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Juan Gris (1887–1927), Guitar and Clarinet, 1920

Cubism was an early-20th-century avant-garde art movement pioneered by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, joined by Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, Fernand Léger and Juan Gris. It revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in visual arts, music, literature and architecture.

Quotes on Cubism[edit]

Sorted chronologically, by date of the quote

1906 - 1912[edit]

  • Treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone, the whole put into perspective so that each side of an object, or of a plane, leads towards a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth, whether a sections of nature, or, if you prefer, of the spectacle which Pater omnipotens aeterne Deus unfolds before your eyes. Lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth.. ..Everything I am telling you [Joachim Gasquet] about - the sphere, the cone, cylinder, concave shadow – on mornings when I’m tired these notions of mine get me going, they stimulate me, I soon forget them once I start using my eyes.
    • Quote of Paul Cézanne, just before Cubism started and researched this art-concept in Paris, in: 'What he told me – I. The motif'; Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, (1897 - 1906); Thames and Hudson, London 1991; pp. 163-164
  • I couldn’t portray a women in all her natural loveliness.. ..I haven’t the skill. No one has. I must, therefore, create a new sort of beauty, the beauty that appears to me in terms of volume of line, of mass, of weight, and through that beauty interpret my subjective impression. Nature is mere a pretext for decorative composition, plus sentiment. It suggests emotion, and I translate that emotion into art. I want to express the absolute, not merely the factitious woman. [illustrating quote of early Cubism by Braque, taken from his talk with the American Gelett Burgess, late in 1908]
    • Georges Braque in the article 'The wild men of Paris', in ‘The Architectural Record’, May 1910; as quoted in “Braque”, Edwin Mullins, Thames and Hudson, London 1968, p. 34
    • illustrating quote by Braque of early Cubism, taken from his talk with the American Gelett Burgess, late in 1908
  • Already, a conscious courage is coming to life. Here are some of the painters: Picasso, Braque, Delaunay, Le Fauconnier.. ..they are highly enlightened, and do not believe in the stability of any system, even if it were to call itself classical art.. ..Their reason is poised between the pursuit of the fleeting and a mania for the eternal.
  • [the Cubist painters who].. continued to paint objects motionless, frozen, and all the static aspects of Nature; they worship the traditionalism of Poussin, of Ingres, of Corot, ageing and petrifying their art with an obstinate attachment to the past, which to our eyes remains totally incomprehensible.
  • ..Is it indisputable that several aesthetic declarations of our French comrades [the Cubists in Paris] display a sort of masked academicism. It is not, indeed, a return to the Academy to declare that the subject, in painting, has a perfectly insignificant value?.. ..To paint from the posing model as an absurdity, and an act of mental cowardice, even if the model be translated upon the picture in linear, spherical and cubic forms..
    • two quotes by Boccioni in his text of 'Les exposants au public' - exh. Cat. Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, February 1912, pp. 2, 3
  • We [the Futurists] must smash, demolish and destroy our traditional harmony, which makes us fall into a ’gracefullness’ created by timid and sentimental 'cubs' [this denigrating word refers to the French Cubists].
    • Quote by Boccioni in his 'Sculptural Manifesto' of 1912; as quoted in Futurism, ed. By Didier Ottinger; Centre Pompidou / 5 Continents Editions, Milan, 2008
  • The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason. The face of the new art. The square is a living, regal infant. The first step of pure creation in art.
    • Kazimir Malevich "From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting" (November 1916)
Du "Cubisme", 1912, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Eugène Figuière Editeurs (cover)
  • Unless we are to condemn all modern painting, we must regard cubism as legitimate, for it continues modern methods, and we should see in it the only conception of pictorial art now possible. In other words, at this moment cubism is painting.
  • To understand Cézanne is to foresee Cubism. Henceforth we are justified in saying that between this school and previous manifestations there is only a difference of intensity, and that in order to assure ourselves of this we have only to study the methods of this realism, which, departing from the superficial reality of Courbet, plunges with Cézanne into profound reality, growing luminous as it forces the unknowable to retreat.
    • Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Du "Cubisme", Edition Figuière, Paris, 1912 (First English edition: Cubism, T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1913)

1913 - 1925[edit]

  • The Cubists, to be objective, restrict themselves to considering things by turning around them, to produce their geometric writing. So they remain at a stage of intelligence which sees everything and feels nothing, which brings everything to a standstill in order to describe everything. We Futurists are trying, on the contrary, with the power of intuition, to place ourselves at the very center of things, in such a way that our ego forms with their own uniqueness a single complex. We thus give plastic planes as plastic expansion in space, obtaining this feeling of something in perpetual motion which is peculiar to everything living.
    • Carlo Carrà ‘Piani plastici come espanzione sferica nello spazio’, Carra, March 1913; as quoted in “Futurism”, ed. By Didier Ottinger; Centre Pompidou / 5 Continents Editions, Milan, 2008, p. 146
  • It is clear to me that this is art for the future. Futurism, although it has advanced beyond naturalism, occupies itself too much with human sensations. Cubism – which in its content is still too much concerned with earlier aesthetic products, and thus less rooted in its own time than Futurism – Cubism has taken a giant step in the direction of abstraction, and is in this respect of its own time and of the future. Thus in its content it is not modern, but in its effect it is.
    • Piet Mondrian, in his letter (Paris 29 January 1914) to the Dutch art critic and buyer of Mondrian's paintings, H. P. Bremmer; as quoted in “Mondrian, -The Art of Destruction”, Carel Blotkamp, Reaktion Books LTD. London 2001, p. 77
  • People talk of Picasso as the leader of the Cubists but, strictly speaking, he is no longer a Cubist. Today he is a Cubist, tomorrow he will be something else. The only true Cubists are Gleizes and Metzinger.
    • quote of Marcel Duchamp, from 'A complete reversal of opinions on art'; Marcel Duchamp, in 'Art and Decoration', New York, 1 September 1915
  • Neo-Plasticism [= De Stijl] has its roots in Cubism. It could just as easy be called the Painting of Real Abstraction. Since the abstract can be expressed by a plastic reality.. ..It achieves what all painting has tried to achieve but has been able to express only in a veiled manner. By their position and their dimension as well as by the importance of given to colour, the coloured planes express in a plastic way only relations and not forms. Neo-Plasticism imparts to these relations an aesthetic balance and thereby expresses universal harmony [quote in 1921-23].
    • Piet Mondrian Abstract Painting, Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co.,1964, p. 83-85
  • No academy could have given me all I discovered by getting my teeth into the exhibitions, the shop windows, and the museums of Paris. Beginning with the market – where, for lack of money, I bought only a piece of a long cucumber – the workman in his blue overall, the most ardent followers of Cubism, everything showed a definite feeling for proportion, clarity, an accurate sense of form, of a more painterly kind of painting, even in the canvases of second-rate artists.
    • Marc Chagall As quoted in Marc Chagall - the Russian years 1906 – 1922, editor Christoph Vitali, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1991, p. 29
  • Cubism is no different from any other school of painting. The same principles and the same elements are common to all. The fact that for a long time cubism has not been understood and that even today there are people who cannot see anything in it, means nothing. I do not read English, and an English book is a blank to me. This does not mean that the English language does not exist, and why should I blame anyone but myself if I cannot understand what I know nothing about?
  • Many think that cubism is an art of transition, an experiment which is to bring ulterior results. Those who think that way have not understood it. Cubism is not either a seed or a foetus, but an art dealing primarily with forms, and when a form is realized it is there to live its own life. A mineral substance, having geometric formation, is not made so for transitory purposes, it is to remain what it is and will always have its own form.
  • Cubism is not a manner but an aesthetic, and even a state of mind; it is therefore inevitably connected with every manifestation of contemporary thought. It is possible to invent a technique or a manner independently, but one cannot invent the whole complexity of a state of mind.
    • Juan Gris Response to a questionnaire, from "Chez les cubistes," Bulletin de la Vie Artistique, ed. Félix Fénéon, Guillaume Janneau et al (1925-01-01); trans. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, quoted in Juan Gris, His Life and Work (1947)

1926 - 1945[edit]

  • Face to face with these new machines and instruments, with their hard surfaces, their rigid volumes, their stark shapes, a fresh kind of perception and pleasure emerges: to interpret this order becomes one of the new tasks of the arts. While these new qualities existed as facts of the mechanical industry, they were not generally recognized as values until they were interpreted by the painter and the sculptor; and so they existed in an indifferent anonymity for more than a century. The new forms were sometimes appreciated, perhaps, as symbols of Progress: but art, as such, is valued for what it is, not for what it indicates, and the sort of attention needed for the appreciation of art was largely lacking in the industrial environment of the nineteenth century, and except for the work of an occasional engineer of great talent, like Eiffel, was looked upon with deep suspicion.
    • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934) Ch. 7 "Assimilation of the Machine"
  • The Cubists were perhaps the first school to overcome this association of the ugly and the mechanical: they not merely held that beauty could be produced through the machine: they even pointed to the fact that it had been produced. ...They extracted from the organic environment just those elements that could be stated in abstract geometrical symbols: they transposed and readjusted the contents of vision as freely as the inventor readjusted organic functions: they even created on canvas or in metal mechanical equivalents of organic objects... This whole process of rational experiment in abstract mechanical forms was pushed further by the constructivists. ...They created in form the semblance of the mathematical equations and physical formulae that had produced our new environment... seeking in this new sculpture... to evolve dynamic equivalents for the solid sculpture of the past by rotating a part of the object through space.
    • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934) Ch. 7 "Assimilation of the Machine"
  • was the Cubist painters who created the new magic of space and color that everywhere today confronts our eyes in new architecture and design. Since then the various branches of modern art through exhaustive experiment and research have created a vast laboratory whose discoveries unveiled for all the secrets of form, line and color...
    • Arshile Gorky in: 'Camouflage', 1942; an announcement for a teaching program [set up by Gorky and the director of the Grand Central School of Art, Edmund Greasen]
  • The intellectual abstraction of the second [analytical] period of Cubism was of great importance, however. By its aspirations to the eternal and its "concept of proportion inspired by the Classics" it revived the sense of craftsmanship concept in many painters. And this perfectly coincided with another of my ambitions – which was to make, with paint, an object having the same perfection of craftsmanship that a cabinet-maker would put into a piece of furniture.
    • Gino Severini, as quoted in Letters of the great artists, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson , London, 1963, p. 248 (translation Daphne Woodward)
  • Cubism did not accept the logical consequences of its own discoveries; it was not developing abstraction towards its own goal, the expression of pure reality.
    • Piet Mondrian, quote in: Abstract Art, Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson, London 1990, p. 50

1946 and later[edit]

  • Personally, I do not need a movement. What was given to me, I take for granted. Of all movements, I like Cubism most. It had that wonderful unsure atmosphere of reflection—a poetic frame where something could be possible, where an artist could practise [sic] his intuition. It didn’t want to get rid of what went before. Instead it added something to it. The parts that I can appreciate in other [art] movements came out of Cubism. Cubism became a movement, it didn’t set out to be one. It has force in it, but it was no 'force-movement.'
    • Willem de Kooning in his speech 'What Abstract Art means to me' on the symposium 'What is Abstract At' - at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951, n.p.
  • There has been 32 isms since the advent of cubism, yet after all there are essentially the same two old strings, the Romantic and the Classical. We’ve just be confused by the storm. Science and psychology have played a great part to say nothing of sex.
    • Mark Tobey The Tigers Eye 1, Mark Tobey, 1952; as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 103
  • If I have called Cubism a new order, it is without any revolutionary ideas or any reactionary ideas.. ..One cannot escape form one’s own epoch, however revolutionary one may be. I do not think my painting has ever been revolutionary. It was not directed against any kind of painting. I have never wanted to prove that I was right and someone else wrong.. ..If there is a touch of reaction, since life imposes that, it is minute. And then it is so difficult to judge a thing historically, separated from its environment: it is the relationship between a man and what he does that counts. That’s what good and touches us.
    • Georges Braque, in conversation with Dora Vallier (1954), as quoted in Letters of the Great Artists – From Blake to Pollock (1963), p. 264
  • What greatly attracted me – and it was the main line of advance of Cubism – was how to give material expression to this new space of which I had an inkling. So I began to paint chiefly still life’s, because in nature there is a tactile, I would almost say a manual space. I wrote about this moreover ‘When a still-life is no longer within reach, it ceases to be a still-life.. .For me that expressed the desire I have always had to touch a thing, not just to look at it. It was that space that attracted me strongly, for that was the earliest Cubist painting – the quest for space.
    • Georges Braque, in conversation with Dora Vallier (1954), as quoted in Letters of the Great Artists – From Blake to Pollock (1963), p. 264
  • The whole Renaissance tradition is antipathic to me. The hard-and-fast rules of perspective which it succeeded in imposing on art were a ghastly mistake which it has taken four centuries to redress; Cézanne and after him Picasso and myself can take a lot of credit for this.. ..scientific perspective forces the objects in a picture to disappear away form the beholder instead of bringing them within his reach as painting should.
    • Quote of Georges Braque in conversation with Dora Vallier (1954), from The Observer, by John Richardson, 1 December 1957
  • What particularly attracted me [in his 'Still-life with Musical instruments', 1908 – 1909].. ..was the materialization of this new space that I felt to be in the offing.. .This answered to the hankering I have always had to touch things and not merely see them. It was this space that particularly attracted me, for this was the first concern of Cubism, the investigation of space.. visual space you measure the distance separating things from each other.
    • Georges Braque, in Braque, by Edwin Mullins, Thames and Hudson, London 1968
  • If we had never met Picasso, would Cubism have been what it is? I think not. The meeting with Picasso was a circumstance in our lives.
    • Georges Braque in conversation with Dora Vallier (1954); as quoted in Letters of the Great Artists – From Blake to Pollock (1963), p. 265
  • When Jackson talked about painting he didn’t usurp anything that wasn’t himself. He didn’t want to change anything, he wasn’t using any outworn attitude about it, he was always himself. He just wanted to be in it because he loved it. The response in the person’s mind to that mysterious thing that has happened before has nothing to do with ‘who did it first’. Tomlin however, did hear these voices and in reference to his early work and its relation to Braque, I like him for that. He was not an academician of Cubism even then; he was an extremely personal and sensitive artist.
    • Franz Kline Evergreen Review, vol. II, (no 6) autumn 1958, p. 11-15
  • [learning European modern art by seeing it in the art-magazine 'Cahiers d’Art'] heritage was all those things [De Stijl, Constructivism, Cubism, Surrealism] simultaneously , so I am all those things. I hope with a very strong intellectual regard for Cubism, and an admiration for it, because it was great at a particular time. It was both painting and sculpture. It was a great point of liberation in both painting and sculpture, and especially sculpture. [David Smith was one of the few sculptors in American Abstract Expressionism]
    • David Smith (1960), inn an interview with w:David Sylvester, edited for BBC broadcasting: first published in 'Living Arts', April 1964; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 8
  • Or the Cubists. When you think about it now, it is so silly to look at an object from many angles.. It's very silly. It's good that they got those ideas because it is enough for some of them to become good artists.
    • Willem de Kooning, in an interview (March 1960) with David Sylvester, edited for broadcasting by the BBC first published in 'Location', Spring 1963; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 49
  • I felt it necessary to evolve entirely new concepts (of form and space and paintings) and postulate them in an instrument that could continue to shake itself free from dialectical perversions. The dominant ones, cubism and expressionism, only reflected the attitudes of power or spiritual debasement of the individual.
    • Clyfford Still, interview with Ti Grace Sharpless, 1963; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 200
  • Futurism and Cubism are comparable in importance to the invention of perspective, for which they substituted a new concept op space. All subsequent movements were latent in them or brought about by them.. ..the two movements cannot be regarded as in opposition to each other, even though they started from opposite points; I maintain [an idea approved by Apollinaire and later by Matisse,] that they are two extremes of the same sign, tending to coincide at certain points which only the poetic instinct of the painter can discover: poetry being the content and raison d’être of art.
    • Gino Severini, as quoted in Letters of the great artists, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson , London, 1963, p. 248-249 (translation Daphne Woodward)
  • Cubism is an anatomical chart of a way of seeing external objects. But I want to confuse the meaning of the act of looking.
    • Jasper Johns in: Jasper Johns in Tokyo, Yoshiaki Tono, Tokyo August 1964, as quoted in Jasper Johns, Writings, sketchbook Notes, Interviews, ed; Kirk Varnedoe, Moma New York, 1996, p. 104
  • Cubism is not a formula, it is not a school. Cubism is a philosophy, a point of view in the universe. It is like standing at a certain point on a mountain and looking around. If you go higher, things will look different; if you go lower, again they will look different. It is a point of view.
    • Jacques Lipchitz in: Bert Van Bork (1966) ..Jacques Lipchitz: The Artist at Work. p. 199
  • I love to experiment with all styles, and do not have any particular prejudice or bias towards any specific style. These works appear, and they turn out, the way they should. I do not decide in what style I want to paint. I am only experimenting. Even Picasso, when he arrived at Cubism, had already experimented with a lot of other styles.
    • Guity Novin Ayandegan (1973), No 77. Tuesday, June 5th, 1973. p. 4
  • The avant-garde art of yesterday is the only modern equivalent of an aesthetic tradition. The fading of the ideas of a movement does not mean that it can no longer be a stimulus to creation. At the very dawn of a movement, the work of its artists commences to replace the concept; instead of Cubism there appear Picasso, Braque, Gris. Compared to the activities to which they give rise, ideas in art have a brief life. In the last analysis, the vitality of art in our time depends on works produced by movements after they have died.
    • Harold Rosenberg Art on the Edge (1975) "Shall These Bones Live?: Art Movement Ghosts" p. 230
  • The Cubists used the figure, but they broke it up..
    • Mark Tobey Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 58 : In conversation with Seitz

External links[edit]

  • Encyclopedic article on Cubism at Wikipedia
  • Media related to Cubism at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of cubism at Wiktionary
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