Contemporary Art

David Salle on How To See Art

NEW YORK – In his new book How to See: Looking, Talking and Thinking About Art (Norton), the painter David Salle asks and answers the fundamental questions of how to teach someone to look at art and – ultimately – what makes a work good. Still, speaking with Sotheby’s Lisa Dennison at a conversation on 6 November in celebration of his book’s release, Salle was quick to distinguish himself from the typical critic. “The premise for the book is to talk about art the way artists talk about art,” he told the crowd at Sotheby’s. “Which is much more prosaic – almost mechanistic. I think works of art can be talked about as if they have personalities.” Take, for example, this excerpt of his description of Jeff Koons:

"If abstract painting expresses the idea 'You are what you do,' and pop art expresses the idea 'You are what you like,' then Koons’s art says, 'You are what other people like.'"



Similarly, Salle suggests that when viewing art, one should rely on your eyes above all else. “That first impression is something we can trust to a certain extent,” he says. Wall labels, audio guides and background information should only come second. “Not to say that type of thing is not important, but the supposed meaning or intention of a work can be hard to get around once you frontload it into the experience.”



As for his own work, which can be found in the permanent collections of institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Salle is continuing to paint – a process he describes as more difficult than writing. “After inhabiting other people’s work like I have been, it’s interesting to come back around to myself.”

More from Sotheby's

We use our own and third party cookies to enable you to navigate around our Site, use its features and engage on social media, and to allow us to perform analytics, remember your preferences, provide services that you have requested and produce content and advertisements tailored to your interests, both on our Site as well as others. For more information, or to learn how to change your cookie or marketing preferences, please see our updated Privacy Policy & Cookie Policy.

By continuing to use our Site, you consent to our use of cookies and to the practices described in our updated Privacy Policy.