The Doodle Is the Brooding of the Hand

Saul Steinberg? Harold Rosenberg? Robert Motherwell?

Dear Quote Investigator: A cartoonist once spoke eloquently about the product of absentminded scribbling. Here are three versions:

  • The doodle is the brooding of the hand.
  • Doodling is the brooding of the hand.
  • Doodling is the brooding of the mind.

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The leading illustrator and cartoonist Saul Steinberg was often featured in the pages of “The New Yorker”. In 1978 a collection of his artworks was published in an eponymous book together with commentary by Harold Rosenberg. The saying appeared as a quotation from Steinberg presented by Rosenberg. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

While retaining the cartoon as the nucleus of his art, Steinberg has vastly enlarged its scope with ideas, techniques, approaches derived from the history of art and from twentieth-century art in particular: automatic drawing (“the doodle is the brooding of the hand”), drawings by children and the mentally disturbed, naïve art, scrawls on walls and latrines, facsimiles, transferred images (drawings on photographs), parodies of modern and old masters.

The artwork above is not by Saul Steinberg; it is from pencilparker at Pixabay.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Doodle Is the Brooding of the Hand


  1. 1978, Saul Steinberg by Harold Rosenberg, (Pictures by Saul Steinberg; commentary by Harold Rosenberg), Quote Page 34, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)