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Episode 49
art critic Jerry Saltz

  • 3 min read

Episode Description

A discussion with beloved New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz. Formerly the senior art critic for The Village Voice, Jerry won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2018 for an article titled “My Life as a Failed Artist” in which he revealed childhood trauma, his life as an aspiring artist in the 70s and the circuitous path that led him to long-haul truck driving before eventually finding his place writing about art. Much of our conversation centers around advice from his 2020 New York Times Bestseller “How to Be an Artist”.


Craig: [00:00:09] This is Art Sense, a podcast focused on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. On today's episode, I speak with beloved New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, formerly the senior art critic for the Village Voice. Jerry won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2018 for an article titled "My Life as a Failed Artist", in which he revealed childhood trauma, his life as an aspiring artist in the 70s, and the circuitous path that led him to long haul truck driving before eventually finding his place writing about art. Much of our conversation centers around advice from his 2020 New York Times best seller "How to Be an Artist". And now, straight talk for aspiring artists with Jerry Saltz.

Craig: [00:01:08] Jerry Saltz, it is an honor and a privilege to have you on the Art Sense podcast this week. Jerry, you're a person who I think a lot of people who know art and know of the art world, no introduction's probably necessary to introduce you to my audience. Maybe we could just kind of start with art. Your job is to write about art and comment on it and have an opinion. In your opinion, what is good art?

Jerry: [00:01:36] Well, that's way too broad of a question to start with, because I don't mind the question at all. I think it's a great question because I think it's the wrong question everyone asks, including me. Okay. I think that first of all. Each one of us has our own definition of what's good. If we can agree that about 90% of everything we see is sort of crap, that means that about 10% of what we see is good in our idiotic opinion. What's so interesting about this, Craig, is that your 90% of crapola is totally different than mine. 90% of crapola. You cannot prove (talking about good art) that Vermeer is better than Norman Rockwell. It cannot be done. The Rockwell, of course, tells you everything to think, everything to feel. It has you absolutely scripted. There's the boy coming home from World War II. Here's the mother with her head out the window. The boy's dog, after not seeing him for 56 months, is running from one side. There's the mailman noticing him. Every emotion is there for you. It's a beautiful thing. In Vermeer, none of that is clear. We don't know why "A Girl with a Pearl Earring", for example, should open out onto infinity. We don't know why the judge at The Hague, who was trying the Bosnian war criminals in the 1990s and hearing about horrible atrocities, would go to The Hague every afternoon to look at Vermeers.
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Jerry: [00:03:47] And someone asked him, "Do you do that because they're beautiful?" And he said, "No. I do that because they heal me." So art has as many purposes and definitions as there are people. We contain multitudes. If there are 7 billion people on the planet right now, every one of us has our own idea of what is, "good or bad". There's no constant. 90% of the art made in the Renaissance was probably crap. It's just that we've never seen it. 90% of the art you see in museums, you walk right past it and don't give a shite. You don't care. You're heading for something else. Of course, I can't believe you walk past the Rubens and you can't believe that I actually like this little ivory carving. We don't ask "What does a Mozart mean?" In the same way we can't ask what art means. It just, it's, it's...anyway, I'm sorry. The first question. I just went on and on.

Craig: [00:05:06] No.

Jerry: [00:05:06] Can I. Can I say one more thing with a boring your audience?

Craig: [00:05:11] Absolutely.

Jerry: [00:05:14] Wallace Stevens, my second favorite, greatest American poet after Whitman, who, by the way, I would never ask anybody to read Wallace Stevens because he's impossible. Just so abstract. I don't even know what I'm reading. I just know I'm reading my second favorite poet. And he once said, and listen to this very carefully, audience. Really. 22 people crossing a bridge into a village are 22 people crossing a bridge into 22 villages. Now pause, audience. Think about what that means and you all start to get it. Every one of them when they cross the Brooklyn Bridge sees a different New York. Even though there is a constant. I'm not like an idiot. Well, I am. But in a way, I would argue that those two people cross two different bridges and that if those 22 people saw Hamlet or listened to Don Giovanni by Mozart, those 22 people would hear 22 different operas and see 22 different plays. Every time I see Hamlet, it's different. That is what great art is, and that is what I would call simply good. Good art, it doesn't have a definition. It just seems to be like a burning bush.

Jerry: [00:07:00] It puts off a lot more energy than seemed to have gone into it. And some "good art" will fade and get locked in basements or salt mines and be brought up in 500 years when they dig up this society and a lot of it will be thrown out. Some of them might get kept. So whatever you think is good, that's what criticism is. I'm here to try to tell you what I think was kind of good or kind of bad and then write to you about why? Just don't say I love Titanic or I hate Titanic. You know, that's not enough. That's fine with me. In a way, I'm less interested in if you like or dislike it, than the deeper content of what it was doing to you. Why, what it told you, what it opened up to. To me. Anybody that stays open. Anyone, any idiot, and that's me and you and everyone listening can listen to Beethoven. I mean, think about that. Or an Indian raga or a Tibetan Tonka. Anyone can do that. So I don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe the podcast is over. That's it.

Craig: [00:08:36] Well, I really appreciate you joining me today, Jerry and...

Jerry: [00:08:38] Hi, nice to meet you.

Craig: [00:08:42] There's so much there to unpack. Let's start with the 22 villagers crossing a bridge into 22 villages. To me, I think of, you know, in the art world, how we talk about the viewers share, right? How really great artwork leaves room for the viewer to bring their own baggage, their own loves, their own psychoses and there trying to fit their pieces in there. How does an artist walk that fine line of trying to create something that makes a statement but at the same time leaves things unanswered?

Jerry: [00:09:26] Well, another huge question. I would say to boil it all down to its nub, to say something like for every artist listening, listen to me. One, it's about obsession, whatever you're obsessed with. That's telling you something. I don't care what it is. If you love sewing, you better have some sewing in your work. Or this magazine or that sport or that hobby or this kind of love or that kind of beauty obsession. Two, you better understand artists that whatever you do, be willing to be radically vulnerable. And by that I mean just accept, frankly, that you are almost 100% guaranteed to be embarrassed by whatever you put out there. I'm horrified when I see myself writing what I write because I think, well, now everybody will know one, I'm an idiot. I don't know what I'm doing. I'm wrong. My politics aren't right. My subject matter is wrong. I have fat ankles. You know, I'm bald. All that self-criticism. I'm sorry, that's just garden variety. That's something. I'm 71 years old. And I want to tell you, every artist listening. Every one of you, it doesn't go away. I had a few hours of it this morning, and when I post on my Instagram at 3:15 in the morning when I wake up, you know, absolutely certain that the bottom has fallen out of my writing and I should probably pack it up and go back to being a truck driver again, because I have no real function or ability to be hired in the real world.

Jerry: [00:11:25] Nor does anyone listening to this. When I post at 3:15 in the morning, you'd be shocked at how many people in my own time zone instantly start responding because every artist is up at 3:15 going, "I'm fucked". So we're all in this together. The other piece of advice I would give anyone listening to this is work, work, work, work, work. You big fucking baby. Get to work. I don't want to hear about what you might do or why you can't do what you don't do, Proust said, "There are absolutely no excuses in art". Quentin Crisp, who lived in New York in the 20th or late 20th century, said If you've been a pig farmer for 30 years. But you're always saying, "I was meant to be an artist. Maybe you're a pig farmer". In other words, you've got to get off your ass and get to work. I didn't start writing until I was over 40. I have no degrees. I never went to school. Like I said, I was a long distance truck driver. Hopeless, miserable as you, poor as a church mouse. I lived in a squat with drug dealers' dogs prowling the hallway, and I have a fear of dogs. I was robbed dozens of times once they took off my door. But I was in ecstasy, you see. I was in ecstasy because I was by then starting to follow what I had to do, which was be willing to be embarrassed. Finish the damn things, you big babies. And finally, because I'm so long winded and no one ever asks me about me, I would say to every one of you listening. Make an enemy of envy. Today. Envy will eat you alive. It's in the service of the other. Its eyes are always looking out. If only I were taller. If only I were better looking. If only I had money or went to the right schools. I can't schmooze, you know. I know why she's got all the shows. I know why he has all the shows. Well, fuck you. You know more about other people than you are choosing to know about yourself and what you do know about yourself, you're not embedding and putting and working into your work. Your work, your job one is to embed thought in material. That's the job. I don't care if you make a goddamn urinal and put it on a pedestal. If it hasn't somehow have your thought, your sensibility, your ideas, your whole life, your obsession, your focus, your thoughts embedded in that it's probably not what you call good. Although somebody will like everything, you can always pull the wool over about a dozen people's eyes. So that's fine with me. How big does your audience need to be? Some people are fine. Go on.

Craig: [00:14:59] No, I was just going to.

Jerry: [00:15:00] I'll just go on.

Craig: [00:15:01] No, no, I've been.

Jerry: [00:15:03] I've been alone for 26 months. I'm all...I'm pent up, so please and I'll start shutting up.

Craig: [00:15:10] Oh, I mean, there is so much to unpack there, Jerry and I let me just kind of start here. What I'm hearing is, you know, one of the keys is the willingness to be vulnerable. And, you know, I've talked to young artists about it's not natural to want to be vulnerable. But when you are the viewer doesn't see your weakness and your vulnerabilities, they see themselves. What I'm hearing is that the more personal you can make your art, the better. And you know, I was reading how Roberta responded to seeing your art when you found those portfolios years and years later, one of the words she used was that they were impersonal. I'm gathering that the closer your artwork can be to who you are, the more successful it's going to be as a piece of art.

Jerry: [00:16:07] It's amazing that you ask me that this morning. It's Memorial Day, last day of May 2022. It's around 1:00 in the afternoon in New York City. And I was sitting this morning on the couch with Roberta Smith, my wife, who is also...who is the co-chief art critic of The New York Times and I think the greatest art critic alive. But that's me. You may not like her work at all. And out of nowhere, my brother, who I see once every 10, 15 years or so, it's not as close a family as most of you listening. We have no problems I promise you. There's nothing to delve into anymore. Happened to send me one of my drawings that I made when I was in my twenties that he has framed. I had no idea that he had it. And I looked at it, Craig, and I fell in love again. I thought, I'm a fucking genius. It's so personal. I absolutely...Roberta's wrong. I was a great artist. I'm going to quit writing now and go back to making art. Oh, my God. Can you believe how beautiful this was? And Roberta happened to be sitting next to me on the couch. I enlarged the photograph, told her where I got it, and I said, "Look at this.

Jerry: [00:17:41] Isn't this beautiful. See." She just paused a long time and she looked at it, studied it and went, "It's okay". And I went, "okay? What do you mean it's okay?" And again, what I learned in that moment, again this morning is while I thought everything I ever felt, thought, knew, obsessed with my past, my future, the bullshit that was I thought enough of that was in the work to reach out. But it wasn't. Why? The alchemy is how do you work with the materials, the surface, the colors, the marks, your idea of space, your idea of internal scale, your idea of viscosity, your idea of everything, that bit. Look, when Shakespeare wrote "Romeo and Juliet", every single person in Europe, even a peasant, would know that story. It was a common story. Like, you know, as common as Jack and Jill went up the hill. I don't know. But what he did with this stupid old story was rewrite the language of young love. He made the lovers in their teens. He eroticized language. So he embedded something new. And in old material, not unlike, say, Dolly Parton takes the three chords of the skyscraper known as country and western music, and writes "Jolene". And a few hours later in the same day happens to write, "I Will Always Love You".

Jerry: [00:19:38] How does that happen? Like Bob Dylan said, "Where does that come from?" You just don't know. It means that you've been open. You've listened to every country in Western song ever written 10 million times, sung each one 100 million times in your head. And somehow, in this alchemical moment where one in one equals three, you combine these two things. The thing that was out there, "Romeo and Juliet", your personal bullshit interpretation and idea of what to do with that. And you make this third thing that didn't exist before that's higher than the sum of its parts. There we are at the burning bush again. You took one plus one and it made three. You understand that anybody that walks into an exhibition goes, "Oh, I like this painting and I love the way they're installed and the conversation between them" and those two things or whatever become another entity. They make you see different. I don't remember what you ask, but artists get to fucking work. You're all going to make 90% of shit work. 90% of my work is pure shite. I've already written this morning just again, having cut, cut, cut. And may I say something about being rejected?

Craig: [00:21:12] Absolutely.

Jerry: [00:21:17] You cannot define yourself by your rejections. I'm sorry. Most of the things I do I'll be rejected for. Okay. Most of the things I think do and say. And I would say to you, artists listening, here's what you can do. Anybody that does say something to you negative about your work, I have a great comeback that you can try to use the kind of sticks a knife underneath one of their ribs and they won't know they're bleeding until they leave the studio. You just go when they go, "You know, I don't know if I like this painting" or something like that. You could you just say, "you could be right". And what that means is they could be wrong. And the other thing I would say to every artist is, fuck you. There's nothing bad I could say about your work that you haven't said to yourself a hundred times worse today. So, you know, grow a pair of whatevers. Woman up. Man up. They up. Whatever you want to up. Get to work, you big babies, and you're gone in a hundred years. I don't care. Nobody remembers anything. What do you have to lose? Being embarrassed? I already told you you're going to be embarrassed. That's guaranteed. That's the price of admission into the House of Art. This is the Streetcar Named Desire, man. Just get on. We're all here, bozos.

Craig: [00:22:54] So, Jerry, my impression is that your writing is now your art practice. But given the miles you've traveled, the art you've consumed, the palette you've refined, are you remotely curious what you would produce today if you were to sit back down and make art with your hands instead of on the keyboard?

Jerry: [00:23:18] Well, I was for an hour and a half for 15 minutes this morning to my wife, reminded me that that's not where my talent lies. And the truth is, I would probably return to the same work I was doing in the 19-idiot-70s before every single person listening to this was born. The truth is, what I want to put my hands to is my late work. Okay. We never saw the late work of Proust or Warhol was dead of 58. We never saw the late work of Donald Judd. You understand? And I'm immensely interested as a 71 year old. Now that I, I still see about 25 to 30 art shows a week in New York City. I don't leave my desk. I have no social life. I'm not really part of quote unquote society. That's my life because that's my obsession. I love it. And I write every week. And now online with 1 million followers on all platforms combined, I burn up anxiety before I write by writing online and I never have it planned any morning. I just scan. Roberta's seen it. We were just talking about it again this morning. I don't know what I'm going to post. I see something that gives me an idea. I do a screen capture because I don't nobody's shown me how to use tech.

Jerry: [00:25:00] I size it in a terrible way and then I write a caption and then I might do it one or two more times. Now a total time has elapsed of about 5 minutes. That's it. Anyway, so what I want to do is look into my old work and I noticed that I had been writing longer and longer, trying to push to the absolute limits of my ideas, let everyone spin out all the way and see what was there. And, you know, to the further shores of my own ideas, as it were, good or bad. And I had a lot of success on it, and failures and mistakes made. But I realized I don't have that energy anymore. I'm not physically built to exhaust and just tap myself out every single time because we're such overachievers. Everybody listening to this, every single one has to be perfect. That's why I say to you artists, finish the damn thing. It's never going to be that perfect. Anyway, the best is all is yet to come anyway. So I'm looking to condense, really focus on a few pieces each, you know, one piece each week and write a little shorter. I don't know. I do not want to make art. I wouldn't wish it on a devil. It's horrible right.

Craig: [00:26:39] Now. You know, it was funny. There was something in there that reminded me of a topic I brought up recently with an artist, which was how in the creative process I feel like hoping to create your magnum opus every time you set out can. 

Jerry: [00:26:55] Oy

Craig: [00:26:56] Just be debilitating and. 

Jerry: [00:26:58] Oy Oy

Craig: [00:27:01] And it's better just to create the work and see where it falls. Right?

Jerry: [00:27:07] I'd rather it be less finished than over finished, frankly, give the fucking thing some life. Most people take all the air out of their work. Every stupid critic (like me) comes into your studio, sees the work in progress, and goes, "I think it's done". And of course the critic is wrong, but they might be a little bit right. There's probably a grain of truth that you're going to kill the fucker, you know, in trying to make it perfect. Don't. Get in, get out, get in, get out. Live off the land of your imagination and creativity. I'm sorry that you don't have enough money to buy the right materials and the right studio. Fuck off. I wish you did. I wish I did, honestly. But if you can't afford the steel, you're going to have to make it out of cardboard. If you can't make it ten feet tall in your little studio, you're going to have to do what Morris Louis, the painter in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, did, which bit of the painting at the time. And you'll see it someday if anybody ever unrolls it. You understand the Demoiselles d'-fucking-Avignon by Picasso was not seen in public by anybody. It just sat in his studio for like a decade, turned to the wall. He would show it to people, their minds would get blown, or Matisse didn't like it when he saw it in 1908. But he said, "this is cubistic" and he also went home knowing that the conditions of being alive had changed, he was open enough to see something "not good" but he knew that he'd heard a sound like hip hop, right? That somebody had taken five things that were already there, sampled them, put them together, and something new came up. So I'd like to remind your viewers that Picasso was 5'6", as am I so fuck off.

Craig: [00:29:27] You know, I found it interesting when I was going back to reread your Pulitzer-Prize-winning-article "My Life as a Failed Artist". You know, it has a picture of you there in your studio with the images from the cantos behind you. And it just strikes me every time I see that photo how much you were a spitting image of Albert Brooks back in the late 70s?

Jerry: [00:29:48] No, it's a nightmare. I look like the only two unsexy movie stars, Albert Brooks and Richard Dreyfuss. Nobody would boink me, which might have been a huge advantage looking back, because, you know, it wouldn't even allow me to flirt well. So I just thought, you know, I'll go for relationships on the one hand and whatever work I can do on the other. But again, I want every listener here to know. That I did not begin doing that until I had self-exiled into hell of being a long distance truck driver until I was 40-something years old. I then drove a limousine. I worked in galleries. I was like, I say, poor. Like, you know, no degrees. Didn't know shit. I only knew I love two things art and the art world, and I didn't know what to do. I actually thought being a critic, I could make girls, I could get famous and be rich, okay? And maybe not have to have a job. And all of those are wrong. But it didn't matter. I accidentally, through obsession with those other good or bad things, hit on my destiny. I have no...I do know why now, you know, decades later why it was writing. But that's another story. So get to work. Don't wait as long as I did.

Jerry: [00:31:26] And you, Craig, you're 52 years old. I think that this is your work. Sometimes you just have to accept that you're not going to fix it so much as maybe it's fixed that you're really great at doing this. I hate to tell you, look at me. I'm blabbing. Normally, I like try to answer like Dylan a few words of being a snot and then get out and go back to work. Because I don't want to make a fool of myself, but you're real good at this. Okay? You know Charlie Rose good, but I did hate him. Although everyone I know that went on his show said to me, what made him so great to be a guest on...actually, I just realized you're doing this is his questions would be so broad. And horrible. Kidding, kidding, kidding. So broad that that allowed them this huge amount of rope to hang themselves with. Every single person like, "Oh, my God, I'm sorry. You're going on". They would go, "no, it's way better". And I've been on Fox News a lot and I've really learned how you do that because no matter what you say or do, they're going to use about 44 seconds of what you say and they'll put it together the way they want.

Jerry: [00:32:54] And now I go in and I repeat my two things over and over. He could say, "What about these paper cups?" And I'd say, "I agree about ceramics being broken and how to reassemble them". No matter what they say. And it either makes it impossible for them to do their nasty on you or they won't choose you. And I'm fine. Or sometimes they do and I'm cool with it. Then the art world cancels me for daring to be on Fox News to yell at them. So it's, you know, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, so why not do. Why not just do it? Before you get off the stupid podcast, why not? Just, like, put seven pebbles in a circle and then make it a spiral jetty. You know, I don't know why you don't do that. It's a stupid idea. Who cares? You couldn't get 12 people to like it. I promise you, you don't need a Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst size audience. I love that. If that's the kind of artist you are, you know, musicians, famous musicians or that, that's great if that's what you are. But most of us we're not. I wanted to be a Sister Wendy. Nobody here knows.

Craig: [00:34:16] Oh, I do. I'm the art nerd, of course I know who Sister Wendy is.

Jerry: [00:34:22] Well, damn right. Like Bob Ross, Sister Wendy, I want to help. And that's what I'm doing online. Every idiot morning is just try to say, you know, instead of the one speaking to the many, which is the way criticism has usually been a top down pyramid of the one speaking to the many on the base, my ideas have the many speak to one another and do it on a little bit more equal playing field. I know I'm the well-known art critic with a check next to my name, but my rules online are pretty simple. You can call me any name you want, but you can't call anybody else a name. That's rule one. Because it'll fuck up the comments the minute you have people attacking each other. And I have elephant skin and I would ask every listener to try to develop a little elephant skin. Please. You've raised children, you've had sex, you hate yourself and your work. So nothing could be more like abject than those beautiful things. Okay? So a little criticism won't hurt. And the other thing I block, cynics. It just makes me sleepy. I can't stand it. So, maybe we've had enough. Maybe everybody needs to get back to their studio. And no matter how poor, no matter what the kids are doing to your butt right now, pushing up against it, going, "Mom, mom, mom" I'm sorry. You know, put the baby in the thing. Put the thing under the table (a basket, I mean) and make a bad drawing. They call it a bad drawing for idiot Jerry. You know, that's an amazing thing you've done. You've connected to your most creative in the caves. Shaman self. What? Who could ask for anything more? Then you go back to the baby who's spitting up and vomiting. But then you have a moment. An instant of transcendental transporting love. I mean, not a bad deal. I, I don't like children, by the way. I'm a godfather to scores of them. And I walk around with $5 bills, and I just give them money. I go, "Don't talk to Bumpa", and I've got you on your birthdays.

Craig: [00:36:59] So I hear you talking about how important pattern and habit is in just carving out time. And just from what I know about you seem like you're someone who kind of thrives in patterns and habits, whether that was in your art practice or your iced coffee Double Gulps or what have you. Can you talk about how this COVID affected your your patterns and your habits?

Jerry: [00:37:26] Right. I think we've all had about three different COVIDs. First, and there is no such thing as the good lockdown, a good COVID. So please, listeners, looking back after over a million of our American fellow citizens died. Don't say, "Jerry said it was a good COVID", but those of us lucky enough to be able to isolate ourselves. Right? That first period was like returning to the caves, being locked up, being alone and making your work in the same place you made food where Nana was running around, the dogs, the kids, the living room, the TV, all of the pharmacy, your own mixed up medicines, all of that. It was in one space at an arm's reach, and you were making things out of what was at arm's reach and what was available that returned you to what Darwin said, he never said, "It's survival of the fittest". And he spent the latter part of his life trying to explain to people. He didn't say that. He said, "it's survival of the most able to adapt". In other words, creativity. It's built into every cell in our bodies. That in these caves and rooms and on riverbanks we looked in, we saw fish swimming by and realized free food. And we learned to feed ourselves. Right? And we learned to make this and we learned to make that. And that was the first COVID. The second COVID was the nightmare after George Floyd and everyone returned to the streets and there was an enormous eruption. We all still live with PTSD of Republicans trying to dismantle the American experiment that saved my entire family. Illegal immigrants from Estonia who had walked out of Estonia and came to America, every other Saltz was killed by Stalin and Hitler. They don't exist to me. I'm one generation old.

Jerry: [00:39:56] And that was the second. The third was realizing, "this is bad, we're too isolated". The idiot existentialists were wrong when they said, "Hell is other people". I would alter that and say in fact hell is no other people. We have to get back and touch antenna and smell each other's pheromones and compete with and flirt with and talk to and learn from one another. Because artists, you are like vampires. You must stay up late every night online or someplace in-person and commune with others of your own kind. This is essential. You're developing languages, idioms, tics and habits together. And we lost that. And it's pretty goddamn squirrely right now. This needs to stop. I don't know if it will. And for the geezers like me, it's really difficult because we do have to stay a little bit more locked down. Okay? But if I'm young, if I'm you, get the fuck out of the house. There are no wasted day's artists. Go talk to other people you've got to be talking to other artists. It's essential. If not, I'm afraid, artists listening to this right now, you're going to be like a vampire who starts eating rats. You will not know the taste of real blood, and you've got to know that. And you can only get it from your peers. So get out there again. Those are the COVIDs. Those are the three COVIDs. And my third COVID has really helped me a lot. You see that I really understood that I'm in the last phase of my life. You all just get out there. For fuck's sake, you big babies. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Bring the baby. I'm sorry. You know, or marry for money. I see nothing wrong or immoral about that. If you're an artist, do it.

Craig: [00:42:20] No excuses.

Jerry: [00:42:21] The work's more important than everything.

Craig: [00:42:22] Yeah, I mean, art. Art and artists, they takes on so many shapes, you know? I had that thought the other day, and I read it again in your book, talking about genres and how, you know, in music, you know, we we think of there are these large symphonies and there are pop songs and there are jingles. The same thing in art. I mean, there's can take on all different types of forms, and there's not one way to view it, but there's so many different ways to make it, right?

Jerry: [00:42:59] Yeah. And don't worry so much about like like you just said, the giant scale. Just make a damn drawing. Go on. Take a picture of the weird thing you saw on on your walk this morning. If you saw somebody you fell in love with for a second on the street when you walked out to get your iced tea, take a picture of them. Don't be a gross, creepy old man, but just this is telling you something. And then come home and do something. I mean it. Just get to work and try to get to work before at least noon. You big damn baby. And if you have a job, if they have a job like I did my whole life and I still have a full time job but people don't count this. I have bosses. I have to answer to people every single day. I hate it, but sorry. Even when you get home from work, you have to find a little bit of neural network that's still bioluminescing with a bad idea you had this morning about flatworms or whatever and make a bad drawing of it. And if your political art is for fuck's sake, don't just do a picture of Trump, you know, with bad hair. It's not about the subject matter. It's what you're putting into your work. Okay. And don't worry if it's political enough anymore. I promise you the content of right now. Is already inside of you, so it will be in your work. Even if you're just painting flowers and bach scenes or your dog or your child. That's fine. Don't worry about that. Don't try to make it "political". That will only make it "bad" art. I promise you, it's useless once the period ends.

Craig: [00:45:01] So,Jerry, you have another book coming out later this year titled "Art is Life". Is there any sort of snippet that you would like to share with us in terms of what that book's going to be around?

Jerry: [00:45:14] Right. Thank you for asking, I've done five books now. The first four...wait...this is my sixth book. The first five for I made no money, not a penny. The fifth was released on the day March 20th, 2020, when America broke and it was shut down for the first pandemic, the first part of COVID. I was lucky that the book hit the bestseller lists on L.A. Times and New York Times. Good for me. So that now can go on my stupid obituary. And that was the end of my book. That was the end of the book. We all lost so much in these last 26-27 months, just so much that it's almost you can't even talk to other people about it. Every person listening here lost something major. And that's just the way it is. That's the way the cookie crumbles. This book is a collection of my work, but out of the 700,000 words, we selected a handful of essays about, I think, 275 pages worth, that kind of show the arc of the 21st Century and how art has completely turned itself inside out, in a sense, and changed. Art is now political, social, part of everyday life, on the one hand grotesque beyond belief, because the money that is funding it, needless to say, comes from probably 50% of people. You wouldn't want to meet on the street or speak to Republicans or whatever Trumpists or anyone listening to this would go. He's obsessed with Trump. Well, you would have been back in my lifetime to. Okay. There was just cruelty in the air.

Jerry: [00:47:23] There was just a meanness to it. Anyway, this follows that and the huge change that art apartheid ended. That means that with this money that came from the most horrendous sources, more women than ever before in the history of the world started showing and selling more underrepresented, and artists of color started showing and selling than ever before in this world. Now, before you say and this book tries to deal with this, "Well, Jerry, that means that so much mediocrity is getting in". My answer to you is, "of course it's true that mediocrity gets in when you're doing that". But I would say it's no more or less true than it was for the last, say, 300 years, when mediocre straight white men were getting pretty big careers, most of who you will never hear of again. There's a famous painter named Sean Scully who paints nice, blurry boxes and stripes and grids, fine, they're smoky, you know. And he's a multi-trillionaire, right? And if he can have a career, anyone listening to this,  any underrepresented or disabled artists whose meh, even if you're just meh, the truth is I'm 71 and I can tell you it all gets sorted out in about 40 years. Don't worry about it. So it traces this insane but brilliant arc of art history being rewritten in the present by everyone. Listening to this now doesn't mean we're getting rid of the old art. It just means this is the book you are writing. The old book forgot about 60% of the story.

Craig: [00:49:24] Now, it's funny you mentioned Sean Scully, because I was just thinking, I think it was this morning, my podcast is curated and, you know, I try to think about. "Well, who have I had on and who have I not? And, you know, who would I talk to? Who do I want to talk to?" And one of the names that came to my mind in terms of like I don't even know where I would start to ask him a question is Sean Scully. Like, I don't...

Jerry: [00:49:49] Oh, I think you should have him. He's. He's very thoughtful. He has an Irish accent. I would say that most artists would benefit a lot from hearing about his thoughts about painting stripes the way a few people listening to this will benefit a little from hearing an old, bald Jewish art critic spouting his thing. I think it's a great idea. Just don't ask him about me, please. I'm told he gets angry and mean. And, you know, this is just my opinion. He's the winner. I'm only punching up. 

Craig: [00:50:27] Jerry, you know, I am from Texas and I am talking to an art critic. So I have to ask you about a giant we lost just this year, Dave Hickey. What was your relationship like with Dave? 

Jerry: [00:50:42] Wild. First of all, I knew Dave Hickey. He knew me. But I think, you know, we weren't friends. But first, I'll tell you the personal stuff. He would call until not long before he died, and I never could understand him on the phone. It's probably because my hearing is a little off, but his accent and he'd be smoking and maybe drinking, I don't know. And he would just start talking to me like, "you know, there're pirates and there're farmers, Jerry. And I don't understand..." And he would go on and I would go, "Dave, I don't understand you". And he was always a little mean with me, always snappish. It was never easy. But I thought, you know, he's calling me and I'm going to just kind of listen. I think he was a freedom machine. I'd say that if you don't like his workers opinion or his politics, I mean, don't forget his most famous essay on Ed Ruscha "I don't want no retrospective in L.A." ends with the two of them on the desert in the middle of the night, Ed Ruscha and Dave Hickey, pissing on the side of a highway. If I wrote that now, can you even imagine the holy hell, that would break out rightfully, you know, two white dicks hanging out. So not happening. But I would say to them, it's like when you look at Picabia or something, you are seeing a freedom machine and anyone listening to this, that's what I want you to be. A freedom machine who gives permission, gives yourself permission and other people permission. And that's for me what made Hickey good. I don't think he was an especially great critic after certainly after a certain point in to say, eighties or nineties. He was a great artist, writer, essayist, pragmatist, philosopher, pirate, poet. And that's not so bad.

Craig: [00:53:01] Right

Jerry: [00:53:02] And I'm none of those things and I'm not even a critic,

Craig: [00:53:06] So, yeah. So what are you, Jerry?

Jerry: [00:53:08] I'm a folk critic. I'm kind of like like a glockenspiel in the orchestra that occasionally when you hear it, you go, Oh, God, what, what an interesting instrument. And you kind of are pleasuring in it. And I am trying to open gates. I am trying to write in a way that people speak. I am trying to write to a large audience. I'm not interested in only doing what we always do, which is have 155 critics writing to 155 other critics, curators, collectors and artists who curate, collect and write about each other's work and then review the shows and go to fancy hotel rooms on business class jets and have seminars and we all love them. I read our form, never understood syllable, but I've never missed an issue. On the other hand, and that's our school newspaper. I'm trying to write in the vernacular. That's...and maybe all of you listening, you don't have to make art in the vernacular for this wide audience. You might just be Agnes Martin or Robert Ryman. And you know what? That's pretty great. That's enough. I promise you that if you just keep working, the world will find a way to your work. It's the people who don't work that. Look, I'm sorry, I'm not interested. I don't have enough time left for that anymore.

Craig: [00:54:51] So let me ask you a question. Do do do you think you would be less humble when when posed with that question about you as a critic, do you think you'd be less humble if you didn't have Roberta as your wife? You don't seem inclined to to want to hype yourself.

Jerry: [00:55:07] Well, I want attention as much as anybody. Okay? I guess that explains my horrendous online, you know, annoying presence. But I don't think Roberta and I do do the same thing. I know that I would have no career if not for Roberta. I probably would have been kicked out 22 times because of her. I don't know how she would have had to do with not getting me kicked out. But people, I guess, trust her. She has integrity, credibility. You know, maybe I spent mine in bad ways here and there. Not intentionally, just by being the inner asshole that we all are, for whatever reason. Because of my own personal upbringing, I wasn't able to get under her lasso it on time. But. She's a critic. She's a writer. I'm something else. I don't know what I am. I don't know what I am. But the same way people. If I asked you, what are you. You wouldn't really know. You'd say, I don't know what I'm doing, but I know how to do it. And I think that's what we're doing. And that's why no one else can write what I write. But I can't write what anybody else writes. I'd love to write like D.H. Lawrence. You know, I've tried. Zip a dee doo dah. Nothing happens, you know? So I got no choice. You have no choice. Listeners, this is you. And comparison is like envy. You're just. It's a loser's game, okay? Because you'll always come up wanting. Cause you always want something that the other has. The better hair, the better style, you know, whatever it is. I'm sorry. You know, you didn't win the genetic lottery, but like I say, you might be really lucky you didn't win it.

Craig: [00:57:10] But the bottom line, what I've heard over and over here is just go and do, right?

Jerry: [00:57:17] Yeah. That's all there is that I know of. And, you know, take good care of your teeth. Don't be mean to other people. Try to be nice, you know, admit that you could easily be wrong and that everything you know for certain today, you'll probably question tomorrow. That's it. It's like I go to sleep like you do. I wrote, I painted, I sculpted something that's bulletproof. It's fucking perfect. And then you wake up in the morning like I did yesterday morning. And I looked at Roberta, and I went, "This whole thing is no good". And I had to completely kill it after days of work, just like you, just like everybody. And you start again and you have a new genius idea that as soon as we get off this phone, I'm going to go look at it and see if I'm still a genius or if I have to start, like a seventh time. But just finish it. That's where I'm pushing for with you listeners. Finish it. All those are books you see, good or bad. Those are people who at least do, like you just said, and they had some idea finish. And your idea of finish is good enough no matter what you make. I'll say this in closing. No matter what you make, you'll be running out of the studio with a paintbrush in your hand trying to touch up the painting as it gets on the truck. Okay? So fuck off. It's just going to have to be good enough. So, I can't write if writing is without all of you listening and people like you, Craig,who are willing to talk to people like me. It means a lot because everyone needs jam.

Craig: [00:59:10] Well, Jerry, I can't thank you enough for your time. I know you were in the middle of typing when I called, and I know you've got to go back, and I'm sure it's going to be good enough, Jerry.

Jerry: [00:59:22] Thanks. I need that

Craig: [00:59:26] Right. And so I really can't thank you enough. And if folks wanted to follow you, Jerry, you know, I imagine everybody already is. But if they wanted to keep track, where where do people get the most current Jerry Saltz?

Jerry: [00:59:40] Well, I hope you will follow me. I think it's @jerrysaltz. Not sure. And please participate. Comment. Tell me what you think. Don't be mean and I won't be mean to you. And if I'm mean, you can DM me and I will always delete the comment that made you feel bad. So don't worry. You know, come on, let's have a conversation. Then we'll go back to being lonely shaman geniuses who are smelly, working at the edge of the village. Doing the best we can to make the stuff that we think other people need, whether they need it or not. So follow me @jerrysaltz

Craig: [01:00:27] Well, Jerry, thank you so much again for your time. It's been a real pleasure.

Jerry: [01:00:33] I'm grateful and I bless the light that shines on all of these listeners and get to work you big babies.

Craig: [01:00:47] That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to Art Sense. You can find the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rate the show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. And if you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read the transcript and find other bonus features. You can go to and click on the podcast tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at Thanks for listening.

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