The Maxim Gun

Maxim Gun

Nobody writes epigrams anymore, and we are the worse for it. Instead, they are too busy writing Tweets. The difference? A Tweet says in 140 characters what no one needs to say. An epigram says in a few short words what can be unfolded and stretched out into a book: It is a seed waiting to sprout in the mind of the hearer. A Tweet goes everywhere in the world, but goes nowhere.

A Tweet is flaccid and generally pointless; an epigram, or maxim, is a gun that fires rapidly.

La Rochefoucauld

La Rochefoucauld

I love rambling through such terse cynics as La Rochefoucauld, and I eat up the ”eternity in a phrase of glass” of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the punchy paragraph perorations Henry Thoreau.

I don’t claim to be any Martial, but over the years, I’ve squeezed out a few. Here are some, strung together and pretending to be pearls:

–› Curiosity is the libido of art.

–› Art doesn’t come from the brain; it comes from the base of the spine.

–› I don’t want to know an artist is clever; I want to know he is more alive than me.

–› We need to know that the moments of time are connected to one another and are not merely adjacent.

–› Meaning depends on ambiguity. The more precise a word is, the less it describes.

–› You can forget knowledge; understanding changes your life.

–› It is the conservative’s impotence that he can only react, never create.

–› Ultimately, what counts is not the wisdom of Solomon, but stories of that wisdom.

–› Design is your awareness of everything in the frame.

–› Western art is really a branch of physics.

–› Art history is fine for the historians, but the rest of us must watch not to be hit by the flying debris.

–› Reality is no excuse.

–› What you know prevents learning.

–› There can be no great beauty that doesn’t know tragedy.

–› There are those for whom the world is rote. For whom knowledge is an orderly collection of facts, not the experience of understanding. For whom a set of rules prescribes behavior and describes art, music, politics, commerce. They are the managers, the commissars, the education reformers — for them, the planet turns on a dry axle.

–› To the degree that you use someone else’s words to express yourself, to that degree you don’t understand what you are saying.

–› The difference between a commercial artist and a fine artist is that a commercial artist knows what he is doing.

–› Art is the discovery or creation of meaning and order from the chaos of perception and experience.

–› The artist knows that 1 plus 1 equal 3. There is the one apple, the other apple and the two together.

–› Art is not a product; it is a byproduct.

–› A fact is a fragment, a truth is a wholeness.

–› Science is the test we give to hard facts, art is the test we give to everything else.

–› Art makes you aware that you are alive. That is not always very pleasant.

–› Art worth remembering is art that tackles knotty problems. Everything else is wallpaper.

–› Entertainment diverts us from the cares of life; art makes us feel alive. The two things are opposites.

–› Design is not a set of rules, it is a level of awareness.

–› All the questions that matter are insoluble.

–› Civilization is an irrational fear of the irrational.

–› Art creates civilization, not the other way around.

–› Everyone asks questions; intellectuals ask questions about the questions.

–› Opposites do not exist in the world separate from the language that describes them.

–› One end of the cigar is lit, the other is where we draw smoke. We call the two ends opposites, but there is only one cigar.

–› You can teach knowledge, but understanding has to be learned.

–› Aesthetics is the use of large words to describe what you can feel in your fingertips without any words at all.

–› Everything changes, said Heraclitus. Nature is a verb; a noun is only a parking space.

–› All art is regional art; New York City is a region, too.

–› A Truth is never probable.

–› A Truth satisfies an inner need for order.

–› It’s not what you know, but what you are willing to be aware of.

–› Words are the smoke screen art attempts to penetrate.

–› You must look at art longer than you can stand.

–› Boredom is an essential part of the art process, for artist and viewer alike.

–› Art starts out with only one belief: that the intuitions and emotions of the artist are valid. Period.

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