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Cultural icons of the 20th century in their own words

28 January 2019

Alfred Hitchcock, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Virginia Woolf. These 20th century cultural giants feature in the Artists and Writers category of BBC Two's Icons. Who was the greatest? To help you decide we've selected three key quotes taking you inside the mind of each icon.

Hitchcock, Picasso, Warhol, Woolf | Getty Images

Actress and writer Lily Cole, who also directs short films and has a degree in History of Art from Cambridge University, presents the four contenders in the Icons series, Artists and Writers category.

Truly great artists express something that is both completely original and yet hits us with a shock of recognition – of a fundamental truth about how we see or experience the world.

Cole says,“Good artists push the boundaries of our culture - reflecting the zeitgeist, and also portraying new directions for society. Their work gives us the emotional and cultural pulse of our history, allowing us to engage with the past, and ourselves, in profound ways.”

Ahead of the BBC Two programme on 29 January we feature three quotes from each icon, to take you inside their minds, alongside photographs of their art and creativity.

Alfred Hitchcock

“The silent pictures were the purest form of cinema”

“The silent pictures were the purest form of cinema; the only thing they lacked was the sound of people talking and the noises. But this slight imperfection did not warrant the major changes that sound brought. Many films now are... what I call ‘photographs of people talking’, which bears no relation to the art of the cinema.

“When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise.... To me, one of the cardinal sins for a scriptwriter, when he runs into some difficulty, is to say, ‘we can cover that by a line of dialogue.’ Dialogue should simply be a sound among sounds, something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”

Images: James Stewart and Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954), and Stewart and Kelly on the film's set with Alfred Hitchcock | both Getty Images

“I've done the ultimate sex scene, long ago”

“Everyone's waiting for the one great scene on a super-sized Cinerama screen of the ultimate sexual scene where a man's instrument enters a woman's vagina. Well, I've done that. I did it long ago.

“In North by Northwest, at the end, I have Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in the same train berth and then in the very next scene, which is also the last scene of the film, I have the long train entering a dark tunnel.”

Image: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason on the set of North by Northwest (1959) | Getty Images

“Now you’re going to create something - that’s as happy as I’ll ever want to be”

“A clear horizon - nothing to worry about on your plate, only things that are creative and not destructive... I think hatred is wasted energy, and it’s all non-productive. I’m very sensitive - a sharp word, said by a person, say, who has a temper, if they’re close to me, hurts me for days.

“I know we’re only human, we do go in for these various emotions, call them negative emotions, but when all these are removed and you can look forward and the road is clear ahead, and now you’re going to create something - I think that’s as happy as I’ll ever want to be.”

Images: James Stewart rescues Kim Novak in a scene from Vertigo (1958) filmed at Fort Point, under San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. And Novak with Alfred Hitchcock on the set of Vertigo | both Getty Images

Pablo Picasso

“Painting is not made to decorate apartments”

“What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes if he’s a painter, or ears if he’s a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he’s a poet, or even, if he’s a boxer, just his muscles?

“On the contrary, he’s at the same time a political being, constantly alive to heartrending, fiery, or happy events, to which he responds in every way... No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defence against the enemy.

Image: Lily Cole looks at the Guernica tapestry in the United Nations in a still from the Icons episode.

“A picture lives a life like a living creature”

“A picture is not thought out and settled beforehand. While it is being done it changes as one's thoughts change. And when it is finished, it still goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it.

“A picture lives a life like a living creature, undergoing the changes imposed on us by our life from day to day. This is natural enough, as the picture lives only through the man who is looking at it.

Images: Picasso thumbs through a book of 102 photographs of his paintings, published on his 80th birthday in October 1961 | Getty Images / In 1956 Brigitte Bardot attended the Cannes Film Festival, and came to visit Picasso. She had become a media sensation at the 1953 festival and her fame spread to the United States. LIFE magazine sent Jerome Brierre to photograph the two together | Getty Images

“People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree”

“Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? Why does one love the night, flowers, everything around one, without trying to understand them? But in the case of a painting people have to understand.

“If only they would realize above all that an artist works of necessity, that he himself is only a trifling bit of the world, and that no more importance should be attached to him than to plenty of other things which please us in the world, though we can't explain them. People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree.

Images: Picasso with French poet and playwright Jean Cocteau (in jacket and tie), 1958 | Getty Images / Picasso playing a trumpet in a car at The Corrida In Vallauris, France, August 1954 | Getty Images

Andy Warhol

“All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good”

“What's great about this country is America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too.

“A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.

“I am a deeply superficial person.”

Images: Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans at the Tate Modern in 2002, when the museum staged a major retrospective / Gerard Malanga and Andy Warhol at Paraphernalia boutique - The House of Mod - in New York City, 1966 | both Getty Images

“Before I was shot... I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life”

“Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there - I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in movies is unreal, but actually it's the way things happen in life that's unreal.

“The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it's like watching television - you don't feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it's all television.

Images: Warhol working with giant versions of his banana stickers for a collage, as also seen on The Velvet Underground and Nico album cover / Director Paul Morrissey, singer Nico, Andy Warhol and poet Gerard Malanga attend a Freakout party featuring a Velvet Underground performance at the Action House, Long Island, New York, 1966 | both Getty Images

“Having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want”

“I can never get over when you're on the beach how beautiful the sand looks, and the water washes it away and straightens it up and the trees and the grass all look great. I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own.

Image, left to right: John Cale, Gerard Malanga, Nico, Andy Warhol, New York City, circa 1966 | Photo by Herve Gloaguen / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Virginia Woolf

“The mind of man works with equal strangeness upon the body of time”

“Time, unfortunately, though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality, has no such simple effect upon the mind of man. The mind of man, moreover, works with equal strangeness upon the body of time.

“An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented on the timepiece of the mind by one second.

Image: Early dust jackets designed by the artist Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf's older sister and fellow member of the Bloomsbury Group. Bell designed a total of 38 book covers for Hogarth Press, the publishing house founded by Virginia and her husband Leonard Woolf.

“Words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind”

“Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none.

“Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind.

1970s Virginia Woolf book covers: Grafton, Triad and Panther Books imprints / Woolf pictured in June 1926 | Getty Images

“Let us never cease from thinking”

“Let us never cease from thinking - what is this ‘civilisation’ in which we find ourselves? What are these ceremonies and why should we take part in them? What are these professions and why should we make money out of them?”

Image: Woolf pictured in the garden of her house in Rodmell, three miles from Lewes, East Sussex in 1926 / Getty Images

The Artists and Writers programme in the Icons series is on 29 January on BBC Two at 9pm. Voting opens immediately after the programme and closes the following day at 4pm. Category winners are announced on The One Show on the evening of the vote closing.


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