Things I Never Said

Roger Ebert tweeted what he thought was a quote of mine yesterday. It’s been retweeted “100+ times” — which could mean many more — and many are reacting to it.

Nice of Mr. E. to name check me, but there’s one little problem:

I never said it.

During the neverending video-games-are-or-aren’t-art debate on Ebert’s blog, several people brought me up, citing my definition of art from Understanding Comics, and one of them paraphrased the definition which Ebert then put quotes around and tweeted.*

Here’s what I actually said way back in 1993:

“Art, as I see it, is any human activity which doesn’t grow out of either of our species’ two basic instincts: survival and reproduction.”

…followed by pages of explanations of how I don’t see art as an either/or proposition, but a component of human behavior that exists to varying degrees in nearly everything we do.

Got it?

Now here’s the paraphrased (i.e., wrong) version that was rampaging across the Twittersphere yesterday:

“Art is is something people do that doesn’t get them money or sex.” (Scott McCloud)

Not quite the same.

So… Knowing how these things work, I just thought I’d make special mention of it here so that maybe the correction will follow the meme, at least enough to keep it off my tombstone.

For much more than a sound bite on my ideas on art, check out Understanding Comics pages 162-169 and Reinventing Comics pages 42-51.

This all goes with the territory of course, and there are worse problems than being misquoted by Roger Ebert, but I am thinking of starting a list of “Things I Never Said.”

Maybe I’ll start with “McCloud thinks Egyptian hieroglyphics are comics.” [Um… No. UC page 12.]


[Edit to Add #1: No I don’t blame Ebert, it was an honest mistake.]

[Edit to Add #2: Where I come down on the videogames = art question.]

*[Edit to Add #3!Neil Figuracion originally took the blame, until we both realized it was someone else.]

Discussion (31)¬

  1. fedora says:

    you have to admit, that sounds a lot more aphoristic. it might end up in some wisdom collection next to george carlin 🙂

  2. C. Andres says:

    So, what I understand from this post is “Roger Ebert is a jerk.” *logging onto Twitter*

  3. Funny how the inaccurate quote is pithier and contains the buzzword “sex”…but money and survival are incredibly not the same thing. And people do art for money all the time. Unfortunately I agree that the wrong quote will live on.

  4. Mark Crilley says:

    I’m pretty sure the quote will eventually morph into “Artists are people who get neither money nor sex.” 😉

    It is a shame that some people may come away from this with the mistaken belief that you are entirely on Ebert’s side, i.e. claiming that video games cannot be considered art. But I’m sure your books will outlive the erroneous quote by a good long time.

    • Scott says:

      Hi Mark! Yeah, I’m guessing that’s why he tagged the quote in the first place.

      Of course, I’ve already chimed in on that debate, though I’m sure that’s been lost in the chatter since then.

  5. Matthew Marcus says:

    awww man. That must be SO frustrating. I would hate if that happened to me. Not that I’m famous enough to even be misquoted. It really is a shame, because even if you were quoted accurately, the quote out of context doesn’t really represent your art-as-a-spectrum belief. Sound-bite culture leads to so many misunderstandings.

    • Scott says:

      In fact one or two have tried tweeting the correct quote, and yeah, it’s still misleading out of context.

  6. Josh Dahl says:

    The tweeted definition ignores intent and focuses on what the artist does NOT do…. one short step to reasoning that “artist” = “failure”.

  7. When I read it I immediately thought that quote didn’t “sound” like you. But the thing is, what you tried to explain in UC is hard to summarize in a short, catchy phrase. Maybe “Art is anything we do that isn’t motivated by our instincts of survival or reproduction” would’ve been closer.

    But hey, the misquote is kinda haunting and maybe it’ll make people check out UC so they can understand what did you really mean. So it’s cool. No publicity is bad publicity, right?

    I wish Roger Ebert misquoted me T_T

  8. Fad23 says:

    Yeah, I didn’t remember using quotes. That was a mistake on my part. It was meant as a paraphrase. Sorry about that.

  9. Th. says:


    Have you read Thurber’s essay on how all the cleverest things he ever said he never said?

  10. Fad23 says:

    I found what I had reposted on my own blog:

    “I really love the definition for art that Scott McCloud gave in his seminal work, Understanding Comics. I wish I could directly quote it. To boil it down somewhat, those things we do (or perhaps the works that we create) that do not specifically contribute to our safety or our property might be considered art. I’m sure that I’ve mangled that in paraphrasing.l

    So, no. I didn’t officially misquote you. I even acknowledged that it was a mangled paraphrase. Of course, I may have posted twice on Ebert’s blog. I don’t remember anymore.

    Anyway, nothing to see here. Thanks for the thought processes!

    • Scott says:

      For the record, the quote Ebert used seems to be from this comment from “Jim Java” which I notice *doesn’t* have the quotation marks around it. Perhaps Mr. E added the marks himself afterall.

  11. Vash2382 says:

    Ah what a cruel misstress the interwebs can be!

  12. Matthew Marcus says:

    How about this for a definition: “Art is a label suggesting, to varying degrees, a separation from the utilitarian functions of reproduction and survival.” <–By Matthew Marcus

    also by Matthew Marcus: “Art is best not to be defined out of context of a longer discussion.”

  13. Mark Crilley says:

    Sung to the tune of “When Will I Be Loved”:

    “I’ve been cheated/
    Been Mis-tweeted…”

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

    • Matthew Marcus says:

      Mark, I just finished “Miki Falls.” Story wasn’t much up my alley, but I love your style and composition.

  14. Kurt Busiek says:

    >> “I’ve been cheated/
    Been Mis-tweeted…” >>

    “…when will I-hiy get paid?

    “When I make some new art
    Lavished all my time
    I never do get paid (or laid)
    It happens every time!


    “Darn that Ebert
    Man, that sure hurts
    I want cash a-and sex!”


  15. Jim H. says:

    Silly Ebert! Why, I remember the original passage. It was:
    “Art is when you stick your tongue out at a tiger after it fails to eat you.”

    (Of course, I may have paraphrased a wee bit. Don’t cite this, folks!)

  16. John says:

    In a bizarre way, I am reminded of the movie “King of Kong”. You would think the director has portrayed Billy Mitchell as a ego-centric maniac who would stop at nothing to preserve his integrity against a relative newcomer such as Steve Weibe, when in fact in real life, the two had a lot of respect for each other. Yet because of the movie, people see Billy and Steve from the director’s point of view.

    That said, it’s easy to get misquoted. It’s different when it becomes deliberate.

  17. Jeremy says:

    At least you were entertainingly mistweeted Scott!… Thanks for the pick me up this morning?… 😉

  18. I believe — artists are people who believe their dreams are real. What say?

    • Matthew Marcus says:

      Poetically beautiful and thought provoking? Yes. Useful for critical discussion and understanding? Less so. Also, that definition would also fit a schizophrenic.