“Any painting is optically no more than a single (but static, and therefore invariable) glimpse of a scene. This is its physical nature. It’s so much more, however. It may be mood, idea, or song; or its appeal may be purely intellectual, as are the drawings I make… And when my writings stop speaking, if they ever do, then my drawings will start, and I have thousands of them.” - William Saroyan

Origins of an Artist
(Excerpted from Chance Meetings, 1978)

I was especially concerned about noticing carefully people who did things like draw or paint, for it seemed to me that they were using a language which I was not sure wasn’t better than the language of words.

If somebody could play a musical instrument, I was absolutely astonished and filled with admiration, even if the instrument was only a ten-cent harmonica, and the music was “Yankee Doodle.”

It followed that I myself was favorably disposed towards trying to make pictures with lines and paints, or music with any kind of instrument I could by for a dime, for it was out of the question that I would have a dollar to lay out for an authentic Hohner harmonica, for instance, instead of a ten-cent imitation one, made in some kind of madhouse factory in which imitations of everything were made for quick sale, quick usage, and quick deterioration.

The pictures I made with lines were frequently pleasant to behold, especially the following day when I had forgotten what I had been trying for.

The painted pictures were also acceptable if I stuck to animals, houses, roads, and smoke, and didn’t try to do ideas. I was quite good at making pictures of only colors and masses, which kids really want to do but are bullied into not doing by an unspoken admiration by adults for literalness.

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From William’s art journal, 1962

My Drawings

Nothing here is supposed to look “like” something, or like anything. While I do not know in (so many) words what the idea is, I seem to feel this idea is O.K., sound, in order, and possible necessary, if not urgently so. Any urgency here is gladness, not excitement. Is science involved? Yes, it is. (Sun Mar 11 1962 8AM)


There must be a reason why one continuous line is used for each drawing, or picture, or realization, by which I mean the brining into a condition of reality something never before real, and never again to be that precise thing. Is the continuous line in fact already there in all things? I believe it is; if by line we may also mean unseen unseeable connective, I believe the line is there, always. But this doesn’t matter at all. A line does not need to be there. My line is there when it is there and that’s enough, that’s all I can ever really be concerned about, talk about, think about, remember. My remembering of my pictures is pleasant as if I were remembering treasures. (Sun Mar. 11 1962 2:45 PM)

What does it mean? What does such art, such non-art, mean? What is the meaning of a man of 53 years making such art, of having made it for more than 30 years, without announcement, exhibition, publication, or any other kind of display or usage? Why is he doing it? why has he done it? why? The answer is why not? The answer is it means absolutely nothing as absolutely anything – not everything, which is art, impossible. It means, period. The meaning of the man making the art or the non-art is the meaning of the man – that is, the animal trying, and not even knowing why. The meaning of not having made anything of it all is another meaning – he couldn’t be bothered, didn’t want to be bothered, wanted the whole thing to stay home to be himself alone and the hell with everybody else, a proper wish entirely, but in the end it is impossible, for no man is himself alone, no making is private, and all that is true (or untrue) must get up and walk home, or out of the house and away, to a better place, or a different one, or the same place looking better, different the same or worse. It means the event is always the event which took place. This art takes places, took place. (Sun Mar 11 1962 815 PM)

Each drawing probably ought to be looked at as if it had four possible sides, or rather four right-side-up positions. I believe it will be rewarding to do that, and while each of the four sides serving as right-side-up will make a satisfying fact or picture, one will immediately seem more satisfying than the others, and now and then its simplicity will be very nearly breath-taking. It will be truth itself. (Mon Mar 12 1962 1:25AM)

They are to be read, not simply looked at. They cannot really be seen as a whole until they have been read, until the separate parts are followed and their relationships one to another noticed. They serve the eye by arresting its incalculable speed which needs to be done – again. Reading is not seeing, but reading these drawings is – it is a re-seeing, in fact, a renewed, a freshened seeing, out of which better seeing of everything will be inevitable. Sat Mar 31 1962 12PM

74 Rue Taitbont Paris 9e, Monday July 10 1967 2PM. Not knowing how to make a picture does it. Finding out how or trying to, does it. And everything matters, is matter – as well as action. That’s what I like about never seeing anything ever before seen, however it may be in an order of nothing.

*This is a small sample of digitized artifacts from Forever Saroyan’s collection. Please contact us at to learn how to access our complete collection.

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