The critic

Posted on Friday June 01, 2012

Today’s highlight at SVA was an address by Jerry Saltz, arts critic for New York Magazine. He’s a competent and entertaining essayist. He’s done well to shift from long-distance truck-driving to being a widely-read critic. For someone who got into his current trade without a university degree, his four honorary PhDs are an achievement. But what is it about New York that makes everyone want to be a performer?

The topic was notionally ‘The Good, the Bad and the Very Bad: A Day in the Life of an Art Critic’. Mr Saltz pretty much opened by referring to us as a bunch of penises and vaginas, delivered in a cheer-leaderish, I’m-really-one-of-you-young-guys way. He let us know that he usually refers to his (presumably young, university, predominantly female) audiences as d*cks and c*nts, so maybe today he moderated this in the interest of our unyouthful sensitivities. Later, we became “babies”. We, the audience (of all ages) just took this crap in.  I sat there wondering what the response would be if I’d opened a question to him with “Hey, arsehole…”.

Which is a shame, because he had some useful advice and insights to share, about the challenges of being an artist, and how to meet these.

It was a great demo of how artists hand over their power to critics, and how some critics – whether intentionally or otherwise – exercise this power. It’s not always the way: I’m lucky enough to have experienced the quiet grace of Time Out New York arts critic, Anne Doran, during the NYPOP program last year. I hope I meet her again.