Tuesday, 4 November 2008


To access Ray Carney's complete website, go to http://www.cassavetes.com/

A note from Ray Carney:

A reader sent the following note and series of quotations about art to me. I’d invite other readers to send me other favorite quotes. I’ll post the best on the site.

Dear Prof. Carney:

My bit of soul work for today, put together for me and for you. I enjoyed doing this so much, I hope you do too. I thought it would be interesting to let the artists speak for themselves regarding art. Maybe this will provide plenty of tidbits for your website or whatever. I'm sure you've read many before, but maybe a few will be new. Good soul food for thought.


Martha James

On Art

(Quotations from Bartlett’s, Columbia, and Simpson’s books of quotations)

Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it. – Flannery O’Connor

*“The essential quality of poetry is that it makes a new effort of attention, and "discovers" a new world within the known world. Man, and the animals, and the flowers, all live within a strange and for ever surging chaos. ... But man cannot live in chaos. ... Man must wrap himself in a vision, make a house of apparent form and stability, fixity. In his terror of chaos he begins by putting up an umbrella between himself and the everlasting whirl. Then he paints the under-side of his umbrella like a firmament. Then he parades around, lives and dies under his umbrella. Bequeathed to his descendants, the umbrella becomes a dome, a vault, and men at last begin to feel that something is wrong.

Man fixes some wonderful erection of his own between himself and the wild chaos, and gradually goes bleached and stifled under his parasol. Then comes a poet, enemy of convention, and makes a slit in the umbrella; and lo! the glimpse of chaos is a vision, a window to the sun. But after a while, getting used to the vision, and not liking the genuine draught from chaos, commonplace man daubs a simulacrum of the window that opens on to chaos, and patches the umbrella with the painted patch of the simulacrum. That is, he has got used to the vision; it is part of his house-decoration. So that the umbrella at last looks like a glowing open firmament, of many aspects. But alas! it is all simulacrum, in innumerable patches. – D.H. Lawrence

*It is the glory and good of ArtThat Art remains the one way possibleOf speaking truth,—to mouths like mine, at least. – Robert Browning

*Art is long, life short; judgment difficult, opportunity transient. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

*Truth is the secret of eloquence and of virtue, the basis of moral authority; it is the highest summit of art and of life. – Henri Frederic Amiel

*A winning wave, deserving note,In the tempestuous petticoat;A careless shoe-string, in whose tieI see a wild civility,—Do more bewitch me than when artIs too precise in every part. – Robert Herrick
*Art for art’s sake, with no purpose, for any purpose perverts art. But art achieves a purpose which is not its own. – Benjamin Constant

*Fine art, that exists for itself alone, is art in a final state of impotence. If nobody, including the artist, acknowledges art as a means of knowing the world, then art is relegated to a kind of rumpus room of the mind and the irresponsibility of the artist and the irrelevance of art to actual living becomes part and parcel of the practice of art. – Angela Carter

*Good art however “immoral” is wholly a thing of virtue. ... Good art can NOT be immoral. By good art I mean art that bears true witness, I mean the art that is most precise. – Ezra Pound

*Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon. When we love a woman we don’t start measuring her limbs. – Pablo Picasso

*Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art. – Pablo

*There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun. – Pablo Picasso

*Art is not to be taught in Academies. The real schools should be the streets. – Oscar Wilde

*Art for art’s sake? I should think so, and more so than ever at the present time. It is the one orderly product which our middling race has produced. It is the cry of a thousand sentinels, the echo from a thousand labyrinths, it is the lighthouse which cannot be hidden ... it is the best evidence we can have of our dignity. – E.M. Forster

*Art is 110 percent sweat. – Robert Riskin

*Art is dangerous. It is one of the attractions: when it ceases to be dangerous you don’t want it. – Anthony Burgess

*Art is a jealous mistress, and, if a man have a genius for painting, poetry, music, architecture or philosophy, he makes a bad husband and an ill provider. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

*Art and power will go on as they have done,—will make day out of night, time out of space, and space out of time. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

*To ask the meaning of art is like asking the meaning of life: Experience comes before a measurement against a value system. – Fairfield Porter

*Art is the window to man’s soul. Without it, he would never be able to see beyond his immediate world; nor could the world see the man within. – Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson

*To choose art means to turn one’s back on the world, or at least on certain of its distractions. – Melvin Maddocks

*All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography. – Federico Fellini

*[Discipline in art is] a fundamental struggle to understand oneself, as much as to understand what one is drawing. – Henry Moore

*Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end it defeats itself. – Henry Miller

*Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth. – Pablo Picasso

*Art is the triumph over chaos. – John Cheever

*Art means to dare—and to have been right. – Ned Rorem

*Art begins with resistance—at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor. - AndrĂ© Gide

*I am an artist... I am here to live out loud. – Emile Zola

*The defining function of the artist is to cherish consciousness. – Max Eastman

*The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery. – Francis Bacon

*The only time I feel alive is when I'm painting. – Vincent Van Gogh

*There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted. – Henri Matisse

*If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint. – Edward Hopper

*In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it. – Ernst

*Out of suffering comes creativity. You cannot spell painting without pain. – John Lithgow

*Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. – Henry
Ward Beecher

*Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost. – Isak Dineson

*It doesn't matter if people are interested. It's about you taking your stuff and shouting out into the void. – Jadeir and Cristina Cordova

*Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend. – John Singer Sargent

*To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. – Joseph Chilton Pearce

*Creativity is...seeing something that doesn't exist already. You need to find out how you can bring it into being and that way be a playmate with God. – Michele Shea

*I shut my eyes in order to see. – Paul Gaugin

*Art itself may be defined as a single minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. – Joseph Conrad

*The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and
science. – Albert Einstein

*The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. – T.S. Elliot

*The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done, unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living. - T.S. Elliot

*It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance...and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process. – Henry James, Jr.

*Try to keep the rebel artist alive in you, no matter how attractive or exhausting the temptation. – Norman Mailer

*When the guns roar, the arts die. – Arthur Miller

*The task which the artist implicitly sets himself, is to overthrow existing values, to make of the chaos about him an order which is his own, to sow strife and ferment, so that by the emotional release those who are dead may be restored to life. – Henry Miller

*The subject matter of art is life, life as it actually is; but the function of art is to make life better. – George Santayana

*Art is not pleasure or an amusement; art is a great matter. Art is an organ of human life transmitting our reasonable perception into feeling. – Leo Tolstoy

*Art heightens the sense of humanity. It gives an elation to feeling which is supernatural...A million
sunsets will not spur us on towards civilization. It requires Art to evoke into consciousness the finite perfections which lie ready for human achievement. – Alfred North Whitehead

*Art for me...is a negation of society, an affirmation of the individual, outside of all the rules and all the demands of society. – Emile Zola

*I can't bear art that you can walk round and admire. A book should be either a bandit or a rebel or a man in the crowd. – D.H. Lawrence

*The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers. – James Arthur Baldwin

*Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. – Jonathan Swift

*The individual, the great artist when he comes, uses everything that has been discovered or known about his art up to that point, being able to accept or reject in a time so short it seems that the knowledge was born with him, rather than that he takes instantly what it takes the ordinary man a lifetime to know, and then the great artist goes beyond what has been done or known and makes something of his own. – Ernest Hemingway

Subject: When the student is ready...

Prof. Carney,

I've been following your Mailbag pages for quite some time, they are always most thought-provoking. By chance, I happened to start back on p. 1 today to read a marathon portion in one fell swoop. To my surprise, most seemed totally "new" --- as though I'd never read them before. I could hardly believe they were the same letters. Could it be that I've grown in my understanding in the meantime, or maybe because I've finally been able to start watching some of the movies you recommend, thanks to your new Viewer Recommendations lists?

Reminds me of the Mark Twain quote I heard a while back: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years." Thanks for your writing. It's always fresh!

Mary Simpson

RC replies:


Thanks, I guess. Though I'm not sure that being compared to the "old man" father is something I should be thanking you for! Ah, just kidding....

But seriously: I know exactly what you mean. I've had a succession of teachers in the course of my lifetime. Some formal (high school, college, university), some informal (friends, lovers, family members), some religious (various "holy" men and women I've met on my way along the path), some completely random (strangers I've picked up hitchhiking, sat next to on an airplane flight, chatted with standing in line at the supermarket)--and I always feel not only that I learn something totally new and important from each and every conversation, no matter how or when it occurs, no matter how apparently casual or trivial or brief it might be, but--even more miraculously--that somehow each exchange of energy, each comment or tone of voice is offered as a gift to me precisely at the point, the moment I need to receive it.

In other words (as your subject heading suggests) the learning takes place--everywhere, all the time, in every situation--when the student is ready, and, still more astonishingly, when the student is ready, everything is a teaching. Everything. Nothing is lost, nothing is wasted, nothing is random (not even the random). Even a wink and a nod can speak volumes, if I am alert and have the ears to hear the semitones, eyes to read between the lines.

I remember years ago when I was studying with a Zen teacher in a monastic situation in which I was especially vulnerable and open because of a lot of different things going on in my life--and I was absolutely convinced that EVERYTHING the teacher said was directed at me personally. I mean he could be talking about cooking or weeding the garden or driving a car, and yet it pierced my heart with special truth and significance for me in that moment. Conversely, I also remember telling someone, even back then, about that experience and saying I knew that everyone around him felt the same way and that it was all a product of our readiness and that everything meant something completely different to each different person, and that it was all still all true. He was speaking to each of us differently even when he spoke the exact same words, because we were all different people at different points in our lives. Does that make sense? Does it sound crazy? Well, it made perfect sense to me then and it still makes perfect sense to me now.

I'll tell you a secret: I look for the same thing in my own students every time I teach a course. And, miracle of miracles, once in a while I see it. It still happens and can happen to them too. Not in a monastery, but even at 9 AM in a boring college course, when they are bleary with lack of sleep and distracted by overdue papers or pending exams. It's the magic of being really open and ready and present in the moment. It can happen anywhere, at any time.

And you see what you did? Your own letter did to me what you said the letters in the Mailbag did to you. Everything IS a teaching. You have been my teacher. Thank you for teaching me today.


Subject: economics

it's so funny a few years back, although it's still painfully fresh in my memory i was fired from my job at a local newstand. i'm not saying i was right neccesarily but i lashed out pretty vocally at a customer who rude and this upset him so much, probably mostly because it was unexpected that he responded by writing my employers...not bad people by the way...a four page letter explaining how they had a physcopath working for them. i guess i was tired of having all those glossy covered toothy fake ass smiles staring at me everynight anyway. well i had a friend at the time who had met a girl who had suffered the humiliation of working for a well known or infamous director for a time and passed the job onto my friend. the job was as a driver and my friend was nervous cause the guy he'd be driving around was a "very important person"(still confused about that one). anyway i had no prospects and in passing my friend mentioned that maybe he could get me in there. well a bout a month later i still had no prospects and 18 bucks an hour was sounding pretty good so approached him about his offer. it seemed my friend had finally struck up the courage after two weeks of working for this guy to have a conversation with him and it had gone so well that now he was making music for this guy to put in a commercial or something. it's hard to describe but the night i went over to my friends house to discuss the job with him there was a very unsettling vibe in the air. now i'm not one to knock artistic inspiration...in fact i consider myself an artist...but all the sudden there was this feeling in the house like they'd finally made it...made what i'm not sure really but they finally had some validation for it whatever it is or was. now it seemed my friend was reluctant to recommend me for the job" this guy is a very important guy" to which i responded" i don't care i'll crash his car with me in it, then i'll leave town" and that didn't seem to work so i assured him that" i'm a very important guy to me and i don't take chances with my life... at least not in the car...while i'm driving". well after that i really had to plead for this job you know...and it was relatively humiliating you know....the things we do for a buck. well i started doing it, the job and it depressed the hell out of me. i mean the guy was even that bad sometimes but i couldn't communicate with him on any level and i'd drive him around late night in los angeles to this strip club or that or during the day to this meeting or that and i kept wondering this is who people, my friends or whatever look up to?...i mean this is it? i mean in fact i'm no saint and on a day to day i'm probably a lot more troubled and troubling than this guy...i've been to a strip club and i wrestle with emptiness but something really bothered me about this. my freind did me a "favor" and i truly believe he thought it was a favor and mentioned that i happened to be an actor and this really peaked this directors interest mostly i think because i didn't mention it myself. anyway i started acting in a feature that was mainly an excuse for this guy to humiliate everybody and not even in a loud or vocal way but in the subtlest creepy way...and believe me i came out of it better than most...a few times i directely pleaded with this guy... once when one of the female cast members was crying in confusion and disgust ( by the way she turned around and denied to the guy there was any problem). apart of me thought i could get this guy to understand. i'm not sure i understood even... i mean this is a guy who people in hollywood consider a rebel with integrity and here he is just stomping on peoples expression and integrity left and right out of principle. anyway i won't go into details not because i don't remember but because i feel i have so many other problems that are more important but i quit. pretty demonstratively not out of any need to grandstand but out of sheer frustration and pained confusion. i didn't want to feel sick anymore. i mean my friends would tell me when i'd go to a bar to tell girls what celebrity i'd met that day so suffice it to say they're not my friends anymore either. i've been writing a lot, things that mean something to me...things that bother me....difficulties, feelings, hopes, worries, humours... i mean i'm broke a lot , i mean i really don't know where my next dollars coming from you know and sometimes or a lot of time i have to feel like a bad person just because of that...i mean people say he puts a lot of bread on a lot of tables you know...but that bread has to come from somewhere...i mean most of the times economics has me reeling you know...if i'm short of rent a couple of months and my girlfriend has to lay it out....or my girlfriend wants to have kids someday how do we feed them and i won't say i don't care because i do but i feel completely powerless in a lot of ways and i just keep telling myself if i'm a bad person now i'd be a worse person still, certainely without some form of expression as a priorty and the world is still gonna be screwed up... whether you get a good job or a bad job or no job but maybe just maybe, even if it's just a drop in the bucket you can put something in the world...i mean i know i'd be in a lot worse trouble if this site didn't exist or if cassavetes or dreyers or ozu's or noonan's films didn't exist....i mean i just figure your gonna live and die anyway you might as well try to make it about something...

- mike -

RC replies:


Thanks. Funny, funny story. I mean, sad, sad story. Thanks. Sounds a lot like my relation with a boss I had. Only he was worse. And, yes, three-quarters of the people under him sucked up to him, too. Same reason in most cases: economics. Or fear of power: the way people suck up to George Bush or John McCain or Joe McCarthy or Stalin .... or whoever in whatever whenever. But the more important response is to say that your surreal stream of consciousness, which probably took all of ten minutes to write, is more interesting than most of the movies Hollywood makes. That sure says something about those movies. Illigitimi non carborundum. We only have one life. As you say, it's a shame to waste it.

-- RC

Hi, Ray.

I was just doing some research online and I stumbled upon your excellent screening list. It's great to see all of your picks in one place. (Click on the blue ticket icon in the left menu to read the list.)
One correction: under Alan Clarke's films, you list that CONTACT and CHRISTINE are available through a couple of different sources. I have wanted to see these for a couple of years and have been unable to find them. Could it be that you list them as available because they were respectively mistaken for the godawful Jodie Foster sci-fi movie and the ridiculous Steven King adaption of a story about a killer car? I wish I were wrong but maybe not?



Ted Barron Senior Programmer
Harvard Film Archive

RC replies:

Thanks for the correction, Ted. I didn't create the list or have time to check the sources. It was created by a reader of the site. I explain it on page 44 of the Mailbag.

There are some other recs from visitors to the site on page 46 of the Mailbag. I'd love to add yours if you had any.

Sorry for the mistake. (I encourage readers of the site to send in other corrections if they find other mistakes.) I shall remove the mistaken availability listings.

It's so weird that good things are still, even at this late date in the video revolution, unavailable. Contact is an AMAZING movie. One of my favorites by Clarke, and one of my favorites of all time.

Stay well.


Prof. Carney,

I found the following quote on the internet:

To be a theoretician of the cinema, one should ideally no longer love the cinema and yet still love it: have loved it a lot and only to have detached oneself from it by taking it up again from the other end, taking it as the target for the very same scopic drive which had made one love it. Have broken with it, as certain relationships are broken, not in order to move on to something else, but in order to return to it at the next bend in the spiral. ... Not have forgotten what the cinephile one used to be was like, in all the details of his affective inflections, in the three dimensions of his living being, and yet no longer be invaded by him: not have lost sight of him, but be keeping an eye on him. Finally, be him and not be him, since all in all these are the two conditions in which one can speak of him. --Christiain Metz, The Imaginary Signifier

As soon as anyone who took the patience to read this has any notion of what it could possibly mean, I would appreciate an e-mail explaining it in lay terms.


RC replies:

Subject: The seduction of ideas

What does the passage by Christian Metz mean?

Well, I guess you could say it means the critic has to have a little distance on his or her enthusiasms, a little diacritical distance from the work he or she is analyzing. But that would be a shallow answer. I'd give one of my students no better than a C for it.

The B or A answers are a little deeper. Just a little. A few off the top of my head:

1. It means that American film professors (who assign Metz to the point of nauseum, heck, he's being read right now in a course taught in my dept.) are fashion slaves.

2. It means that Metz, like most other French critics, wishes he were a philosopher; no, let me put it more accurately: thinks he IS a philosopher. Fond delusion.

3. It means that the French are in love with the sound of their own voice.

4. It means that no insight (i.e. the critical distance thing I summarize above) is too simple (or stupid or trite) to be tricked out with fancy verbiage in an attempt to make it seem profound.

5. It means that film criticism, film analysis, film aesthetics are in a bad way. That they are the intellectual kindergarten of the arts.

6. It means that most French criticism has less interest in art than in abstractions. It's about systems, philosophies, theories of this and that: Freudianism, Lacanianism, psychoanalysis, semiotics, gender, race, class, ideology, blah, blah, blah--in short, anything but works of art. The work of art is less important to them than what they can turn it into. Art is lost in the translation.

7. And sorry to break the news to you: The fact that you quote Metz means that, to some degree, you too are a fashion slave, are trapped in the system, are caught on the hamster track of the quest for BIG IDEAS. Even if you reply that you are mocking or questioning Metz, your use of the quote by him shows that you have read him. Why, why, why? Life is too short. Throw the book on the floor. Go listen to Mozart, look at Rembrandt, read Wordsworth, listen to an opera. The art is what counts and works of art can tell us far more about art than the complete life works of Christian Metz and company.

8. Metz shows us why grad students flock to film theory courses and why film theory--talk about film--has, in effect, replaced film study--the deep, profound appreciation of film--in our universities. A sad truth: The students and professors can't take the complexity of real art. They can't cope with it. They prefer the simplicity of ideas about it. Why do we bother to read and discuss these critics at all? Return to the art! That's where the real (shocking, thrilling, revolutionary) intellectual and emotional discoveries are to be made.

Cheers (and hope numero seven doesn't disqualify me; it's half tongue in cheek of course). Hope my explanation clarifies the Metz quote for you.


Dear Professor Carney,

In response to your request for quotations on art, I'm attaching a list of thoughts and inspirations I've written and collected over the last 3 years.Most of them are my own thoughts on art. A lot of them are derivative from the words of other great artists, some might be witty, some might just be plain cute, but I hope some hold some grain of the truth.The other part of the list (the beloved) includes things expressed by my friends and family, things that I thought too important not to be taken down.And the final part of the list includes the words of several of the greatest artists of all time, some I got from your site, some from other sources that I can't recall anymore.

trying to stay truewith love,


RC replies:

Thanks, JP. Click here to read his list of reflections on art.

ray carney,

i just checked your site and reread my email and your response. (See the letter one or two screens above.) thanks for such a prompt one. i realised that my letter might sound a little glib. i certainely don't take that situation lightly and am aware of how painful it still is for me and must be for other people in fact the glibness of the people i was dealing with is part of what made it so painful in the first place.... i left out the part where the confusion and emptiness i felt from that and three quarters of a lfetime of experiences similar and to this spiraled me into depression paranoia and eventual homelessness. anyway if i didn't make it clear how much this site and your writings have helped or mean to me or the films mean to me...which would be impossible in an e-mail i try to do that everytime i write because i think that the best thank you for all you've given of yourself and all these artists have given of themselves would be for me struggle to try and do the same somehow in some form. i had a very great teacher awhile back who said we owe only to communicate. i guess i'm still struggling with that one.

love and respect


p.s. i just finally after years got a chance to see wanda and can't believe a film as amazing as that has been so hard to actually see. but after all is said and done i do think i appreciate it all the more because of it. i mean now it feels even more special if that's possible...

RC replies:


our hearts is the opposite of glib.

The struggle for verbal consciousness is D.H. Lawrence's term for what your teacher told you. I talk about it sometimes in my classes. We understand ourselves by talking to ourselves and others. It's an important step in our intellectual and spiritual development. There are many stages of consciousness we must work through in life if we are able: resistance consciousness (where we see ourselves in opposition to various people and things, fighting them, letting them hurt us), separation consciousness (where we see ourselves as separate from and different from others), emotional consciousness (where we let our feelings affect our perceptions), and a dozen other layers of consciousness must be pared away and left behind.

The point is to purify our perceptions to move ever closer to a state of pure awareness and feeling and action (what I would call wholeheartedness). That's what you are working on (at least I think you are, based on what you have written me), and what everyone should be working on. Moving from impure, self-centered, limiting forms of consciousness to states of pure, open, humble awareness. Hope that doesn't sound too flakey. Someone smarter than I could probably put it better. Anyway, it's our job in life to move along that path, from impurity to purity of perception. If we can. And writing out your feelings, or exploring them, examining them, turning them around in our hands in some way (in art, in conversation, in a letter, in various attempts at expression, etc.) is a start on that process. I think that must have been what your teacher meant.

I agree about Barbara Loden's Wanda. What a great film it is. I showed it on 16mm and 35mm for years since I couldn't get it on video. Back in the 1980s, after I saw it for the first time, I called up Elia Kazan to try to persuade him to have it re-released and distributed more widely. But I'll have to tell that story on another occasion. He didn't respond the way I thought he would. He yelled and screamed at me (but I can't say more right now). It was another lesson for me to learn and grow from.

Keep moving along the path.


Another amazing movie without a distributor. Download it here:

Subject: Re: art, life, music, existence, soul, awareness, bach, tarkovsky, dreyer, cass, leigh


considering that David Ball's Honey is without distribution, maybe your could put the web link to the movie on your viewing recommendations page so people can be download it (I guess it's the only way of getting the film and it's legal by the Creative Commons license). Kudos to David for making the film free to download... So anyway here's the link: http://www.archive.org/details/Honey-final


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