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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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To achieve just what William Blake managed, would always require a strong, confident personality in order to promote his own work without ever questioning his own radical ideas and artistic techniques.

Our list of attributable William Blake quotes will also help to underline his extrovert personality. Blake was undoubtedly a deep thinker, sometimes flirting with revolutionary sects when he felt uncomfortable with the accepted norms of society. Blake's art was described by some as Neo-Classical (others, actually, have claimed that he worked against the styles of this movement) in how it perfectly matches the original form, but with content heavily inspired by passages of the Bible. As tastes in the UK and internationally changed over time, so did his circle of connections. His work could be very much in-vogue, then fairly ignored soon after. Again, a strong will was required in order to push through the low periods.

Influences on the Personality of William Blake

Blake was born into a working-class family whose parents worked hard to give their seven children the best life that they could. He displayed an early promise artistically before practising his techniques by travelling around the streets of London, sketching whatever he came across. He was immediately seen as a strong-willed individual who would likely achieve a lot in his life, whatever the hurdles placed in front of him. Even as a child he is believed to have witnessed several visions, and this was a sign of things to come later in his life as he sought inspiration for his work. Despite relatively limited means, his parents were able to enrol him at the Henry Par drawing academy, from where he could make the most of his undoubted passion and natural ability.

Whilst a budding student, walking the streets of London, Blake would draw various Greek antiquities and this interest in classical art would continue throughout his lifetime. He also would study the work of Renaissance masters Raphael and Michelangelo, the latter of whom was also a poet. Perhaps the legends of that period opened up his eyes to how an artist could be effective in a large number of different artistic mediums, as well as taking in architecture and literature too. Blake may not compare to the 'Renaissance Man' but his final ouevre was incredibly varied, going further even that floral designer, William Morris. This single fact marks him out within the overall history of British art.

Famous Quotes by William Blake

Active Evil is better than Passive Good.

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

As a man is, so he sees. As the eye is formed, such are its powers.

Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed.

Art is the tree of life. Science is the tree of death.

As a man is, so he sees. As the eye is formed, such are its powers.

A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.

Both Letter-press and Engraving in a style more ornamental, uniform, and grand, than any before discovered... Milton and Shakespeare could not publish their own works.

Announcing the invention of relief etching

Both read the Bible day and night, but thou read black where I read white.

Can I see another's woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another's grief, and not seek for kind relief?

Christ's crucifix shall be made an excuse for executing criminals.

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

Every harlot was a virgin once.

Excessive sorrow laughs. Excessive joy weeps.

Exuberance is beauty.

For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.

Fun I love, but too much fun is of all things the most loathsome. Mirth is better than fun, and happiness is better than mirth.

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.

He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity's sun rise.

He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars: general Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer, for Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars.

I am in you and you in me, mutual in divine love.

I have no name: I am but two days old. What shall I call thee? I happy am, Joy is my name. Sweet joy befall thee!

Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.

I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

If a thing loves, it is infinite.

If I should ever build a Palace it would be only My Cottage Enlarged

Describing cottage where he and Catherine lived in Sussex

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.

If the Sun and Moon should ever doubt, they'd immediately go out.

It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.

It is not because angels are holier than men or devils that makes them angels, but because they do not expect holiness from one another, but from God only.

[It is] the best I have ever finished.

Describing coloured impression of The Ancient of Days

I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.

Lives in eternity's sun rise.

Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care, but for another gives its ease, and builds a Heaven in Hell's despair.

Love to faults is always blind, always is to joy inclined. Lawless, winged, and unconfined, and breaks all chains from every mind.

Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.

No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.

One thought fills immensity.

Opposition is true friendship.

Painting is Drawing on Canvas & Engraving is Drawing on Copper & nothing Else Drawing is Execution & nothing Else & he who Draws best must be the best Artist

Public Address, c.1809–10

Poetry fettered, fetters the human race. Nations are destroyed or flourish in proportion as their poetry, painting, and music are destroyed or flourish.

Prisons are built with stones of Law. Brothels with the bricks of religion.

Prudence is a rich, ugly, old maid courted by incapacity.

That the Jews assumed a right exclusively to the benefits of God will be a lasting witness against them and the same will it be against Christians.

The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.

The difference between a bad artist and a good one is: the bad artist seems to copy a great deal; the good one really does.

The eye altering, alters all.

The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.

The foundation of empire is art and science. Remove them or degrade them, and the empire is no more. Empire follows art and not vice versa as Englishmen suppose.

The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.

The grand style of Art restored; in FRESCO, or Water-colour Painting, and England protected from the too just imputation of being the Seat and Protectress of bad (that is blotting and blurring) Art. In this Exhibition will be seen real Art, as it was left us by Raphael and Albert Durer, Michael Angelo, and Julio Romano; stripped from the Ignorances of Rubens and Rembrandt, Titian and Correggio.

William Blake, describing his one-man exhibition, 1809

The hours of folly are measured by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure.

The man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

The man who never in his mind and thoughts travel'd to heaven is no artist.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

These Ballads are likely to be Profitable for we have Sold all that we have had time to print.

Prints and engravings commissioned by William Hayley

The soul of sweet delight, can never be defiled.

The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.

The times require that every one should speak out boldly; England expects that every man should do his duty, in Arts, as well as in Arms, or in the Senate.

Discussing his watercolour of angels

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.

The true method of knowledge is experiment.

The weak in courage is strong in cunning.

Those who restrain their desires, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.

To generalize is to be an idiot.

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.

To the eyes of a miser a guinea is more beautiful than the sun, and a bag worn with the use of money has more beautiful proportions than a vine filled with grapes.

Travelers repose and dream among my leaves.

Want of money and the distress of a thief can never be alleged as the cause of his thieving, for many honest people endure greater hardships with fortitude. We must therefore seek the cause elsewhere than in want of money, for that is the miser's passion, not the thief's.

What is a wife and what is a harlot? What is a church and what is a theatre? are they two and not one? Can they exist separate? Are not religion and politics the same thing? Brotherhood is religion. O demonstrations of reason dividing families in cruelty and pride!

What is grand is necessarily obscure to weak men. That which can be made explicit to the idiot is not worth my care.

What is now proved was once only imagined.

What is the price of experience? Do men buy it for a song? Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price of all the man hath, his house, his wife, his children.

When a sinister person means to be your enemy, they always start by trying to become your friend.

When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy, And the dimpling stream runs laughing by; When the air does laugh with our merry wit, And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.

Where mercy, love, and pity dwell, there God is dwelling too.

Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.

You cannot have Liberty in this world without what you call Moral Virtue, and you cannot have Moral Virtue without the slavery of that half of the human race who hate what you call Moral Virtue.

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

Quotes about William Blake by Art & Literature Critics and Fellow Artists and Poets

It is not at all certain that a merely moral criticism of society may not be just as "revolutionary" — and revolution, after all, means turning things upside down — as the politico-economic criticism which is fashionable at this moment. Blake was not a politician, but there is more understanding of the nature of capitalist society in a poem like "I wander through each charter'd street" than in three-quarters of Socialist literature.

George Orwell, Dickens (1939)

William Blake was a painter, printmaker and poet who created some of the most iconic images in British art. Radical and rebellious, he is an inspiration to visual artists, musicians, poets and performers worldwide. His personal struggles in a period of political terror and oppression, his technical innovation, his vision and political commitment, have perhaps never been more pertinent.

Tate Britain, Exhibition Promotion, 2019

..I saw William Blake (in his dream), noble emanation of English genius... ...’Have confidence in your objects,’ he said, 'do not let yourself be intimidated by the horror of the world. Everything is ordered and correct and must fulfill its destiny in order to attain perfection. Seek this path'.. ..I awoke and found myself in Holland in the midst of boundless world turmoil. But my belief in the final release and absolution of all things, whether they please or torment, was newly strengthened.

Max Beckmann

There is no century in which Blake would not have seen angels.

Thomas Merton

Though he is perhaps still better-known as a poet than an artist, in many ways William Blake's life and work provide the template for our contemporary understanding of what a modern artist is and does. Overlooked by his peers, and sidelined by the academic institutions of his day, his work was championed by a small, zealous group of supporters. His lack of commercial success meant that Blake lived his life in relative poverty, a life in thrall to a highly individual, sometimes iconoclastic, imaginative vision.


Here [at the Royal Academy] he drew with great care, perhaps all, or certainly nearly all the noble antique figures in various views. But now his peculiar notions began to intercept him in his career. He professes drawing from life always to have been hateful to him; and speaks of it looking more like death, or smelling of mortality. Yet still he drew a good deal from life, both at the academy and at home.

Benjamin Heath Malkin's biography of William Blake, 1806

William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. ... Although Blake was considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. His paintings and poetry have been characterised as part of the Romantic movement and as Pre-Romantic.