"I Am Not Arguing With You–I Am Telling You"
Context: James McNeill Whistler was often stung to the quick by opinions other artists, art critics, and the general public expressed about his work, as the famous libel suit he brought against John Ruskin testifies. Among the comments which prompted a reply from Whistler was an article that appeared in The World of London on December 8, 1880. In that article an anonymous writer belittles an exhibition of twelve etchings by Whistler, saying that the etchings are of slight workmanship and "unimportant dimensions," without either value of originality. The unknown writer says that the etchings are like the sketches, unfinished, such as every artist brings back from a visit to Venice. These comments called forth the following reply from Whistler:
A PROPOSALAtlas, mon bon, méfiez-vous de vos gens! Your art gentleman says that Mr. Whistler exhibits twelve etchings, "slight in execution and unimportant in size." Now the private assassin you keep, for us, need not be hampered by mere connoisseurship in the perpetration of his duty–therefore, passe, for the execution–but he should not compromise his master's reputation for brilliancy, and print things that he who runs may scoff at.Seriously, then, my Atlas, an etching does not depend for its importance, upon its size. "I am not arguing with you–I am telling you." As well speak of one of your own charming mots as unimportant in length!Look to it, Atlas. Be severe with your man. Tell him his "job" should be "neatly done." I could cut my own throat better; and if need be, in case of his dismissal, I offer my services.