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Ai Weiwei’s rules for life and art

Published 22 October 2015

With a promise never to be silenced, China’s most famous artist has become known for his pithy, poetic words on freedom and creativity. We share 21 Weiwei-isms.

  • Is Ai Weiwei the most quotable artist on earth? It makes sense. The world’s most famous artist dissident, Ai has founded his expansive career on speaking out – against the oppression experienced by his father, a poet exiled by the Chinese Communist government for 20 years, and against the censorship that the artist’s generation still faces.

    Seeing all aspects of life and politics as inseparable from his art, Ai’s activism is done with poignant, poetic precision – the names of over 5000 children who died in Sichuan’s 2008 earthquake, for example, exhibited quietly next to 90 tonnes of steel bars collected from their collapsed schools (Straight, 2008-2012). Bold acts like that have seen Ai Weiwei beaten and detained, but he remains firm. “I have a responsibility to let other people know… if I have to sacrifice I would have no regrets,” he told us recently.

    Combine that promise never to be silenced and gift for self-expression with a love of social media and its intrinsic democracy, and what do you get? Weiwei-isms, and lots of them. From his many newspaper interviews, videos, blogs and tweets, here are a selection to give an insight into the mind of this great artist, and to inspire your own art, ideas and activism.

  • The art always wins. Anything can happen to me, but the art will stay.

  • On art and creativity

    Life is art. Art is life. I never separate it.

    Der Spiegel, November 2011

    The art always wins. Anything can happen to me, but the art will stay.

    The Economist, May 2012

    Creativity is part of human nature. It can only be untaught.

    Harvard Business Review, April 2012

    If I weren’t an artist? I’d become an artist.

    RA Twitter Q&A Sep 2015

    Very few people know why art sells so highly. I don’t even know.

    New York Times, May 2012

    If scientific development or military defence should be funded, then art should have an equal position.

    RA Twitter Q&A Sep 2015

    Art is always about over-coming obstacles between the inner condition and the skill for expression.

    W Magazine, November 2011

    We shouldn’t do things a certain way just because Rembrandt did it that way.

    New Yorker, May, 2010

    Art is not an end but a beginning.

    W Magazine, March 2008

  • Everything is art. Everything is politics.

  • On freedom of expression

    Self-censorship is insulting to the self. Timidity is a hopeless way forward.

    Index on Censorship, May 2008

    The language of communication will always need to be renewed.

    Taipei Times, Aug 2009

    Expressing oneself is like a drug. I’m so addicted to it.

    Global Times, Nov 2009

    To express yourself needs a reason, but expressing yourself is the reason.

    Sina blog

    The internet is uncontrollable. And if the internet is uncontrollable, freedom will win. It’s as simple as that.

    Guardian, April 2012

    Nothing can silence me as long as I am alive.

    Guardian, Aug 2008

  • If Shakespeare were alive today, he might be writing on Twitter.

  • On making a difference

    Everything is art. Everything is politics.

    The Independent, February 2010

    I feel powerless all the time, but I regain my energy by making a very small difference that won’t cost me much.

    Harvard Business Review, April 2012

    Life is never guaranteed to be safe, so we better use it while we are still in good condition.

    Guardian, March 2010

    Twitter is the people’s tool, the tool of the ordinary people.

    Huffington Post, May 2010

    If Shakespeare were alive today, he might be writing on Twitter.

    New Yorker, May, 2010

  • Nothing can silence me as long as I am alive.

  • A message to you

    Be involved. Speak your mind clearly. Let your voice be heard.

    RA Twitter Q&A Sep 2015

    What are your rules for life and art? Tweet them with #CreativeWisdom.

    Ai Weiwei is in the Main Galleries of Burlington House from 19 September until 13 December 2015.