Martin farmed the vast, sometimes hard land
  • I was very happy. I thought I would cut my way through life.. ..victory after victory, [laughing..] Well, I adjusted as soon as they carried me into my mother. Half of my victories fell to the ground.. [she pauses] ..My mother had victories. [her candid, weather-beaten face darkens abruptly]
    • Mary Lance, in 'With My Back to the World' a documentary made in 2002; as quoted by Olivia Laing,
    • Martin claimed she could remember the exact moment of her birth. She had entered the world, she tells Lance, 'as a small figure with a little sword'

'Agnes Martin: Between the Lines', 2002[edit]

Quotes of Martin from: the interview, 2002 by narrator and filmmaker Leon d'Avigdor at her studio in Taos, New Mexico, for a documentary about her life and work titled: [2] 'Agnes Martin: Between the Lines'
  • There's no indication or hint about the material world in my painting. No, I don't paint about the world. Everybody else is painting about the world. That's enough.
  • I am simply painting concrete representation of abstract emotions such as innocent love, ordinary happiness. I do want an emotional response. And I paint about emotions, not about lines. The truth is that it's not the lines that express the emotion. It's the scale of the composition. You know, if you go into a room that has perfect scale, you feel it.. .If the painting has perfect scale, it moves you. And you have different scale to show different emotions. It's the space between the lines that counts.
  • I painted for 20 years without liking them very much, you know. I burnt them at the end of every year. For 20 years I burnt the whole bunch because I didn't want them to get in the market. And well, sometimes when I was starving, I used to sell one cheap, you know. But I always regretted it because you hate to think of a painting in somebody's house that you don't like well enough, you know.
  • The truth is that I have lived on an even keel. I don't go down, and I don't go up. I believe in living above the line. Above the line is happiness and love, you know. Below the line is all sadness and destruction and unhappiness. And I don't go down below the line for anything.

Quotes about Agnes Martin[edit]

  • Once you are caught in one of her paintings, it is an almost painful effort to pull back from the private experience she triggers to examine the way the picture is made. The desire to simply let yourself flow through it, or let it flow through you, is much stronger.. ..Her paintings exert themselves differently, depending on their line, their pattern, and the quality of the ground color on the canvas. Some are less lyrical, evincing aggression or tension.. .Others suggest spaciousness or vast space, again without using illusionistic devices or the egotistical implication of infinitely extensible surface.
    • Quote by Kasha Linville in 'Agnes Martin: An Appreciation', in 'Artform 9', no. 10 June 1971, p. 72-73
  • Agnes Martin often speaks of joy; she sees it as the desired condition of all life. Who would disagree with her?.. ..No-one who has seriously spent time before an Agnes Martin, letting its peace communicate itself, receiving its inexplicable and ineffable happiness, has ever been disappointed. The work awes, not just with its delicacy, but with its vigor, and this power and visual interest is something that has to be experienced.
  • [looking at the facture of her works is] a conceptual traffic jam: sheer undesirability. My analytical faculties, after trying to conclude what I'm looking at is one thing or another, give up, and my mind collapses.
    • Quote by Peter Schjedahl (2004, p.103); as cited by Amy Flanagan in 'The Subtle emotive; Material and Experience in the Works of Agnes Martin', essay redraft, 2015, p. 6
  • [Agnes] Martin also often spoke in her writings of a blissful, egoless state, an 'untroubled mind', which she tried to achieve in her art, an idea that stems from her own interests in Eastern philosophy. Martin first encountered Buddhism in the late 1950's in the lectures of D.T. Suzuki at Columbia University, and also became interested in the writing of two Taoists, Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, who advised that, rather than looking at others, one should look within one's own mind and soul.
    • Quote by Timothy Robert Rodgers, in Illumination The Paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe, Agnes Pelton, Agnes Martin, and Florence Miller Pierce, Orange County Museum of Art, April 2009, p. 44
  • If what counts most in communication is pattern and its variations, we can look again at the many surfaces and repetitions in Martin's work: in format, medium, mark, measurement. The square itself, as the artist well knew, is the most repetitious of linear lay-outs; each defining dimension repeats the next. That's why she used the square for her basic setup, as well as why she famously credited it with an 'unpleasant' power, which she actively opposed by dividing her canvas into rectangular units.
    • Quote by Anne M. G. Wagner, in A House Divided: American Art Since 1955, Univ. of California Press, 14 Feb. 2012, p. 211
  • I was interested in geometry. And in the colors of nature. Remember, I learned from Agnes Martin and [fiber artist] Lenore Tawney. It was just gardening, making a quilt.
    • Quote by Ann Wilson, in 'Living with Artists: A Visit with Ann Wilson, part 2'; as cited by Rachel Pastan, 14 July 2014.
    • c. 1974 Ann Wilson lived under Agnes Martin
  • Over the years, she gave an assortment of reasons for her departure in the Summer of 1967. She had been living in a beautiful studio on South Street, with cathedral ceilings, so close to the river that she could clearly see the expressions on the sailors' faces. One day, she heard that it was going to be torn down. In the same post she received notification that she had won a grant, enough to purchase a pickup truck and an Airstream camper. Her friend Ad Reinhardt, whose black paintings she loved, had just died; her relationship with Chryssa had ended, and anyway she'd had enough of living in the city. The voices [in her head], too, were in agreement. 'I could no longer stay, so I had to leave, you see,' she explained decades later. 'I left New York because every day I suddenly felt I wanted to die and it was connected with painting. It took me several years to find out that the cause was an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.'
  • I would like to somewhat dispel this impression that she [agnes Martin] was some ascetic saint of the desert. She was more complicated than that and more sophisticated than that. I'm leery of sweeping her up in this celebration of artists, these artists who are self-trained or outsider, or beyond the pale of cosmopolitan art and life, and that's their merit. I think her mental illness [schizophrenia] is liable to enforce that impulse and I think that would be a mistake. It's not who she was. It was part of her life, but it didn't define her.
    • Quote of Nancy Princenthal, (author of Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art, Thames and Hudsons, 2015; as cited in 'What the world misunderstands about artist Agnes Martin and how her biographer unearthed her story', interviewed by Carolina A. Miranda, in Q&A, 12 April 2016


  • Martin, Agnes (1991). Dieter Schwarz, Winterthur. ed. Writings / Schriften (English and German ed.). Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag. ISBN 3-89322-326-6. 
  • Martin, Agnes (1996). "The Untroubled Mind". Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 128–137. ISBN 0-520-20253-8. 

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