The Pleasures of Art

In these difficult times, looking at and making art can help us get back in touch with the best things that humans are capable of–– a sense of play, a sense of excitement in the creative act.

The following excerpt,  from David Hockney’s book, That’s the Way I See It, reveals the artist’s philosophy on viewing and making art:

I have always believed that art should be a deep pleasure. I think there is a contradiction in an art of total despair, because the very fact that the art is made seems to contradict despair. It means at least that you are trying to communicate what you feel to somebody else and the very fact that you can communicate it takes away a little of the despair. Art has this contradiction built into it. All one has to do is look at its history.

A few years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York there was a show of Fragonard. He is an artist who has been thought sometimes to be much too pleasurable, much too playful, much too sweet to be serious, and certainly in the early nineteenth century that’s how he was dismissed. It was only the Goncourt brothers who started looking seriously at his paintings and buying them.

Today we see him differently. To me Fragonard is a wonderful artist. I think you can’t have art without play; Picasso always understood that. I think you can’t have much human activity of any kind without a sense of playfulness. Someone once criticized my work, saying it was too playful. I said, That’s hardly a criticism at all, that’s a compliment. I do see it as a compliment because I believe that without a sense of play there’s not much curiosity either; even a scientist has a sense of play. And that allows for surprises, the unexpected, discoveries. Anybody who gets good at it knows that. You can use it. I use it. People tend to forget that play is serious, but I know that of course it is. Some people have got the idea that if it’s boring it’s art and if it’s not boring it’s not art. Well, I’ve always thought it was the other way round. If it’s boring, more than likely it’s not art, if it’s exciting, thrilling, more than likely it is. I don’t know of any good art that’s boring, in music, poetry or painting. Isn’t that why Shakespeare is so exciting?

You can find more information on David Hockney on the Artsy website.

Text excerpt from That’s the Way I See It, page 133 © David Hockney

10 Replies to “The Pleasures of Art”

  1. Hi Val,
    I have that David Hockney book sitting on my shelf and often pick it up and browse through the images. In all these years, for some odd reason, I have never read the text. You’ve inspired me to pick it up again, so thanks for the posting!

    1. Hi Anne, You are most welcome. You could also check out an earlier book of his, “David Hockney by David Hockney”. It’s a lively autobiography about how an English country boy became a professional artist.

  2. Val – I enjoyed my journey through your portfolio. I also enjoyed this post ! Twyla Tharp, as you know-a dancer and more has been one of my muses via her Book- Creative Habit. Regards,


    1. Hello Lynn, Thank you. Yes, we can all learn from Tharp for her amazing discipline and originality. Her Creative Habits book is a great resource for anyone who wants to do anything creative.

  3. Reading the comments about what is boring art versus creative joyful art. Boring art might be best described & suitable for interior design where the interior designer wants to show off the space & not the art. Creative & expressively well accomplished art would be for buyers who love the art cause it triggers something personal not so much about their interior space.

  4. Hi Val,

    Several years ago, I wrote an article for Chop about the playful approach of Malaspina visiting artist Sarah Ogilvie from Scotland. I went looking for it in my files but couldn’t find it. However, I found this list of quotes about ‘play’. My favourite is the first.

    Play is the exultation of the possible. (Martin Buber) sj

    Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good. (Lucia Capacchione) sl

    My toy was my piano. (Alicia de Larrocha) ka

    To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition. (Albert Einstein) bcm

    Paul Klee seems to handle colors and dreams as if they both came out of a box of children’s toys. He plays and dreams with whatever he finds. (Jean Helion) df

    People tend to forget that play is serious. (David Hockney) df

    The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. (Carl G. Jung) sj

    I never practice; I always play. (Wanda Landowska) js

    Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play. (Henri Matisse) jk

    The artist must ever play and experiment with new means of arranging experience, even though the majority of his audience may prefer to remain fixed in their old perceptual attitudes. (Marshall McLuhan) df

    We have forgotten how to play – getting our idea of play mixed up with competitiveness and passive enjoyment. (Mari Messer) df

    Creative work is play. It is free speculation using materials of one’s chosen form. (Stephen Nachmanovitch) js

    Life must be lived as play. (Plato) df

    Deep meaning lie oft in childish play. (Johann Friedrich von Schiller) sl

    By allowing my creative spirit to play, I honor the authentic ‘me’ and stay sane in the process. (Rene Seigh) ba

    We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. (Source unknown) sl

    sorry – I don’t know what the trailing initials are about or to whom they belong.


    1. Hi Catherine, Would you and Malaspina Printmakers allow me to post that article here on Optimistic Pursuits? It sounds great! -Val

  5. Hi Val,
    Thanks for the read. It is always pleasant and educational to read from the professional artists I have studied in previous years but more interesting to come back and read again and feel inspired.


    1. HI Christine, thanks for reading. Yes, it’s great to re-visit the artists that may have fired you up early on. Sometimes they can still resonate with you years later. -Val

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