‘You Will Be Poor… Accept It’: 11 Pieces of Advice for Struggling Artists From Pulitzer Prize Winner Jerry Saltz

The "New York" magazine critic spoke to a full house at Frieze New York.

Jerry Saltz, courtesy of New York Magazine and Frieze New York.

After the toniest of the VIPs thinned out at Frieze New York, a more diverse group packed into the fair’s “Talks Space” tent on Thursday evening to hear New York magazine’s art critic Jerry Saltz deliver a speech on the state of the art.

He skipped on stage to the kind of applause that comes with a freshly minted Pulitzer and proceeded to address the current state of the art world, expanding on some ideas from his recent article about the challenges facing the art-fair ecosystem.

“There are cracks in Babylon,” he said. “The delivery system is broken.” He attributed this breakdown, in part at least, to the fetishization of the “same 11 white guys” (who, he admitted, he also considers to be gods among men). He praised Marcel Duchamp for challenging what art could be, while Van Gogh, he said, “was almost there, but the idiot killed himself just as he was getting it right, and I’ll never forgive him for that.”

Jerry Saltz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning New York Magazine Senior Art Critic, gives a talk at the 2018 Frieze Art Fair. Photo by Amber De Vos/Getty Images for New York Magazine.

More generally, Saltz used himself as a case study in success for late bloomers—after all, this is a man who worked as a long-distance truck driver until the age of 41 and has ended up the Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic of a major magazine without formal academic training or a single degree.

In the midst of his animated, sometimes rambling performance, there were some kernels of wisdom. We’ve helpfully transcribed (and edited for clarity) the most memorable advice below.

1. Your number one job as an artist is to embed thought in material. That means your idiot idea has to be there in your idiot art.

2. Being an artist is tough. So only be one if you really, really, really, really have to be.

3. If you’re in a relationship, when you are lying awake in the middle of the night fretting over something (or everything), for god’s sake, do not wake up your partner.

4. Work late, stay up late with your peers, and support each other. You’re only as strong as the weakest among you.

5. You will be poor, but your life will never be boring—accept it.

6. Make an enemy of envy today—tomorrow is almost too late.

7. Remember that you do not own the meaning of your work. As Oscar Wilde said, “The minute you think you know a work of art, it is dead to you.”

8. Have an elephant skin—and grow a pair of… whatever you need a pair of.

9. If you have the opportunity to travel, go to the Prado Museum in Madrid. Fly in coach, be jetlagged—but whatever you do, drag yourself to that museum. Then spend three days there. You don’t need to go anywhere else.

10. You only need to convince seven people that your work is worth taking a chance on: four collectors, one art dealer, and two critics. Just seven!

11. Be vulnerable, expose yourself, have an opinion. And remember: You know a lot less than you think you do.

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