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To make art is to dance naked in public, says art critic and ArtPrize juror Jerry Saltz

On Monday, October 1 Jerry Saltz, Senior Art Critic from New York Magazine and ArtPrize juror, spoke at Kendall College, unleashing his thoughts on art, ArtPrize versus the art world, and how to stop being “big babies.”
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Jerry Saltz

Jerry Saltz /Alexandra Fluegel

Jerry Saltz

Jerry Saltz /Alexandra Fluegel

“If you’re gay, you know when you’re young. If you’re a ventriloquist, you know when you’re young. There’s another thing people know they are when they’re young – artists,” Saltz began to standing room-only crowd inside the Old Federal Building for the third event in the ArtPrize Speaker Series.

A large majority of the captive audience were artists, easily identified by their swaying lanyards, and art school students, also easily identified, by their eager expressions of equal parts hope and defeat.

Saltz, who has twice earned Pulitzer Prize nominations for his criticism, is known for his view that art critics should not be the sole purveyors of taste, and while his reviews offer sharp, informed critiques of shows and works, he seems to be the first to encourage readers not to just take his word for it.

“How can we stop the model we have in art criticism of the one speaking to the many? Sometimes we don’t even know why the power is placed where it is,” he shared. Saltz often takes to his Facebook page to post content and engage with anyone who responds.

It seemed Saltz’s views aligned with the hoi polloi-centric philosophy of ArtPrize. He continued, “Instead of the one speaking to the many, would it be possible for the many to speak to each other coherently? Coherently being the key word. Something as simple and stupid as ArtPrize can change the model.”

Saltz came under fire earlier this year for his involvement as juror for the art competition, given its ultra-conservative backers and his admitted disdain for the far right. However, Saltz, a Midwest native, seemed more concerned with ArtPrize’s ability to turn the art world on its head.

Regarding the high-browed criticism of the competition of being a showcase for “junk,” Saltz remarked, “85% of the shows in Chelsea are shit. Don’t be upset when 85% of the things you see during ArtPrize are the same. You don’t have to like it to look at it.”

Saltz lauded the competition’s ability to get people out to experience art, even if many of them are lambasted for admittedly “not understanding it.”

“People understand movies, they understand books, sports. They understand Kim Kardashian! They understand money. But art is not just about understanding.”

Though Saltz is often grouped in the New York Elite when it comes to art, he shares a distinctly plebian-esque perspective, perhaps due to his experience as a long-distance trucker and failed artist prior to becoming an award-winning critic.

Saltz openly discussed his lack of the degree (though it’s worth noting he has received three honorary doctorates) and how that can make anyone feel insecure. He praised the crowd, “I’m proud of you for being artists, for being art lovers.”

A large chunk of his lecture was directed at the students in the crowd. Saltz launched into an Artist Credo of sorts, complete with Whitman Song of Myself references, telling listeners to continue taking risks and never let the demons keep them from making what they needed to survive.

“You’re drawing stripes or painting flowers or sewing thread onto an egg and you’re telling people this is important. Yes, you’re crazy, but never stop,” he said.

Much of Saltz’s talk drew inspired nods and perhaps even a few “amens” from the room. His talk ended with the reassurance that art makers need not concern themselves with whether a piece makes sense or what a critic may think of it.

“Art is a place where comprehension ends.” 

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