Saturday, August 13, 2011

Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

Photo taken by Gemma Flynn

It took me quite a while to finish Sarah Thornton's ethnographic account of the creativity, businesses, motives, and quirks that together come to form the complex microcosm known as the art world - Seven Days in the Art World - for several reasons. One reason, most notably, was due to the fact that I found myself continuously reading every second line twice, struck with how simply and accurately Thornton compiles her five years of research (including interviews with 250 artists, collectors, dealers and critics) into such short, however incredibly charged and suggestive, chapters.

After reading Thornoton's book I feel that a more affective title would be 'Seven Days in Art Worlds,' as each illustration highlights just how varied are, and often detached from each other, the ways in which people are involved in the industry, the creativity, the production, consumption and most importantly, the experiences of, art. For example, the students lying on the floor at CalArts for Michael Asher's infamous 12 hour critiques, could not be further from the art dealers and collectors queuing up at the Basel Art Fair for free gelato (as Thornton wittily notes, who can not be expected to carry such small change with them). The worlds extend further to the London artists nominated for the Turner Prize in London, anxious with the feeling of what Lady Gaga would describe as being on "the edge of glory," to the internal conflicts between journalists and critics at the magazine ArtForum. Thornton's book illustrates the complex value systems which exist in each micro-discourse of the art world, in fact perhaps highlighting that there is no one 'art world,' per say, as there is no one perspective.

The other notable reason for which I was so delayed with completing Thornton's book, which I think anyone who has read anything incredibly eye-opening can empathise with, was the inevitable knowledge and fear that it would end. That this book which had led me into the auction room at Sotheby's, through the National Pavilions of the Venice Biennale and into the studios of Takashi Murakimi in Japan, would cease after around page 300. This fear however, did not last forever with the final few chapters seeming to lack the flow of the beginning "days". Although insightful in their own ways, the refined nature of "the Auction" makes for a stark contrast with chapters such as "The Magazine" which by the end of one can't help but feel slightly lost amongst interviews, self-consciousness and references to other days and research ventures. However, that is not to say that I did not find this book incredibly fascinating from start to finish (and further on to other writings by Thornton).

On another hand, I find Seven Days commendable on an ethnographic level, for the task of capturing the zeitgeist of the art world is a challenge that we can imagine to not be easily adopted. I found the majority of the book to take place from a fly-on-the-wall perspective with enough room for the reader to make their own observations. However one can't help but notice Thornton's comments and judgements taking place every now and then and hence with the question of what parts of Thornton's research were left on the cutting room floor? Ideally, the reader would themselves be immersed into the situation, however with Thornton's book, it were as if being immersed into Thornton's mind, then into the art world.

All in all, Seven Days was a fascinating, as well as incredibly entertaining, read that has opened many a new trains of thoughts and has made me all the more interested in finding out about the art world(s) and all its facets. It may not have turned out to be the magnum opus which I initially revered it as, but undoubtably it will be receiving many more creases, dents, underlines and dog-ears to come (no, I don't treat all my books in this fashion, but this is a book to be devoured, read, reread and to be found squashed under a pillow when you wake up the next morning and realise you've lost the bookmark).


  1. I loved your review of the book, makes me want to read it! You have such a cute blog!

    Thank you for the sweet comment.

    Carmen Ri.

  2. eager to read your review once i've read the book :)

    the photo turned out really well! ah, proud! ^-^

    gemma xo

  3. hey girl:) such good writing. keep it up!

  4. very inspiring. thanks for sharing your thoughts. love the photo.