8 Joan Mitchell Quotes to Live By on Her Birthday

"Abstract is not a style. I simply want to make a surface work."

Joan Mitchell. Photo: artnet
Joan Mitchell.
Photo: artnet

Joan Mitchell was born on February 12, 1925, and passed away in 1992. The bold and inventive painter belongs to what’s known as the “second generation” of Abstract Expressionists, and her large oeuvre of work has inspired many artists in the past few decades.

To commemorate her birthday, we’re taking a look at eight quotes that exemplify her positions on art, sunflowers, and the things that really matter.

1. Making art is a focused activity…
“Once I’m starting to paint, then I paint. I mean, I can’t even listen to music. Or I don’t hear it until I’m not painting. It’s a security, sound. I sleep with a sound.”

2. …and it shouldn’t be made just to serve the market.
“Don’t be worried about rejection. I say that now. It’s terrible, I asked one of my dealers years ago ‘If I don’t sell are you going to dump me?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ But sales don’t make a show.”

3. She never cared for labels.
“Abstract is not a style. I simply want to make a surface work.”

4. Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t too big on cliches, either.
In a conversation with Cora Cohen: “I hate what you just said. It’s so typical New York. ‘The new season.’ Sounds like couture. You know? Fashion. The new season is going to be this, and that’s what it is. The art world has become the new season. What are they showing this year? Which is quite the opposite of, you know, carrying a painter.”

Joan Mitchell, Manhattan (1969)Photo: artnet.

Joan Mitchell, Manhattan (1969)
Photo: artnet.

5. Mitchell reminds us that uncertainty is OK—but so is confidence.
“Sometimes I don’t know exactly what I want [with a painting]. I check it out, recheck it for days or weeks. Sometimes there is more to do on it. Sometimes I am afraid of ruining what I have. Sometimes I am lazy, I don’t finish it or I don’t push it far enough. Sometimes I think it’s a painting.”

6. The confidence to look inward…
“I think women are inclined more than men to be self-destructive, and I really think I had the masochistic medal there for a while.”

7. …and the confidence to believe in your vision.
“Sunflowers are something I feel very intensely. They look so wonderful when young and they are so very moving when they are dying. I don’t like fields of sunflowers. I like them alone or, of course, painted by Van Gogh.”

8. And above all, to do whatever feels right.
“I’m happy when I’m painting. I like it.”


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