Whenever I spot Jerry at significant events like The Armory Show or the Whitney Biennial, he's consistently on the move. While he's always receptive to a quick chat, there's an unspoken rule: conversations are brief and concise. Interacting with Jerry is akin to joining a game of Double Dutch; if he isn't engaged in a conversation already, you have to briefly jump in, exchange thoughts, and seamlessly exit, allowing him to keep his pace as he continues to navigate the current exhibition.
This dance continued for years until, one day, at an artsy event, I reached out for an interview, and, to my surprise, he shared his contact details. I put his info on ice for months, biding my time for the perfect moment to jump in. That occasion arose when he was gearing up to launch his book, "How to Be an Artist," right after New York went into lockdown due to the pandemic. I saw the opportunity to interview Jerry after learning his book tour had been canceled. Eager to support promoting his latest book on the New York Said platform, I listened to the audiobook version of "How to Be an Artist," sent him a message, and he agreed to a phone interview.
Thankfully, we didn't waste time with small talk because of the connection we'd built over the years. I just jumped right in asking Jerry about the "art of discernment" when navigating galleries, institutions, and openings, and his response was both insightful and candid: "If I see too much of somebody else's work in your work, that could be a problem." Jerry highlighted the importance of recognizing underlying patterns, balancing being influenced by others, and paying homage to them.
As our conversation made it to Jerry's writing process, I found myself relating to his efforts in starting a new piece. The fear of a blank page and the pressure to create something perfect can be overwhelming. However, Jerry had a unique approach - he relied heavily on deadlines. He believed in their importance and treated them with utmost respect, even going as far as to claim they were heaven-sent from hell.
Jerry's spirit can be encapsulated in his sense of humor and heartfelt advice to budding artists and writers: "Work, work, work, you big fucking babies." A part of me thinks it's just him teasing an artist into action, but at the root of it is the truth: stop talking about it and be about it.
A Few Key Takeaways from my Conversation with Jerry Saltz:
Seize Opportunities: Even after delays and setbacks, such as the cancellation of Jerry's book tour due to the pandemic, it's crucial to recognize and capitalize on opportunities when they present themselves.
Discernment in Art: Jerry's perspective on discerning art is a vital lesson for artists. Recognizing the balance between paying homage and blatant imitation is critical. As Jerry puts it, "If I see too much of somebody else's work in your work, that could be a problem."
The Power of Deadlines: The daunting challenge of the blank page is a universal fear for creators. Jerry's reliance on and respect for deadlines, viewing them as "heaven-sent from hell," underscores the importance of structure in the creative process.
Unwavering Work Ethic: Jerry's candid advice, "Work, work, work, you big fucking babies," is humorous and profound. It is a powerful reminder of the commitment and tenacity required in the artistic journey.
Being Authentic: Amidst the jokes and anecdotes, Jerry's underlying message is clear: Do the work. This sentiment speaks to the need for authenticity, action, and dedication to one's craft.
So, as you navigate the galleries of your life, remember to determine the fine line between inspiration and imitation, to cherish each interaction, and above all, to be kind. After all, in the immortal words of Jerry Saltz, "We're here, we're gone."
Press play to listen to the actual conversation I'm referring to in the above writing.