Beauty is the Mystery of Life – Agnes Martin

Photograph of Agnes Martin by Charles R. Rushton.

Agnes Martin

March 22, 1912 – December 16, 2004
(Canadian/American, abstract expressionism, minimalism)

“I once taught art to adults in a night course. I had a woman who painted her back yard, and she said it was the first time she had ever really looked at it. I think everyone sees beauty. Art is a way to respond”

—Agnes Martin (quoted in Holland Cotter, “Profiles: Agnes Martin. (abstract painter),” Art Journal [Fall 1998])


Expressive Quotes about Art from Agnes Martin

When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is just not in the eye. It is in the mind. It is our positive response to life.
-Agnes Martin

Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings.
-Agnes Martin

My interest is in experience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this experience can be expressed for me in art which is also wordless and silent.
-Agnes Martin

Stars, 1963

Striving for Inner Truth

Agnes Martin developed highly simplified abstractions for which she would become best known. Her paintings consist of a simple system of interlocking horizontal and vertical lines in an almost exclusively six-foot-square format. Because of her geometric style, critics frequently associated Martin with Minimalist artists.

Martin’s passionate insistence on conveying emotional content rather than ideas – along with her unaffected striving for inspired inner truth, beauty and perfection – indeed place her within the aesthetic of Abstract Expressionism.

Inspired Truth – An Evolution

In Agnes Martins work truth and beauty is found in her solitude. As seen in Loving Love painted in 2000, there is a calm accepting presence.

Loving Love by Agnes Martin in 2000
Loving Love by Agnes Martin in 2000

Compare Loving Love to one of her first works, Mid-Winter painted in 1954. It doesn’t even look like it’s the same artist. Before Agnes Martin found her ‘style’ she worked on expressive works. Perhaps she was working through her own issues. She was publicly known to have schizophrenia, once opting for electric shock therapy for treatment. As her style progressed in the calm, controlled grid that she worked from, perhaps this is how she found her inner peace.

Mid-Winter (1954)
Mid-Winter (1954)


Detail from Untitled 5, 1998
Detail from Untitled 5, 1998


Untitled #10, 1990
Untitled #10, 1990

On her deathbed at the age of 90, Martin told a friend to go to into her studio and destroy two of the three last paintings she had been working on.

Whatever fragility she had in her life, as an artist she was tough, ambitious and single-minded.

Read more about Agnes Martin and her life and work here.

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