With a BA in art history and a PhD in Sociology it was only a matter of time until writer Sara Thornton produced a collection of non-fiction narratives on the inner workings of contemporary art and its place in art history. Her book 7 Days in the Art World explores the hierarchy of the art world and its social structure. Thornton sat down with South magazine for SCAD’s deFINE ARTS Festival
South magazine: When did the idea of this book first come into play?
Sara Thornton: It actually started the day I dropped off my daughter at kindergarten. I’m not the kind of woman who should stop working. After my children were born, I took a few years off and I lost touch with the art world a bit. I still went to galleries and such, but I wasn’t in the thick of it like when I was working on my undergraduate through my PhD. So when I dropped my second child off at school, I started walking away and I thought contemporary art! It occurred to me that I needed to go back to my roots…how to research, interview, how to be an ethnographer, how to look at social dynamics, etc., and I knew I wanted to do something with contemporary art. I don’t know how I just knew that was the direction I wanted to take.
SM: What are the attributes you most like about contemporary art?
ST: I’m very interested in the belief of contemporary art. It brings meaning into people’s lives, brings social structure to people’s lives in a way that almost reflects the social structure of the church. It offers community and meaning. It can be a means to help define who we are, explore ourselves, and our place in the world.
SM: Where did the title come from?
ST: I wanted something that represented each institution and subculture of the art world, something that carried the burden of representing everything and everyone. This title cannot only do that, but I think it also has a religious connotation, which I definitely think the art world has. I wanted each institution to be an iconic edition in and of itself. By the same token, I didn’t want to dilute the book to be this comprehensive representation. My publishers for a while wanted something a bit sexier, but in the end I got to keep my title because 7 Days In the Art World is very matter of fact, very straightforward. It is what it is, and it has religious connotation which I like.
SM: How did you make this book something both the art world and the public could connect with and understand?
ST: The research I had done on an article about the relationships between art dealers and collectors was done in a very ethnographic way. It was actually in an interview for that piece that someone said to me, “Your articles are alright but no one is going to read your stuff unless you name names and tell stories.” And, he was absolutely right. It occurred to me that in order to make sense of the art world I had to name the artists. And in naming the artists, I had to name the dealers that dealt with them and the collectors that collected them…because artists aren’t actually interchangeable. And then in writing my ethnography, it became a sort of social history of the present. That’s how it became this hybrid of the two. It is a wedding of two disciplines that don’t usually talk to each other, the bastard child if you will.
To learn more about Thorton and her book, visit sarah-thornton.com.
For more information about the SCAD’s deFINE ARTS Festival click .