This post originally appeared on the Cultural Security Blog.
In light of the record-breaking prices that have become the norm in auction houses it should come as no surprise that schools are offering courses tailored towards buying and selling artwork. In a New York Times article published on February 18th reporter Ellen Gamerman elaborates on just that–how “Business Looms Larger in Art Classes.”
A growing number of undergraduate and graduate students are focusing on the business side of the art world; several prestigious institutions have made this possible by adding to their curricula specific courses focused on buying and selling art. Williams College created a course on “auction strategy” in which students were required to pitch proposals for purchasing based on investment potential and then to negotiate the best deal. The college also established a $25,000 budget and actually had the students compete for a chance to buy a piece of artwork, a piece that would be acquisitioned into the college’s museum. Harvard Business School’s art society offers an annual trip to select students to attend Art Basel Miami Beach as an art world networking venture. We’ve also seen an increase in enrollment in art-market programs like Sotheby’s Institute of Art, which experienced a 10% increase in the last year. And following its success in London, Christie’s Education in New York will be introducing a new master’s program for art, law, and business.
As the New York Times article discusses, not everyone is on board with this rising art-business trend. It can be argued that a focus on price tags detracts from creating a greater depth of knowledge for the art itself; that if students are basing their art appreciation on auction sales then they are missing the fundamental aspects and experience for forming their own ideas and taste.
We are seeing a shift away from the traditional approach to art history education, where the focus has been on such matters as context, style, and symbolism. Now students are more likely to combine art history with business studies, blending commerce and art with an increased focus on the prices rather than on the art itself. It will be interesting to see how this pans out in the real world art market.