10 Pieces of Advice for Artists From Jerry Saltz’s Keynote Speech at Expo Chicago

“Art is not about understanding,” New York magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz told a packed crowd of adoring listeners at the Expo Chicago fair on Thursday morning. He was delivering his keynote speech for the fair’s “Dialogues” program. “Art is about experience. Nobody listens to a song and says, ‘I don’t understand that.'”

The native Chicagoan and “people’s critic” held no punches in his meandering talk, offering his uncensored opinion on Art Basel Miami Beach (“the dumb Basel”) and Jeff Koons (“He wakes up in the morning and thinks he’s Ronald Reagan). Perhaps the most valuable part of the frenzied speech, however, came at the end, when Saltz doled out a few choice pieces of advice for artists. We’ve paraphrased them for your reading pleasure below.

1. Go to an art school that doesn’t cost too much. Those who go to Yale and Columbia might get a nine-month career bump right after graduation, but you’ll all be back on the same level in a year, and you won’t be in as much debt.

2. Envy will eat you alive.

3. Stay up late with each other after all the professors go to sleep. Support one another.

4. You can’t think your way through an art problem. As John Cage said, “Work comes from work.”

5. Follow your obsessions. If you love the Cubs that much, maybe they need to be in your work.

6. Don’t take other people’s ideas of skill. Do brain surgery with an axe.

7. Don’t define success by money, but by time.

8. Do not let rejection define you.

9. Don’t worry about getting enough sleep. Worry about your work.

10. Be delusional. It’s okay to tell yourself you’re a genius sometimes.

Julia Halperin