Quote of the Day : Edgar Degas

“Art is not what you see,
but what you make others see.”

Edgar Degas

The Origins of the Quote

Edgar Degas has been quoted many times over. It is interesting that he will be known in history for his subtle depiction of the ballerinas, however his quote has found its way into books, magazines and various publications. This could be owing to the simple yet honest thought that is represented here. It renders the thought that the viewer is pretty much at the mercy of the artist and his brush. It is difficult to know to whom Degas would have expressed himself, and who was responsible for making his words immortal.

Getting to Know the Man behind the Characters

The evocative world of the ballerinas depicted by Edgar Degas’ inimitable Impressionistic style are loved the world over. The French artist’s family hailed from Louisiana; and he was of Creole descent. Perhaps his love for music, dance and movement had its roots in his lineage. Drawn to art as a youngster, he was faithful to his sketches and it was only when he reached the École des Beaux-Arts, he knew he was home. Where his brush could learn to dance to his secret music.

One may ask why has this quote remained popular over time. The answer may lie in the love for Impressionism, that its proponents gave to the world. At a time when Realism had given way to Art Nouveau, and Nouveau art too was ripe for change, the advent of the Impressionist was a radical departure as it paralleled the literary movements as well. It gave the world a way of gradual understanding. It placed a lot of importance on perspectives, and the value of sense impressions.

Some Final Thoughts

We love the Degas quote because it gives us an immediate shoe-in to his thought process. His ballerinas have the ability to stall time and project music and movement that is particular to them. This did not just happen. There was hard work, and more an imaginative mind and heart that wanted to give the viewer that unique experience, create that effect for them. It has been argued that Edgar never said these words in particular and that they have been misappropriated. This is what makes this quote more interesting. Because this is the crux of Impressionism. An idea is created in layers, and to get a complete picture, it is imperative to step further and further.

How else better does one compel the other to see in totality. One can never know exactly the context, or the company that he may have spoken, but it definitely makes us consider all that we see.  


Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.