The Ebony Tower

by John Fowles

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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 525

Important quotes from this story depend on what you are trying to say about the book itself. This story deals with many existential questions about the nature of art, what art is, and what it means to be an artist.

Some examples of quotes about art that are made by characters in the story are by Breasley about abstract art. He says the following at dinner with David:

Good wines, know what they do? Piss in them. Piss in the vat...Fit ten Englishmen into a Frenchman’s little finger...Human excrement. That which grows out. That’s your fundamental. Not your goddamn prissy little bits of abstract good taste. (page 62)

Breasley is showing his disdain for David’s abstract paintings, and abstract paintings in general. Breasley also refers to abstract paintings as “obstructs” (page 54), playing on the word and showing that he thinks that non-figurative art is obstructive of reality—and thus, of truth. Breasley also implies that David wants to follow in the “footsteps of Pythagoras” (page 53), which makes reference to the opposite natures of science (in this case mathematics) and art. Breasley is saying here that he does not believe that abstract art is art: it is merely mathematics.

Another example of characters talking about the nature of art is when David replies to Breasley by saying that he believes that making a distinction between realist and abstract art is “meaningless”. David believes this because, he says,

our conception of reality has changed so much this last fifty years. (page 59)

These fifty years refer to the period between the 1920s and the 1970s. David also defends Breasley’s charge that abstract painting is only about being avant-garde and that it does not have artistic merit by asking,

isn’t the best propaganda for humanism based on the freedom to create as you like? (page 61)

An example of a quote about what it means to be an artist can be found on page 100. A comment is made by Freak comparing herself and Breasley to Mouse. She says,

Old Henry [Breasley] and me, we kind of live from day to day. Know what I mean. We couldn’t be innocent if we tried. Di’s the other way around.

Freak goes on to say about Mouse, that

she’s stupid, the way clever girls are sometimes. Okay, she sees through Old Henry. The person she can’t see through is herself.

This quote reflects that the characters do not have complete insight into themselves; they do not know themselves and why they do the things they do. This shows as well that the brilliance and intelligence that Mouse has as an artist, producing all of Breasley’s works, does not mean that she is emotionally intelligent.

These conversations underly David's feelings at the end of the story when he meets his wife: he is not living an artist's life and he is not engaged fully with the sensuality of life. David begins to forget his visit, and the narrator refers to his obfuscation to his wife as an "abstraction" (page 158), playing on the literary meaning of the word and the paintings that David makes.

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