New York magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz recently discussed his impressive career with a packed room during a talk hosted by the MFA Fine Arts department at SVA. Although he has been writing about art since the early 1980s and is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism, Saltz was a long distance truck driver for over 10 years. While driving through Lumberton, North Carolina, he realized his life couldn’t get any worse, that he really loved art, and decided right then to pursue his dream, he told the crowd. He has no degrees. During the very witty two-hour talk, Saltz discussed everything from dealing with artistic demons to the importance of pleasure and the effects of cynicism and envy. SVA Close Up reporter Blessy Augustine attended the talk and compiled this essential list of Saltz’s aphorisms on surviving a life in art.
1) Pleasure is an important form of knowledge.
2) Envy will eat you alive; cynicism will eat your work alive.
3) Cynicism simply thinks it knows the truth. It is Republican in character. It believes in certainty; the art world believes in paradox.
4) You have to have doubts. It’s okay if you look at a Rembrandt and go, “It’s kinda brown.”
5) Art critics cannot make or break an artist. Believe me I have tried.
6) You need to be vampires who live in the city with your fellow artists. And stay up all night together.
7) Be in contact with artists all the time. If you don’t, your work will die because you will wake up one day and think you know it all.
8) You need one dealer, one critic, two curators, and three-to-five collectors to be a successful artist. Can you get 10 to 15 people to like your work? You don’t need to be part of a big system.
9) Everyone is sincere. Even Jeff Koons. He’s kinda weird and speaks like a Teletubby but even he’s capable of creating the flower Puppy that made me so incredibly happy. It was like The Beatles.
10) Demons will speak to you till you start working. Then you have newer demons. Work with them. Work. Just work. Or don’t and…