Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton
The art market has been booming. Museum attendance is surging. More people than ever call themselves artists. Contemporary art has become a mass entertainment, a luxury good, a job description, and, for some, a kind of alternative religion. In a series of beautifully paced narratives, Sarah Thornton investigates the drama of a Christie's auction, the workings in Takashi Murakami's studios, the elite at the Basel Art Fair, the eccentricities of Artforum magazine, the competition behind an important art prize, life in a notorious art-school seminar, and the wonderland of the Venice Biennale. She reveals the new dynamics of creativity, taste, status, money, and the search for meaning in life. A judicious and juicy account of the institutions that have the power to shape art history, based on hundreds of interviews with high-profile players, Thornton's entertaining ethnography will change the way you look at contemporary culture.
Okay, I don't have time to really go into this book at length. I wish I did. Suffice it to say that if this is what the art world is like (and I'm not at all shocked by it), I want no part of it. Based on this book, it's a world of money, snobbery, and sucking up. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I read the book. It's insightful in that it shows the art world how I always imagined it. I've always had illusions of fame in the art world but I don't want to be a part of this world. The only chapter that I took anything of worth away from was the one titled "The Crit" where she visits a critique class at CalArts. It reminded me of art school...all the good, bad and ugly of it. The beauty of art school is that most students are still struggling to make art. They haven't "arrived." (although as an artist we should never reach this point or we'll stop growing) But you can sense the hunger, the passion in them. I've sat thru many a crit but never like this one. It started in the morning and lasted until late at night. Crazy! But I enjoyed the chapter because it was the only one where I sensed people still enjoying art.
The chapter titled "The Studio Visit" is infuriating to me because we visit the studio of Takashi Murakami. He is a moody perfectionist who is more factory foreman than artist. He employs countless assistants who do the work for him. I am just not for this at all. Maybe I'm wrong but it seems wrong to me. It would be like if I planned a collage but I gave the instructions to my assistant and he/she did all the cutting, pasting, etc. Is it really my work? I don't think so. Maybe I feel this way because I believe an artist should be in there with his hands, manipulating the medium, getting dirty, leaving fingerprints all over the work. Murakami's way (and countless others I imagine) assumes that the end (product) justifies the means. For me, art is just as much about the process as it is the finished piece. Ugh. I could go on and on about this. Perhaps I should throw this question out to the arts group next time I go...let them bat it around a little.