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▼ Report: The Cynical Twists Of Jerry Saltz


“Tea-bagging bloggers”, art critic Jerry Saltz recently wrote on his facebook page, “who constantly call for rules to be imposed on the terrible dirty backroom corrupt craven money-besmirched awful art world are, at  heart,  at heart, cynical.”

Cynicism is not critiquing the art market, as critic Jerry Saltz maintains. Critique’s flaw is idealism, if that is a flaw. Saltz mourns the loss of his own idealism. Cynicism is letting yourself be complicit to the deadening of art:  social power games, celebrity culture, the loss of critical thought. Critique of commercial art practices is not synonymous with being cynical. It is belief in art beyond it’s luxury value.

Saltz is not alone in his belief that art is a corporate industry; has always been a commodity; benefits from economic deregulation; benefited from the last decade’s commercial bubble.

The notion that everything including art is now a commodity in our era of hyper-capitalism is a notion the commercial art world co-opted from Baudrillard. Guess what? Baudrillard’s wish was for art to become just another commodity because his ultimate wish was the collapse of western culture. He wanted art to die as a commodity.

Art is not alive in a capitalist space. Imagining a democratic space for art begins with questions. The commercial art world is not listening to its future space. There is a standard retort in the art world: critique of the commercial system is bitter, cynical, naive. Saltz is only imitating the cliched defense, which is not the rhetoric of an often repeated debate, but is an insult silencing the possibility of critique.

It is not cynical to write: the commercial art world pretends liberalism but practices Machiavellian domination. Or to write: the possibility does not exist for ideas or experimentation in a business model that has become an industry. There are great compelling artists in the art industry. The industry’s context is not presenting their ideas with life, because there is no life in a department store or in a convention hall.

It is not cynical to describe the commercial art world as a force of simulated business drones kidnapping visionary wolves from the woods and teaching them the ways of the sheep inside. Cynicism is complicity. Bitterness is a loss of an ethical center. Naivety is belief in the glamor of a corporate hologram.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. David El permalink
    01/25/2010 9:45 am

    In the end…people like Jerry are just playing the game of survival. The real question is Ego and the survivability of it in real time. This sounds cynical, but it is a game. Money often has the power of corrupting unless there is wisdom in its usage. Art is a commodity, but still not in the sense of let’s say underwear from Walmart. That in fact is the form of commodification which will bring down Western civilization. Fine Art still is bought as a power object associated with the same signifiers as in the days of the courts. In some ways, it is more democratic, bc so many more individuals can claim themselves “artists” today. Many, will remain “tea-bagging bloggers” and outsiders of a new order due to natural selection and the hard kernal of existence in a highly competitive gaming world.

    • Melissa Johnson permalink
      01/25/2010 11:21 am

      Bitterness is a loss of an ethical center… that is the only defense of Criticim, a Criticism that reinforces the power structures that stimulate specific business is the art world. Trying to define a motive and the loss of an ethical de-center could prove futile. Redefining the art world and expanding outward rather than attempting to fix the condition of Critics, Criticism and ‘their things’ (not ours) seems more conducive to the act of art making among progressive thinkers~

  2. 01/25/2010 9:28 pm

    Cynicism is what happens when one capitulates to despair. As a cultural phenomenon that constitutes such a large part of the ethos of this country right now, cynicism is the familiar “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude writ large. That it’s a defensive position – a posture one assumes only when no viable alternatives are seen to be available – seems beyond dispute. The question we have to ask is: Why does capitulation to a corrupt and spiritually bankrupt system appear to be the only option? One answer (surely among many): cynicism is a position adopted by cowardly types. The thought of being seen as woefully retrograde (for having ideals, for risking everything one has for a belief) is more than many can bear.

    Saltz’s accusations are a classic case of projection; it’s not the tea-baggers who are the cynics but rather the one hurling the label.

  3. Sally Jones permalink
    01/25/2010 9:56 pm

    I suspect you are talking about art and money.

    It makes me sad/hurts my brain when I think about art and commerce together. I love it when I sell some art and make some money. I try not to think about money when I make art (even if I’m making a commission, I loose sight of the money when I’m making the piece). Capitalism is a system I was born into. I don’t like it for many reasons (both relating to and not relating to art), but I haven’t succeeded in changing it yet. I keep art and money separated in my brain.

    Money is a necessary evil. Art is life sustaining, addictive, pleasure and bliss. They are not necessarily related.

  4. 01/26/2010 1:21 am


  5. Astrid Bowlby permalink
    01/26/2010 8:10 pm

    The issues of capitalism and the big A art world on the one hand, and making my work, (some of which gets sold, some of which never does and never will), on the other, occupy my thoughts often.

    “…kidnapping visionary wolves….” I love this image.

    I ask myself: Can artists have the iron constitution necessary to navigate that big A art world? Can we be tricksters from within the circle without becoming lap dogs? Or, must we remain on the periphery?

    My personal answer for now is “yes”, although you might argue that I am fooling myself. But I am wary. I dabble in the big A artworld, but it is not the only pool in the forest. There are many, many others. I do not make my work for the convenience of any of them, but try to find the gaps to slip through when I need to.

  6. 02/06/2010 2:20 am

    Thank you for writing this! I was waiting for someone to call Saltz out on his tendency to sucker punch bloggers who question power and money hegemony in the art world. I’m a fan of Jerry’s work but too many times I’ve seen him silence someone with the B word: “bitter”, and that really pisses me off because there is reason to be angry: mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! Quite similar actually to Republican rhetorical tactics as you allude to in your topic title. Saltz is a great art promoter, but in these moments he’s a promoter of the pyramid game- not democratic tendencies that are much more fruitful for art. These tendencies will hopefully “tear down this wall” of greed and power and rewarded Machiavellian practices that have been built up and keep creative potential at a minimum and misplaced profits at a maximum.

  7. 02/06/2010 3:17 pm

    There is obviously a lot to learn. There are some good points here.

  8. 02/25/2010 4:23 pm

    Hey very nice blog!!….I’m an instant fan, I have bookmarked you and I’ll be checking back on a regular….See ya 🙂

  9. 03/03/2010 3:53 am

    A friend of mine mentioned 2012 last night to me and it’s the first I heard about it so I jumped on here out of curiosity. I think it’s kind of sick and sounds like a bunch of skeptical jargon.
    I choose to live every day like it is the last because let’s be real, WHO THE HELL KNOWS what is going to happen or when it’s your time to go on. The past is history, the future is a mystery and now is a gift, thats why it’s called the present. It’s not healthy to sit around and trip out about when you will die. Stop wasting your time you have now.
    ]mayan predicted
    [/url] – some truth about 2012

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