The Age of Delusion: Jerry Saltz, 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism by Michael Newberry

Jerry Saltz, study for Canto 1
Dielh-Saltz-1976
Saltz circa 1976, in front of his drawings. Photograph by Carol Diehl

Those Who Can’t

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, critique.” And no one represents this weakness better than Jerry Saltz, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his article, “My Life as a Failed Artist.”

Jerry Saltz, study for Canto 1
Saltz drawings for the inside panels of a Canto I altarpiece. Photo: New York Magazine. If this was the work of a 13 year old, I would have to dig deep for encouragement. You would expect a kid to be more fearless, less worried, and less tentative. If I were talking to the kid’s parents, I would tell them that the scratchy quality and ugly color sensibilities might be a reflection of chronic doubt and dull frustration. And if I were the parents, I would encourage the teen to spend time doing something that he had talent for.

Jerry Saltz writes about his younger artist self: “In 1973, I was 22, full of myself, and frustrated that I wasn’t already recognized for my work.” But a few years later he had some great acceptance from the art world: museum purchases, a $3,000 NEA grant in 1978 money, reviewed in Artforum, exhibited with Barbara Gladstone Gallery and with Rhona Hoffman. He was ecstatic with the recognition, yet he had a nagging contempt for his art: 

“But then I looked back, into the abyss of self-doubt. I erupted with fear, self-loathing, dark thoughts about how bad my work was, how pointless, unoriginal, ridiculous. ‘You don’t know how to draw,’ I told myself. ‘You never went to school. Your work has nothing to do with anything. You’re not a real artist. Your art is irrelevant. You don’t know art history. You can’t paint… No one cares about you. You’re a fake…'”

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My First Sculpture in Clay and Then Finished in Bronze

Newberry-Lynia-1978-clay-lifesize
Newberry-Lynia-1978-clay-lifesize
Newberry, “Lynia”, 1978, clay stage before casting, life-size. Seeing this now decades later, I love the ear, and the pensive quality of the eyes, the form of the cheekbones, the profile, and the calmness of the full mouth. I love the current of the hair flowing one way and the lines of the neck curving the other way.

“Lynia” is my first and so far only sculpture. It is dated circa 1978 maybe 1979, I would have only been 22 or 23 years old. I sculpted it at the Free Academy Psychopolis in The Hague, Holland. It was a marvelous school, no teachers! They had models everyday, all day, and they had facilities for printmaking, sculpture, and life drawing sessions. I did this as an exploration to see if I could do it. Even today, I think “wow, this is really good look at that ear!” Even more remarkable is I was never taught figure in drawing, painting, or sculpture–my 3 years of fine art at USC, didn’t teach the figure. They just left us to our own devices and played with postmodernism.

lost-wax-technique
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Thodoris Archontopoulos, Byzantine Archaeologist and Art Historian

Thodoris Archontopoulos, Byzantine Archaeologist and Art Historian
Newberry, Thodoris Archontopoulos, 1998, acrylic on panel, 10x8"
Newberry, Thodoris Archontopoulos, 1998 (unfinished), acrylic on panel, 10×8″

I met Thodoris in the Fall of 1994 in Rhodes, Greece. Incredibly smart, both an archaeologist and an art historian with a perfectionist integrity for styles, dates, and research in art. It was a huge honor that he made a presentation and wrote the review for my 1996 show at To Dentro, in Rhodes, Greece. The review was published in the Greek newspaper the Rodiaki. The show was about the creative process for large definitive works that were then works in progress. A few years later, the same show but with the completed definitive works became an international traveling exhibition “Visions” 1998 November-Athens College, Athens, Greece; August-Ministry of Greek Culture, Rhodes, Greece; July-institute for Objectivist Studies, Summer Seminar, Boulder, Colorado.

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Roger Scruton’s Why Beauty Matters; And Did I Have a Small Part in It?

Artist's Shit, 1961, Piero Manzoni

Roger Scruton’s excellent presentation Why Beauty Matters, a BBC production, has seen a resurgence, over a million views on this embedded YouTube video. Several people have forwarded it to me and I remember seeing it ages ago. In re-watching it I was struck by the coincidence of the same four postmodern works in his presentation and in my article Pandora’s Box Part III. I was kind of horrified that I might have subconsciously lifted them from him without being aware of it. I didn’t.

I was relieved that my article Pandora’s Box Part III was published in the Free Radical (magazine and online) in 2002, while this Scruton publication was released almost 8 years later in November 2009. The four works are canned shit, Manzoni’s Merde d’artista; empty room, Creed’s The Lights Going On and Off; a urinal, Duchamp’s The Fountain; and bricks in a room at the Tate by Andre.

Scruton discusses them at 5:25 to 5:48 and he says: “It has been interrupted in another way by showing that anything can be art. Like a light going on and off, a can of excrement, or even a pile of bricks.”

In a section from my article which I discuss the postmodern works I write: “Kant’s concept of the formless nature of the sublime is the ideological birthplace of the postmodern aesthetic that art, visual art, doesn’t need to be expressed through the means of representational painting or sculpture. In practice, this aesthetic opened up the floodgates of a nihilistic revolution in the 20th Century in which postmodern artists deconstructed art and/or substituted any object but painting or sculpture for art, i.e. arranged rubbish, excrement, installations, etc.”

Bemusedly, I was wondering if my article was the source for “It has been interrupted…” I am just having a little fun figuratively flexing my muscles showing that I have been ahead of the curve. BTW, Pandora’s Box Part III is a wonderful article touching on a few of Kant’s concepts of the Sublime how they are connected to some horrible postmodern works, and I optimistically share some magnificent contemporary figurative works.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 2/14/2020

Before Everything There Was Visual Art

Chauvet Caves, Horses Heads, 32,000 BC
Chauvet Caves, Horses Heads, 32,000 BC
Chauvet Caves, Horses Heads, 32,000 BC

They Will Destroy You

The embedded rocks and still-green tumble weeds were flying towards my tennis shoe covered feet, my outstretched hands steering my downward trajectory were being cut to slivers by the crystal rock veins lining the 40-ft ravine incline—the unexpected push and gravity created a reckless momentum that my brother hoped would be fatal. It was not. 

Never turn your back on some people, or they will destroy you. 

The Eyes of Rembrandt

If light could kiss this would be the most loving, achingly sensitive kinetic caress. Shadowed waves rose and glided back to the recesses, like invisible currents of air witnessing a glint of moisture and a warming pulse. This is where goodness lives. In the eyes of Rembrandt

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Icarus: How Visual Artists Such as Myself and Bryan Larsen Steal, Borrow, and Originate

Larsen, Triumph of Icarus Study, 2008

Myths, legends, and stories infiltrate our collective and individual consciousness, and the same holds true for the visual arts. The myth of Icarus, who flew too high then crashed and burned, was mentioned by Apollodorus around 150 BC and has since shown up countless times in visual art.

Icarus Landing, Phaethon, and Ayn Rand

An interesting twist in the legend comes with my 2000 version. The concept was inspired by Ayn Rand, who rewrote the myth of Phaethon in Atlas Shrugged. In the ancient myth, Apollo gives the reins of the sun chariot to his son Phaethon, who is unable to control the flying horses or escape his destiny. Phaethon and the chariot threaten to crash and annihilate Earth. Zeus, watching, kills Phaethon with a bolt of lightning, forcing Apollo to retake the reins and right the sun chariot’s course.

In Rand’s version, her character, Richard Halley, composes an opera in which Phaethon brilliantly succeeds to steer the sun chariot to a glorious course. I loved the concept of taking a tragic myth and changing the outcome to reflect my absolute inner belief that magnificent experiences are the stuff of living. The chariot thing was too archaic for my modern sensibility, but with some thought I landed on the concept of Icarus. After flying wildly high, I thought, Icarus would return to Earth with gentle gratitude, lit by the orange glow of the day’s setting sun. I opted for no wings, just the outstretched arms. Appropriately I painted this while I lived in Greece, and I won’t lie, I loved scaling the rock cliffs in the buff, jumping from rock to rock, as my friend philosopher David Kelley can attest to.

Newberry, Icarus Landing, 2000, acrylic on linen, 55x36"
Newberry, Icarus Landing, 2000, acrylic on linen, 55×36″
Continue reading “Icarus: How Visual Artists Such as Myself and Bryan Larsen Steal, Borrow, and Originate”