Seven Days in the Art World drama: First one critic had ’amnesia’, now The Telegraph apologizes...

A second high-profile retraction by a commentator of Sarah Thornton’s book has been announced. But why didn’t they clarify the matter with Thornton before putting it into print for readers?

R.J. Preece (ADP)
Creative Business & Entrepreneurship | Re-posted 28 July 2011
This article was previously released on 1 October 2009 in the Art Design Publicity magazine issue 1(4): Slammin with Jeff and Damien.

Well what do we have here...?!

Sarah Thornton

For Sarah Thornton, who replied to my email after the apology was released last Saturday, "It’s shocking that I would have to find lawyers to work for me for free—and to wait ten months—for a powerful national newspaper to correct factual errors that were seriously damaging to my reputation as a journalist and scholar."

"I can’t say any more at this time," adds Sarah Thornton.

This public retraction occurs after my interview of Thornton a few months ago; I pulled up this review in The Telegraph in a Google search in order to prepare for my interview of Thornton. I’ve kept a print out of the original review since, which I unfortunately cannot locate now on the newspaper website for ADP readers. But the original review might be available in newspaper databases accessible at universities.

In the review by Lynn Barber, Sarah Thornton is described as "a decorative Canadian". The review continues, "[Thornton] also claims that she practices ’reflexive ethnography’ which means that her interviewees have the right to read what she says about them and alter it. In journalism we call this ’copy approval’ and disapprove."

Lynn Barber also wrote in The Telegraph, "Thornton claims her book is based on hour-long interviews with more than 250 people. I would have taken this on trust, except that my eye flicked down the list of her 250 interviewees and practically fell out of its socket when it hit the name Lynn Barber. I gave her an interview? Surely I would have noticed?"

In fact, during my interview of Sarah Thornton, I informally asked her specifically about this—because if one person in the art world whom I respect from a distance claims to not have been interviewed, then I did wonder about the possibility of others.

However with this retraction, it’s clear: it was the British journalist who was a little decorative, or had amnesia...

The second time around

This is not the first time a high-profile voice has forgotten about being interviewed by Sarah Thornton— and put this into print. In his weekly column "Put downs and suck ups", Matthew Collings wrote about Thornton’s book late last year.

Matthew Collings writes:

"Seven Days is billed as "critical" so you expect an exposé, but when access is granted for the purposes of publicity she simply keeps her side of the contract and provides the required ego stroking. Voodoo drivel is reported straight. In Tokyo, as Murakami "absentmindedly puts his hair back in a slightly cock-eyed bun" he gives her the oracular low-down on ultimate meaning: "An artist is someone who understands the border between this world and that one."

While laughing I had another conflicted name-dropping moment. "Matthew Collings" appears in the credits at the back of Seven Days, amongst 250 other names of people who gave interviews for the book. "Most of them were conducted face to face, in sessions lasting about an hour," Thornton writes. Amnesia intervenes. My conscious memory tells me I met Thornton for the first time at an art sale on 15 September this year, a few weeks after I was sent an advance review copy of Seven Days. The conversation lasted five seconds: "Hello, are you Matthew Collings?" "Yes." "I’m Sarah Thornton." "Oh OK."

Sarah Thornton replies, posted on the web page linked above:

In his column of 21 November, Matthew Collings claims never to have met me during the time I was researching my book Seven Days in the Art World. However, I recorded an interview with him in his home on the 5 March 2005. It is a shame he has no recollection of the encounter... I would be grateful if Matthew would set the record straight...

Matthew Collings then responds:

Now that you describe the context I do remember giving an interview to someone from Art Review a few years ago. I totally take back the suggestion that it never happened. It was only a suggestion, though, and not the main burden of my criticism of the book. (I said "amnesia intervenes.") I’ve made my objection to the book clear. It’s certainly not that I don’t star in it. Good luck with it anyway.

And good luck to all of us as we navigate through the world of Art Design Publicity...

critical media analysis art design

Sarah Thornton at artdesigncafe