I Am a Lie That Always Tells the Truth

Jean Cocteau? Pablo Picasso?  Herbert V. Prochnow? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The life mission of an artist is paradoxical. Masterpieces are not subservient to narrow facticity. Representing truths and insights requires the imaginative transformation of raw materials. Here are two versions of an energizing maxim for artists:

  • I am a lie that always speaks the truth.
  • I am a lie that always tells the truth.

The saying above has been attributed to the French poet Jean Cocteau who has also been credited with this variant statement:

  • The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: An important precursor of this remark appeared in 1922 within “Le Secret Professionnel” (“Professional Secrets”) by Jean Cocteau. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

On a coutume de représenter la poésie comme une dame voilée, langoureuse, étendue sur un nuage. Cette dame a une voix musicale et ne dit que des mensonges.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

It is customary to portray poetry as a veiled, languid woman reclining on a cloud. This lady has a musical voice and says nothing but lies.

Another interesting precursor was crafted by the prominent painter Pablo Picasso when he was interviewed by the New York City periodical “The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine” in 1923. His responses in Spanish were translated into English:

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.

A QI article about Picasso’s statement is available here.

Between 1925 and 1927 Cocteau composed a collection of poems published as “Opéra”. The disease of leprosy was used metaphorically to depict mental disintegration and despair within the poem “Le Paquet Rouge” (“The Red Package”) which included a line that matched the quotation under examination. An excerpt from the poem appeared in the Paris newspaper “Comœdia” in 1927: 2

J’ai lâché le paquet. Qu’on m’enferme. Qu’on me lynche. Comprenne qui pourra : je suis un mensonge qui dit toujours la vérité.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

I dropped the package. That shut me up. Let me be lynched. Understand who can: I am a lie who always tells the truth.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am a Lie That Always Tells the Truth

Notes:

  1. 1922, Book Title: Le Secret Professionnel, Author: Jean Cocteau, Quote Page 57, Publisher: Librairie Stock, Place du Théatre Français, Paris. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. Date: Novembre 1, 1927, Newspaper: Comœdia, Article: Jeune Poésie: II. L’autre royaume: En marge de Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, André Salmon, Author: Eugene Marsan, Quote Page 2, Column 6, Location: Paris, France. (Gallica)

Art Is a Lie That Makes Us Realize Truth

Pablo Picasso? Jean Cocteau? Dorothy Allison? Henry A. Murray? Peter De Vries? Albert Camus? Julie Burchill? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Art works such as novels, paintings, and sculptures embody a stylized and distorted representation of the world. Yet, deep truths can best be expressed by deviating from the straitjacket of verisimilitude. Here are four versions of a paradoxical adage:

  1. Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.
  2. Art is a lie which allows us to approach truth
  3. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth
  4. Art is the lie that reveals truth.

Different versions of this maxim have been applied to fiction, poetry, and drama. The saying has been attributed to the Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso, the French poet Jean Cocteau, and the French existentialist Albert Camus. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 the New York City periodical “The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Covering All Phases of Ancient and Modern Art” interviewed Pablo Picasso. His responses in Spanish were translated into English. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over his lies, he would never accomplish any thing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Art Is a Lie That Makes Us Realize Truth

Notes:

  1. 1923 May, The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Covering All Phases of Ancient and Modern Art, Volume 3, Number 5, Picasso Speaks: A Statement by the Artist (Note accompanying text: Picasso gave his interview to “The Arts” in Spanish, and subsequently authenticated the Spanish text which we herewith translate), Start Page 315, Quote Page 315, The Arts Publishing Corporation, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

One Starts To Get Young at the Age of 60 and Then It’s Too Late

Pablo Picasso? Jean Cocteau? Derek Prouse?

Dear Quote Investigator: The proficiency, creativity, and potency of an artist can grow for decades. Yet, painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso apparently said the following about his change in mentality as he became older. Here are two versions:

  • One starts to get young at 60 and then it is too late.
  • One starts to get young at the age of sixty, and then it’s too late.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Derek Prouse interviewed the prominent French literary figure and film maker Jean Cocteau shortly before the artist died, and the conversation appeared in “The Sunday Times” of London in October 1963. Cocteau repeated a remark he had heard recently from Pablo Picasso. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Of course, the artist’s life has always been a struggle. Picasso said to me the other day: ‘One starts to get young at the age of 60—and then it’s too late.’ Only then does one start to feel free; only then has one learned to strip oneself down to one’s essential creative simplicity.”

Thus, the evidence for this quotation is indirect. Cocteau reported the words he ascribed to Picasso during an interview published in “The Sunday Times”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading One Starts To Get Young at the Age of 60 and Then It’s Too Late

Notes:

  1. 1963 October 27, The Boston Sunday Globe, Cocteau’s Last Observations: One Is Getting Young At 60 … It’s Too Late by Derek Prouse, Quote Page 6A, Column 1 and 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (The interview originally appeared in “The Sunday Times” of London on October 20, 1963) (Newspapers_com)

God Is Really Only Another Artist. He Invented the Giraffe, the Elephant, and the Cat. He Has No Real Style

Pablo Picasso? Françoise Gilot? Carlton Lake? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso contemplated the dissimilarity of the animals created by God, e.g., the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He concluded that God had no consistent style. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The artist Françoise Gilot was the lover and muse of Pablo Picasso between 1943 and 1953. During this period they had two children together. In 1964 Gilot published a memoir titled “Life with Picasso”. The art critic Carlton Lake was her co-author, and he wrote about the accuracy of her memories in the foreword to the book: 1

Throughout our work on it, I have been continuously impressed by her demonstration of the extent to which that much abused term “total recall” can be literally true. Françoise knows exactly what she said, what Pablo said, every step of the way for the ten years and more that they spent together. The direct quotations from Picasso are exactly that.

Early in their relationship Gilot visited Picasso, and he showed her a large album of his prints which included images of sculptures. Picasso commented on the diversity of styles displayed within his prints. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

He doesn’t know what he wants. No wonder his style is so ambiguous. It’s like God’s, God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He has no real style. He just keeps on trying other things. The same with this sculptor. First he works from nature; then he tries abstraction.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading God Is Really Only Another Artist. He Invented the Giraffe, the Elephant, and the Cat. He Has No Real Style

Notes:

  1. 1964, Life with Picasso by Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Section: Foreword, Quote Page 9, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1964, Life with Picasso by Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Part I, Quote Page 50, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

So What? I Paint Fakes, Too

Pablo Picasso? Leonard Lyons? Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler? Arthur Koestler? Marshall McLuhan? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The most fascinating anecdote about authenticity that I have ever heard features Pablo Picasso repudiating a painting that he apparently created. Are you familiar with this tale? Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest occurrence of this anecdote located by QI appeared in the popular syndicated column of Leonard Lyons in 1957. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

One of Picasso’s friends asked him to look at a picture he’d bought: “Is this a genuine Picasso?” The painter examined it and said, “No, it’s a fake.” The friend was crestfallen, then said: “Oh, well, I have this other one — a genuine Picasso.” The artist looked at the second picture and said: “That’s a fake, too” . . .”But that’s impossible,” said the friend, bewildered. “I saw you paint it myself”. . .“So what?” Picasso shrugged. “I paint fakes, too.”

Lyons did not identify the confused individual in this article, but ten years later in 1967 Lyons revisited the topic and pointed to Picasso’s art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler as the owner of the disavowed painting.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading So What? I Paint Fakes, Too

Notes:

  1. 1957 February 22, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Picasso Can ‘Paint Fakes, Too’ by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 27, Column 1 and 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

“But You Did That in Thirty Seconds.” “No, It Has Taken Me Forty Years To Do That.”

Pablo Picasso? Mark H. McCormack? James McNeill Whistler? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A rapidly created artwork may still be quite valuable. An anecdote illustrating this point features Pablo Picasso and a pestering art lover. Would you please explore whether this tale is authentic or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of the Pablo Picasso vignette located by QI appeared in the 1984 book “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School” by Mark H. McCormack who was the powerful chairman of a talent management company. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It always reminds me of the story about the woman who approached Picasso in a restaurant, asked him to scribble something on a napkin, and said she would be happy to pay whatever he felt it was worth. Picasso complied and then said, “That will be $10,000.”

“But you did that in thirty seconds,” the astonished woman replied.

“No,” Picasso said. “It has taken me forty years to do that.”

Picasso died in 1973; hence, the above citation provides only weak evidence. Interestingly, a thematically similar remark was made by the well-known painter James McNeill Whistler during court testimony in 1878. Whistler was asked by a lawyer about the stiff price he had set for an artwork he had created in two days: 2

“Oh, two days! The labour of two days, then, is that for which you ask two hundred guineas!”

“No;—I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.”

If the Picasso story is apocryphal then its creator may have been inspired by the Whistler anecdote. Alternatively, if the story is authentic then Picasso’s response may have been influenced by a familiarity with Whistler’s response.

More information about the Whistler quotation is available here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “But You Did That in Thirty Seconds.” “No, It Has Taken Me Forty Years To Do That.”

Notes:

  1. 1984, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark H. McCormack, Section 3: Running a Business, Chapter 11: Building a Business, Section: Charge for Your Expertise, Quote Page 169, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1890, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies by James McNeill Whistler, Chapter: The Action, Quote Page 3 thru 5, John W. Lovell Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

“The Labour of Two Days, Is That for Which You Ask Two Hundred Guineas!” “No; I Ask It for the Knowledge of a Lifetime.”

James McNeill Whistler? Pablo Picasso? John Ruskin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend a famous painter once created a work of art in a very rapid and seemingly slipshod fashion. Yet the price assigned to the piece was exorbitant. The artist was asked why the price of the painting was so large when the time expended in its construction was so small. The reply was something like:

I am not asking this high price for a brief amount of work. I ask it for the knowledge gained during the efforts of a lifetime.

I have heard versions of this anecdote referring to James McNeill Whistler and Pablo Picasso. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1877 James McNeill Whistler exhibited several paintings including “Nocturne in Black and Gold” at the Grosvenor Gallery in London which was operated by Sir Coutts Lindsay and his wife. The famous art critic John Ruskin’s evaluation was extraordinarily harsh; the prices were absurdly high, and the technique was crude he maintained. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

For Mr. Whistler’s own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have seen and heard much of cockney impudence before now, but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.

Whistler believed that Ruskin’s remarks were libelous, and he initiated a court case against the critic. In 1878 “The Times” of London wrote about the trial and described Whistler’s testimony. The painter admitted that “Nocturne in Black and Gold” was completed quickly, but he believed it was still quite valuable: 2

Of course, he expected that his pictures would be criticized. The “Nocturne in Black and Gold” he knocked off in a couple of days. He painted the picture one day and finished it off the next. He did not give his pictures time to mellow, but he exposed them in the open air, as he went on with his work, to dry. He did not ask 200 guineas for two days’ work; he asked it for the knowledge he had gained in the work of a lifetime.

Whistler prevailed at trial, but the jury awarded him only the nominal sum of one farthing. In addition, the judge did not allow Whistler to recover the costs he incurred while arguing the lawsuit.

Whistler published a transcript of his remarks during the trial within his 1890 book “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”. See further below to read that text.

A thematically similar anecdote about Pablo Picasso is also circulating, and information about that topic is available here. Another pertinent tale called “Knowing where to tap” is examined here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “The Labour of Two Days, Is That for Which You Ask Two Hundred Guineas!” “No; I Ask It for the Knowledge of a Lifetime.”

Notes:

  1. 1879, The Annual Register: A Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad for the Year 1878, Part II, Remarkable Trials: Whistler v. Ruskin, Start Page 215, Quote Page 216 and 217, Rivingtons, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1878 November 26, The Times, Whistler v. Ruskin: Before Baron Huddleston and a Special Jury, Quote Page 9, Column 2, London, England. (The Times Digital Archive of Gale Cengage)

I Am Always Doing What I Can’t Do Yet in Order To Learn How To Do It

Pablo Picasso? Vincent van Gogh? Fred Beerstein?

Dear Quote Investigator: You have the following inspirational saying on the website:

Only one who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.

The above remark reminded me of a statement that has been attributed to two very different painters: Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh:

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

Can you tell me which artist really deserves the credit?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in a letter sent in 1885 to painter Anthon van Rappard from Vincent van Gogh who was immersed in the creation of the landmark canvas “The Potato Eaters”. The following English text based on the Dutch original was provided by the Van Gogh Museum. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The work in question, painting the peasants, is such laborious work that the extremely weak would never even embark on it. And I have at least embarked on it and have laid certain foundations, which isn’t exactly the easiest part of the job! And I’ve grasped some solid and useful things in drawing and in painting, more firmly than you think, my dear friend. But I keep on making what I can’t do yet in order to learn to be able to do it.

A somewhat different translation of the key sentence appeared in volume three of “The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh” which was reviewed in “The New York Times” in 1979: 2

His own description of his work is best: “I am always doing what I can’t do yet in order to learn how to do it.” Getting along with people was something else he could not do yet. “Madness,” he wrote, “is salutary in that one becomes less exclusive.” Another way of saying that when the need for human contact is terrible enough, anyone will do.

An instance was attributed to Pablo Picasso by 1995, but his death had occurred more than two decades earlier in 1973.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am Always Doing What I Can’t Do Yet in Order To Learn How To Do It

Notes:

  1. Website: Van Gogh Museum of Amsterdam: Vincent van Gogh Letters, Letter number: 528, Letter from: Vincent van Gogh, Location: Nuenen, Letter to: Anthon van Rappard, Date: August 18, 1885, Website description: Van Gogh Letters Project database of the Van Gogh Museum. (Accessed vangoghletters.org on March 26, 2017) link
  2. 1979 February 10, New York Times, Books of The Times: Nature Has Spoken to Me by Anatole Broyard, (Book Review of “The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh” in 3 Volumes), Quote Page 17, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)

When Painters Get Together They Talk About Where You Can Buy the Best Turpentine

Pablo Picasso? Jean Renoir? Garson Kanin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Critics discuss abstruse theories of creativity and engage in esoteric scrutiny of aesthetics while artists are primarily concerned with the practical. Admittedly, this is an oversimplification. Here is a statement that makes a similar point:

When art critics get together they talk about form and structure and meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.

Did Picasso really say this?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a comparable expression located by QI appeared in a 1966 book by the screenwriter and director Garson Kanin who ascribed the words to Picasso: 1

Picasso says that when art critics get together they talk about content, style, trend and meaning, but that when painters get together they talk about where can you get the best turpentine.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When Painters Get Together They Talk About Where You Can Buy the Best Turpentine

Notes:

  1. 1966, Remembering Mr. Maugham by Garson Kanin, Quote Page 45, Atheneum, New York. (Verified on paper)

I Am Only a Public Entertainer Who Has Understood His Times

Pablo Picasso? Giovanni Papini? Apocryphal?

picasso07Dear Quote Investigator: Pablo Picasso reportedly admitted in a “Confession” that he did not consider himself a great artist; instead, he was an entertainer who shocked and amused the rich and indolent to gain fame and wealth. Did Picasso really say this?

Quote Investigator: No. The well-known “Confession” was invented by an Italian journalist and literary critic named Giovanni Papini who wrote two novels filled with fictional encounters between the main character, a businessman named Gog, and famous figures such as Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, and Pablo Picasso.

The first satirical work titled “Gog” was published in 1931, and the sequel “Il Libro Nero: Nuovo Diario di Gog” (The Black Book: New Gog Diary) was released in 1951. 1 Papini’s writings were not intended to mislead readers. Yet, the fascinating statements he crafted for the luminaries were compelling enough to be remembered and misremembered. Reprinted passages in periodicals and books sometimes incorrectly indicated that the words were genuine. For example, in 1993 the scholar Frederick Crews wrote a powerful essay titled “The Unknown Freud” in “The New York Review of Books”. Unfortunately, one segment of the essay presented a statement ascribed to Freud by Papini as authentic. During the subsequent discussion Crews apologized and stated that his error stemmed from other scholarly works that improperly ascribed the words to Freud. 2 3

A comparable misunderstanding occurred regarding Panini’s mock interview with Picasso. A columnist writing for “The Washington Post” in 1952 noticed that Paris newspapers were printing the interview. He accepted the Picasso attribution and shared fragments of the text with his readers: 4

Paris newspapers are agog. The story has been picked up by several American publications including Quick.

Admitting himself to be “a public entertainer” exploiting as best he could “the foolishness, the vanity and the greed” of his contemporaries, Picasso recently confessed that he merely sought to please master and critic with the “new, the strange, the original, the extravagant, the scandalous … the less they understood them the more they admired me.”

Over the years, multiple translations have been created, and sometimes the translations have been indirect, e.g., English text has been derived from French text created from Italian text.

A 1954 book lambasting modern art titled “Peril on Parnassus” by William F. Alder included a version of the fictive remarks. However, a reviewer in the “Los Angeles Times” responded skeptically: 5

Giovanni Papini’s alleged interview with Picasso, in which that painter was quoted as calling himself “a public clown, a mountebank,” is printed early in the book. But no mention is made of Picasso’s denial.

In January 1964 a journal of arts and literature called “Origin” published “A Confession” with a Pablo Picasso byline. The editor was unaware that the piece was based on “Il Libro Nero”. It began as follows: 6

When I was young, like all the young, art, great art, was my religion; but, with the years, I came to see that art, as it was understood until 1800, was henceforth finished, on its last legs, doomed, and that so-called artistic activity with all its abundance is only the many-formed manifestation of its agony. Men are detached from and more and more disinterested in painting, sculpture and poetry.

The imaginary Picasso suggested that modern artists resorted to “expedients of intellectual charlatanism”. Picasso’s own works, he felt, consisted of whims, tom-fooleries, brain-busters, and arabesques. He concluded his essay:

Today, as you know, I am famous and very rich. But when completely alone with myself, I haven’t the nerve to consider myself an artist in the great and ancient sense of the word. There have been great painters like Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt and Goya. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his time.

This is a bitter confession, mine, more painful indeed than it may seem, but it has the merit of being sincere.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am Only a Public Entertainer Who Has Understood His Times

Notes:

  1. WorldCat Entry, Year: 1951, Title: Il Libro Nero: Nuovo Diario di Gog, Author: Giovanni Papini, Publisher: [Firenze]: Vallecchi, Language: Italian, (English Title Translation: The Black Book: New Gog Diary)
  2. 1993 December 16, The New York Review of Books, Footnote to Freud by Frederick C. Crews, Publisher: Rea S. Hederman, New York. (Online archive at nybooks.com) link
  3. 1994 February 3, The New York Review of Books, The Unknown Freud: An Exchange, (Letters responding to “The Unknown Freud” by Frederick Crews from J. Schimek, James Hopkins, Herbert S. Peyser, David D. Olds, and Marian Tolpin, et al. Also several replies from Frederick Crews), Publisher: Rea S. Hederman, New York. (Online archive at nybooks.com) link
  4. 1952 August 3, The Washington Post, Four Books About Art: Picasso Gave His ‘Silly’ Era in Painting a Blow, (Several books reviewed by Sterling North), Quote Page B7, Column 4, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  5. 1954 September 19, Los Angeles Times, New Art Books by A.M., Quote Page D7, Column 5, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
  6. 1964 January, Origin, Second Series, Issue 12, Pablo Picasso: A Confession, (Note: The article presents an incorrect ascription to Picasso), Start Page 1, End Page 2, Editor: Cid Corman, Yamaha Art Gallery, Kyoto, Japan. (Verified with scans; thanks to the librarians of Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison)