Giovanni Aloi teaches the Sotheby’s Institute of Art online course on Art as a Global Business and has previously taught in our Semester and Summer Study programs. After completing an undergraduate degree in Milan, Aloi moved to London in the 1990s to do an MA in Visual Cultures and then a PhD in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths. He has since worked for Whitechapel Gallery, Tate, Prince Charles Cinema in both curatorial and educational roles and now lectures at the School of Art Institute of Chicago and serves as Editor in Chief of Antennae: the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. He dispels some myths about online learning and explains how it provides a unique opportunity to gain new art business knowledge, skills or even a whole new career...
Why is it important to study the business side of the art world?
In universities, there’s often an emphasis on the political nature of art yet working for art institutions in London I’d hear a lot about the limitations and the potential of markets. They’re not at the fore of Tate or Whitechapel Gallery’s identity but when you work at these places you become aware that markets play a role in what’s purchased, what’s kept in the archives. You can’t develop a rounded appreciation of art without giving consideration to the markets. Even when artists tackle politics, there are always questions of economy lurking behind the scenes.
How do you address this idea on your online course, Art as a Global Business?
With this course, we wanted to debunk the idea that studying the connection between art and money is less engaging or noble or culturally substantial than studying the history or the philosophy of art. At the same time, we wanted to try to draw out a historical background for the art market. A lot of what you see happening in the art markets isn’t that dissimilar to what used to happen during the Renaissance. Someone like Charles Saatchi can be seen as a patron for contemporary artists as the Duke of Montefeltro was during the Renaissance.
You’ve taught in classrooms, museums, galleries - how does online compare?
You’re not constrained by the class schedule, you can spend a little more time on the nuances and on discussing specific points that interest the students in more depth. Although there’s a group dynamic, there’s also the opportunity for more one-to-one time. A student can contact you with a question and you can address it.
One of the most rewarding things is the variety of students from around the world who participate. You’re exposed to a wealth of different perspectives, expertise and knowledge. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to recreate that in a face-to-face classroom environment.
What kind of misconceptions do you think people have about online learning?
I think studying online carried a negative stigma during ‘80s and ‘90s because the interfaces through which remote learning was managed weren’t as conducive to learning as they are today. They didn’t allow for much interaction with peers or tutors. We’ve moved miles away from that.
There’s no reason why online learning should be of any lesser quality than face-to-face. In fact, the opposite is true. Because my lectures are carefully recorded for the students to access, there’s no room for error. Likewise, our exchanges in the online discussion forum are written so there’s always a source for students to go back to and review what’s been said.
We try to keep things as dynamic as possible so you feel part of a community that’s growing and learning together.
Self-motivation can be a challenge with online learning. Do you have any pointers?
My advice to students is to allocate realistic pockets of time in which you can engage with the course. We tell students ahead of every week what will be happening so they can dedicate time for readings and lectures. I offer as much support as I can through the interface that the course uses. We try to shape the discussion in ways that are engaging, interactive, using videos and sharing links for further research. We try to keep things as dynamic as possible so you feel part of a community that’s growing and learning together but your own determination is paramount because you’re the one that has to log on and visit the discussion.
What prompted you to leave Italy and come to London to learn about art?
In the mid-90s, people would come from all over the world to study Renaissance art in Italy but you couldn’t study contemporary art seriously there. London at that time was a very exciting, bubbly and accessible place to be. I arrived at the end of the YBA (Young British Artists) period and caught the Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. I got really interested in how the London art world operated.
I worked at Whitechapel Gallery for three years, while doing my MA in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths and then started to work at Tate, where I became involved in the educational aspects of the program, giving high profile lectures and gallery talks for donors, as well as visitors to the gallery. It was an interesting position. I was the interface between the wealth of amazing work in the collection and the people who want to unlock that. My job as a lecturer for Tate lead me to work with different galleries - the National Gallery, the Royal Academy, and then Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
Some prospective Sotheby’s Institute students might be considering a career change into the art world. How do the online courses prepare them for this?
Changing career, choosing a direction or even just pondering the idea of wanting to be involved in the art market when you don’t know what it is, are big steps. Sotheby’s Institute’s online courses are the best starting point you could have. The art market is daunting, demanding but extremely exciting. We empower students to make career decisions in a very aware and professionally grounded way.