“How to be an Artist” by Jerry Saltz — minimal annotations

Jose M. Ramirez
10 min readSep 5, 2022

I have been following Jerry Saltz for many years and marveling at his light but a not simplistic way of approaching life from the perspective of art and the artist’s perspective. I could not say that Jerry is an optimist nor a pessimist, but someone who understood that art, as Ethan Hawke would also say in his famous TED talk, is not a luxury but a necessity.

I bought the book some time ago, following the impulse of the media, but I kept it in the pending pile, not for lack of interest, but for fear of finding an instruction manual, a pre-chewed checklist for everyone. I doubted Jerry, I confess, but I finally picked up the book one afternoon and read it thrice in 2 days. The book is essentially a non-linear conversation, a constant jump from topic to topic, but in the end, as in all of Jerry’s writing, it all falls into place beautifully.

It is hard to summarize or review a conversation, so I will not try it; instead, I am going to comment on the resonating ideas and the quotes that I made for myself and that I hope will not satisfy you, but, on the contrary, leave you so dissatisfied that you decide to go to the book by yourself.

I begin by thanking the photographs and illustrations with which almost all the chapters begin; like the beautiful photograph of Matisse working from his bed, Andy Warhol in his study, Margaret Bourke-White on top of the Chrysler tower, or Alice Neel in her study. These images, sometimes revered directly in the text as a didactic resource or only placed there as a correlate, are like talking while walking through a vast universal exhibition. By the way, I love to chat while walking through museums; I do it frequently with my wife, my children, and with friends. The galleries create a protective effect in which the conversation flows; I feel that feeling is reproduced in the book through the use of those images.

The book has no table of contents or index, which is excellent. There are 63 topics organized in 5 parts, with consecutive numbering from the beginning. The order is essential. An index would offer the temptation to jump to a topic directly. For this book, it would be equivalent to fast-forwarding a video to get to a specific point in the conversation in the best Instagram or TikTok style, which would be nonsense.

Jose M. Ramirez

Consultant, Photographer, Artist, Researcher, and Teacher — http://www.joseramirezphoto.com