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Jerry Saltz Answers Your Questions on Elitism, Careerism, and Cronyism

October 2, 2010

Jerry Saltz Answers Your Questions on Elitism, Careerism, and Cronyism

In his new column, Jerry Saltz dispenses art advice to all comers. Got a question for Jerry? Send it to artcritic@nymag.com.

Dear Jerry,

I know you don’t think art is an elitist activity, but I do. And I think that’s a good thing. Why would I want to make work Sarah Palin could relate to? Or talk about work in a way that Glenn Beck could understand?

Stefany Benson

Dear Stefany,

I know where you’re coming from; I still disagree. It’s been said that art is for anyone; it’s just not for everyone.

In an article last year, I challenged Glenn Beck to put his taste where his mouth is and curate a show of art that he liked. I even promised to write about this show here. I did this after he went bat-shit and tied together Obama, Mussolini, syphilis, fascism, and a door frame at Rockefeller Plaza showing a figure with wheat and a man holding a hammer. When I heard his hysteria, I wanted art to be elitist, too — so it could hide from the likes of him. But art isn’t elitist — although it does often hide in plain sight.

The point is that no one rails at physics or science or medicine for being “elitist.” Like physics, medicine, etc., art is a specialist field — something you understand more the more you study it. Unlike these other fields, however, someone can really teach themselves to be an expert in art, just by looking, going to shows, seeing everything possible, and really thinking about it.

Art can also seem elitist because it’s not democratic. Again, thank God it’s not. If art were democratic, the best artist would be Leroy Neiman or the art that sells for the most money. Sadly, we just went through an idiotic phase where the art world actually started to mimic this sort of demented thinking — the most expensive art was assumed to be the best. That is passing. The other thing that does make the art world seem elite is that art may be the most expensive handmade thing on earth. I often wonder why art is so expensive.

In any event, whatever you do, don’t tell Beck the poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty is by a communist Jewish woman.

Dear Jerry,

Dave Hickey said, “Start at the top, cause there is no ladder.” True or false?

Mary Judge

Dear Mary,

I know and revere critic-cowboy-philosopher Dave Hickey. Hickey is a renegade shaman-metaphysician living on the edge of the art world in the desert (I hear he’s leaving Las Vegas and moving to Albuquerque to teach). He’s our Keith Richards and Emerson rolled into one — our man in black. I have to disagree with him on this one, however. These days the art world is so big and comprised of so many people doing so many different things, with no established hierarchy of isms, styles, museums, or pecking order of artists, that there is no “top” anymore. Now the art world is more of an amorphous cloud — something that changes shapes, expands, contracts, appears, and disappears.

These days, if a young artist starts out showing at Larry Gagosian it feels silly, misguided, out of scale, and odd — like the artist is in it for the wrong reasons. But what do you do if you’re a young ambitious artist and a megadealer like Gagosian asks you to show? I want all artists to make money if that’s what they want. If you’re driven into this tent-city, casinolike arena, I think you can say “Yes,” but for God’s sake, scale it back a bit; you don’t have to use the whole space, do you? Maybe close a few of the galleries; just install your show in one of Gagosian’s massive caverns. If you’re good, people will be able to figure it out. If you’re lousy, you’ll still probably get rich — which is probably what you wanted in the first place. For you, it’s a win-win.

But watch out now, take care, beware of soft-shoe shufflers …

Read more at: Jerry Saltz Answers Your Questions on Elitism, Careerism, and Cronyism

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2010 9:47 pm

    Good day!This was a really exceptional subject!
    I come from roma, I was luck to come cross your website in bing
    Also I learn much in your topic really thanks very much i will come again

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