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  • Ray Monde

How to be an artist, Jerry Saltz: Review

Jerry Saltz, Senior Art Critic for New York Magazine and Pulitzer Prize winner, was a long-haul truck driver. Till he was 41 years old.

I started making art at the same age. This was one of the most surprising (and inspiring) things for me to come out of his new book; How to be an artist. It really is never too late to start doing what you love – and see what happens.

painting with close up of an eye in broad strokes

Self-help that we already know; but now we can trust our guts more.

The book is a short little piece, with 63 tips spread across 125 pages. It’s written simply, directly. Short, clipped sentences that we have always loved in Hemingway.

For me, it was reassuring. Jerry tells us what we have intuited. But we didn’t trust ourselves. The raging self-doubt we have – everyone has it. We just need to work through it.

Like, tip No.5 – Art is not about understanding…or mastery. It’s about doing and experience.

We know this is true. Every day, we work to put what we are feeling inside into a form that other people can experience. The storm we have inside us may not rock other people’s boats but we have to make the passage anyway.

The only way to do this is what we’ve always known – work, work, work, work, work.

Keith Haring in an embrace with his boyfriend

Keith Haring and Juan Dubose, 1983 Andy Warhol

My biggest outtake? Talk to strangers.

I was at opening night of Dark Heart at the Art Gallery of South Australia. I was alone. I sat out the back of the gallery, leaning against a cement wall. Watching the crowd, trying to look like I wanted to be alone.

A stranger walked up to me, introduced himself and started to have a chat. It was probably one of the most loveliest, generous things I have ever experienced. I have never forgotten it. This is the biggest thing I learned from Jerry’s book.

Go to any art event you can. Talk to people. It seems pretty simple but it’s something I’ve totally avoided. The one time I spoke to a stranger, Clara Adolphs at the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery I said something stupid like, “I think you paint great foreheads”.

She didn’t seem to mind, but I quickly ran off and hid. The more we do it, the more of us will get to know each other. As No.46 in How to Be an Artist says, “It only take a few people to make a career.”

So here’s the deal, when this coronavirus is over, you’re going to see me coming towards you at some art event somewhere. I am going to be all fumbly and weird and say dumb stuff – but once we get over that, I’m a good listener. And talker. And a great dancer (that’s No. 63.)

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