When he isn't teaching at the Master's in Fine and Decorative Art and Design, Bernard Vere is a published writer, and an elected member of the British Association of Modernist Studies (BAMS) and International Association of Art Critics (AICA). Bernard recounts his career path that lead to Sotheby's Institute, how his love of art began, and what students can expect at the MA.
Where did it all begin for you? How did you develop a passion for art?
It was in the mid-eighties, and the Tate had just opened Tate Liverpool. I was a teenager and my grandparents lived nearby. Suddenly instead of sitting at their house I was looking at Tate's surrealist collection, with pieces by Dalí, Magritte and Miró, as well as Mark Rothko's Seagram murals.
Tell us about your career trajectory and how you came to work at the Institute in London.
I studied Literature and Philosophy as an undergraduate followed by Critical Theory at MA level. I then did another Master's degree and a PhD at the London Consortium, which was a collaboration between Birkbeck College at University of London, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Tate and our neighbors in Bedford Square - the Architectural Association, so I worked with diverse and impressive range of people. My dissertation supervisor, for example, was a senior curator at Tate. During that time I taught at Birkbeck and Tate, as well as the London Metropolitan University. I joined the Institute in London just after being awarded my Doctorate in 2006 and became Program Director of MA in Fine and Decorative Art and Design this year.
Alongside your role as Program Director for the MA Fine and Decorative Art and Design, you are also a published writer, sit on the Executive Steering Committee of the BAMS and are an elected member of the AICA. How does being an active professional in the art world benefit those who come to study on the MA?
Writing is a chance to work out ideas that I've been thinking about. It's a process which I see with students regularly; it helps consolidate what you know as well as opening new avenues of inquiry. Membership to bodies such as the British Association of Modernist Studies, which is cross-disciplinary academic organisation for the study of modernism, and the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), extend our network, which can be directly beneficial for students, but they also help to ensure that what we're teaching is current and relevant. Both myself and Chantal Brotherton-Ratcliffe, the Old Master expert on the program, are elected members for AICA which brings a certain level of professional recognition in the art world.
In your opinion, what advantages are there to studying fine and decorative art and design in London?
London is a great center of the art world. Every month there's an art fair or an auction that's relevant to our students. There are also a whole host of dealers specializing in everything from Renaissance art to modern and contemporary design. There are galleries that have world-class collections, such as Tate, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, but also a lot of smaller jewels that tourists normally miss. There are only a handful of cities in the world in which you could offer a program like ours, which requires both a range and depth of collections.
"Be prepared to be busy! You'll see a lot of art and meet a lot of people who are passionate about what they do. You have to match that."
What can students who take your Master’s course expect?
Be prepared to be busy! You'll see a lot of art and meet a lot of people who are passionate about what they do. You have to match that. It’s a program that’s designed for people who are deeply committed to the study of art and who want to work with it on a daily basis. We spend a lot of time in lectures and seminars, but its really distinctive feature is how much time we spent in front of artworks. We visit museums, of course, but we also visit dealers, auction houses and art fairs, both in the UK and in Europe, and we talk to people who work in these places about what their jobs involve. Our students learn how to write extended essays and MA dissertations, but they also learn how to catalogue works of art in a commercial context, how exhibitions are put together, why dealers go to some art fairs and not others. We give students academic knowledge of a broad range of art, but also an insight into the workings of the art world.
How would you capture the Sotheby’s Institute of Art – London MA Fine and Decorative Art and Design experience into three words?
Immersive, varied, rewarding.
What advice would you have for someone starting out in their career in the international art world?
My number one piece of advice is to ask questions. It's OK not to know all the answers, but asking good questions demonstrates that you're interested and puts you into a relationship with the person you're talking to. A lot of the art world is built on establishing and developing such relationships.