The Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize Judging Panel is a selection of highly respected and renowned individuals in the art world, who cover a wide range of viewpoints and varied tastes for all movements, mediums and types of fine art.
In the latest of a series of interviews, we ask our judge Dr David Bellingham the questions many artists have asked us as well as some that will help us get to know him better and some insight into his roles in the art world as art historian and art business expert.
If you have any new questions, feel free to comment below...
Q1: Tell us about your pathway into the Arts?
My early background lacked any cultural capital so I found strange art and languages exotic and seductive. I fell for Latin language and everything about ancient Rome when at school and my father took me to Rome and Pompeii when I was 12. At that age I couldn’t stand anything Renaissance or Baroque, and modern and contemporary art was very much hidden from the wider public. I found myself with a degree in Latin with Classical Archaeology and researching ancient Pompeian wall-paintings for my PHD. This was partly a study of the site-specificity of fresco paintings designed to remain in a particular room, and my discoveries led me away from written language towards visual culture. I lectured in Classical Studies and then moved to Sotheby’s Institute where, as Programme Director of the MA in Art Business, I have learnt to engage with art from every period and nation. On the programme we visit a lot of emerging galleries and this has allowed me to develop an awareness in cutting-edge artistic practice as well as what galleries are looking for in emerging artists. I also get a lot of input from what my students like in art, and they are the future advisors, dealers and collectors of art.
Q2: Do you have a favourite art movement or style? My early research interests in the fixed and site-specific nature of wall-paintings have remained with me.
I find art galleries generally dull, unexciting and overcrowded, and prefer the dynamics of seeing art as related by the artist to its immediate environmental contexts of space, light and intention. That means art in churches, banks, hospitals and town-halls, as well as in the streets of Camden, Shoreditch and Belleville (Paris). In the past five years or so, the art market has been driven by fashions in cross-collecting so I really no longer care much for a particular style or movement, just the way the artist responds with sensitivity and intelligence to the immediate environment, as well as the way the most switched-on curators and collectors create synchronic displays reflecting current socio-political interests in globalisation, sustainability, inclusivity and diversity.
Q3: What are your values within the arts – why do what you do and what do you wish to champion and develop within the art world?
My Art Business lectures, seminars, visits and publications tend to focus on the ethics of artistic production, reception and the art market. I hope that my students will take those ethical values into their work in both the commercial and public sectors of the art world. I do not think that public money necessarily creates the most exciting, relevant and enduring art but I also realise that the art market is untransparent and unregulated and tends to favour a very small number of commercially ‘successful’ artists. I am still hoping for a truly global art world, but its millennial development has recently been reversed by nationalist politics – hopefully this is a temporary blip.
Q4: What do you appreciate or look for in an artist with potential?
That is a very difficult question as I encourage my students to rediscover the initial gut-reaction to art which is often knocked out of them by orthodox art history teaching. However, I also recognise that this is a narrow-minded strategy because a lot of emerging artists do not like to wear their hearts on their sleeves; I sometimes need to look twice and keep looking for the conversation between the art work and myself to start developing – those kinds of unspoken clumsy dialogues with art can be as rewarding as the more immediately engaging works. The danger in the art market is that the ‘wow-factor’ works often gain more exposure because of their more immediate commercial appeal.
Anyway, if you really want a direct answer to this question, then the main thing I respond to is ambiguity in terms of content as well as style: that quality will often mean that the artist is always on the edge of decision-making throughout the conception and creation of the work, and I find that exciting to experience. I do not think that the viewer is passive but needs to engage in the conversation begun by the artist in the work in front of them.
Q5: What do you hope to see in submissions to the art prize? Variety and novelty – I see too many works which are technically admirable but which have nothing new to say within the broader cultural context. There is little potential for conversation and discourse with the viewer in such work.
Q6: What has been your favourite project to work on and why?
My primary love is writing and communicating with my students as I see in them the future of a brighter art world. However, the art prize is also very special to me because I see the work of emerging artists who are already beginning to shine light on that world.
Q7: If there is one piece of advice you would give those thinking of submitting work to the art prize what would it be?
Always hold on to sincerity and integrity towards conception, creation and fulfilment of your visions. Don’t lose sight of the world outside yourself. Go and look at as much art as possible, not just that validated by public sector galleries like the Serpentine and Whitechapel, but also in emerging galleries in fringe areas of London and other art cities. Speak to emerging art dealers to understand what they are looking for as they are often the mediators between you and potential collectors of your work. Look at the strategies of street artists as those guys are really out there trying to get noticed by the non-artsy public!
Oaktree & Tiger Team
Art experts giving advice to emerging artists to build their careers and find success. Organisers of the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2020, artist agent and art consultants.