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Author Podcast: Sarah Thornton

abstract: The Contemporary Art market has been on fire and who better to talk about it than Sarah Thornton, ethnographer and author of Seven Days in the Art World published by Norton in 2008. Her book has been making waves as having the best insights into this fascinating subculture, market segment and art world phenomenon. Join BookBuffet's host, Paula Shackleton in this three-part interview with Sarah who joins us from her studio in London. The New York Times says, “Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton is a field guide to the nomadic tribes of the contemporary art world. The book was reported and written in a heated market, but it is poised to endure as a work of sociology… Where others would be content to gawk and gossip, she pushes her well-chosen subjects to explore the questions ‘What is an artist?’ and ‘What makes a work of art great?” Alan Yentob, creative director at the BBC says, “It’s like having your own spy in the art world. Thornton parachutes the reader into the fascinating nitty-gritty of how it all works.” Annalyn Swan, co-author of DeKooning: An American Master says: “A smart, engagingly written insider’s look at the machinations and manipulations of today’s art world…. A great read.” Grayson Perry, (artist) says: “Seven Days in the Art World” is a great page-turner, I worry that the book demystifies things so much that the next generation of artists will be overinformed.” Join our RSS feeds to get our interviews monthly, or click on the mp3 link for this segment, or just read along with the transcript.


June 20, 2009

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The Interview

  • PART I: Meet Sarah and discover how an ethnologist approaches her subject.
  • PART II: Sarah talks about the Basel Art Fair and how art is priced and sold.
  • PART III: Sarah describes one of the world's most successful artists and follows up with the Venice Biennale.


This is Paula Shackleton podcasting for and today I am speaking with writer and ethnographer, Sarah Thornton about her latest book, Seven Days in the Art World, published by WW Norton in 2008 and distributed in North America by Penguin. Sarah is a Canadian who has lived a great deal of her adult life in California, Connecticut and London. She has her BA in art history and her PhD in cultural sociology. Her first book, titled Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital (Music/Culture) earned her the moniker “Britain’s hippest academic.” It is about the youth subculture that revolves around dance clubs and raves and it has won accolades in both popular and critical circles. Her next book is equally to rocking the art world with its smart, entertaining examination of the people who make, trade, curate, collect and promote contemporary art. Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World was chosen as one of the best art books of 2008 by the New York Times, The Sunday Times (London) and The Independent. Ten translations are forthcoming: German, Italian, Dutch, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Chinese. Welcome Sarah.

Sarah Thornton: Hi Paula, how are you doing?

BookBuffet: I'm good how are you?

Sarah Thornton: I'm fine...

BB: Sarah I write about the book world and you write about the art world in this instance with this book, and I keep a wonderful NewYorker cartoon taped to my fridge that blends the two together: it depicts the inside of a cave with a man drawing pictographs all over the walls and the wife telling a friend, “Everytime he finishes a novel we have to move.” This is my segway between books and art. When you wrote this book, [you created] seven different narratives, you travelled to six different cities in five different countries, and you did over 250 interviews and completed over 47 books of notes! That's an incredible amount of research for something that comes out so sublimely. If I could begin by asking you about your work, writing and research process, how do you take sociology and apply it to the artists' world?

Sarah Thornton: Hmmm. Well you know being an ethnographer is very much my sense of self as a writer. When I did my PhD on dance clubs and raves (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital) I trained to be an ethnographer, and that's somebody who does a load of participant observation and lots and lots of qualitative interviews and kind of immerses themselves in-depth into a culture. So I actually did probably about 400 interviews for this book, but with over 250 different people, because some people I ended up interviewing 5 or 6 times.

So it's very much that intensive, immersive process that characterized the research in which you're very patient about getting access, and you often end up occupying roles that are not 100% comfortable to yourself, because as a participant observer, you just want to be there, and you don't want to pass judgement, and you don't want to intervene if you can avoid it. So you might have to put up with quite a bit of very classist or sexist behavior and just kind of "smile and grin and bear it." So the method of researching the book was very ethnographic, but I also think that the texture of the writing is ethnographic in various ways. Ethnography is a very experiential way to learn. I was keen to give the reader a strong sense of being there so that they could kind of learn about this world vicariously by really having a very vivid picture of it in their mind.

BB: Yes, and the way you write with the first person [daytimer] "11:00am, 12:00am..." it's like we're walking with you to your next interview, and we're there at the ArtForum magazine office with you and so on.

Sarah Thornton: And I guess the other two or three more ways that I find the texture of the writing to be ethnographic is that it is extremely multi-vocal, and ethnographers, perhaps even more than journalists, are very keen to represent the perspectives of their subjects. So I really would press people to complete their thoughts, and expand their views, and articulate their position as completely as possible, and sometimes that involved a lot of follow up.

I'm sure you know when you interview people, people start a thought and then drift off, and then a while later they come back to it and finish the thought. So I have a lot of follow up phone calls and emails where I kind of really tried to work on the multi-vocal quality of it. I hope perhaps that one of the strengths of the book is in its quotes.

Also, I think that one of the strengths is the details that I chose to include were there because they revealed something about the cultural patterns or social structure or the kind of institutional framework of the art world, rather than adding color or sensation on their own.

Just for example in the auction chapter, Chapter One, there's a collector who says, how does she put it? She says, "Ah, you know you cannot wear Prada to auctions because you might get mistaken for a Christie's member of staff!" Right, and you know, I remember when she said it I actually was kind of shocked because for me, as a rather lapsed academic and writer, Prada is pretty much like the top, as far as I was concerned, and it revealed this whole kind of hierarchy and all these social echelons wayyyy above where I thought they were!

BB: Right, exactly. All these physical cues that people take from—just to go a little bit further in that particular chapter—where the people sit, where the press sat, who sat in which position in the room. These are all really interesting details that, I'm not even sure people who go there year after year might be aware of? Are people always aware of whose sitting in which position in the room? [The quote in the book described a Christie auction thus, “It’s like a tableau vivant of pretentious greed.” Pg 18.]

Sarah Thornton: You know, I think the regulars are all too aware. [both laugh] Really. It's kind of a very intense and competitive social world. An aisle seat suggests you've really arrived. A collector's nose could be really out of joint if they had a seat at the far back, or worse still, had standing room.

BB: So this is interesting because it brings us to another point that I hadn't had a chance to think about. Christie's is very successful. You talk about the person who is leading the sale and their acumen in being able to read the physical cues from various people who are bidding and so on, but just the success of that company in getting the highest values for art, when you look across the spectrum. What did you think about that?

Sarah Thornton: Well you know they are a very skilled global company and Christopher Burge the auctioneer whom you described is considered the best in the business in terms of the way he can elicit another bid. You know somebody could walk into the showroom and think to themselves and have sworn to their wife or their husband that they're only going to bid up to such-and-such amount, and somehow, you know, Christopher Burge seems to be able to pull them into the atmosphere of the room.

Even in this economic climate, because I was in New York last week for the auctions, there were I think 5 records for the highest price ever paid for a certain artist.

BB: Yes, I read about that in your article in the The Economist.

Sarah Thornton: And there were a load of other works that also went over their highest estimate, quite alotover their highest estimates. So the thing is, volume is down, they are selling a lot less than they did one year ago, but remarkabley—partly because they're pulling in different kinds of work that were less speculated on and didn't get over-inflated during the boom, works by other artists, partly because they put them into these sales—they had what anyone could see was a very successful auction.

BB: Well now when you started writing this book you had some degree of anonymity in the art world. As the book progressed and people became more aware of you and what you were doing, were you producing some articles from the some of the research as you went as well?

Sarah Thornton: Yes

BB: So then, possibly, your work as an ethnographer became more difficult, because now you've become known, you're part of the scene in a sense, but it allowed you to gain this incredible access to the places that you went and to people that you interviewed. So could you talk about that, that process?

Sarah Thornton: Yes, it's a fascinating dynamic. In the beginning I think I managed to get such interesting material out of people because they really thought it was going nowhere. I was nobody and I was just this sociologist asking them these questions. I don't think they necessarily thought it would see the light of day, and if it did, it certainly wouldn't be a very high profile exposure. I did write for various art magazines in tandem with doing research for the book. The first event that really happened to me that kind of broke my cover a little bit was when Chapter 4 was commissioned by the New Yorker, "The Prize," as it's called, which is set in London. That was initially written, or at least half of it was written for the New Yorker, and that brand, having that brand attached to my name really changed people's attitudes. It made some people much more eager to speak to me, and it made other people much more cagey!

Now that that book's been written, I could not write another ethnographic book about the art world again... The only way I think I could do it, would be if I expanded my geographical boundaries more, and wrote a chapter from Doha Qatar and from Moscow, and one from Beijing or something like that. That would be a way of both keeping it more... I think it's important for me to feel that things are strange, because if they get too familiar then they're too obvious. It's harder to write about it.

BB: You lose your objectivity.

Sarah Thornton: Yes. Where as, if I were doing it in an environment of cities that I have not even been to yet, or have only had a short trip to, I think I could manage a more ethnographic position. Right now my bread and butter is writing about the art market, as opposed to the whole art world. So the book actually acts as a great kind of calling card. If there's someone I'm really dying to interview, I send them a copy of the book about a week before I send them an email. In quite a few instances, it's worked!

BB: Sarah you were just in Vancouver and you spoke to the arts community and your book was the calling card for that—it was part of your book tour, but everybody who I've been speaking to in this region knows who you are because of your visit here, and so I found that it really does help to have a book on the NYT Bestseller list! [to gain access to people]

Let's talk about the Art Basel chapter now and how people buy and sell art.

PART II: Sarah talks about the Basel Art Fair and how art is priced and sold.

Sarah Thornton: Art Basel has been in operation since about 1970, and it's very much part of a kind of new global market for art. It's the most prestigious club, I guess, that a gallery can belong to because getting into Art Basel is a real badge of... a prestigious badge, or it can really distinguish your gallery at a local level. An owner can get very upset if they loose their stand at Art Basel.

I guess it works in various different ways. It really contributes to the seasonality of the collectors who will always be in Basil in the first or second week of June, and they will always be in Miami at the beginning of December, and they will have to be in London in October for the Frieze Fair.

Different dealers handle the fair in different ways. Some just kind of empty out their back rooms a little bit, others treat it very importantly as a way of presenting an artist to an international audience. Sometimes they do a solo show on the stand. Others save things that are real trophies that they want to be associated with. So Basel is a great place to go to observe the interaction between dealers and collectors. And that is principally what that chapter is about.

The fair in the book is set during the boom, and the dynamics are symptomatic of it. So one of the things I describe is something called "a hard buy". We all know what "a hard sell" is, when a salesman makes an overenthusiastic pitch, but this is when, at that time anyway, there was so much demand for works that collectors would have to queue-up to buy them, and sometimes you'd hear a "hard buy". So that would be the means by which the collector would try to convince the dealer that they should be the home of the work, and they would say, "Well I'm on the acquisition committee of this museum, and I underwrote the catalogue of that sale, and I've been collecting the artist's work for so long, and I have work from the early period and the middle period, and I really need this kind of work... and I promise I will never flip it at auction," and things like that.

BB: Yes, all these little details.

Sarah Thornton: This is not something that I'm going to be hearing at Basel 09 in a few weeks time.

BB: Right, the market's changed a little bit. I experienced the same thing when I was trying to buy a home in California... which brings us to the important question of how art is valued and what effects the price? You deal with that on various levels in all of the chapters. Can you talk about that, because a lot of the people that I talk to when I talk about your book are interested to see how art increases in value.

Sarah Thornton: The key, the linchpin of a work's worth is the person who made it. So the name of the artist is all-important, and the validation of that artist is all-important. So I mentioned Masters of Fine Art programs, but then after that, what are the benchmarks of validation? So you can have awards and residencies, you can have representation by a prestigious dealer. One of the strange things about art is the fact that the buyer influences the reputation of the work. This thing called "provenance" but it's kind of provenance in the present tense. The price at auction is something that factors into that. Most importantly it's the museum shows, and any kind of art historical criticism. Being included in a group show is important, but maybe the holy grail is the solo retrospective as kind of a validating stamp in an artist's career. And so once the artist is happily on track being validated in that way, then you do have within their oeuvre, within their body of work, things that are considered most credible, most exciting, most valuable intellectually, sometimes different things but sometimes the same things that are, most commercial.

Often credibility might come with the early work. Commerciality might come anywhere in the middle, you know, with the red paint, the nurse paintings or whatever.

BB: Right, right, you mentioned that certain artist's work that had red and had this [element or another] were the pieces that sold at the highest prices, so even within a successful artist's oeuvre you can find a period, which is the most successful period of his/her works.

Sarah Thornton: Yes, yes absolutely. Painting is basically the most commercial medium. If you look at any auction catalogue you'll find that the bulk of an evening sale is painting, and to a lesser extent sculpture and to even a smaller extent, photography I guess. And that does come to a large extent by the fact that people decorate with art and two dimensional works are easier to accommodate. So there's just a bigger market for them.

BB: You also get into the fact that certain sizes are important because if it doesn't fit into the elevator of the typical Park Avenue, New York residence then it's going to be harder to sell.

Sarah Thornton: In terms of the other parts of the art world, other artists, critics and curators, often you'll find that they will value ephemeral art or performances, installations, you know things that are less commodifiable, and they'll have their own hierarchies. One of the findings of the book is that the art world is not a system or a smooth functioning machine, but it really is a cluster of squabbling subcultures that really disagree with each other quite profoundly, on very fundamental things.

The definition of art in The Auction chapter compared to the definition of art in The Crit couldn't be further apart! They both kind of espouse an assumption, an implicit assumption that art is a meaning-making and thought-provoking thing, but in The Auction it's an investment and a luxury good, and in The Crit it's an intellectual endeavor and a job.

BB: Yes, and a lifestyle. There's the whole purists' perspective right down to the opposite spectrum of the economics—it's simply an investment and something you rotate on your walls.

PART III: Sarah describes one of the world's most successful artists, and then follows up with the Venice Biennale.

BB: Sarah let's get into the interesting aspect of the Tate Turner Prize and Sir Nicholas Serota who presides over an entire empire of museums: Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, and Tate St. Ives with more than 4 million visitors a year. I am interested in the Tate’s role in creating public interest/meaning or sensationalism around art in the press and in the market, and how it pushes the boundaries of what we conceive as “art" to move the public forward, and collectors and everybody else? [See "20 Years of the Turner prize", all the winners & runner-ups in The Guardian]

Sarah Thornton: Well the Tate is a very high profile institution in the UK. In the earlier days of the Turner Prize, I think they did court sensationalism, in the days when people like Tracy Emin and Damien Hurst were nominees. I think now-a-days they are actually not sensationalist at all and they play it a lot quieter, but the British press has got into a habit of making great sensation out of the Turner Prize. And so they're often looking for whatever they can find that can be titillating or absurd, or perceived as absurd. It's an odd relationship, I guess. The museum needs to speak to a broader general public, and I think that the structure of the Turner Prize is very good at bringing people in. It asks the viewer of the exhibition to be the judge. At the end of the exhibition there's a room where people who've seen it can register their opinion on pieces of paper and put it up on the wall, and also email it in and things like that.

It's a little bit different from a normal show where competition is not in the background and judgement is not asked of the viewer. So I think it's an interesting exercise that happens here in the UK, but it can be really, really difficult for the artists involved, and I think one of the kind of interesting dynamics in The Prize chapter is all the ways the artists try to resist having their work pulled into a sphere beyond the art world.

So when I'm interviewing Tomma Abts in her little studio in North London, she doesn't want me to know a lot of things! When I ask her about how she titles her paintings, because it's on the record that she uses this book of German first names, and chooses these very obscure names and titles her paintings that way, as if they were like friends or children who she is naming. And when I asked her about the book, she kind of lunges at the table...

BB: [laughing] cover it up so you don't get to see the title.

Sarah Thornton:Exactly! She throws a sweater over the book and says, "It's better if it shouldn't be known," and things like that.

BB: Well it's similar in the literary world. There's a whole cadre of people who are always beating their drum and then there's people like Coetze who won't take an interview or make a public appearance to discuss their work. I guess people are like that.

Sarah Thornton: It's a very individual thing. Artists should do what they're comfortable with. For the kind of research that I do, I always love it when I find a good artist-interviewee who's very articulate and willing to speak their mind. But I completely respect those artists who hate giving interviews and don't want to talk to me. I can enjoy their work, but it just makes it harder for me to write about it. That's not the kind of writing I do, because I'm not a critic. I don't write criticisms or reviews. I really stick to the context around art because I feel like it's my forte and there are a lot of wonderful critics out there writing about the work itself, but there's actually really very few of us who are, full time, writing about art in the context of the present tense.

BB: Well that leads us to the chapter on the studio visit and Murakami and I'm interested to discover how you chose him, this artist above all: If it had anything to do with his factory-artist-Warhol position, and the fact that he is so reflective of the homogenous cultural mantra that's coming out of Japan. Is he the artist of the future?

Sarah Thornton: Well you know it had to do with various factors coming into play. At first I thought I'd set The Studio Chapter in Berlin. I did some interviews and it looked like it was going to be difficult. And then I thought I might set it in Vancouver because I do love photography, I'm very interested in...

BB: Jeff Wall.

Sarah Thornton: ... I thought maybe I could do Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and Stan Douglas or something, as a kind of a trio of studios, something like that. Although I'm sure one of them would have sufficed as well. Then I learned that I could probably get access to Murakami because I'd interviewed his dealers in Basel—they're characters in the Basel Chapter. Plus I'd interviewed Paul Schimmel who was in the midst of curating Murakami's solo retrospective. I'd interviewed him for the chapter set at Cal Arts.

One of the things I was interested in was not just the studio as a place where work gets made, but the studio as a platform for negotiations and a kind of stage for performance. And here I had the dealer and the curator on board, and they were going to be there at the same time. And I thought, "Yes, this is the kind of social dynamic I want."

I did spend time observing the assistants painting, observing people actually making work and designing things, but it was really the negotiations between the different players in the art world—the artist, curator and dealer—that made me decide that this is the way to go with this chapter.

The other thing that decided it is just that Murakami has such a complex studio practice. The fact that he makes large scale sculpture, painting, at the time he was making a video for Kanye West, also he had this great success with a re-design on the Louis Vuitton handbag logo, so I thought I'd have a lot of material.

BB: A terrific amount of material. Could you just describe who he is for the listeners who aren't art-background people?

Sarah Thornton: I think there are three living artists who are seen to be the heirs of Andy Warhol, and they are: Jeff Koons, Damien Hurst and Takashi Murakami. All three artists have adopted Warholian modes, in their very different ways, and have their own factory processes. You know Warhol's studio was called The Factory, and he developed his style of silk screen painting which, wasn't necessarily touched by his hands, and played with the art market in a way that artists hadn't done previously, not explicitly, anyway. And so Murakami, there was one person in the chapter who toured Murakami's studio and said it made Warhol's look like a lemonade stand, in terms of the kind of like business-functions. I describe it very much as a kind of "design lab headquarters". It really does feel like that. It has clean white walls, it's a computer infested space. He has a room there in which he lives! He lived incredibly frugally and aesthetically and that also made him kind of fascinating to me. He did really seem to be putting all of the money he was making back into the work.

BB: And he gives credit to the people who contribute to the piece on the back of his works, which has not always been the case in the past with artists and sculptures [who worked with a cadre assistants] throughout history.

Sarah Thornton: And he really does promote them too. I mean, he has his own kind of artists art fair, and he takes on the role as a kind of managing agent for some of the younger artists who work with him. That is very unusual. I mean often an artist, if they have a really really great assistant, would rather limit their career so they can keep them on as an assistant! That's probably not a very nice thing to say and it may not be true, but when you talk to an artists about their frustrated days as an assistant, you don't necessarily see that pattern— that Murakami pattern in play.

BB: The final chapter is the Bienalle in Venice and you describe it, or, someone describes it as, "the avant guard in the gold fish bowel". What is the difference between the Biennale and the Basil Art Fair?

Sarah Thornton:Well you know fairs and bienalles have completely different underlying logics, although they're both big events with lots of art. They differ in so far as a fair is organized according to a dealer logic. If you want to find the work of an artist you have to know who their dealer is and then you go to their stand and then you find it. A biennale has a curatorial logic. It's the curator who decides which artist to include and they do so according to broad semantics, or whatever their rules for the game are for that moment. Also in Venice specifically you have these National Pavillions where a country chooses who's going to be in their little buildings in the Giardini, and it's actually even spread out beyond the Giardini.

This year Canada was represented by Mark Lewis. I think it's going to be a really great year, actually. I've seen a few videos and I think they're awesome. You know, even though I've lived abroad for many years, I always feel very Canadian when I attend the Venice Bienallle. I always walk into the pavillion hoping, "Oh my God, I hope it's going to be good this year!"

I'm feeling confident about this year. I haven't seen them all, but I think there's four videos in the Canadian Pavillion and one of them is a most beautiful video of a couple figure skating outside in Toronto with snow coming down. It's a silent courtship and it's really quite mesmerizing to watch. It's interestingly shot, and I can't remember the name of the camera. They used a very special camera to shoot the video. Anyway, so I think us Canadians can be very proud this year. [laughs] As we could in 2007 actually, which is when my chapter is set, David Altmejd is the representative of Canada that year and I think he did a great job. He took over our very difficult Canadian Pavillion space and made it his own.

BB: Yes the space itself does define what can be produced; the size, the shape, the positioning.

Sarah Thornton: It's a very small pavillion. It's kind of one of those very mixed blessings or poisoned chalice or something, because I think what happened is that the Italians hired an Italian architect to create a building in the Giardini which was given to the Canadians as a sort of war reparation, and it was kind of an Italian fantasy of Canadian identity. It does look a little bit like a teepee.

BB: Oh really?!

Sarah Thornton: As we all know from going to any Contemporary Art museum or gallery space, a teepee is not really the model.

BB: No, maybe the pyramid in Paris for the...

Sarah Thornton: ...the Louvre. The Biennale during opening days, Vernissage Days, it's a really intense networking experience for insiders to the art world. It's incredibly international, with people from all the different roles: dealer, curator, collector, critic, artist—they all converge for these very intense four days of the opening. That is the moment that I'm there.

BB: How many people would you say are milling about?

Sarah Thornton: I think in the book I actually say, I think it's 34,000 VIP passes and press passes for the visiting days. I guess some of them would be outsiders to the art world, so there would be certain kind of arts correspondence. This year will be maybe a little smaller, but there were correspondents from Vogue Nippon there. It was like a huge international and fashion event, and there were probably generalists from outside the art world there too, but maybe the core of the art world was just 20,000 people? It's a little itty-bitty world, really. So it's that art world that I'm writing about. There are lots of art worlds, and there are local art worlds. The reason I talk about "the art world", in the singular is because that's the vernacular expression. That's the one that's used by the insiders and the outsiders too.

BB: Sarah the whole book was a revelation. I've been looking at art just as a lay-person in the cities that I've lived in where I've been fortunate to see world-class galleries and museums, but you never really reach into this level [of understanding]. I've got friends on the curatorial side, friends who are collectors, and people who consult for collectors, and so on. Just putting it all together, this book really does that, so it's really a great read. We're looking forward to discussing it here in Whistler with Whistler Reads, the whole village is going to be reading your book. I'm creating an art installation that is based on a piece [by Alicia Martin] made entirely of books it's a book fountain, called Bibographia, it's all coming out of the window of a building in this fountain of books. So we're having a lot of fun with this. You've really started something here.

Sarah Thornton: I'm thrilled. Thank you so much. It sounds so great!

BB: What's next on your list? Are you going to delve into different communities, or another subculture, or now that you've established yourself as the Madonna writing about the art world?

Sarah Thornton: Ha ha. Well let's see. I am not going to jump into another book right away, partly because this one is coming out in 10 foreign languages, and it's amazingly time consuming just overseeing the role-out. I was in Frankfurt in the beginning of the week for the German edition by Fischer Verlag [which is a] wonderful publisher. They're also the publisher of Freud and Kafka, so I'm in exceedingly good company. Let's see, and then I'll be in Milan for the Feltrinelli edition, and things like that, so I'm kind of... and then there's covering the art market for the Economist and other publications as a freelancer.

BB: Yes, you've got a lot on your plate.

Sarah Thornton: So I feel like I'm very busy until the end of the year. In January I'd like to maybe sit down and perhaps write another book proposal, or think through something. You know write a blueprint for my research, so I can stay on track and not get distracted by journalism. I have different book titles and book ideas that go through my head and I haven't settled on one, and I'm kind of quite enjoying not settling on one. I think the next one will be related to art in some way, shape or form. It won't be a sequel or anything, but I still feel like I'm learning a lot, that's the key thing. Also, it is a very b i g world, so in terms of foreign territories and different cities... I'm enjoying not being committed to one at the moment—but I know I'd like to commit to one, eventually! I just hope there will be a publishing world out there for me.

BB: I'm sure there will be. Well thank you so much, Sarah, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us here at BookBuffet.

Sarah Thornton: Thank you so much Paula [closing music]

Further unasked questions to ponder yourself

  1. While the title is Seven Days in the Art World, we’re really talking about the Contemporary Art World, which is a period from 1970 onward and encapsulating such recent art movements as Minimalism, Conceptualism to Graffitism, Brit Pop and so on. Close periods that are often lumped in together are Post WWII and Modern Art, which brings in Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. So when people visualize this art they need to think of artists such as Warhol, Hockney, Richter, de Kooning, Lichtenstein—all painters and Liebovitz, Avedon – photographers. Where are the next “isms” coming from? Have you detected trends? What excites you, the reader, in the art world? Are you into digital art, art created within nature?
  2. There's a sarcastic acronym in The Crit Chapter (that takes place at the Cal Inst of Art) given for MFA or, "not another Mother Fucking Artist" Pg 56. What do you think about the idea that artists have to, not only have talent, but come from a place of purity of interest (sounds like a line out of Kubric’s "Dr. Strangelove") and possess a base of self-knowledge that will enable them to self-market themselves and basically defend their ouevre? What did you think of the marathon session described in Michael Asher’s class where we witness a “painful ritual of cross-examination in which the artist must defend her/hisself.” Pg 47. How does the public become educated about art? Do artists have to have an MFA to be taken seriously or to become a success?
  3. Take a look at ArtForum Magazine. Let’s talk about the “oxymoron of objective opinion “ Can a writer be objective in a subjective world? Pg 150. It’s fascinating to see the degree of responsibility the magazine plays in the art world, the effect of what makes it onto the cover, the fact that they feign oblivion to the usual forces in art. People might also be interested to know that the office is divided between editorial (18 Ivy League graduates) and advertising which also serves as a metaphor for art’s opposing-twin purposes: creativity and commerce.
  4. BB:The Biennale. (bee en ahlee) Have you ever attended a Biennale? Why do you think it is becoming more difficult to mount a show with a single director’s vision… to stay on top of so much that is going on in the world? In a world of specialization, can people have a broad perspective, appreciation or real knowledge of global art?
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