Quotes from Non-Improvisers That Apply To Improv

What follows are a lot of quotes that I pulled from a painting book (Charles Dunn’s Conversations in Paint), plus a couple of extras.  They all apply to improv, in one way or another, in my mind, and I’ll probably quote them in future posts.

Acting and Being Present

“You’re afraid because you’re thinking about the end, not about what you’re doing.” –Helen Van Wyk

“Some musicians are not great technicians, but they give you a rich point of view.” –Nathan Milstein

“It’s not what you paint. It’s how you paint it. You don’t have to paint elaborate things. Paint simple things as beautifully as you can.” –Helen Van Wyk

“It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by all eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking about what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by increasing the number of important operations we can perform without thinking.” –Alfred North Whitehead

“”You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

Style and Content

“Nothing is as poor and melancholy as an art that is interested in itself and not its subject.” –Santayana

“A painting is good, not because it looks like something, but because it feels like something.” –Phil Dike

“If you don’t see the wonder in the most ordinary phenomenon, you’re not going to resonate very much.” –Artie Shaw


“A golfer rarely needs to hit a spectacular shot until the one that preceded it was pretty bad.” –Harvey Penick

“The amateur is afraid of boldness; the professional is afraid of timidity.” –Ed Whitney

“If you don’t know how to say it, say it loud.” –Will Strunk, Jr.

“The painting is usually finished before you are.” –Rex Brandt

“Devotion to the facts will always give the pleasure of recognition; adherence to the rules of design, the pleasures of order and certainty.” –Kenneth Clark

Character Choices

“Anything is intensified by its opposite.” –Ed Whitney


“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.” –Anatule France

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artists once we grow up.” –Pablo Picasso

Grab Bag

“Exactly right is all wrong!” –Ed Whitney

“Painting is founded on the heart controlled by the head.” –Cezanne

“The audience is astonishingly friendly and tolerant of even the slightest dab, but is limited in its willingness to look either deeply or at length.” –Rex Brandt

“Time and rest are needed for absorption. Psychologists confirm that it is really in the summer that our muscles learn to skate and in the winter, how to swim.” –Jacques Barzun

Update (7/26/12): Added an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote suggested by Dara Lillis.

4 Replies to “Quotes from Non-Improvisers That Apply To Improv”

  1. I have always liked this John Berger quote:
    We who draw do so not only to make something observed visible to others but also to accompany something invisible to its incalculable destination.

    1. Yeah, that quote also defines why I don’t like art with agenda: I like art to explore something the artist is trying to understand, and take me along on the journey.

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