On one July 19, 180 years ago this Saturday, a man named Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas was born in Paris, France. You may know him better as Edgar Degas, and you may know him best for his dreamy paintings behind the scenes of the ballet.
Ballet is an art form that privileges all things perfect and pristine, but Degas took inspiration from the dance's sloppy moments in between -- every hunched back, sullied slipper, slumped posture and awkward stretch. Degas took his fascination with the beauty of ugliness outside the ballet studio as well, rendering cabaret singers and circus performers as something monstrous. Not to mention that "L'Absinthe" painting; it doesn't get much darker than that.
Though in retrospect Degas is often referred to as an impressionist, he considered himself a realist, illuminating his notion that reality often lies beyond what they eye can perceive.
In honor of Degas' big 180, we've compiled some words of wisdom from the iconic artist, illuminating the workings of one of the greatest mind's art history has ever known. From his fear of fame to hatred of art critics, the following quotes will give a glimpse into the twisted and brilliant mind of good ol' Hilaire. Prepare to be inspired.
1. On the importance of a little mystery
"A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, and some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people."
2. On the need to challenge yourself
"You must aim high, not in what you are going to do at some future date, but in what you are going to make yourself do to-day. Otherwise, working is just a waste of time."
3. On the unpredictable nature of success
"There is a kind of success that is indistinguishable from panic."
4. On the questionable veracity of art critics
"Art critic! Is that a profession? When I think we are stupid enough, we painters, to solicit those people's compliments and to put ourselves into their hands! What shame! Should we even accept that they talk about our work?"
5. On the importance of opening your eyes
"We were created to look at one another, weren't we?"
6. On the myth of spontaneity
"I assure you no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament -- temperament is the word -- I know nothing."
7. On the necessity of solitude
"It seems to me that today, if the artist wishes to be serious -- to cut out a little original niche for himself, or at least preserve his own innocence of personality -- he must once more sink himself in solitude. There is too much talk and gossip; pictures are apparently made, like stock-market prices, by competition of people eager for profit; in order to do anything at all we need (so to speak) the wit and ideas of our neighbors as much as the businessmen need the funds of others to win on the market. All this traffic sharpens our intelligence and falsifies our judgment."
8. On the quaint notion of knowledge
"What a delightful thing is the conversation of specialists! One understands absolutely nothing and it's charming."
9. On maintaining that youthful spirit
"Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficulty is to have it at fifty."
10. On the gravity of imagination
"It is very good to copy what one sees; it is much better to draw what you can't see any more but is in your memory. It is a transformation in which imagination and memory work together. You only reproduce what struck you, that is to say the necessary."
11. On the ambivalent appeal of fame
"I should like to be famous and unknown."
12. On the incomparable power of art
"I put it (a still life of a pear, made by Manet, ed.) there (on the wall, next to Ingres' Jupiter, ed.), for a pear like that would overthrow any god."