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  • Art in Life / Life In Art: Thoughts and Maxims
  • Peter Sourian


  1. 1. Most maxims are commonplaces in costume. Though usually made without sugar, they’re also like those individually wrapped chocolates dressed up in a pretty box: They’re small; they ought to taste pretty good; ingest too many at a time and they give you mental indigestion.

  2. 2. It was fashionable in seventeenth-century France to write maxims. Fashionable people did it, and their maxims became unfashionable. Only those of La Rochefoucauld are fashionable now. He wrote them after he had become unfashionable.

  3. 3. There is more promise in a suggestive maxim than in an accurate one. Though presently not much more than a somewhat inchoate germination, it intimates a birth.

  4. 4. Everything is strange.

  5. 5. Like a sail, which has no power, the artist catches the wind, and moves the boat.

  6. 6. The young artist leaves things out because he doesn’t know they’re there, and the result is effective because they are there. The old artist leaves things out because he does know they’re there. [End Page 213]

  7. 7. Originality of thought is rare, almost nonexistent. Originality of sensibility is not uncommon (artists, etc.).

  8. 8. There may be no new thought, but there can be new information, to which old thought can adjust with originality.

  9. 9. Extended elaboration of a figure of speech contributes to the longevity of its force, and stays its descent into the dreadful limbo of cliché. The apt, sustained elaboration makes the mind of the beholder a vested participant by forcing it to work to awaken the sleeping beauty of poetry from dreaminess into the reality of the emotion, and by simultaneously forcing it to work to awaken the sleeping reality to the emotional alarm of metaphor. Intellect and affect become one.

  10. 10. Like God, who finds the saint in the despised sinner, or like his more compassionate human son raising up the shunned leper, the redemptor-artist seeks out the despised cliché.

  11. 11. A noun unmodified cannot be ugly, nor does age affect it. It will never tire, always do its job, and has to be neither fed nor paid.

  12. 12. Addition may subtract. Too much imagination produces its opposite, just as several vibrant colors mixed together make mud.

  13. 13. The addition of the value of embellishment is the subtraction of the value of substance, but a little embellishment subtracts little and adds much.

  14. 14. The teeming baroque can be substance.

  15. 15. Certain critics’ contemplation of art: It must first be ugly in order to attain the stage of consideration as to whether it’s beautiful.

  16. 16. False beauty is uglier than true ugliness.

  17. 17. The tragic sense of life and the ugly sense of life are opposites, and sometimes confused.

  18. 18. The clerical task of the tragic artist is meticulously to distinguish: Suffering as a condition, the glory of the Sufferer, The Suffering. [End Page 214]

  19. 19. Romance is too frightened to be meticulous. We declare something beautiful, refusing to find it unbearable. Fearing it, we make it benign, and occasionally succeed.

  20. 20. For a person of taste, the same wine actually does taste better in a different glass, but the same person will not confuse the mediocrity of the glass with the quality of the wine that’s in it.

  21. 21. The sophisticate prefers not-too-sweet. Otherwise, like a diabetic, he can’t absorb the thing.

  22. 22. Yes, Life itself is a Play, as Shakespeare’s Jacques tells us, but in Life the swords are not made of wood. Yet as copies of steel swords are made of wood, so copies of the wooden swords have also been made—of terrifying steel.

  23. 23. If the work of a competent hack movie-soundtrack composer had been produced before Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann, it would have been considered most extraordinary. But it isn’t.

  24. 24. The greatest jazz musician could play notes given him without any improvisation and it would be original. The Fables of La Fontaine are not original and yet they certainly are. Both La Fontaine and the musician always improvise, for the material is themselves, at each following moment.

  25. 25. Unlike the piano, with hammers...


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pp. 213-228
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