An Art Critic’s 33 Rules for Being an Artist

Photo: Amaury Salas

Art, as we all know, is about following a set number of rules handed to you by another person. In the latest New York Magazine cover story, art critic Jerry Saltz lists 33 steps to becoming a great artist, and what’s interesting is how many don’ts he’s willing to hand out. His refreshingly specific tips are all, at some level, optional. And that is why they’re useful, if you’re trying to be more creative.

The piece is dense with the kind of pithy advice you should write on a Post-it and stick to your wall. Some of the best lines aren’t even one of Saltz’s 33 tips, they’re just supporting material. For example:

  • “No one asks what Mozart means. Or an Indian raga or the little tripping dance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to ‘Cheek to Cheek’ in Top Hat. Forget about making things that are understood.”
  • “Make one hokey Dalí-like painting or mini Kusama light installation to get this out of your system.”
  • “Your skill will be whatever it is you’re doing differently.”
  • “If someone says your work looks like someone else’s and you should stop making it, I say don’t stop doing it. Do it again. Do it 100 times or 1,000 times. Then ask an artist friend whom you trust if your work still looks too much like the other person’s art. If it still looks too much like the other person’s, try another path.”
  • “Make a list of three artists whose work you despise. Make a list of five things about each artist that you do not like; be as specific as possible. Often there’s something about what these artists do that you share.”
  • “All art was once contemporary art. Never forget this.”
  • “Accept that you will likely be poor.”
  • “Artists must commune with their own kind all the time. To protect yourselves, form small gangs. Protect one another no matter what; this gang will allow all of you to go out into and take over parts of the world. Protect the weakest artist in your gang, because there are people in the gang who think you’re the weak one.”

Would you believe that this is a small percentage of the insightful advice in this piece? It is! Read it all!

How to Be an Artist | Vulture

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