Art Business Education

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on the growth in art business and a move away from art history. The article notes art business classes at Williams College, Harvard Business School's art society, and Sotheby's and Christie's art education program.

The Wall Street Journal reports
The new art expert is not necessarily an expert in art.

Art-history students used to tackle questions of symbolism, social context and style in art. Now, many young scholars are at least as focused on prices as they are on the art itself.

More graduate and undergraduate students are skipping the conventional approach—quick, who came first, Raphael or Donatello?—and instead focusing on the ​business of buying and selling art. Last fall, a new art-business class at Williams College came with a $25,000 budget toward the acquisition of a work for the institution’s museum. Students competed for a chance to buy a piece, making a case for the work’s investment potential and negotiating the deal.

“Students are interested because the art market has become important—it’s volatile and it’s interesting,” said Stephen Sheppard, an economics professor who teaches the class with Kevin Murphy, a curator at the Williams College Museum of Art.

Harvard Business School’s art society recently sent more than 30 people to Art Basel Miami Beach, an annual trip launched about five years ago that offers students networking opportunities in the art world. The trip’s $300 tickets, which covered VIP admission, private tours, guest speakers and other nontravel costs, sold out the first week of school. Students included budding entrepreneurs eager to make connections in trendy art circles.

“Traditionally…having the higher degree in art history was the prerequisite,” said the society’s co-president, Anna Raginskaya. “Increasingly, the people who run [galleries and other art institutions] are looking at a different sort of candidate—someone with a management education or work experience in another industry.”

Some art-world veterans say the push toward business-savvy art study means certain newcomers to the business are dealing in paintings they barely know, using arty buzzwords to cover what are basically market predictions.

“I don’t think there’s really much depth of knowledge among some of the people who get very quickly involved in it,” said Michael Findlay, director of New York’s Acquavella Galleries. “The person who is involved should be building their own convictions, their own insight and their own taste based on experience, not just based on the results of Sotheby’s or Christie’s contemporary sales a month ago—that’s not how taste is formed.”

The focus on the money side of art appreciation starts early: Mr. Findlay recalled a father approaching him at a recent art fair saying his 10-year-old son only wanted to see the most expensive painting in the booth.

Art-market programs are on the rise. Sotheby’s Institute of Art reported a record number of students in its master’s programs in 2015, up about 10% world-wide over ​the previous year. The institute, founded by the auction house in London in 1969, just started its first master’s program in Beijing with a Chinese university and added three graduate programs in Los Angeles in the last two years.

“Our sense is that what employers want on Day One is someone who not only understands the history of art but understands a spreadsheet,” said Jonathan Friedlander, vice president of global marketing for Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

​This year, Christie’s Education is launching a new art, law and business master’s program in New York, a mix of commerce and art that has taken off since starting in London a few years ago. The graduate program, part of the larger education venture owned by Christie’s, also expanded its master’s in modern and contemporary art in New York with new material on the global art market. Christie’s and Sotheby’s award graduate degrees through accredited universities or state government.

Traditional approaches to art-history education are shifting, said VĂ©ronique Chagnon-Burke, academic director of Christie’s Education New York. Most people in the Christie’s classes have studied art history and business, while stand-alone art-history majors are in the minority, she said.

“Art history is recognizing that contemporary art is becoming more important, and contemporary art and the market work together very closely,” she said. “It’s realizing it needs to open itself up and take under its wing all these new developments in the art business.”

Late last year, the Williams class gathered at Christie’s in New York, where a specialist took them past trophy artworks and shared bits of auction strategy. ​During the course, students were required ​to pitch proposals for an art purchase from a dealer or auction house. A panel of experts ​eventually ​chose the winner—“Keene Valley, Adirondacks, 1876” by Hermann Fuechsel, a Hudson River School painter—after students argued that, among its other attributes, a top-tier landscape by a lesser-known name would increase more in value than other works. The picture of a sun-swept valley was purchased with the acquisitions fund of the Williams College Museum of Art.​ It now hangs in the museum.

Shorter courses are popping up, too. Young professionals in London, New York and Asia are studying the art market and other financial topics through Citi Private Bank’s Next Gen, a three-day wealth management and investing program that teaches the adult children of rich clients how to handle their future inheritances. The course culminates with a mock auction run by a Christie’s expert. Participants bid on art previously sold at Christie’s—an exercise that makes a daunting market seem less intimidating, said Money Kanagasabapathy, the global head of Next Gen.

“There definitely has been a change in the mindset about art in the next generation,” he said. “They can start the collection now—they don’t have to wait for their first million dollars.”​
Source: The Wall Street Journal 

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