The Wisdom of Artists: A Collection of Quotes by BIPOC Artists


By Paulette Beete
Abstract painting of a girl.

Colored Girl by Ashley Mintz. Photo courtesy of artist

While I fervently believe that there is at least one thing each day that sparks joy, to borrow from Marie Kondo, I also acknowledge that many days it feels like, as William Wordsworth once wrote, "The world is too much with us late and soon." On those days, I find myself turning to the wisdom of artists for motivation, inspiration, and proof that with imagination and creativity, I can get through most anything.

From the archives of the National Endowment for the Arts blog, magazine, and podcast, here is a collection of quotes from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists that I reach for when I really just want to hide under the bedcovers all day. (Click on the artist's name to read or listen to the full interview.)

quote by Marc Bamuthi Joseph

“I personally find inspiration in life’s 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows….Part of the artist’s temperament is that inspiration is possible in all things.” – Marc Bamuthi Joseph

quote by PJ Hirabayashi

“I find that opportunities actually present themselves in unexpected ways, and that’s what I want to be open to.” – NEA Heritage Fellow PJ Hirabayashi

quote by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean

"The responsibility of the artist is to make work that's real and that's reflective of something that's true. You have to be true to your own vision of the voice you're trying to find.” – Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (Iñupiaq Eskimo)

quote by Toni Morrison

“As a writer, a failure is just information. It’s something that I’ve done wrong in writing, or is inaccurate or unclear. I recognize failure—which is important; some people don’t—and fix it, because it is data, it is information, knowledge of what does not work.” – Toni Morrison

quote by Carlos Murillo

“Within each thing you’re creating, no matter how you feel like you’re failing within that particular exercise or that particular framework of what you’re working on…there’s something in there that’s opening something up in you.” – Carlos Murillo

quote by Shirin Neshat

“I think works of art—any form of culture—have the capability to give people a certain hope and passion and belief and conviction that nothing else can. I think there is something about creativity and the imagination that is ultimately very primal, and it can be incredibly moving and provoke people in all the right directions.” – Shirin Neshat

quote by Samantha Crain

“I just think it's important that artists and musicians work even between the creative spurts, that they try to force inspiration even if they think nothing good will come of it. It's good to keep the mind and imagination active and ready to receive.” – Samantha Crain (Choctaw)

quote by Nikki Giovanni

“Basically I'm always walking around with a question in my head, whether or not I actually sit down [to write….Sometimes an image [starts a poem] but it's usually a question. I'm a 'What if?' person.” – Nikki Giovanni

quote by Meejin Yoon

“I guess the challenge has always been for me, the most interesting challenge is how do you take a constraint and turn it into an opportunity to make something really unique in the world?” – Meejin Yoon

quote by Sam Gilliam

“I'd actually say that your ideas come from the art collective, those artists that you've always been interested in and figuring out what they would do in those situations. That's what an artist is anyway. He's just a single member of a collective, the whole generation that went before.” – Sam Gilliam

quote by Merritt Johnson

“I feel responsible for speaking to the way things are, and to envision a possibility for the future with ourselves in it, as we are and as we can be, in positive ways—as Octavia Butler said of ‘writing ourselves into the future.’” – Merritt Johnson (Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), Blackfoot)

quote by Bebe Miller

“I’m not leaving it for someone else to tell me that that’s what I should be doing, or to get in my way. It’s more about what have I done? What am I saying? Is this enough? Is this what I have to say? I don't want to be perceived as having been waiting to be allowed to speak.” – Bebe Miller

quote by Luis Alfaro

“The goal is to create the world that you want to see….That’s always, always, always a challenge.” – Luis Alfaro

quote by Dianne Reeves

“[S]tay focused and stay in love with what it is that you are doing. If you love it and you’re passionate about it, it’s going to take you places—maybe not where this person is going or that person, but where you need to go.” – NEA Jazz Master Dianne Reeves