Reading for research: Breakfast at Sotheby’s

Sotheby’sPhilip Hook is an art dealer. He has spent 35 years in the art market, first at Christies then at Sotheby’s, so he knows his stuff. As soon as I heard about this book I put it on my ‘to-read’ list. It’s about the art business, about what sells and why, and what doesn’t and why. It is a fascinating insight into the world of art, written in an entertaining, informative style that is never too dry. Hook mixes in art trivia and some of his own mishaps with an authoritative account of art and money.

Does an artist’s back story have any effect on the price his work fetches? Why do some artists not make the big prices until they are dead? Are the portrayals of artists in literature accurate, or stereotyped? What difference does it make if the subject of a portrait is smiling, or solemn?

For me it was interesting on two counts. First, because my protagonist in Connectedness is an artist; so Hook is writing about Justine’s world. Second, because of the many parallels between the creative twins of art and writing. There are sections on artists who write, creativity block, and artists as characters in novels such as Claude Lantier, the hero of Emile Zola’s The Masterpiece, and Ralph Barnby in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time.

The quote that stayed with me after finishing the book is one by Edgar Degas on creativity block: “It seems to me,” he wrote aged 22, “that if one wants to be a serious artist today and create an original little niche for oneself, or at least ensure that one preserves the highest degree of innocent of character, one must constantly immerse oneself in solitude. There is too much tittle-tattle. It is as if paintings were made, like speculations on the stock markets, out of the friction among people eager for gain. All this trading sharpens your mind and falsifies your judgement.”

Breakfast at Sotheby’s’ by Philip Hook [UK: Particular Books] 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Researching #art BREAKFAST AT SOTHEBY’S by Philip Hook via @SandraDanby