Production Director of Cassone: The International Online Magazine of Art and Art Books and Director of Genesys Consultants Limited.
1. How do you describe your work to people who know nothing about art history?
My work is very varied, because I have two companies, one of which (Genesys) has a range of clients whom I need to keep happy. Through Genesys I do a range of pre-press work – editing and print production. The art history, of course, comes in, in a big way, in the work I do on Cassone, where I am editing all the material that the Editor commissions, but it is also involved in Genesys’ work, for instance in the production work I do for the academic journal Visual Culture in Britain.
2. What do you like most about your current job/work/project?
I like variety, and I prefer to work for myself. I like new challenges, which are easier to arrange when you don’t have to convince a boss to let you do something new. Cassone is my latest, big challenge. As well as preparing all the articles and reviews – c.25 a month – I have to upload them to the website, something I had never done before. It’s quite fiddly and can easily take half an hour to upload one article. I am also involved in marketing, promotion – and I do occasionally have time to visit a show and review it myself, which I love.
3. Briefly describe what your ‘typical’ day might involve?
I start about 10.30 a.m. checking emails from Cassone’s contributors and readers, and Genesys’ clients. It is frequently lunchtime before I am through them all. Galleries often send links for downloadable images: much more time consuming than if they send a few JPG files with an email. I upload news stories onto Cassone’s news pages. News of some events comes in weeks in advance, and I store these away till closer to the time. In the afternoons and evenings I am usually editing material for Cassone or for one of Genesys’ clients. If there is a lot on (frequently!) I won’t go to bed till well after midnight.
4. What are your current research interests? And/or what do you currently spend your time looking at/listening to/involved with?
At the moment, my ‘spare’ time has to be devoted to Cassone – a fledgling business is very time consuming. We publish such a wide range of material that there is always plenty to interest me. My PhD was on Bridget Riley’s early work and one day I would like to do further research on that. My most recent article for Cassone was a short review of the V&A’s current display of fabric made from the silk of Madagascan spiders. It was great to have an opportunity to see it in uncrowded conditions and meet the chap responsible for making this silk.
5. What made you interested in/by art history?
When I graduated with a BSc Biology in 1978 I joined a printing company that did both financial work for the City and fine art catalogues for commercial art galleries in the West End. So I got involved with both kinds of work, as a sales executive. I really enjoyed working on the fine art catalogues and got interested in art, and then had an early ‘mid-life crisis’ (at 30) which ultimately led to doing a BA History of Art (1994–8) and then a PhD at Birkbeck College, University of London.
6. What is your sense of art history today? And what do you think the future of art history might be?
Art history is an incredibly diverse subject. For instance there are art historians like me, who are interested in social history/reception studies, and others who are experts in individual artists’ work and can tell you whether an unsigned image is really by Artist X or not. Meanwhile, the cultural sector is enlarging all over the world. Current economic problems aside, as you have a generally more educated population, you will have more demand for art/museums/culture generally. An appreciation of art history will be important for giving people some background to what they are looking at, to deepen their pleasure. I do think a lot of academic art historians have forgotten that. An awful lot of work seems aimed purely at a small number of other art historians. We haven’t learnt from the scientists, who are generally pretty keen to demystify and popularise what they are doing. They haven’t always got it right, but it shows that if you don’t communicate with ordinary people, you can find they take a very antipathetic stand.
7. Why do you think art history is important? And/or why is it important to you?
Art and science in their broadest senses are the two main forms of intellectual enquiry – and it is intellectual enquiry that is our most characteristic feature as a species. We can’t all be artists or scientists, but we need to have appreciation of art and science and without knowledge of their history, you cannot really appreciate what they are, what treasures great art and major scientific discoveries are for humanity.
8. What has been your most memorable art history-related experience to date?
I went to see an exhibition of Dutch genre paintings at the RA in the early 1980s; I went in the same spirit in which one reads certain books – because I felt I ought to. I was very tired but found that I was actually woken up by the whole experience. I think that was the start of really wanting to study art more – I started to buy a lot of books on art and going to museums and buying the catalogues. I didn’t start the BA till 1990 so there was a gestation period!
9. Which ONE art work/object/book would you take with you to a desert island?
Well, this is probably cheating but I would take my computer – with Internet access – and be able to continue working on Cassone and have access to millions of art objects and written material about them on the Web. Yes, definitely cheating…
10. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Deciding to take the BA was the best decision I ever made as regards education. I was thinking at the time that I might do an MBA but I am very glad I went for the BA and PhD instead. It really changed my life – I got my book published, met lots of great people – other art historians, a number of whom are now shareholders in and contributors to Cassone – and of course the chance to launch Cassone and potentially bring art history to very large numbers of people.