Modern Classics: How to Discuss Contemporary Art Like an Expert

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It can be difficult to know where to begin when first exploring the world of contemporary art. A new, intensive online program from Christie’s Education, Speak with Confidence about Contemporary Art, offers a path to knowledge that will last a lifetime.

Artist Ann Carrington and Jacqui Ansell from Christie’s Education

Contemporary Artist Ann Carrington (left) talks to Christie’s Education’s Jacqui Ansell about her works, which include silverware bouquets.

“No prior knowledge of the artists featured, or the workings of the art and auction world is required,” explains Jacqui Ansell, writer and presenter of the course. “Through a series of carefully designed activities, this self-directed course prompts reflection and further discussion—and helps you form and articulate opinions. How often have you thought, ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like’? With this course you’ll be able to broaden your knowledge and to define and refine your tastes.”

The course looks at the ways in which modern art is made, presented, spoken about, and sold, and brings together professionals to shed light on complex, seemingly inscrutable aesthetic ideas, and make experts of attendees.

Two bust sculptures from Ann Carrington’s Piss Heads series
Two bust sculptures from Ann Carrington’s Piss Heads series, made from crushed beer cans.

“Many people find the language around contemporary art daunting, while the art objects themselves can be mystifying,” says Ted Sandling, Program Director of Online Courses. “Across key lectures and four 20-minute case-study video interviews, students are given understanding, ways of thinking, and a vocabulary to engage with contemporary art professionally and personally.”

“The overall aim of the course is to equip participants with a richer visual and verbal vocabulary, to enhance understanding of the contemporary art world,” adds Ansell. “The core of the course is a series of four interviews with art world specialists. I lead discussions with them to model the kind of questions that we might ask of artworks, their creators and curators.”

Christie’s Education lecturer Lizzie Perrotte and Jacqui Ansell
Christie’s Education lecturer Lizzie Perrotte examines the merits of an artwork with Jacqui Ansell.

Christie’s Education lecturer Lizzie Perrotte provides an insight into discussing contemporary art, while artist Ann Carrington, whose work has been acquired by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, discusses her inspirations and ways of working.

The social and cultural value of contemporary art is examined by Victoria Pomery, OBE, director of Turner Contemporary. “This particular video presentation helps you to consider the role of art in economic regeneration, as well as the validation of contemporary art practice by means of awards such as the Turner Prize,” Ansell explains.

Tessa Lord, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Christie’s London, in discussion with Jacqui Ansell
Tessa Lord, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Christie’s London, in discussion with Jacqui Ansell.

Finally, Tessa Lord, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Christie’s London, explains the terminology used by galleries and auction houses. Ansell herself, meanwhile, takes a look at the wider contemporary art world.

“Contemporary art is all around us, and contemporary artists often engage with issues that affect us all,” she says. “Having the confidence to introduce art into a conversation both enhances your cultural capital and your networking opportunities.”

Banner image: A London Art Fair 2020 visitor views Ann Carrington’s Pearly Queen of Buckingham Street. Alamy

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