I don't believe in art.
I believe in the artist.

— Marcel Duchamp


Sarah Thornton is a writer and sociologist of art. Formerly the chief correspondent on contemporary art for The Economist, Thornton has written for many other publications, including Artforum, the Guardian, and The New Yorker, and has contributed to broadcasts at the BBC, NPR, and ZDF. A frequent guest speaker, she has given talks and participated in panels at museums, universities, and literary festivals around the world.

Thornton has a BA in art history and a PhD in sociology. A Canadian who went to Britain on a prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship, Thornton investigated hierarchies of “coolness” through a case study of dance clubs and raves. Published as Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital, her doctorate led the Daily Telegraph to declare her “Britain’s hippest academic.” Thornton then coedited the first edition of The Subcultures Reader and ran the MA in media studies at Sussex University.

After doing a year’s undercover “ethnographic” research as a brand planner in an international advertising agency, Thornton returned to her first love – art – and started researching the book that would eventually become Seven Days in the Art World (2008). This series of witty narratives reveals the inner workings of the institutions that contribute to an artist’s place in art history. Named one of the best art books of the year by the New York Times, the book is an international hit, currently available in seventeen languages.

In the summer of 2009, Thornton began investigating the question: What is an artist? Or who do artists think they are? And how do they command belief in their work? After interviewing and observing over a hundred artists, Thornton came up with the structure and themes of 33 Artists in 3 Acts. This ambitious and entertaining book goes behind the scenes with a superb cast of living artists – from global superstars to unheralded teachers -- to humanize and demystify contemporary art. It is published October 1st in the UK, November 3rd in the USA and in many translations in 2015.


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Top 10 Reasons Not to Report on the Art Market

As a sociologist, I’m fascinated by the economic dynamics that swarm around art and artists. However, I’ve decided to shift away...

Tar 09/01/12

The Price of Being Female: Post-War Artists at Auction

Much fanfare greeted the $388m made by Christie's post-war and contemporary evening sale in New York earlier this month—its highest...

The Economist 05/20/12

A Passion that Knows No Bounds: Philippe Segalot’s Carte Blanche, the Auction as Self-Portrait

This month saw the launch in New York of a new kind of contemporary-art auction, one in which a single major...

The Economist 11/19/10

Hands Up for Hirst: How the Bad Boy of Brit-Art Grew Rich at the Expense of His Investors

In 2008 just over $270m-worth of art by Damien Hirst was sold at auction, a world record for a living artist...

The Economist 09/09/10

Rogue Urinals: Has the Art Market Gone Dada?

Critics tend to declare that Marcel Duchamp's urinal, entitled “Fountain”, is the most important artwork of the...

The Economist 03/24/10

An Academic Alice in Adland: Ethnography and the Commercial World

In summer 1997, I quit my tenured university lectureship in Media Studies and sought a job in advertising...

Critical Quarterly 01/01/99

Four Years in the Art World with Sarah Thornton: 33 Artists in 3 Acts

Six years after The New York Times and London's Sunday Times named Seven Days in the Art World one of the best art books of 2008...

Art in America 10/20/14

Sarah Thornton and the State of Art

Since exploding onto the scene in 2008 with her now-cult book Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton has charted...

Canadian Art 09/01/14



 US  abaggetta [at] goldbergmcduffie [dot] com

UK  aoneill [at] granta [dot] com

CAN  smyers [at] penguinrandomhouse [dot] com

Thornton is represented by The Wylie Agency:
mail [at] wylieagency [dot] com

Photo credits: Top (James Merrell), Bio (Beowulf Sheehan), Above (Jacob Bricca)

This site and the materials contained herein © Sarah Thornton and W. W. Norton, Inc.