Jerry Saltz Delivered Life Lessons at Sotheby's

There was something crass but endearing about the spitting, gesticulating, frantic rambling that was delivered by Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Jerry Saltz via FB Live from Sotheby’s Institute last week. Watching at 2:30 am from Tanzania my response to him was guttural instead of measured, and I loved him.

There were moments when his delivery felt insincere like he was putting on a show for his amusement. Those were contrasted by moments where the delivery was reminiscent of a grandfather, eager to share and impart his knowledge even if he wasn’t confident about how to do it.

Any viewer that stuck it out despite the shenanigan caught the most endearing moment of all, as the group began to leave Saltz apologized to his hosts and said, “I’m sorry. It’s how I am.” and then “I’m so sorry. I’m so nervous.” 

Aren’t we all a bit nervous?

The underlying tone was that of a creative spirit. The spirit’s enthusiasm, love, and passion for art and creativity cannot be caged when unleashed. Saltz let the spirit out of the cage and when he did the art critic transformed into an Oracle releasing life lessons, intentionally or unintentionally, into the world.

These are my favorite:

Saltz on The Inner Voice

Saltz referred to the inner voice as demons. When asked about why he quit being an artist he said he “listened to the demons.” He continued, “this morning before I got up for work,” I heard the demons, they said, “you don’t really know what you’re doing. You don’t have anything new to say.” Saltz lesson to us was, “get used to it, punks…it’s not going to stop. It might get harder and easier and harder…”

LLTA: First, a Pulitzer Prize winner being honest about self-doubt is fantastic! Second, I love the message: keep going despite the self-doubt.

Saltz on Cynicism

Saltz's says to avoid cynicism. Initially, this seems ironic from an art critic, until he explains, be "open to everything and (don’t) have a theory about what you’re going to like.” 

LLTA: Extrapolate that from the art world into everyday life. Be open to everything? I love it. Add a dash of that to your life!

Saltz on Envy

Saltz said, “While I was driving a truck I was burning with envy…make an enemy of envy. It will eat you alive…because your eyes are always turned outward, not at yourself….”

LLTA: Drop the mic. #MakeAnEnemyofEnvy

Saltz on Passion

When asked what drove Satlz to a career in art criticism he said, “Like you, I hit a bottom, and I realized that no matter how afraid I was, no matter how intimidated, poor, uneducated, stupid, afraid…afraid of being rejected…no matter how afraid I was...being rejected would be better than what I’m doing now…” He continued, "I started writing terribly. Until the thing sent by hell via heaven,” a deadline, caught up with me, and "out of nowhere I wrote what I thought.”

LLTA: The take away is what do you love so much you’re willing to get rejected?

Saltz on Judgement

Saltz said, "Give up your attachment to being smart," and "don’t rule out any dumb idea - there is no idea dumb enough for you to rule out.”

LLTA: The take away is to free yourself from judgment and to permit yourself to pursue your ideas.

Later in the speech, Saltz said, “I am saying job one for the artist (is to) embed thought in material.” We can see in Saltz’s speech he’s feeling a bit judged for getting off track, but the entire time he’s doing his service as an artist, by embedding thought into this material.

What was up with the judgmental host that couldn’t keep up? Saltz took us on a ride. What’s so wrong with going along for the ride?

Saltz on Taste

In response to questions about the type of art, he likes Saltz said, “I don’t know…I really don’t know until I know.” He digressed and then continued, "keep your taste wide open always forever…do not deny your taste anything…” because “we don’t know what we’re going to like until we are confronted with it…”

“We all like all kinds of everything.”

LLTA: The take away is to stay open to our likes and dislikes and refrain from pre-judgment. “Do not deny your taste anything,” is the best line ever. That might be my new life motto.


Saltz on Pleasure

Saltz said, “Pleasure is an extraordinarily important form of knowledge…it’s very frowned upon in the west…it’s not good to be doing things you love to do.”

LLTA: Does anyone else have a social group that gets nasty and passive-aggressive when you start doing something you love or when you pursue your passion. I do. I love this idea that pleasure is an important form of knowledge.  Why is pleasure frowned upon anyway?

Saltz on Fear

Okay, I’ve stretched this one a bit, maybe a lot, but Saltz makes a comment about Activist Art that is important. He said, “Just because it’s on the good subject doesn’t make the art good.”

LLTA: Amen to that. Having good intention and creating good art are two different things. Everyone else is afraid to say that. Saltz might not directly say to face fear, but in his action, he was teaching us not to be afraid to do the unpopular thing. 

Saltz’s One-Liners

I had to add a few of these because they are fun:

  • "Don’t lie."
  • "Don’t kiss up."
  • "Stay up late with your peers every night.” 
  • "Don’t date drummers."
  • “Whatever you have to study, study.”
  • “It’s great to know things."
  • "You want the job. Do it. "

The most important lesson of the night came as a passing sentence, "this is the only now I have."

This is the only now I have.
— Jerry Saltz

By the time Saltz came to a close and was apologizing for being himself, I felt like Eckhart Tolle, Brene Brown and Paulo Coelho and tricked an art critic into being their messenger. 

Saltz delivered his message with the flair of a jerk, but if we keep ourselves “open to everything,” we have to assume good intent.

After all, it was like watching a kind-hearted Carebear cloaked in armor passing out life lessons disguised as Valentine’s. I couldn’t help but love it.