Scolding artists, Saltz declares painting nearly dead

Scolding artists on Vulture today, Jerry Saltz reports that he is almost ready to declare painting dead. His rant reminds me of an old art professor who would read the whole class the riot act for not working hard enough, and then double back to assure his favorite students that he didn’t mean them. Here’s an excerpt:

Call it Neo-Mannerism. We all know it. That ever-expanding
assembly of anemically boring, totally safe artistic clich�s squeezing
the life out of the art world right now….

Saltz continues: 

Scads of artists are trying to be junior postmodernists. A
phalanx of work has appeared that might be called “Modest Abstraction”
or “MFA See, MFA Do.” It’s everywhere, and it all looks the same. In
sculpture there’s Anarchy Lite. Those post-minimalist formal
arrangements of clunky stuff, sticks, planks, bent metal, wood boxes,
fabric, old furniture, concrete things, and whatnot leaned, stacked,
stuck, piled, or dispersed around a clean white gallery. There’s usually
a subtext about wastefulness, sustainability, politics, urbanism, or
art history. That history is almost always straight out of sixties and
seventies Artforum magazines or the syllabi of academic teachers who’ve scared their students into being pleasingly meek, imitative, and ordinary.

Looking at 2-D work, I’m this close to that old
Carter-administration-era croak of “Painting is dead.” Again. Nowadays
we see endless arrays of decorous, medium-size, handsome, harmless
paintings. It’s rendered mainly in black, white, gray, or, more
recently, violet or blue. Much of it entails transfer techniques,
silkscreening, stenciling, assemblage, collage, a little spray painting
or scraping and the like….Read more.

Hmm….I wonder whom, specifically, he has in mind. Perhaps he should pen some critical reviews of their shows instead of posting a group scold.

 [Image at top: Josh Smith @Luring Augustine, selected by Two Coats of Paint]

Related posts:
A death exaggerated (2013)
Quote of the Day: Jerry Saltz (2012)
Critic on critic: Jerry Saltz tells DC blogger to get a grip (2009)



  1. Bad link. Also, he's full of it.

  2. Thanks. Links are fixed.

  3. right on, Sharon. Completely empty criticism because there is no specific artists or artworks mentioned, just a rant…

  4. Makes me want to paint. Don't mind if I do. Is JS bitterly realizing painting will outlive him?

  5. Makes me want to paint. Don't mind if I do. Is JS bitterly realizing painting will outlive him?

  6. I can definitely see where he's coming from, but without any specifics – his criticism has no teeth and can be taken with a grain of sand. What MFA programs is he talking about? Yale, Columbia, VCU, SAIC, VCU? Who are the specific artists whom he feels typify this so called Neo-mannerism. Honestly I think this kind of generalized non-specific criticism needs to be criticized more than anything else. Give us some concrete thoughts and some evidence Jerry!

  7. Jerry is a failed painter so he finds it difficult to deal with failure, he relates to it too strongly. He has always backed established winners.He is funny and a good politician. Jerry is not a critic he is a reporter like on the ET of the art world.

  8. For anyone who looks at a lot of art, especially a generous amount of BA and MFA art, this "generalized" critique makes a lot of sense. I can understand the fear it instills in artists, who want concrete evidence of the criticized works, and he might be saying this in an an insensitive manner, but there is some serious value in it.

  9. Didn't he 'kill' art criticism with reality TV? Ha, ha. Seriously though, Jerry Saltz lacks integrity, runs when challenged, apparently craves BBC…erm… Jay-Z, and most likely would not be in the position he is in today had it not been for his wife.

    Does he bother to look beyond the big art galleries and fairs? NO. Like most critics today… he form of criticism is masturbatory — stroking off the power players.

  10. I agree with Saltz about art trends produced by certain MFA programs. (Look at any issue of New American Paintings for evidence of these.) But, yes, it would be nice to have been given particular examples. Trends do not kill an art form, however, and making statements about the death of painting is like talking about the death of theater or the death of rock music. It's an outdated line of thinking in itself.

  11. Saltz writes here about painting, and new, "leading edge painting" painting of a particular kind that clearly exists in NYC. I see it too in the galleries. It is the endless shadow of Duchamp that falls over US art and painting. He does name the practitioners in this and the recent NYMagazine piece if you look. And the pictures here. Josh Smith, Chris Wool, Guyton et all. Also his writing style is for the weekly mags that you actually have to pay for, which makes it different in its own way.

  12. What is straight downward disturbing within the context of Jerry Saltz' article and the reactions toward his piece, is the absence of a critical debate. You do not have to agree with Saltz and you can ask him to be more specific in regard to individual artists who practice "Neo-Mannerism." But any kind of in-depth conversation becomes impossible if his opinion is declared a rant – something not to be considered seriously as it stands for. In the eyes of many readers, he appears merely as a bloated ego. The question here should be: is there a grain of truth in Saltz's criticism? I think there is. Jerry Saltz writes about a broad phenomenon, not individual artists that he intends to blame. What he seems to point out is a mode of art making that has spread among a predominantly younger and up-coming generation of artists. One of your commentators – LM Smith – mentions the publication New American Paintings and he/she is right. The scope of the paintings featured in their issues is frighteningly narrow and thereby safe.

    There is a lack of critical reviews on contemporary art. When did you read a critical review of an art show lately? And I do not mean Ken Johnson who often ends up putting his foot in his mouth. Think of Art in America: one positive review following another. Think of Art Forum. Same situation. Think of the many artist-run blogs that promote their friends or write about art that looks like their own. They are outlets of art appreciation, rather than art criticism. How did this happen? Why do people shy away from discussing different points of view? And what do we do to change this?

  13. You can blame the Whitney with its Biennials and the New Museum with their most influential show Unmonumental, but the real problem is that artists are too interested in engaging the status quo and being a part of "the discourse". Artists and particularly Painters need to find where their intentions are – why are they even makign the work that they are making and why are they satisfied only talking to themselves? Personally, I would hate to be termed a "Casualist" or a "Neo-Mannerist" Whatever you say about it, Saltz definitely has a point – I hope he continues to write about this topic and goes into greater detail!

  14. I don't know if I read the writing so much as a scold. In fact, I'm not sure I took this as attacking work as particular and personal as the work you make and champion? Maybe I am off? But I am certainly interested. And glad to see so many people talking about painting, even if they do bring up the phony death of painting ghouls to do it.

  15. Interesting article and I completely disagree painting is not a dying art.

  16. I think JS's whole point here is to be general. His overall impression of sameness, blandness and "safe" efforts makes perfect sense. Hopefully, he's not talking about you, right?
    He's also touching on a distinction of work that is made by hand vs. the work that is mere assemblage, and an inherent lack of personality to the latter.
    Don't kill the messenger.

  17. It' s amusing that even the brightest of us still retain entitlement to the silliest of comments. Does Mr. Saltz truly believe that he maintains aesthetic intuition above critics of the past? You know, those self-absorbed souls who thought the impressionists needed more formal training, or that Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' was tonal degradation. History is filled with this thoughtless ignorance. The super objectivity maintained by Mr. Saltz, of course, allow him the ability to critique without bias… as if the rigors of today's aesthetics will define the future's! As painters, I think we all know how difficult it is to take a step forward. We judge with what we know and reject most of what we don't. Comfort zones are albatrosses… even to the most creative of us. Maybe Santa will gift Mr. Saltz a flute, or a box of pastels.

  18. I 100% agree with Saltz and he doesn't say painting is dead in the text, that is a totally false and misleading reading dreamed up by this blogger. This art is very MFA stuff and will not be remembered as its the Same Painting as the website of that name says. Saltz is not saying painting is dead at all, he is critcising a very strong tendency for people to mistake middleclass art school educated types as somehow real artists. The work produced is lazy and it is very easy to make and it looks retrograde. in fact much of the so-called post internet art is the same. Just middleclass kids playing at art and this is where its value lies in anthropoloy and as study in fine art as consumer non-durable. its fun to watch this Crapstraction being taken up and it will be fun to watch it be put back down.

  19. "Jerry Saltz reports that he is almost ready to declare painting dead."

  20. "Jerry Saltz reports that he is almost ready to declare painting dead"

  21. why don't you approve my comments blog author?

  22. Mr. Saltz I couldn’t agree with you more. On a perceptive level every visual trick has been mined out, i.e. the viewer’s eye is either pulled into the picture, made to sit on the surface, pushed out, or experiences some visual effect(s) created by a combination of the three. Simply put there is nowhere left to take the viewer’s eye. That leaves the 2D artist with one goal, make a picture that is worth looking at. One that is challenging on both a visual and cerebral level. Based on the art I see today, even when appropriating, stealing, or borrowing from past artistic styles, that is clearly not an easy task to achieve.

    As for those calling on Mr. Saltz to provide examples to back up his rant, I suggest that you go to any art gallery or art class at the best schools in the world. There you will find that derivative art is alive and well. While many 2D artists truly believe they will be the next ‘big thing’, that may be the case but it won’t be through perceptive innovation. Rather than ask for an examples from Saltz, perhaps any one of you here can’t provide examples of paintings that contradict his views.

    I’ll wait.

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