A New Art Business Handbook from Sotheby’s Institute

By Sotheby's

Since 2011 Sotheby’s Institute of Art has partnered with Lund Humphries to publish a series of definitive handbooks to international art business. As our new handbook, Art Business Today: 20 Key Topics, is released, we hear from the title’s editors Jos Hackforth-Jones, Director of Sotheby’s Institute, London, and Iain Robertson, Head of Art Business Studies, London.

The book’s title is Art Business Today. When did art become a business, and what makes the art business of the 21st century distinctive?
Iain Robertson: The consensus is that the modern art market started around the 17th century in Holland. Before then there were workshops but it wasn’t a business. It was almost like an applied art form, linked quite closely to architecture. In the 21st century two things have really changed. One is financialization. Art’s now considered by many to be an asset class and therefore the value and the price have gone up accordingly. The other is technology. Because we can now trade and market art online, it’s a much more liquid commodity.
Jos Hackforth-Jones: Globalization, too, has accelerated in the 21st century, alongside the phenomenal technological developments that we’ve seen in the last decade. 

Sotheby’s Institute set up the first MA in Art Business, in 1998, and has since pioneered the study of this field. How does the handbook relate to Sotheby's Institute’s academic offering?
JH-J: When we conceived the handbook series we were thinking very much about our constituency - students who are at postgraduate level and professionals (many of whom are our alumni) who are involved in art business together with individuals who have an enthusiasm for art.

This new handbook links in with Navigating the Art World, which is a course that all our MA students take. It covers core topics in art business such as ethics and law, along with key topics relating to artworks so there are sections that look at authenticity, connoisseurship, conservation and art theft, really significant topics that we want all our students to come to terms with. But I think this book can be read in different ways. It can be read from cover to cover but it can also be a reference tool for people in the field - not just our students but anyone who has an engagement with the art world. We see it as a core text. 

I think this book can be read in different ways. It can be read from cover to cover but it can also be a reference tool for people in the field - not just our students but anyone who has an engagement with the art world.

Previous handbooks have focused on specific areas within art business such as collecting or law. Why did you decide to do one covering art business more broadly?
JH-J: As the book has developed we’ve become very aware that there is a real need for it, not just among people who come and do our courses, but also in the art world itself.
IR: There are 20 topics, covering most areas in art business. If people read a chapter on law or globalization, for example, using the bibliography, they can then go on and extend that reading to a deeper level. Hopefully the book stimulates further research and further interest in the subject. 

Art business is constantly evolving. Do you envisage future editions?
IR: This book reflects the most up-to-date thinking on every single subject area but we’ve tried not to fixate on dates so that you can go back in five years’ time and it will still make sense.
JH-J: We might update it. We might even see a complementary text coming out in a few years, with new topics, as the subject develops. We’re fortunate to have here at Sotheby’s Institute of Art the first MA in Art Business and Iain and many of the contributors to this book are very much at the cutting edge of the field. 

Do you have any advice for students who are editing their own publication?
IR: Jos and I made a point of meeting in person, not doing it over the phone. You need to literally be there with the manuscript in front of you. Editing is a long, drawn out process – possibly even longer than the writing.
JH-J: It’s also important to be clear about deadlines. Although Iain developed the idea for the book over a number of years, the production from writing to publication took under a year. We are fortunate that our colleagues were very responsive and good at meeting deadlines!  

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