Why Art? Art Critic, Jerry Saltz on Art and the Art World

“There are many, many art worlds. Art contains multitudes.”

~ Jerry Saltz

Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic, Jerry Saltz

Jerry Saltz is renowned for his strong (and sometimes caustic) opinions on everything from the price of art to the behavior of dealers. Saltz’s career in art criticism has stretched over three decades. Since 2006, he has been senior art critic and columnist for New York magazine. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2018 and was nominated for the award in 2001 and 2006. He has also contributed to Art in America, Flash Art International, Frieze and Modern Painters, among other publications. He has served as a visiting critic at The School of Visual Arts, Columbia University, Yale University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the New York Studio Residency Program. In his forthcoming book, How to Be an Artist, Saltz offers sixty tips for creativity. Expect trademark screwball advice from a critic whose voice has long brought humor to well-honed argument in art magazines, and more recently brought controversy to the bully pulpit of social media.

Notable Quips

Art is a way of showing the outside world what your inside world is like.

You don’t love every meal you have. You don’t love all the clothes in your closet. And you certainly will not love every work of art you see. In fact, you will probably not like 85% of what you see. But what makes the art world so interesting is that your 85% is different from someone else’s and in this beautiful overlap, extraordinary things can happen.

Early 20th century abstract is art’s version of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It’s the idea that changed everything, everywhere: quickly, decisively, for good.

To me, nothing in the art world is neutral. The idea of ‘distinterest’ strikes me as boring, dishonest, dubious and uninteresting.

While a large segment of the art world has obsessed over a tiny number of stars and their prices, an aesthetic shift has been occurring. It’s not a movement (movements are more sure of themselves) It’s a change of mood or expectation, a desire for art to be more than showy effects, big numbers, and gamesmanship.

(Richard) Artschwager’s art always involve looking closely at surfaces, questions what an object is, wants to make you forget what is the name of the thing you’re looking at, so that it might mushroom in your mind into something that trigger unexpected infinities.

Note: Richard Ernst Artschwager (1923 – 2013) was an American painter, illustrator and sculptor well known for his stylistic independence and works that lie at the intersection of pop art, conceptual art and minimalism.

Sometimes good art jumps out at me; most of the time I see bad art, or see nothing at all and just drift, feeling weird, pretending to be fine.

When art wins, everyone wins.


In an appearance worthy of a TED talk, Jerry Saltz delivered a spirited address at the American Art’s McEvoy Auditorium, as part of the Clarice Smith Distinguished Lectures in American Art series. Titling his talk, “A Year in the Life of an Art Critic: The Good, the Bad, and the Very Bad”, he imparted these advice to artists: “make your work yours”, “embed thought in material”; “You must not ever be defined by rejection or failure, ever.”, “show up for everything, do everything…there should be no line of investigation closed to you.” In short, he told his audience, “Create a world.”

Here’s a brief snippet from the webcast

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