Photo Courtesy of Jerry Saltz
Photo Courtesy of Jerry Saltz


Jerry Saltz, Art Critic for New York Magazine

If you want to know who is in these art streets, it’s Jerry Saltz. I’ve seen him making his rounds at art openings, The Whitney, art shows, and even a paper show off a dock in the Lower East Side. Whenever I’ve seen him, the experience is pretty consistent. He’s friendly but brief; he’s a man on a mission.


Listen to Jerry Saltz tell his Story


So, when it came time for us to record a conversation, I wasn’t going to waste a second. From “failed artist” to Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, Saltz’s story kept my attention. Even after critical acclaim, his honesty about battling self-doubt and fear reminded me that long-term creative pursuits are rarely uncomplicated.

Saltz’s message about fear was particularly striking. He didn’t hesitate to call it the “cost of entry” into the creative realm. Yet, he also offered a hopeful solution: embracing the creative process itself as a way to overcome that fear. He suggests that art acts as a bridge, allowing us to explore our consciousness and gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

From our conversation, I learned that Saltz’s journey was his discovery of his authentic voice. His transition from long-distance truck driver to art critic highlighted the magic of not knowing where your life is headed.

Saltz also touched on the deeply personal side of art. By sharing his own difficult experiences, including the loss of his mother, he emphasized the therapeutic power of art. Engaging with art can be a way to process and understand our own life stories, offering solace and a path toward healing. This not only resonated with me, but I also put it into heavy practice during the pandemic. I drew the cartoons of my childhood and collaged my photography for hours on end during the lockdown.

His advice on viewing art was refreshingly simple: ditch the question of “what it means” and approach it with openness. He suggests art is a conversation starter, an invitation to explore our reactions and interpretations. This perspective encourages a more personal and engaging way to experience art, stripping away intimidation and fostering curiosity.

Saltz didn’t shy away from the importance of criticism either. He emphasized the value of being receptive to feedback, acknowledging that even harsh critiques can hold a kernel of truth. His experience highlights the role of criticism in the public discourse surrounding art.

Another intriguing topic was the quest for originality. Saltz acknowledged the prevalence of derivative art forms but also emphasized the value to be found in all artistic expressions. It reminded me of a conversation with Juan Sanchez about smoking bootleg cigars on one of our episodes of Sunday Cigar. I am trying to remember which one, but I’m drawing a blank; you’ll have to get back to me after you listen to them all.

Finally, Saltz wrapped up our conversation with some key life lessons. His emphasis on kindness, embracing energy, and banishing envy resonated deeply. His work ethic and dedication were evident in his reflections on the joys and challenges of living a life immersed in art.

Jerry Saltz’s story reminds us that the creative path is rarely straightforward. But armed with his insights—embracing fear, finding your voice, and approaching art with openness—it becomes a brisk walk full of exploration, growth, and, ultimately, a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

This short reflection on my conversation with Jerry Saltz offers a glimpse of his story. However, for the full spectrum experience, try scrolling back up and listening to the entire conversation to unlock the complete story.

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