An Overlooked Art Form: The Quotation

Quotes have become commonplace in our everyday lives.

They’re on our billboards. They’re on our tee shirts and phone cases. They’re in the final lines of our emails. Ask anyone for their favorite quote and they will surely rattle off a line or two.

But given their ubiquitous nature, quotes are oft-forgotten as an art form, even though they occupy a unique space in the world of artistic mediums.

As an art form, the quote is distinguishable from other mediums through it’s derivational nature, it’s contextual freedom, and it’s portability. These inherent qualities create a high density platform for expression of the shared human experience.

The Medium

Hold this photograph in your mind: a vast desert landscape of rolling sand hills strewn with cacti, rock formations, and a lone desert willow.

Now take that photograph in your mind and crop out everything except the desert willow.

This is the essence of a quote; the encapsulation of a specific aspect of a broader spectacle.

A byproduct

Just like the cropped photo, the quote serves as a component of a larger work of art, while it simultaneously exists as a stand alone piece of art.

Quotes are byproducts, derived from a larger body of work. A few lines of your favorite poem. The opening paragraph of a classic novel. The chorus to the song of the summer.

Unlike other art forms, a quote’s author does not set out with the intention of creating a quote, but rather, a quote is taken from the original work of art.separate

Contextual Freedom

This isolation from the larger body of work liberates the quote from its contextual framework. Without knowledge of the surrounding context, our minds are given more freedom to explore the meaning of the quote within the context of our own lives.

This contextual freedom is often augmented by a quote’s relatively straightforward content.

In it’s separation from the whole, a quote’s message does not become ambiguous—the quote’s message just becomes more easily moldable to the framework of our own lives.cage


Quotes are one of the most portable art forms we have; they are easily remembered and readily shared. Technology has disrupted the portability of art, but quotes are still one of the few forms of art which can, in their entirety, be carried with us wherever we go.

While there may only be one original Mona Lisa, a quote can be duplicated perfectly and given to an infinite number of people for their own personal art collection.briefcase

The Platform

A quote’s nature as a byproduct with contextual freedom and portability creates a platform for high density content. The limitation of the medium (i.e. we don’t quote entire books) positions the quote as a beautiful medium for an expression of the human experience.

Few other mediums remind us of our shared humanity with such a small investment of time.

Quotes make the world seem smaller and pull us out of our perceived existential loneliness; they reassure us of our humanity by reminding us that other humans have experienced this, too.

Once articulated by someone else, the ideas we thought to be the mere inner workings of our minds suddenly become more real. This is especially true when a real authority on the subject is the person to bring those thoughts to fruition.

There’s a strong sense of authenticity and connection with our own humanity when we find a particular quote that we deeply resonate with. The beauty of a quote is that we can carry them with us, regardless of where we are.

Quotes may be overlooked as an art form, but their ability to remind us of our shared humanity reserves their place as an artistic medium. When compounded with their ability to stand alone as a piece of art while simultaneously serving as an essential component of a larger work they are a truly unique form of artistic expression.