Art Critic Jerry Saltz Visits Tampa

If the unabashedly nerdy realm of art criticism had to proffer a rock star toξcall their own, it would most certainly be Jerry Saltz. The critic and columnist of New York Magazine has thrice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, was once the senior art critic for The Village Voice and has contributed to a bevy of big-name arts publications. It may be his especially active (and perhaps polarizing) social media life that has connected him to larger audiences with more ardent followings. Last Thursday, Saltz visited Tampa, delivering a talk at the University of South Florida. Though the acerbic and dark humor the critic is known for seemed to be intact en route to the Sunshine State, his talk, directed primarily to artists and art students, was tender.

Saltz addressed the challenges of emerging as an artist in the current climate of the art world. “Can your voice cut through without just being an a-hole?” he asked. The critic reassured Tampa artists that they were in a greatŒæplace to do so.

“I want to go to school here,” he said praising the school’s faculty as well as its associated artists. “You’re making spaces to see each other’s work,” he continued, speaking of non-profit art spaces and suburban garage galleries cropping up throughout the area, “and that’s what I want from you.”

Through his talk, Saltz aimed to combat various feelings, habits and actions that corrode an art career and the artist’s spirit behind it. Battling the discouraging chorus of It’s already been done and the curmudgeonliness of some older teachers, SaltzŒætold the audience, “the last time art was great to [your teachers]…was when they were your age.”

Even if an artist’s work or ideas had “been done before,” he encouraged artist to do it anyway. Do it 100 times over, 10,000 times over. Anyway, he related, “all art comes from other art.”

Saltz further recognized that artists have their share of personal demons, perhaps more than their share. They spend many long nights confronting their insecurities, fears, anxieties and often not successfully. The critic asked the audience to share, shout out such feelings–“Am I just crafting?” “What is the point of it all?” “Can I make a living?”–and addressed them individually.

“You must kill envy in your heart,” he advised. “Envy will eat you alive…and cynicism will eat your work alive.” This, accompanied by the tough love refrain (though, honestly more “love” than “tough” in his voice”) used frequently throughout the evening, “Grow up, you babies.”

Encouraging each artist to persevere, he expressed the artist’s role in the art world and the world at large as integral.

“You all are outsider worms in the bowels of the insider hyena,” he said. Everyone has the pleasure of dancing naked when they’re alone, in private. Artists, though, he said, “They can’t hide.” They have to dance naked in public, for everyone to see. It takes a special measure of courage.


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