I Know Artists Whose Medium Is Life Itself, and Who Express the Inexpressible Without Brush, Pencil, Chisel, or Guitar

Frederick Franck? Oscar Wilde? Donna J. Stone? J. Stone? Timothy Morrissey? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Artists do not always require implements such as brushes, clay, chisels, hammers, or guitars to create works. Some artists use life itself as a medium. This fascinating notion has been expressed in a family of quotations that I have been attempting to trace. Would you be willing to help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1973 book “The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing As Meditation” by Frederick Franck. The work was extensively illustrated, and the text was handwritten. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And yet, I know artists whose medium is Life itself, and who express the inexpressible without brush, pencil, chisel, or guitar. They neither paint nor dance. Their medium is Being. Whatever their hand touches has increased Life. They SEE and don’t have to draw. They are the artists of being alive.

Researchers would have difficulty finding the text above in a modern computer database. The handwritten text is not properly converted to searchable text by current optical character recognition algorithms. Hence, Franck’s book is in the Google Books database, but it is not searchable. QI has verified the printed text above with the handwritten text.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Oscar Wilde was a famous artist who viewed his life as an aesthetic performance. Wilde was known for his scintillating conversation. While he was visiting the French writer André Gide he spoke on this topic: 2

Then, turning suddenly towards me, he said, ‘Would you like to know the great drama of my life? It is that I have put my genius into my life—I have put only my talent into my works!

In 1973 Frederick Franck’s book was scrutinized in the “Los Angeles Times”, and the reviewer noted that the creation of the volume was inspired by a workshop that Franck taught. The quotation under examination was further circulated via reprinting: 3

Years of preoccupation with Zen, of introspection, of rediscovering the mystery and miracle of perception, of striving for “an art more urgent than art itself” came to fruition in the two-and-a-half days of the workshop.

Drawing is only a way. There are artists “whose medium is life itself, who express the inexpressible without brush, pencil, chisel or guitar. They neither paint nor dance. Their medium is being.

In 1991 the compilation “Light One Candle: Quotes for Hope and Action” included a modified version of the saying with an attribution to J. Stone. The tools “pencil” and “chisel” were changed to “hammer” and “clay”: 4

The most visible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself. The ones who express the inexpressible—without brush, hammer, clay or guitar. They neither paint nor sculpt—their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They see and don’t have to draw. They are the artists of being alive.
J. Stone

In 1993 “The Palm Beach Post” of Florida published a profile of the photographer Timothy Morrissey who presented the modified version of the saying with an anonymous attribution. The ellipsis is in the original newspaper text: 5

My personal philosophy: I once read something I really like — “The most visible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself … the ones who express the inexpressible without brush, hammer, clay or guitar. They neither paint nor sculpt. Their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They see and don’t have to draw. They are the artists of being alive.”

In 1995 a paper in “Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin” reported that inspirational speaker Dan Clark delivered the following during a local address: 6

“The most visible creators I know are those artists whose medium is life itself.

In 2014 the saying appeared as a chapter epigraph in a book titled “Integrative Nursing”. The text was very similar to the instance in the 1991 collection, but the words were ascribed to Donna J. Stone. 7

In conclusion, this article presents a snapshot of current research. Frederick Franck should receive credit for the quotation in “The Zen of Seeing” based on the 1973 citation. The 1991 quotation appears to be derived directly or indirectly from the 1973 quotation.

Image Notes: Picture of brush with a set of watercolors from Ulrike Leone at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Jonathon English whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1973, The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing As Meditation, Drawn and Handwritten by Frederick Franck, Quote Page 129, Vintage Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1905, Oscar Wilde: A Study from the French of André Gide, Section: Oscar Wilde from the French of André Gide, Quote Page 49, The Holywell Press, Oxford, England. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1973 November 26, The Los Angeles Times, The Book Report: Expressing the Inexpressible by Robert Kirsch (Times Book Critic), (Book review of “The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing As Meditation” by Frederick Franck), Section 4, Quote Page 7, Column 4, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1991, Light One Candle: Quotes for Hope and Action, Compiled by Arrington Chambliss, Wayne Meisel, and Maura Wolf, Chapter: Celebration, Quote Page 63, Peter Pauper Press, White Plains, New York. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1993 May 3, The Palm Beach Post, People to Watch: Timothy Morrissey by Deborah Welky, Quote Page 3D, Column 3, West Palm Beach, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1995 April 27, Daily Tribune, ‘Dreaming a mighty dream’ by Jennifer Benesch (Tribune Staff Writer), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 2014, Integrative Nursing, Editors: Mary Jo Kreitzer and Mary Koithan, Series: Weil Integrative Medicine Library, Chapter 29: Integrative Nursing: Palliative Care and End-of-Life by Julie Katseres and Kathleen A. Nelson, (Epigraph of Chapter 29), Oxford University Press, New York. (Google Books Preview)