The cultural quotes of the year: madness, middle age and mother’s advice

A selection of the best, oddest and most memorable musings by some of the world’s artistic greats, as told to Irish Times writers

Actor/director Steven Berkoff: ‘If there’s anything that the establishment can’t bear, it’s someone who stands out. You could say the same thing about any radical person, starting from Jesus Christ.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Actor/director Steven Berkoff: ‘If there’s anything that the establishment can’t bear, it’s someone who stands out. You could say the same thing about any radical person, starting from Jesus Christ.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

“Not many people realise this, but you don’t actually learn anything at art college any more; however, you do have to go there to find that out.” Artist John Kindness

 

“Writing a play is not an intellectual process. I’m not sure what it is. But you have to have tenacity and concentration and discipline, and all these things will be rewarded. When I come to write a new play I wonder how I wrote the last play.” Playwright Tom Murphy

 

“No boyfriend wants to see their girlfriend in a video with a big, handsome black dude feeding his fingers into her mouth, do they? But that concept is my expression, and boyfriends have to deal with that, don’t they?” Musician FKA Twigs

 

“I didn’t grow up imagining myself as an opera composer. Only once in my entire adolescence did I attend an opera. I went and saw Aida at the old Met, didn’t understand a thing about it, and thought it was pretty awful. But I think I had it in my genes without even realising it.” John Adams, composer of Nixon in China

 

“He loved telling stories. He had been everywhere in the world. The northwest frontier, the landscape of the Hindu Kush, was one of the great landscapes of my childhood because he used to evoke it with his stories. He taught me the sequence of ranks in the British army when I was about eight. I was in the bed with him while he told me everything about his life – except, probably, the real things, because of course you couldn’t go there.” Writer Sebastian Barry on his grandfather

 

“My teacher, the former violist of the Juilliard Quartet, was fond of saying that being in a quartet was like being in a four-way marriage, without any of the benefits.” Viola player Luke Fleming

 

“When I started writing Tales of the City I was one year away from being a mental illness. It wasn’t until 1975 that the American Psychiatric Association took homosexuality off the list of mental illnesses – and in many states, including the state of North Carolina where I grew up, homosexuality was a crime. An arrestable crime. It still is, in many parts of the world.” Armistead Maupin

 

“It’s a tragedy that modernity has released this Ebola beast into the world. It renders humans untouchable, and that’s sickening. The international response so far has been scandalous. China has delivered f**k all.” Bob Geldof

 

“I’m convinced that theatre is a horrible business. Make this the headline. You have to be on the spot every night as an actor. You are damn lonesome standing out there.” Theatre director Walter Asmus, who worked with Samuel Beckett

 

“Until everyone in this country over 35 has passed away, the theocracy will still be alive. And I am not actually of the theocracy, and that could bother people. I think I’ve probably taken a bit of flak for that, as well as being an arsehole occasionally, obviously.” Sinéad O’Connor

 

“As a child I was always taking things apart. My idea was that I was ‘fixing’ things, but I guess I was breaking them really.” Sculptor Haroon Mirza

 

“The TV licence people just can’t believe we don’t have a television. I’m a bolshie git. I shout at them things like, ‘I don’t need TV, I’m an intellectual.’ ” Musician Julian Cope

 

“Paintings helped to change my life. I’d still be living a life of disaster without it.” Artist Eddie Cahill

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever quite grown out of it, actually. There was a point where I could recite some of those Elvish verses – which I’ve mercifully forgotten. But I can still, if really pushed, recite the text of the inside of the ruling ring in the language of Mordor.” Salman Rushdie on his teenage Lord of the Rings obsession

 

“Red Bastard is a whore because he will do anything to please his audience. He is a fascist because he has his own agenda and he bends the audience to him.” Comedian Eric Davis on his Red Bastard stage persona

 

“Growing up in Ireland, I used to pay money to charity when I was 14 years of age for masturbating. Every time I masturbated, I put something in the Trócaire box.” Damien Rice

 

“Exploration is crucial to us – that and wanting to mix things up a bit, to make the working dynamic just that little bit different. Keep the process interesting and love the results? Oh, yes, that’s our motto. Now, are you gonna have a pint, or what?” Elbow’s Guy Garvey

 

“The Guts isn’t about a recession but about a middle-aged man who just happens to be living now. Officially the recession’s over – isn’t it? Which doesn’t mean an awful lot. We’re told now that things are ‘picking up’. Which doesn’t mean an awful lot to most people, either.” Roddy Doyle

 

“People I deal with in shops treat me the way I should be treated, that is, as someone who comes in to buy cheese or milk or fruit. There’s no hi-di-ho. The thing that upsets me more and more is the terrible inequality of fame. I see it in myself. I do it with opera singers. I am automatically deferential to opera singers because I admire what they do so much – and that’s not right. Everybody should be the same. You should treat everybody the same” Writer Donna Leon

 

“The honest truth here is that I wish we were a better band. I wish we were a more talented band. The reason why this new album didn’t happen for us for so many years is because of this.” Bono

 

“After years of making work, my ambition is still to keep theatre alive, dangerous, unknowable and dreadfully f**king exciting for an audience. The form of theatre, for me, needs to be arresting and strange and odd. You know, theatre is not a mirror. It’s not a mirror, it’s a bin lid.” Playwright Enda Walsh

 

“I’m not somebody who revels a lot. I don’t like celebrating and those type of things. My parents will always try when I’m home: ‘Hey! Are you happy?’ I try to be happy. I try to face things without regret, or make sure that I’m happy with things and leave nothing unsaid if I can. I’m still figuring it out. I’m still figuring myself out.” Hozier

 

“Painting is often neglected by curators who want to be contemporary, because they see painting as an obsolete practice. Which is what I like about it. Or one of the things. It has such a long tradition that you can engage with – you don’t have to, but you can, that possibility is always there.” Painter Wilhelm Sasnal

 

“I’ve never thought of myself as an anti-establishment playwright. My first play [Shopping and Fucking] was on in the Royal Court. Performance-art friends of mine at the time were cutting their bodies with razor blades, ‘For one night only’.” Playwright Mark Ravenhill

 

“There is this assumption of making the world that boys just have. I’ve seen that throughout my life. If you look at a group of sculpture students, even. The men will roll up their sleeves and say: ‘Where’s the skip?’ ” Sculptor Eva Rothschild

 

“In a way, that’s what theatre is all about for me: how we illuminate and enrich both ourselves as artists and our audiences by telling stories for us and to us. What’s great about this play is it is a tale of ordinary folk. It is how people on the ground are working it out on their own terms, because there is no genuine leadership from the top. That’s why the play is called Quietly. People are having to go into quiet corners of pubs and sort it out for themselves.” Actor Patrick O’Kane

 

“Things were happening in the 1960s. It was wonderful in New York, John Cage, David Tudor, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Things were chaotic. You loved this work, but you didn’t know quite what it was all about. Which is fine. I think that the way it is always when you’re making something.” Composer Alvin Lucier

 

“A good man’s life is not necessarily a very interesting life.” Actor Cillian Murphy on his character in the play Ballyturk

 

“You go to a restaurant and families are sitting there with their heads bowed all in their own little video world, fiddling with some kind of computer. They’re ostriches. They duck reality. They’re not noticing. Maybe it’s too tragic to notice how the planet is dying, but, you know, face it. Don’t escape it. There’s massive escapism in this veritable reality which you’re in. The web and the net are well named, because like flies you’re trapped. You’re trapped.” Joni Mitchell

 

“I’ve flippantly said in the past, but I meant it, that instead of spending so much money on your hi-fi, you should really go and hire a string quartet. It will be the most affecting thing you could possibly do in your house. I’ve done it once, just as a present for someone, and it was embarrassing for the first 20 minutes because it was only the two of us watching. But it was more memorable than any holiday.” Radiohead member and composer Jonny Greenwood

 

“I expect more out of them. I don’t do this because they’re rappers: I do this because they’re black men and they owe something to the community that they came from. Shit’s got to change.” Musician Killer Mike of Run the Jewels

 

“My mom is 84, and is on borrowed time. She would say to me, ‘Look darlin’, every day is a gift. You’re not 84, so stop acting like it. You’re 50, and if I could be 50, nothing would stop me until the maker takes me.’ I think it was hugely humbling that my mother was saying, ‘No excuses. You are in your prime. Go and create.’ That really woke me up.” Tori Amos gets a pep talk from her mother on turning 50

 

“I originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white – much to my producer’s horror. Instead we reduced the colours but kept the contrasts of German Expressionism. So there’s a lot of blues and burgundy. It had to look as emotionally cold and uncomfortable as possible. It was all done in camera, not in post-production. So there were no browns allowed on set.” Babadook director Jennifer Kent

 

“I was always very loud. Never a queen bee, more a class clown. When I’d come back to school the other girls sat there with questions, questions, questions. So if you don’t answer, you’re a bitch. And if you do, the next week you’d hear, ‘What a bitch, I wish she’d stop going on about it all the time.’ ” Actor Maisie Williams

 

“You need to be a kind of person who’s never satisfied with yourself. The time you’re satisfied, you’re blind.” Pianist Lang Lang

 

The arts quotes of the year, as told to: Arminta Wallace, Michael Dervan, Aidan Dunne, Una Mullally, Tony Clayton-Lea, Jim Carroll, Donald Clarke, Lauren Murphy, Tara Brady and Peter Crawley

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