Feb 15, 2019

You don’t think you’re good enough? He doesn’t think he’s good enough, either, so just ignore it.

Jerry Saltz is animated and confident when he speaks to a crowd. He offers tips on how to be great and how to exhibit the traits of an artist in everyday work. He paces back and forth on the stage and spews out inspiration with a stream-of-consciousness flair.

But underneath it all, he hates social situations and didn’t know what Viacom was before appearing to address the company’s global workforce of more than 11,000 employees on last Tuesday. He admitted all of this in an exercise in truth, which he pointed out is one of the key traits you need to be great at what you do.

Saltz, the senior art critic for New York Magazine and winner for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for criticism, said even he feels like he’s not good enough and has trouble putting pen to paper on occasion. However, he knows the workarounds and shared what will help you shine through the self-loathing.

“Passion, surprise, conversation, energy—bring any of those things you’ll be loved,” Saltz said. “You will become gods. I absolutely promise you.”

In his almost theatrical rendition of his article, “How to Be an Artist,” here was Saltz's advice to make you be the best at what you do:

Get Over Your Fear and Embarrassment

“We’re all embarrassed. That’s a given.”

After an employee named Sarah posed a question about how to be your authentic self without fear, Saltz drew upon the audience to shout out a demon that keeps them up at night. Some of the shout-outs included, “I’m not good enough,” “It’s too late,” and “I never finish anything.”

“I think fear is a condition,” he said. “The fear never ever goes away. Last night I woke up afraid of doing this and then afraid of what I had to be writing all morning, which I wrote.”

Saltz said it’s important to speak in your own voice and make sure your work is not generic. Sometimes, you can even feel free imitate other people, as long as you find your own voice within it, he explained.

“If you fail, which is fine, fail flamboyantly, don’t be mediocre,” Saltz said. “Mediocre people don’t even like other mediocre people.”

On the same topic, he said don’t be afraid to show up.

“Here’s a big one: Work, work, work—get to work,” he said. “You really have to show up. I know you’re afraid, that’s a condition.”

Stop Whining

“Can you take it? You big babies, big coddled babies.”

Before becoming an art critic, Saltz was a truck driver because he thought it would be romantic. He quickly realized he wasn’t doing anything, and that he was still broke.

Yes, he wants every person at Viacom to make money, even though he turned down the money after winning the Pulitzer Prize last year. Of course, without money the company would be in trouble, he says, but don’t let him hear you complain about it.

“I was poorer than all of you, so stop f--king complaining. Grow up, woman up, man up, no one cares. That’s the real truth, stop whining because it’s boring and you’re just a whine,” he said. “Everybody feels more or less the same.”

Your Work Is Your Friend

“Imagination is the most important of all.”

Saltz himself was a self-described failed artist before launching his writing career in his 40s.

“None of us knows exactly how we ended up in this room doing what we do right now, a lot of it is by accident, chance, luck, right?” he said. “Stealing, ambition, competition. I would rather you be ambitious than competitive… Not d--iskhly ambitious. Men especially, our time is over. We did good for 50,000 years.”

Demons speak to all of us, he said. They wake him up at 3:15 a.m. and tell him he’s not good enough and he needs to quit his job in the morning.

“Always when we make something, my loves, there’s an otherness to it and you have to allow that otherness to come in. You never sit down with the plan and see it through to the f--king end. There are bad ideas, daydreams, distractions, failure, success, a lucky bump, etc., until the truth. I don’t know where my work comes from, but it’ always there. It is our roommate our companion.”

“If you’re serious about your work. If your work is real to you as a real as everything else, then I promise you, you will be delivered to this extraordinary place where your world starts to become accessible to the outside.”