Art Critics Really Said This


In February, I sat in the audience and listened to husband-and-wife art critics Roberta Smith(New York Times) and Jerry Saltz (New York Magazine). They were in town at the invitation of Denver’s Clyfford Still Museum. (The photo here was taken from my seat.)

What struck me most was not just how much art they see (a ton), but the wide variety of art that interests them. They go to show after show after show, and then they want to see more. They never tire of looking at art. Saltz confessed to looking for all-night galleries to satisfy their obsession.

You might be tempted to discount critics, but you would be wrong not to listen to people who have spent decades looking at artist after artist, exhibition after exhibition, and style after style.

Much of this dynamic duo’s conversation for the sold-out crowd focused on two things:

• How to be a better artist.

• How to look at art and develop your eye.

While I don’t quote Smith and Saltz directly here, I think I got close enough to what they said to be confident in sharing these notes.

Wisdom from Roberta Smith

• The Clyfford Still Museum teaches artists how to be artists.

• We have more art than we need.

• You can’t help people by being a miserable artist.

• Don’t be an artist unless you absolutely have to. (She said this numerous times.)

• It takes discipline and concentration [to be an artist].

• Artists don’t own their work.

Re: looking at art … I don’t care if it’s good or bad. Keep looking and looking. Develop your eye.

• You have to be willing to be betrayed by your own taste.

• Struggle to keep yourself open to art that baffles you.

• The more you look, the more you see. Everyone in the art world is building an image bank.

Insights from Jerry Saltz

• As an artist, you wake up thinking you know.

• By noon, you question everything.

• You’re better at bedtime.

• Then you wake up at 3 a.m. with the thought, “My work sucks.”

• Don’t be big babies.

• There’s never enough time or money.

• By the way, I’m not against you marrying for money.

• Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get to work.

• Instead of saying, “I’m working” when you’re in the studio, say “Right now I’m trying to figure out …” (I think there’s a lot to consider in this advice.)

• Make enemies of cynicism and envy.

A Nod to Oscar Wilde

I don’t know if it was Smith or Saltz who said it or in what context, but it’s interesting to consider this quote from the conversation: “Art isn’t about understanding.” Hmmm.

And both Smith and Saltz grasped for this quote:

The moment you think you understand a great work of art, it’s dead for you. – Oscar Wilde

Your Turn

Leave us a comment. Tell us what you’re trying to figure out in the studio right now or any other reactions you have to this dialogue.

Alyson Stanfield is an artist advocate and business mentor at This article was originally published in her Art Biz Insider, which is sent weekly to thousands of artists who are elevating their businesses. Start your subscription now and get Alyson’s 6 free art-marketing video lessons at