Jean Arp

Alsatian sculptor, painter, poet and abstract artist (1886–1966)

Jean/Hans Arp (16 September 18867 June 1966) was a German/French sculptor, painter, poet and a founding member of Dadaism. Later he engaged himself with the French surrealists, in Paris, but broke with them in 1931. (When Arp spoke in German he referred to himself as 'Hans' Arp; in French he referred to himself as 'Jean' Arp.)

Jean/Hans Arp, photo from art-magazine 'De Stijl', Vol. 7, nr. 73/74 (January 1926); - quote of Arp: 'Art is fruit growing out of man like the fruit out of a plant like the child out of the mother' ~ Notes From a Dada Diary (1932)

Quotes of Jean Arp

chronologically arranged, after the date of Jean Arp's quotes


  • Structures of lines, surfaces, forms, colours. They try to approach the eternal, the inexpressible above men. They are a denial of human egotism. They are the hatred of human immodesty, the hatred of images, of paintings.. Wisdom [is] the feeling for the coming reality, the mystical, the definite indefinite, the greatest definite.
    • Arp's quote from his text in a catalogue of his exhibition, in Zürich 1915; quoted by Arp himself in his text 'Abstract Art, Concrete Art,' Hans Arp, c. 1942; as quoted in Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, by Herschel Browning Chipp, Peter Selz, p. 390
  • I met Sophie Taeuber in Zurich in 1915. Even then she already knew how to give direct and palpable shape to her inner reality. In those days this kind of art was called 'abstract art'. Now it is known as 'concrete art,' for nothing is more concrete than the psychic reality it expresses. Like music this art is tangible inner reality she was already dividing the surface of a watercolor into squares and rectangles which she juxtaposed horizontally and perpendicularly. She constructed her painting like a work of masonry. The colors are luminous, going from rawest yellow to deep red or..
    • Arp's quote on his wife, in 'Sophie Taeuber-Arp', Hans Arp; in Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories, ed. Marcel Jean, transl. Joachim Neugroschel; Viking Press, New York 1972, p. 222
  • We [Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber ] painted embroidered and made collages. All these works were drawn from the simplest forms and were probably the first examples of concrete art. These works are realities pure and independent with no meaning or cerebral intention. We rejected all mimesis and description, giving free reign to the elementary and spontaneous.
    • Arp's quote, on the cooperation with his future wife Sophie Taeuber ca. 1916; as quoted in: Abstract Art, Anna Moszynska, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, p. 65
  • the streams buck like rams in a tent
    whips crack and from the hills come the crookedly combed
    shadows of the shepherds.
    black eggs and fools' bells fall from the trees.
    thunder drums and kettledrums beat upon the ears of the donkeys.
    wings brush against flowers.
    fountains spring up in the eyes of the wild boar.
    • Dada poetry lines from his poem 'Der Vogel Selbdritt', Jean / Hans Arp - first published in 1920; as quoted in Gesammelte Gedichte I (transl. Herbert Read), p. 41
  • I hereby declare that on February 8th, 1916, Tristan Tzara discovered the word DADA. I was present with my twelve children when Tzara pronounced for the first time this word which has aroused in us such legitimate enthusiasm. This took place at the Café Terrasse in Zurich, and I wore a brioche in my left nostril. I am convinced that this word has no importance and that only imbeciles and Spanish professors can be interested in dates. What interests us is the Dada spirit and we were all Dada before the existence of Dada. The first Holy Virgins I painted date from 1886, when I was a few months old and amused myself by pissing graphic impressions. The morality of idiots and their belief in geniuses makes me shit.
    • 'Declaration', Jean (Hans) Arp, October 1921
  • Dadaism has launched an attack on the fine arts. It has declared art to be a magic opening of the bowels, administered an enema to the Venus of Milo, and finally enabled 'Laocoon and Sons' to ease themselves after a thousand-year struggle with the rattlesnake. Dadaism has reduced positive and negative to utter nonsense. It has been destructive in order to achieve indifference.
    • In: Isms in Art, (Hans Arp and El Lissitzky, The isms of art, 1924), published in 1925


  • In recent times, Surrealist painters have used descriptive illusionistic academic methods.
    • In a letter to Polish poet Jan Brzekowski, ca. 1930, co-publisher of the Franco-Polish magazine 'L'art contemporain'; from Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, essaies, souvenirs, Hans Arp, Gallimard, Paris 1966, p. 63
    • Arp's critical quote refers to the creation of art by the French Surrealists in which Jean Arp participated for a few years and then departed.
  • Concretion signifies the material process of condensation, hardening, coagulating, thickening, growing together. Concretion designates the solidification of a mass. Concretion designates curdling, the curdling of the earth and the heavenly bodies. Concretion designates solidification, the mass of the stone, the plant, the animal, the man. Concretion is something that has grown. I want my work to find it.
    • Jean Arp (1931), as quoted in: Eric Robertson (2006) Arp: Painter, Poet, Sculptor, p. 108
  • A painting or sculpture not modeled on any real object is every bit as concrete and sensuous as a leaf or a stone.. ..[but] it is an incomplete art which privileges the intellect to the detriment of the senses.. .[art must be like..] fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant or a child in it's mother's womb.
    • Notes From a Dada Diary, published in 1932; as quoted by Anna Moszynska, in Abstract Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, p. 113
  • art is fruit growing out of man like the fruit out of a plant like the child out of the mother. While the fruit of the plant grows independent forms and never resembles a balloon or a president in a cutaway suit the artistic fruit of man shows for the most part a ridiculous resemblance to the appearance of other things. Reason tells man to stand above nature and to be the measure of all things. thus man thinks he is able to live and to create against the laws of nature and he creates abortions. through reason man became a tragic and ugly figure. i dare say he would create even his children in the form of vases with umbilical cords if he could do so. reason has cut man off from nature.
    • Arp wrote this in lowercase letters
    • Notes From a Dada Diary; published, 1932 in 'Transition magazine'; as quoted (in lowercase letters), “Soby, James Thrall. Arp: The Museum of Modern Art. Doubleday, New York, 1958, Print. p. 17


  • Revolted by the butchery of the 1914 World War, we in Zurich devoted ourselves to the arts. While guns rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all our might. We were seeking an art based on fundamentals, to cure the madness of the age, and find a new order of things that would restore the balance between heaven and hell. We had a dim premonition that power-mad gangsters would one day use art itself as a way of deadening men's minds.
    • Dadaland (1948); Quoted in: Cosana Maria Eram (2010) The autobiographical pact: otherness and redemption in four French avant-garde artists, p. 20
    • Quote of Jean Arp, referring to Swiss Dada in Zurich after 1914.
  • As the thought comes to me to exorcise and transform this black with a white drawing, it has already become a surface.. .Now I have lost all fear, and begin to draw on the black surface.
    • Hans Arp's quote on drawing on the black surface; as quoted in Search for the Real, Hans Hofmann, Addison Gallery of modern Art, 1948

Abstract Art, Concrete Art (c. 1942)

Quotes from: Abstract Art, Concrete Art, Hans Arp, c. 1942; as quoted in Aesthetics and the Environment: The Appreciation of Nature, Art and Architecture, by Allen Carlson, Routledge, London & New York, 2005
  • These paintings, these sculptures – these objects – should remain anonymous, in the great workshop of nature, like the clouds, the mountains, the seas, the animals, and man himself. Yes! Man should go back to nature! Artists should work together like the artists of the Middle Ages.
    • In 1915, w:Otto van Rees, A.C. van Rees, Freundlich, S. Taeuber [his wife] and Arp made an attempt of this sort, as Arp mentioned himself.
    • p. 118
  • [art] urges man to identify himself with nature.
    • p. 118
  • Automatic poetry comes straight out of the poet's bowels or out of any other of his organs that has accumulated reserves.. .He crows, swears, moans, stammers, yodels, according to his mood.. .His poems are like nature; they stink, laugh, and rhyme like nature. Foolishness, or at least what men calls foolishness is as precious to him as a sublime piece of rhetoric. For in nature a broken twig is equal in beauty and importance to the clouds and the stars.
    • p. 118-119


  • Whatever became of Kurt Schwitters' novel 'Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling' [Franz Müller's Wire Spring] several chapters of which we composed together? Is it buried under the bomb ruins of his house on Waldhausenstrasse in Hannover? For hours, Schwitters and I sat together and spun dialogue, in rhapsody. He took these writings and channeled them into his novel...We sat together again, writing 'Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling':
H. A.: The nightingales have had enough of your hymnal Karagösen. Play violin on parrots, but avoid the women red hood ans snow widow.
K. Schw.: Should I pe-trify something for you? Or would you like play cry together?
H. A.: Should we wash our tears or drown them?
K. Schw.: You are a sipsnipper, Since when do your diamonds bark?
H. A.: The water is getting hard. A fruit cries out loud and gives birth to a fish.
K. Schw.: I'll p-ut it in the sea, or should I st-ab you with it?
  • Dialogue between Hans Arp and Kurt Schwitters, (1956) with introduction in: Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling-- Memories of Kurt Schwitters; as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, commissioned by w:Rudi Fuchs, 2000, pp. 139-140
  • Then we went down to his work room, in the horrible beautiful Merz grotto [the 'Merz-Haus', built by Kurt Schwitters, where broken wheels paired with matchboxes, wire lattices with brushes without bristles, rusted wheels with curious Merz cucumbers.. .How often did we 'p-lay' in this room! Schwitters called playing, considering the sweat, working. There we glued together our paper pictures, and as I tossed away one of my glued-together works one morning, Schwitters asked, 'You don't like it? Can I have it?' – 'What do you want with this failed piece of toast?' Schwitters took a good look at it and said, 'I'll put what's on top on the bottom, I'll stick a little Merz nose in this corner and I'll sign the bottom Kurt Schwitters.' And, yes indeed, this collage became a wonderful picture by Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters was a wizard, just as Hokusai was a wizard.
    • In 'Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling – Memories of Kurt Schwitters Hans Arp 1956; as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken - commissioned by Rudi Fuchs, director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam - NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, pp. 140-141
  • Sculpture should walk on the tips of its toes, unostentatious, unpretentious, and light as the spoor of an animal in snow. Art should melt into and even merge with nature itself. This is obviously contrary to painting and sculpture based on nature. By so doing, art will rid itself more and more of self-centredness, virtuosity and absurdity.
    • Arp on Arp: poems, essays, memories. p. 327 (1958)
  • The man who speaks and writes about art should refrain from censuring or pontificating. He will thus avoid doing anything foolish, for in the presence of primordial depth all art is but dream and nature.
    • Arp on Arp: poems, essays, memories. p. 327 (1958)


  • A deep and serene silence filled her structures composed of colors and surfaces. The exclusive use of horizontal and vertical rectangular planes in the work of art, the extreme simplification, exerted a decisive influence on my work. Here I found, stripped down to the limit, the essential elements of all earthly constructions: the bursting, upward surge of the lines and the planes toward the sky, the verticality of pure life, and the vast equilibrium, the sheer horizontality and expansiveness of dreamlike peace. Her work was for me a symbol of a divinely built 'house' which man in his vanity has ravaged and sullied.
  • In 1915 Sophie Taeuber and I carried out our first works in the simplest forms, using painting, embroidery and pasted paper [without using oil colors to avoid any reference with usual painting]. These were probably the first manifestations of their kind, pictures that were their own reality, without meaning or cerebral intention. We rejected everything in the nature of a copy or a description, in order to give free flow to what was elemental and spontaneous.
    • on creating art without using oil colors to avoid any reference with usual painting, in The Art of Jean Arp, Herbert Read, Abrams, New York 1968, p. p. 34, 38
  • It was Sophie [Taeuber] who, by the example of her work and her life, both of them bathed in clarity, showed me the right way. In her world, the high and the low, the light and the dark, the eternal and the ephemeral, are balanced in prefect equilibrium.
    • In 'Unsern täglichen Traum', Hans Arp (1914 - 1954); p. 76; as quoted in Arp, ed. Serge Fauchereau, Ediciones Poligrafa, S. A., Barcelona 1988, p. 11
  • By the time I was 16, the everlasting copying of stuffed birds and withered flowers at the Strasbourg School of Applied Art not only poisoned drawing for me but destroyed my taste for all artistic activity. I took refuge in poetry.
    • Looking, Arp, Jean; as quoted by Soby, James Thrall. Arp: The Museum of Modern Art. Doubleday, New York, 1958, Print. p. 12
  • I tried to be natural, in other words the exact opposite of what drawing teachers call 'faithful to nature'. I made my first experiments with free form.
    • Looking, Arp, Jean; as quoted by Soby, James Thrall. Arp: The Museum of Modern Art. Doubleday, New York, 1958, Print. p. 12

Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, essaies, souvenirs (1966)


Quotes from: Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, essaies, souvenirs, Hans Arp, Gallimard, Paris 1966 (the book gathers almost all Arp's writings in prose and some important poetry)

  • Dada was given the Venus of Milo a clyster and has allowed the Laocoön and his sons to rest awhile, after thousands of years of struggle with the good sausage Python. The philosophers are of less use to Dada than an old toothbrush, and it leaves them on the scrap heap for the great leaders of the world.
    • p. 63
  • We do not wish to copy nature. We do not want to reproduce, we want to produce. We want to produce as a plant produces a fruit and does not itself reproduce. We want to produce directly and without meditation. As there is not the least trace of abstraction in this art, we will call it concrete art.
    • p. 183: Serge Fauchereau (1988) in Arp, p. 20 commented: 'Even though his work was nonrepresentational, Arp disapproved of the term 'abstract art' being applied to it, as he often explained with the above quote'.
  • I wanted to find another order, another value for man in nature. He should no longer be the measure of all things, nor should everything be compared with him, but, on the contrary, all things, and man as well, should be like nature, without measure. I wanted to create new appearances, to extract new forms from man. This is made clear in my objects from 1917.
    • p. 183
  • Already in 1915, Sophie Taeuber [his wife] divides the surface of her aquarelle into squares and rectangles which she then juxtaposes horizontally and perpendicularly [as Mondrian, Itten and Paul Klee did in the same period]. She constructs them as if they were masonry work. The colors are luminous, ranging from the raw yellow to deep red or blue.
    • p. 288, Arp refers in this quote to the structure in the early watercolor paintings by his wife Sophie Taeuber.
  • I allow myself to be guided by the work which is in the process of being born, I have confidence in it [Arp refers to 'automatic creation of art']. I do not think about it. The forms arrive pleasant, or strange, hostile, inexplicable, mute, or drowsy. They are born from themselves. It seems to me as if all I do is move my hands.
    • p. 307
  • In the good times of Dada, we detested polished works, the distracted air of spiritual struggle, the titans, and we rejected them with all out being.
    • p. 307
  • Like the disposition of planes, the proportion of these planes and their colors seemed to depend only upon chance, and I declared that these works were ordered 'according to the law of chance', just like in the order of nature.
    • p. 307
  • Since the time of the cavemen, man has glorified himself, has made himself divine, and his monstrous vanity has caused human catastrophe. Art has collaborated in this false development. I find this concept of art which has sustained man's vanity to be loathsome.
    • p. 315
  • I like nature but not its substitutes. Naturalist art, illusionism, is a substitute for nature. I remember that in arguing with Piet Mondrian [in Paris, 1920's], he opposed art to nature saying that art is artificial and nature is natural. I do not share this opinion. I do not think that nature is in natural opposition to art. Art's origins are natural.
    • p. 359
  • Each one of these bodies [art-works which Arp made] certainly signifies something, but it is only once there is nothing left for me to change that I begin to look for its meaning, that I give it a name.
    • p. 383
  • I did exhibitions with the Surrealists [in Paris, c. 1929] because their attitude revolted against 'art' and their attitude toward life itself was wise, as was Dada's.
    • p. 406
  • These collages were static symmetrical constructions, portico's with pathetic vegetation, the gateway to the realm of dreams. They were done with colored paper in black, orange or blue dye plates. Although cubist painting interested me very much, not a trace of their influence was to be found in my collages.
    • p. 420 - quote on his early collages, Hans Arp made ca. 1914.
  • Actually, it was in Paris in 1914 that I did my first collages, for an occultist friend. They were mysterious portico's which were supposed to replace mural paintings and which evoked the structure of palm branches or fish-bones. [remark on the first collages Arp made, in different materials]
    • p. 430
  • Ever since my childhood, I was haunted by the search for perfection. An imperfectly cut paper literally made me ill, I would guillotine it. My collages came undone, they became blistered. I then introduced death and decay in my compositions. I reacted by avoiding any precision from one day to another. Instead of cutting the paper, I would tear it with my hands.
    • p. 431
  • At daybreak I found on my sculptor's turntable a little mischievous form [a small plaster form of Impish Form, Arp made in 1949], alert and somewhat obese, with a stomach like a lute. It seemed to me like an imp. I called it that. And all of a sudden one day this little character, this imp, through a Venezuelan medium, found itself to be the father of a giant [Arp enlarged it]. This giant son resembles its father like an egg resembles another egg, a fig another fig, a bell another bell.
    • p. 431
  • To be full of joy when looking at an oeuvre is not a little thing.
    • p. 571 - Hans Arp's quote, made in 1962 in Galerie Denise René - this remark is also the last line in the art book Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, essaies, souvenirs, Hans Arp, Gallimard, Paris 1966

Attributed from posthumous publications

  • Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation.. ..tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.
    • quote in Arp on Arp: poems, essays, memories, Viking, 1972, p. 231
  • Dada aimed to destroy the reasonable deceptions of man and recover the natural and unreasonable order.
    • Quoted in: Anna Moszynska, Abstract Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, p. 66

Quotes about Jean Arp

  • Yes, I deal with accidents, just as Arp admits it all the time. And I admit it, too. But I like to have them under my command and not sign them because they are accidents.
    • Quote of Josef Albers (1968), in 'Oral history interview with Josef Albers', conducted by Sevim Fesci, 22 June – 5 July 1968, for the 'Archives of American Art', Smithsonian Institution
  • As we liked to do as children, extracting from the soft forest floor the light chestnut trees only a few centimeters high at the base of which the chestnut continues to shine to the sun its clods of soil from the past, the chestnut conserving all of its presence and witnessing with its presence the power of green hands, of shadow, of airy white or pink pyramids of dances.. ..and of future chestnuts which, under new dust, would be discovered by the marveled sight of other children. It is in this perspective that the work of Arp, more than any other, should be situated. He found the most vital in himself in the secrets of this germinating life where the most minimal detail is of the greatest importance, where, on the other hand, the distinction between the elements becomes meaningless, adopting a peculiar under the rock humor permanently.
    • Quote of André Breton (1940), on Hans / Jean Arp, in Anthologie de l'humour noir, André Breton; as quoted in 'Arp', ed. Serge Fauchereau, Ediciones Poligrafa S. A., Barcelona, Spain, 1988
  • Arp, yes, was one of the artists that I was interested in. And that reminds me of a friend of those times, Frederick Kiesler, who was an architect and painter, a man of all trades, and who said this word about Arp: 'This is Arp, not art.' [Laughs]
    • Quote of Leo Castelli (1997), in 'Oral history interview with Leo Castelli', by Nina Sundell, 1997 May 22, 'Archives of American Art', Smithsonian Institution
  • Based on the metaphysical implications of the Dadaist dogma.. .Arp's Reliefs [carvings] between 1916 and 1922 are among the most convincing illustrations of that anti- rationalistic era...Arp showed the importance of a smile to combat the sophistic theories of the moment. His poems of the same period stripped the word of its rational connotation to attain the most unexpected meaning through alliteration or plain nonsense.
    • Quote of Marcel Duchamp (1949), in Appreciations of other artists - 'Jean (Hans) Arp (sculptor, painter, writer)' 1949, by Marcel Duchamp; as quoted in Catalog, Collection of the Societé Anonyme, eds. Michel Sanouillet / Elmer Peterson, London 1975, pp. 143- 159
  • Tzara would draw [during Dada-evenings in Zürich, Switzerland] slips of paper with words described on them from a hat, and present the resulting combination of words as a poem. Arp allowed cut-outs of free or geometric shapes to arrange themselves in a random order, then pasted them on a surface and presented the result as a picture. In the course of such experiments Arp also used 'automatic writing', i.e.: irrational, spontaneously traced forms, rising from the unconsciousness.
    • Quote of Werner Haftman, (1965), about a report of a Dada-evening in Zürich, in: Painting in the Twentieth Century, An Analysis of the Artists and their Work, New York Praeger, 1965, p. 183; as quoted in Aesthetics and the Environment: The Appreciation of Nature, Art and Architecture, by Allen Carlson, Routledge, London & New York, 2005, p 112
  • We visited Meudon [c.1938] to see Hans Arp and though, to our disappointment, he was not there and his wife, Sophie Taeuber showed us his studio. It was very quiet in the room so that one was aware of the movement in the forms.. .I thought of the poetic idea in Arp's sculptures. I had never had any first-hand knowledge of the Dadaist movement, so that seeing his work for the first time freed me of many inhibitions and this helped me to see the figure in landscape with new eyes.. .Perhaps in freeing himself from material demands his idea transcended all possible limitations. I began to imagine the earth rising and becoming human.
    • Quote of Barbara Hepworth, in A Pictorial autobiography, New York, Praeger Publishers, 1970, p. 283
  • Dada was founded in Zurich in the spring of 1916 by Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, Jean Arp, Marcel Janco and Richard Huelsenbeck at the Cabaret Voltaire [in Zurich, Switzerland].. .Arp was an Alsatian; he had lived through the beginning of the war and the whole nationalistic frenzy in Paris, and was pretty well disgusted with all the petty chicanery there, and in general with the sickening changes that had taken place in the city and the people on which we had all squandered our love before the war [World War 1., 1914-1918].
    • Quote of Richard Huelsenbeck (1920), in: 'En Avant Dada: A History of Dadaism', Richard Huelsenbeck – translated (completely from the German) by Ralph Manheim. First published as 'En Avant Dada: Eine Geschichte des Dadaismus', Hannover, Leipzig, Wien, Zurich, Paul Steegemann Verlag, 1920, p. 23
  • Mr. Arp hated shiny sculptures. He hated that. Because if it's shiny, you can't appreciate the form. It creates reflections.
  • I never stood under the influence of Dadaism because whereas the Dadaist created Spiegel-dadaismus (Mirror-Dada) on the Zurich Lake [the 'political Dada'], I created MERZ on the Leine-river, under the influence of Rembrandt. Time went on, and when Jean Arp made concrete Art, I stayed Abstract. Now I do concrete Art, and Marcel Duchamp went over to the Surrealists.. ..and at all I have much fun about Art.
    • Quote of Kurt Schwitters, in My art and My live, (1940-46); as quoted in I is Style, (2000) ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, (commissioned by Rudi Fuchs, director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam), NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 100
    • Later Arp and Schwitters made together many Dada-art-pieces and poems, when Arp took a distance from the political Swiss Dada
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