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Kenneth Clark (1903 – 1983)


English author, museum director, broadcaster and one of the most famous art historians of his generation.
Kenneth Clark
His long struggle with physical passion was almost over, and, as with many other great sensualists, its place had been taken by an obsession with death.
Clark quotes
Energy is eternal delight; and from the earliest times human beings have tried to imprison it in some durable hieroglyphic. It is perhaps the first of all the subjects of art.
Clark
No nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling, even if it be only the faintest shadow and if it does not do so it is bad art and false morals.




Clark Kenneth quotes
Only the bad artists of the nineteenth century were frightened by the invention of photography; the good ones all welcomed it and used it. Degas liked it not only because it provided an accurate record, but because the snapshot showed him a means of escape from the classical rules of design. Through it he learnt to make a composition without the use of formal symmetry.
Clark Kenneth
Fine colour implies a unified relationship, in which each part is subordinate to the whole, and the transitions between them are felt to be as precious and beautiful as the colours themselves. In fact, the colours themselves must be continuously modified and broken as part of the transition. Ruskin said in his Elements of Drawing, "Give me some mud off a city crossing, some ochre out of a gravel-pit, a little whitening, and some coal dust, and I will paint you a luminous picture, if you give me time to gradate my mud, and subdue my dust." In many works by the greatest colourists Rembrandt and Watteau are examples there are very few identifiable colours.
Kenneth Clark quotes
Changes in the structure of society are not brought about solely by massive engines of doctrine. The first flash of insight which persuades human beings to change their basic assumptions is usually contained in a few phrases.
Kenneth Clark
One musn't overrate the culture of what used to be called "top people" before the wars. They had charming manners, but they were as ignorant as swans.
Clark Kenneth quotes
Those who wish, in the interest of morality, to reduce Leonardo, that inexhaustible source of creative power, to a neutral or sexless agency, have a strange idea of doing service to his reputation.
Clark
It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.
Clark Kenneth
The various parts of the body cannot be perceived as simple units and have no clear relationship to one another. In almost every detail the body is not the shape that art has led us to believe it should be.
Kenneth Clark
For the student of visionary art the interesting fact is that an image comes first and takes up residence in the mind long before the artist has any notion why it is there or what it means. Whether visions come from some great reservoir of symbolic images which are eternally there (and if one examines the recurrence of images in history this proposition is not quite as crazy as it sounds) or whether they are due to buried memories, their obsessive power over an artist's mind, and their clear, compulsive emergence in his work depends on a mental condition that can come and go. When, for some reason, they no longer present themselves to the mind's eye, alive or clamoring to be born, the visionary artist has a hard time dark days. This is particularly true if he has lost the habit of feeding his mind on the observation of nature.




Kenneth Clark quotes
Great works of art can be produced in barbarous societies in fact the very narrowness of primitive society gives their ornamental art a peculiar concentration and vitality. At some time in the ninth century one could have looked down the Seine and seen the prow of a Viking ship coming up the river. Looked at today in the British Museum, it is a powerful work of art; but to the mother of a family trying to settle down in her little hut, it would have seemed less agreeable as menacing to her civilisation as the periscope of a nuclear submarine.
Kenneth Clark
Antique art has come down to us in a fragmentary condition, and we have virtuously adapted our taste to this necessity. Almost all our favorite specimens of Greek sculpture, from the sixth century onward, were originally parts of compositions, and if we were faced with the complete group in which the Charioteer of Delphi was once a subsidiary figure, we might well experience a moment of revulsion. We have come to think of the fragment as more vivid, more concentrated, and more authentic.
Clark quotes
The eye instinctively looks for analogies and amplifies them, so that a face imagined in the pattern of a wallpaper may become more vivid than a photograph.
Clark Kenneth
Conventional nudes based on classical originals could bear no burden of thought or inner life without losing their formal completeness.
Clark Kenneth quotes
To Leonardo a landscape, like a human being, was part of a vast machine, to be understood part by part and, if possible, in the whole. Rocks were not simply decorative silhouettes. They were part of the earth's bones, with an anatomy of their own, caused by some remote seismic upheaval. Clouds were not random curls of the brush, drawn by some celestial artist, but were the congregation of tiny drops formed from the evaporation of the sea, and soon would pour back their rain into the rivers.
Kenneth Clark
Seen by itself the David's body might be some unusually taut and vivid work of antiquity; it is only when we come to the head that we are aware of a spiritual force that the ancient world never knew. I suppose that this quality, which I may call heroic, is not a part of most people's idea of civilisation. It involves a contempt for convenience and a sacrifice of all those pleasures that contribute to what we call civilised life. It is the enemy of happiness. And yet we recognise that to despise material obstacles, and even to defy the blind forces of fate, is man's supreme achievement; and since, in the end, civilisation depends on man's extending his powers of mind and spirit to the utmost, we must reckon the emergence of Michelangelo as one of the great events in the history of western man.
Kenneth Clark quotes
Bright-minded young people think poorly of existing institutions and want to abolish them. Well, one doesn't need to be young to dislike institutions. But the dreary fact remains that, even in the darkest ages, it was institutions that made society work, and if civilisation is to survive society must somehow be made to work.
Kenneth Clark
Ingres was one of those artists to whom the outline was something sacred and magical, and the reason is that it was the means of reconciling the major conflict in his art, the conflict between abstraction and sensibility. The difference between what we see and a sheet of white paper with a few thin lines on it is very great. Yet this abstraction is one which we seem to have adopted almost instinctively at an early stage in our development not only in Neolithic graffiti but in early Egyptian drawings. And in spite of its abstract character, the outline is responsive to the least tremor of sensibility.
Clark Kenneth
Evidently one cannot look for long at the Last Supper without ceasing to study it as a composition, and beginning to speak of it as a drama. It is the most literary of all great pictures, one of the few of which the effect may largely be conveyed can even be enhanced by description.


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