‘Be Really Tender’: 12 Famous Artists Offer Life Advice

Feeling frustrated? Losing self-belief? Artists can offer sage guidance.

Laurie Anderson at "Immersive" at The Red Sea International Film Festival on December 11, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival.

We look to artists for their incisive ways of seeing the world, for the way they cut through the clutter of everyday life to get to the core of what is meaningful. 

The book Art Is the Highest Form of Hope (Phaidon, 2016), assembles an array of quotes from artists, all of them culled from sources like published diaries, correspondence, interviews, and books, to avoid the apocrypha often found online. They deal with topics ranging from art and beauty to chance and childhood, drugs and failure to philosophy and sex, technology to the weather. 

We all tend to get reflective at the end of one year and toward the beginning of the next, and may even be seeking a bit of guidance. As it happens, a selection of the artists’ quotes in Art Is the Highest Form of Hope dispense life advice. 

Herewith are 12 great suggestions on how to get through life, from greats like Yoko Ono, Dorothea Lange, Rembrandt, and Mickalene Thomas.


Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange. Photo: Larry Colwell/Anthony Barboza/Getty Images.

“Sometimes in a hostile situation you stick around, because hostility itself is important.”


Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono in Liverpool, England in 2008. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

“Don’t get rid of negative emotion, but just use it… like salt in your food.”


Rembrandt van Rijn

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Artist in His Studio (about 1628).

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Artist in His Studio (about 1628).

“Try to put well into practice what you already know; and in so doing, you will, in good time, discover the hidden things which you now inquire about.”


Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin. Courtesy Philipp Scholz Rittermann/Pace.

Robert Irwin. Courtesy Philipp Scholz Rittermann/Pace.

“For the next week, try the best you can to pay attention to sounds. You will start hearing all these sounds coming in.”


Sonia Boyce

Sonia Boyce. Photo: Parisa Taghizadeh.

“Let frustration fuel inspiration.”


Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter in 2015. Photo by Robert Michael/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

“I believe that you always have to believe.”


Laurie Anderson

Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson on January 19, 2005 in New York City. Photo: Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

“I’m just going to mention these three rules that Lou [Reed] and I had… The first one is don’t be afraid of anyone. Imagine your life if you’re not afraid of anyone. Two, get a really good BS detector and learn how to use it. Who’s faking it and who is not? Three, be really tender. And with those three, you’re set.”


Alec Soth

A self-portrait of Alec Soth, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

“Find your eyes.”


Andrea Zittel

Andrea Zittel. Photo by Sarah Lyon.

Andrea Zittel. Photo by Sarah Lyon.

“You have to learn to feel confident about the prospect of failing because it’s so inevitable.”


Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas and fashion designer Charles Harbison at Tumblr HQ on May 5, 2016 in New York City. Photo: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images.

“Make sure to allow people to take care of you.”


Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt, New York, New York, August 1969. Photo: Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

“Learn to say ‘fuck you’ to the world once in a while.”


Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait (1887). Collection of Detroit Institute of Arts, City of Detroit Purchase, 1922.

Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait (1887). Collection of Detroit Institute of Arts, City of Detroit Purchase, 1922.

“Do right and don’t look back, and things will turn out well.”



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