Making criticism matter
For someone like myself doing any sort of writing for public consumption on any level, a Pulitzer Prize is inevitably a sort of blind aspiration. It sure would be nice to win one, but most writers acknowledge that chances are unfortunately slim that they will ever receive the prestigious award. As an undergraduate majoring in both Art History and English, I took my eyes off the Pulitzer Prize as I applied for graduate school in the former. I did so with good reason—a Pulitzer has not been awarded to an art critic in over half a century. Put simply, if you’re writing it is incredibly difficult to even receive a nomination for a Pulitzer; if you’re writing art criticism, your chances are beyond incredibly difficult.
Such discouraging odds are one of a number of reasons why SAIC painting instructor Jerry Saltz’s recent nomination for the Pulitzer in Criticism is highly commendable. In addition to teaching at SAIC, Saltz has done an impressive amount of work in the fields of art criticism and history—he currently serves as Senior Art Critic for the Village Voice, was appointed Advisor for the 1995 Whitney Biennial, and has lectured at such institutions as Harvard University and the Guggenheim Museum.
Known for his passionately opinionated yet approachable writing, Saltz is the only art critic ever to be named as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism twice, first in 2001 and most recently this past March. “One of the things that I’m trying to do with my criticism is write for the art world but also for the wider world,” Saltz says of his work. “I want art criticism to matter as much as art does.”
Although not awarded the prize, which was announced April 17, Saltz was honored to have received his second nomination and has learned from the experience. “Being named a finalist for the Pulitzer lets me know a little bit how artists must feel about trying to get into this or that show or a gallery,” he says. Ultimately, however, Saltz prioritizes developing his career and art criticism in general over winning a prize. “I didn’t get into art criticism to win a prize,” he asserts. “I got into it to change the world.”