Skip to main content

Sarah Thornton Comes to Albany


Thornton doing a reading during her talk at U-Albany.

Sarah Thornton looks at the elitist realm of art in a way that everyone can understand.

Last Thursday she came to the University Art Museum to discuss her book, Seven Days in the Art World. Thornton’s book won best art book in 2008 from the NY Times, The Sunday Times (London), and The Independent, and is sold in over a dozen languages across the globe.

“A lot of people dismiss the art world as being a shallow place,” Thornton said. “I hope that my readers see that it is mostly full of people who are looking to enrich their lives through art.”

The 256-page book is broken up into seven chapters, each devoted to a different niche in the world of art, in a very readable fashion. Set in N.Y.C., London, Basel, Venice, and Tokyo the chapters give a glimpse of the day in the life of an iconic aspect to art.

The book looks at the business side to art. She shows the relationship between buyers and collectors, the workings of art auctions, and how value is placed on art.

From the Christie’s evening sale in New York to a look behind the scenes of the Tate’s Turner Prize competition Thornton’s book places the viewer in a world they have not seen before.

Thornton, a native of Canada who currently resides in London, started on the path to writing about art as a bachelors student in Art History. In 1988 she moved to England to work on her PhD in Sociology and has “never successfully left.”

As a sociologist Thornton is not looking into the art realm through the lens of an art critic, but instead as a non-biased participant observer. She feels this immersion into her subject allowed her to give a true depiction of the different art sub-cultures.

“Most books about art criticism are not interested in speaking to people outside the art world,” Thornton said. “I’m interested in the idea of a growing involvement in contemporary art.”

During the Q & A junior Chris Beers asked: “If you could describe the art world in one word what would it be?”

After a moment of silence Thornton answered, “That’s a question to ask a poet.”

Thornton’s book demonstrates the complexity within the world of art. The New York Times calls it a “field guide to the nomadic tribes of the contemporary art world.”

Although many are responding positively to Seven Days, there are some in the academic realm of sociology who have questioned its academic credentials.

Thornton commented because her book didn’t follow the usual “declaration of the dead” format people would question it.

“I hope the book doesn’t get dismissed because it is too easy to read,” she said.

Regardless of what critics are saying Thornton is going to continue examining the inner workings of art communities around the world.


  • correction 5 years ago

    No one in the "academic realm of sociology" has questioned the book's legitimacy. On the contrary, Adrian Favell, a Professor of Sociology at UCLA, says "Seven Days should be welcomed as a breakthrough contribution to the ethnography of contemporary culture: a close to definitive glimpse, through brilliant polished windows, at one of the most revealing examples of a genuinely global social milieu.”

  • me 5 years ago

    Thank you for your concern and although I do agree that my use of the word "legitimacy" may have been to extreme, Sarah herself did comment on the concerns some in the academic realm have for the academic credentials of her work. Looking through my notes right now I am seeing that she did in fact talk about this subject throughout her lecture and it was clear that although there were many who are applauding the book as a breakthrough there are those who question it. But doesn't every piece of academic writing get questioned by the academic community? Isn't that kind of the point?