Friday, February 12, 2010

For Posterity: The Theban Manifesto

Two letters & their attendant comments as of 02/12/10, 4:02 p.m.:

Jerry Saltz: An Open Letter to Caroline J. Nye; 'Sage Seer of Thebes' about CYNICISM. (with words mis-spelled, I'm sure).

Caroline J. Nye: ‘Sage Seer of Thebes’ writes to me:
"Remember Jerry, artists have to bear criticism everyday.
Do you think you can take your own medicine? :D Caroline.”

Dear ‘Sage Seer of Thebes:’ Thank you for your question. I really enjoy your comments on my FB page.

Are you kidding?
Sometimes it feels like everything that I write is criticized.
I even get criticized for mis-spelling on Facebook! A lot!
(It doesn't matter that I have a so-called 'disability' and can't spell. I'm lambasted for it all the time. But that's the teeny stuff. If I even ever bring it up it would end up on blogs or whatever and be reported as me being a complaining baby or something.)

About being criticized:
I am really thick-skinned.
You’d be shocked how thick skinned I am about it.
Even I’m shocked by it!

I know that me having the great job that I have; me just being able to write about contemporary art and artists here, now, IN THE TRENCHES; and to HAVE READERS WHO CARE ENOUGH to criticize me! It’s an unbelievable HONOR!
I so cherish it!
Me having this amazing job means that A LOT of people will think I'm a total DOPE.
(As I've written, I think that sometimes I’m a total dope after I read an old review of mine in print).

But in all honesty, I DON'T MIND people criticizing me on the blogs, in magazines, on panels, emails, or even those same eight anonymous people who write after every one of my NYM columns (on-line). THEY HATE EVERYTHING I WRITE.
But no problem.
All of this is great. It comes with the territory. And it’s ALWAYS fun to watch critics get criticized. And even better when they lay into one another.


I believe Art Critics have to at least TRY to make themselves as VULNARABLE to criticism as are artists. That’s why I do this weird FB thing. Why I demand that my NYM email be posted after EVERYTHING I write so people CAN criticize me.

I know that this can never happen completely; artist's work is PHYSICAL and exists in space in a very different way than a critic’s. The crinkles in the brain are different. Art makes artists make it.
But artists and writers do both dance naked in public.
Alas or hooray, however, we do different dances.
This is as it should be.

Either way we all put ourselves out there all of the time (this include dealers, bloggers, etc.).

Of course, I wonder why some people are so mean to me. Why don't they just ignore me or just say I'm a dope and then state how they're going to ignore me.
But that will never happen.
For whatever reason, some people just focus on you; you live rent-free in their head; start organizing their inner-life.

Still, good or bad, and for whatever reason:
I find that I am more or less totally utterly defenseless – I HAVE NO SKIN – to protect myself against a certain type of CYNICISM that is coming up in the art world lately. (Maybe its always been there; its just more visible now that the world is on line, maybe?)

It is a CYNICISM that (to me at least) mainly hates or says "NO."
This cynicism seems angry.
It is a cynicism that feels like it is mainly in service of itself (I’m sure people will say that is only what I do; sigh.).
A cynicism that does not risk exposing itself to being wrong.
That often deals in certainty.
That does not entertain paradox.
That wants to score points.
That reduces art and the art world to gamesmanship or money or popularity contests.
That trucks in scorn and smugness.
That distrusts everything except its own certainty in distrusting everything else.
That seems jaded.
That seems made-up but UNTESTED.
That is disinterested in being tested.
That seems to want to discourage other people's energy (even if, like my energy is all over the place, maybe daft, silly, and ridiculous…).

Anyway, this type of posturing makes me sleepy and sick to my stomach.

I am not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with my childhood. Who knows?
Maybe it has to do with being alone all day everyday writing and having my refrigerator call out to me "Eat me."

I don't know.

I just know that I HATE IT.
That I TRY to avoid this type of negative cynical energy.
I know its there. Its there a lot on-line.
And, it seems to be around more lately.

I just hate it.

Like I said, I don't mind being criticized at all.
Sometimes I might even criticize back.
(And then get criticized for doing it! Hah!)

But to this cynicism I want to say, “To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”

Sorry to ramble and get hysterical.
Weird vibes in the on-line air lately.

Caroline, thanks for the comment.

Written 22 hours ago · Comment · Like · Report Note

Heather Holden, Courtney Cj Ulrich Wendroff, Ravenna Taylor and 21 others like this.

50 of 86

Sean Capone I grew up with Woody Allen, Mad Magazine, Charlie Brown--cynicism as shtick. It was made me who I am.

But there is a different breed of cynicism -- found in the type of person that needs an Enemy in order to function. By establishing an Enemy a higher moral ground is conferred. Everything this person does is in relationship to this ... See More
15 hours ago · Report

Helene Forbes go Sean! word
14 hours ago · Report

Richard Haden Getting back to the original letter of this string- regarding the sage seer of Thebes. If Tiresias were around trippin around with his cane today what would that blind and seven years transexual man say about the hopes of society evolving without the need of a Cynical Gland? I don't know but I would venture to guess that, like the appendix gland, we might need the use of our Cynical gland for another millennium or so.
14 hours ago · Report

Linda Saccoccio You sound dangerously sane and clear, just kidding. In any case I appreciate your sincerity and that you held your ground and opened up the idea that there are many facets to this topic. Bravo!
14 hours ago · Report

Claire Lieberman I have a healthy skepticism of art world cynicism.
13 hours ago · Report

Olav Westphalen Wow, those cynics must be doing SOMETHING right to get you this fired up. I can't even hear the fridge anymore.
12 hours ago · Report

John Xero we do what we have to do and we wont stop until things change
9 hours ago · Report

John Xero that being said.. jerry im sorry this has been taking a toll on you has for all of us involved. but we all should remember to steer clear of personal attacks in general. we have to remember we're fighting conceptual battles here..
9 hours ago · Report

Alan Van Every Claire that is epic, and um... I mean it :P
9 hours ago · Report

Alan Van Every John I thought I might point out you spelled zero wrong.
9 hours ago · Report

John Xero i really hope youre not antagonizing me
9 hours ago · Report

Oliver Wasow Sean, really well said. perfect.
9 hours ago · Report

Alan Van Every never I have what Jerry has, I can't spell disorder or ICSD for short.
9 hours ago · Report

Alan Van Every actually no I spelled it wrong! it is ICSFSD or I can't spell for shite disorder
8 hours ago · Report

Jennifer Wynne Reeves i made a post here last night that disappeared? same thing happened on my fb page but now it's back ? i think it must have been a glitch? i really doubt jerry deleted it. so i'll restate it. criticism and cynicism do not call for the death of critics and artists. egotism does. sean, lovely.
8 hours ago · Report

Alan Van Every "the hateful doubters gaze at their navel and inhale deep from the lotus that grows there." worth pushing the read more button for Sean
8 hours ago · Report

Kristin Calabrese Thanks for writing. I definitely don't always agree with you but I think you're great!
8 hours ago · Report

Donna Troy Cleary Jerry, I think that in a normal conversation, face to face with a person, you would never be exposed to what you've written above. The relative anonymity and distancing created by email, fb, and texting enables people to hide and in turn emboldens them, myself included. It's what's good and bad about digital communication. The distance protects... See More
7 hours ago · Report

Doug Henders healthy cynicism as a tool to reveal the truth?.. I call skepticism. A semantic debate perhaps but skepticism connotes inquiry where cynicism connotes nihilism... Kudo's to Jerry for shining light on the dark side and to Sean for standing up to his bully peeps.
7 hours ago · Report

Mia Pearlman You think things are bad in the art world, try being a Mets fan!
7 hours ago · Report

Edward Winkleman I wonder if, in thinking about the rise in cynicism, there hasn't been a rupture in the collective enlightened false consciousness (that contemporary plague of knowing what's right vs wrong, but having no choice but to engage in what's "wrong" to survive [an example would be, turning a blind eye to the corporate excesses of your day job because you... See More
6 hours ago · Report

Frank Webster A word for the cynics from the ol' wikipedia:

"The Cynics (Greek: Κυνικοί, Latin: Cynici) were an influential group of philosophers from the ancient school of Cynicism. Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, and ... See More
6 hours ago · Report

Amy Beth Cohen Banker Thank you Jerry. I really appreciate your page and your comments.
6 hours ago · Report

Camilla Fallon love the comments here...looks like we are back in business.
5 hours ago · Report

Jerry Saltz For what it's worth this Open Letter about Cynicism has NOTHING to do with recent posts about artist-deaths. NOTHING!
The Letter is about something that is in the culture and the art world right now: A Naysaying snarkiness. The Republicans just being Lying Cynics who rant about "Death Panels." Blogs, critics, etc, who just attack everyone else! Without seeing shows! Without testing their own ideas! Without actually making themselves accesible or vulnarable. Who ... JUST SAY NO -- except to ONE ANOTHER!

In politics it is about Mass voters who already are saying No to a president after ONLY 11 months becasue in those 11 months hasn't
1. Gotton us out of Iraq yet... See More
4 hours ago · Report

Katherine Chan Here, here!
4 hours ago · Report

Carolyn Marks Blackwood Jerry- re cynical criticism - As an artist and also a film producer, I have experienced the worst kind of criticism- the kind that originates from anything but the work- Misplaced anger, a bone to pick, or revenge or jealousy- See Manolo Blahnik's ( my nickkname for MANOHLA DARGIS of the NY Times because she TRAMPLED the film)- review of THE ... See More
4 hours ago · Report

Debby Kline Many of my thoughts have already been catalogued above, however cynicism for me began with Nixon and watergate. Before that I believed the pabulum that I was fed. Since then I doubted things that were told to me (especially when it was told with conviction). Art seems to be advancing toward politics more closely than ever and that cynicism rides ... See More
3 hours ago · Report

Jerry Saltz Carolyn: Thanks for the comment.
I want to answer a few of your points becasue I think we may disagree.

You write:
"As far as my photography is concerned, I put my heart, soul and obsession into it."... See More
3 hours ago · Report

Jerry Saltz PS. Caroline: You write, ""What gives Critics the right ...?"
This very construct is evidence of WRONG THINKING!!!!!!!!

We all give ourselves the right!!
That's it.... See More
3 hours ago · Report

Jerry Saltz Debby: I hear you.
Many people born in the 1960s became cynical after Watergate.
It made a lot of sense to be cynical back then.
Sadly, it became a learned response and an automatic DEFAULT.
Look at the way people are ALREADY "dissapointed in Obama!"... See More
3 hours ago · Report

Katherine Dolgy Ludwig Well said man.
3 hours ago · Report

Jerry Saltz Katherine: ♥
3 hours ago · Report

Katherine Dolgy Ludwig If I knew how to send the little heart shape, I'd send you one too. Power of shapes.
3 hours ago · Report

Debby Kline Thanks Jerry, You are absolutely right. I hope you understood that I was agreeing with you even tho I was born into cynicism. We, as a culture, must stop hating, globally not just in the US. It is the how that is worrisome. Jerry, don't ever stop. Artists often take criticism too personally. I see you guys as a link in exploration. One that ... See More
3 hours ago · Report

Lori Zimmer i didn't read all 70 comments, so i'm sure i'm repeating, but....1. better to be criticized than ignored! can you imagine a worse fate? and 2 on a personal note- jerry, i love to love you (your writing) and i love to hate you. when i disagree, i'm forced to defend the works in question to myself, and, sometimes seeing a blinding amount of art, i love realizing that a piece has left an impression on me.
3 hours ago · Report

Caroline J. Nye Jerry- I'm responding- but it seems I had a few art world issues to air too & it's turning into a dissertation! I'll get back to this, to you, as soon as it's worthy. & the expletives are edited out ;P
3 hours ago ·

Jerry Saltz Caroline: I SO hear you.
I re-read my own Notes and Open Letters and i think, "What a drama queen! Edit!"
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
3 hours ago · Report

Jerry Saltz Lori:
You write: "Better to be criticized than ignored!"
3 hours ago · Report

Taro Suzuki Jerry, the disappointment comes from unrealistic expectations of the END of cynicism engendered in the promise of Obama's election. When old racism reared it's ugly head and used the very same cynical tactics of the old left against the president and progressives to great media effect,coupled with the seeming inability of the left to do anything about it, it spawned.... Bitterness and cynicism.
3 hours ago · Report

Carolyn Marks Blackwood I. Yes, thanks Jerry- - you are right- I DO agree after all on much of what you said above- especially 33 and 34 a,b,c,d,e-(wow- you are so organized! I LIKE IT! ) but I was talking about cynical criticism- from a source that springs OUTSIDE a reaction to the work-

II. And just as a point of information - I did not say that critics should help the artist see things differently- we both agree it should be the reader- but sometimes, inadvertently,I would imagine that the critic sees something that not even the artist saw- and inadvertently informs the artist.
III. One thing I disagree with-
A. As one of the few critics that I AND MANY OTHERS actually respect, YOU HAVE MORE POWER THAN YOU ACKNOWLEDGE HERE! You are either being modest or naive and I do not think you are naive-... See More
3 hours ago · Report

Lori Zimmer aghhh this isn't an Ayn Rand novel.
I'm not an artist, I work with artists, but to further my previous point, the fact that an artist is getting written about at all, negatively or positively, should be appreciated. There are 1983759287359825928 artists out there who don't get a speck of anything written about them.
3 hours ago · Report

Sean Capone Jerry: I try not to be overly effusive but your dissection of Carolyn's argument about artists vs. critics is one of the most PERFECT things you have ever written. WOW. I can't stop laughing (not because it's mean, but utterly honest!). Trim the fat, expose the essence.

(Can I have the list of the 19 people I need to please?:)
2 hours ago · Report

Carolyn Marks Blackwood 'What am I, some kind of clown, Sean? Am I here to amuse you?'
about an hour ago · Report

Sean Capone "No, I just mean you're a funny guy! A funny guy!"
about an hour ago · Report

Kevin Regan I think criticism is a form of love. I also think hate is a form of love (or maybe love is a form of hate...?)... Indifference is the true opposite of love/hate. Cynicism is skepticism that turned sour. Skepticism is a very, very, very, very, very good thing (if you ask me).
about an hour ago · Report

Kevin Regan Oh, and indifference to some things is just inevitable. It can't be helped... Our attention is by necessity selective.
about an hour ago · Report

Anne Edgar I worry about FB and Twitter changing the way we interact w/each other. The forms encourage the pose of certainty and invite glibness.
about an hour ago · Report

Caroline J. Nye I have posted my reply as a note b/c it was soooo long winded :)
52 minutes ago ·

Jerry Saltz Carolyn: I do not think that Sean was saying that your argument was funny or silly or lacking in knowledge or insight AT ALL.
I think that you sounded really open and smart and honest.
You and I disagreed on a few points. You came back at me for one or two things.
I just have my own point of veiw on artists and critics.
7 minutes ago · Report

Caroline J. Nye: An Open Letter to Jerry Saltz; 'Shepherd of Thebes' about OPTIMISM. (with words entirely made-up, I'm sure).

Thank you Jerry, for the beautiful letter.

I am sorry to have misinterpreted you yesterday - I think that beast cynicism may be to blame- I've come to *expect* harsh & snarky retorts.

Here is my perspective, as an artist.

On critics, I have few- you are the only critic that has ever looked at my work. I must confess I used to categorize you (pl.) among the system that seems to get fat off the flesh of the artist. I no longer do. I also used to lump critics in with curators as "the judges" but I am beginning to appreciate that there are scholarly viewers of art that are living in the same time, the same context, as the artists. I'm not demoting the importance of curators in any way- I'm very grateful for what they do- but sometimes I think they get it wrong, they romanticize it all too much, that somehow the sweat of the art is lost to the ink in the libraries. Art is not divine, it is the stuff of humans... even at it's most sublime, it cannot be anything more than earth elevated by persons for the purpose of examination by other persons; "Here." we say, "Here is the stuff of which we are made". In distinguishing the two, I now have a greater appreciation for the craft of both.

Critics & curators- I call on you to teach others how to see!

On art school: Go to BFA senior exhibits. I spoke with David R. sometime last year about this. I asked him why gallerists & museums et al didn't go to student exhibits. Summarizing & paraphrasing: He said "Not true- we go to MFA exhibits all the time!" To which I replied, "But I didn't need to go back to school- I already knew how to paint!" Frustrating. I was also disgusted to find that the only business class my school offered consisted of how to incorporate as a freelance graphic designer; never mind that artists must promote themselves, do their own books yadda yadda yadda why I went back for an MA in Arts Admin & oh so glad I did despite the 100k & growing debt to the hellbiach Sallie Mae- Amen. Finally, if you haven't, read Art School Confidential (D. Clowes).

On to the career-suicide portion of our programming. I can't say I see much difference in the gallery-side of art world now & the one I knew a decade ago that was, in part, a factor in my turning to the non-proffit art world. The gallery world is an insider's world. When I recently started thinking about going to openings again I was at a loss for finding schedules- until I remembered DK's list (Doh! I just realized he's unfriended me- ha! f'im), but again, that's insider knowledge. Even when found, galleries are elite. It's understandable- it's a luxury business, but it can be intimidating if one's wardrobe isn't sufficiently stocked with couture (I'm mischievously tempted to buy a mauve velour track-suit & a pair of Uggs for my next sojourn into Chelsea).

Anecdotal case in point: I went to an opening last night &, whilst there, dropped off a submission. As I noted elsewhere:

"I handed my regular old office folder, addressed imperfectly in Sharpie, to the guy behind the desk, who looked at the girl, who managed to roll her eyes as she looked down her nose. Wish I could be a fly on the wall when the actually pull the images out & see the work itself. *narf!*"

Pure, unmitigated attitude! The condescension! The gallery guy/girl hipster value-system, feathers fluffed full. (& FYI kiddos- I used to be one, so get over your little asymetrical-haircut selves.) What do they think their job is anyway? Isn't it the role of the gallery to deal with the business end of the art? Why give the prize to the suavest hombre with the shiniest package? Let us messy & meek toss our raw goods on your desk- sort the wheat from the chaff- polish up the presentation- work that Rolodex - that's what balances the 50% commission.

Gallerists, consider yourselves challenged: befriend artists as well as woo clients; who knows, maybe that nervous creature in the corner is a cash-cow in the rough.

And speaking of $ - what's with all the submission fees for registries & alternative spaces? I. Simply. Refuse. Seriously, if you're an NPO that can't write a grant for general operating expenses, then you're not good enough at business to handle the business end of my business. & yet, I can't seem to find any that don't charge anymore. & what's with all the kooky curatorial themes? Politics, gender, gender politics, ecology, urban decay, [[[yawn]]] & OMG if I see another made in summer camp Oprah Winfrey book of the month hard-luck club visual whine-fest my head is going to explode.... I studied art therapy in undergrad- & the therapist's office is where it belongs; it ain't deep, & I ain't interested. Moreover- if you curate like that, you'll never see my work, because my work is "about" whatever the viewer makes it about.

Alternative gallerists- I challenge you to trust your taste! To hang shows along the lines of "the best we could find" of drawing, painting, film, digital.... For if not you, then who?

& then the critics can come & filter the best from the best. Ah.

But- galleries and studios are not the same. I can no longer find the comment but someone mentioned that she felt all of her anxiety in the studio, & was more or less impervious to cynicism once her work made it to the public sphere. I am the OPPOSITE: in the studio, I can do no wrong- I am in control, in my own natural, paint-covered-denim-covered-skin, I own that world, I am master.

& maybe this is the hinge on which my ideas were balancing yesterday. You see, I really do have a thin skin, I too LIKE to be vulnerable; but I also have an iron core, born of the confidence in my work, that LIKES to be tested, tried, and found true- or- improved.

But when I think of letting my babies out into the world... oh the traumas, the nerves, the worries (no exaggeration, I have a three-page sale contract regarding the care of my work). & then there's ME to worry about! I believe in my work, it can take the heat- but me- I'm shy! I HATE the spectacle of the gallery world- I'm not GOOD at it- that's why I hide behind canvas & key-pad ;) & I think a lot of us are like that. & even when that hurdle is overcome, how, with all of the time-sucking exploiters out there, are we supposed to find our way out of that primordial jungle to Thebes?

So, in the name of optimism- I call on you, ye of Thebes! Come out from under the gallery floor-boards! Let us band together! Let us open-source!

"Where's the optimism?" you say. It is in the fact that I love love LOVE that I get to unleash my thoughts about my favorite thing in the world to you Jerry, & that you give & get with equal measure. I love that they of Thebes do the same. I believe that this may just be the beginning of better. Thank you, Jerry, for resuscitating the Salon. Thank you all.
Written about an hour ago · Comment · Like

Jerry Saltz I will read this over the weekend.
Can't wait.
21 minutes ago ·

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