“Being an artist also made me realize that I wasn’t built for the type of loneliness that comes from art. Art is slow, physical, resistant, material-based, and involves an ongoing commitment to doing the same thing differently over and over again in the studio. As my wife, Roberta Smith, the co–chief art critic at the New York Times, has said many times, “Being a weekly critic is like performing live onstage.” Every week. I love and live for that jolt. Criticism involves constant change, drama, information coming in from the outside, processing it in the moment in front of everyone, always being in the here and now while also trying to access history and experience. H. L. Mencken is quoted, describing his own work, as saying it’s best when “it’s written in heat and printed at once.” That’s what I want, what I need, who I am. I have a tropism toward reaction.
I can’t only dance naked in private. I have to dance naked in public. A lot.”
“Wilde also wrote that “the vague is always repellent.” My work was “generic” and “impersonal” because of the 1970s post-minimal ways I was working. I wanted to transcend memories, achieve accessible complexity, and enter history from the side. Instead, my art might be able to produce flashes of beauty but couldn’t gain emotional traction; create depth, mystery; impart its secrets, ironies, drama, or cross the threshold of history. I was blinded by the rules I made.”
Jerry Saltz, “My Life As a Failed Artist,” Vulture, April 18, 2017, accessed April 19, 2017, http://www.vulture.com/2013/03/saltz-on-the-death-of-art-gallery-shows.html.
If you’re an average person—you don’t have a criticism background, you don’t have an art background—and you’re walking into a gallery or a museum, what should you be doing, thinking, preparing yourself for?
First things first: leave your cynicism at the door, motherfucker. Everything in a room, you just have to take at face value. Don’t look at it through the lens of money. Don’t look at it through the lens of fame. Don’t look at it through the lens of power. I am not saying ignore that—“oh it’s just another white male artist”—of course you should factor that in; it’s a given; it goes without saying. But I want you to engage. Get very quiet inside. Listen to your reactions; follow them; compare one thing to another; it’s through comparison that we learn. You can’t tell how high a mountain is if you only look at one tall mountain. You have to see the whole landscape to get its diversity and how amazing or horrible it is. I would say see everything. Speak to artists. Stay up late with artists, if possible, every night, every single night, just listen to artists. If you are younger, stick with your generation. Do that for a while. You will take over the world together. You must make an enemy of envy. You’ve gotta grow a pair of whatever. Understand that you are going to be poor your whole life; stop feeling fucking sorry for yourself; the art world is an all-volunteer army—if you don’t like it, you can leave. But stop being envious of everybody else for having better than you. They do and that’s just the way it is. Take it from a 65-year-old man. You’re reading this and you think I have a lot more than you? I don’t, and I certainly don’t have that much time. Time is what you’re working for. You want time to make your work. That’s really what this is about. That is all that’s going on and you’ve got to work for credibility. You must have credibility. I want you to have love and money and have sex with anybody you want, but without credibility you’re just another flim-flam woman, another flim-flam man.
Jerry Saltz, Interview with Cody Delistrarty, “Dancing Naked in Public,” Longreads, September 2016, accessed January 9, 2017.