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Unveiling the Art of Perception: An Interview with Bianca Bosker, Author of ‘GET THE PICTURE’
Artful Women: Conversations with Leading Female Authors in the Art World
Feature 19 Mar 2024

Meet, Bianca Bosker, a distinguished author and journalist whose recent insatiable curiosity has led her to the art world.

Here, we chat with Bianca with a focus on her latest book Get the Picture: A Mind-Bending Journey among the Inspired Artists and Obsessive Art Fiends Who Taught Me How to See, to learn more, as part of our ‘Artful Women: Conversations with Leading Female Authors in the Art World’ series!

Your new book, Get the Picture: A Mind-Bending Journey among the Inspired Artists and Obsessive Art Fiends Who Taught Me How to See sounds intriguing. What inspired you to dive into the world of art for your latest book?
For a long time, art and I weren’t on speaking terms. When it came to visual art, I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t belong. And yet art, scientists tell us, is a fundamental part of being human—“as necessary to us as food or sex.” I felt like my hyper-optimized life was missing something, and as I started poking around the art world, I quickly became obsessed with the art fiends I met. I’d never met a group of people willing to sacrifice so much for something of so little obvious practical value. Gallerists maxed out credit cards to show hunks of metal they swore could change the world. Artists treated 100-year-old paintings like they were as necessary as vital organs. These art lovers also fascinated me because their expansive approach to life made my own existence feel claustrophobic by comparison. And to be fair, they pitied me: They told me I lacked “visual literacy,” which they swore was downright dangerous in a world so saturated with images.

I became consumed with the question of whether I could see art—and the world—the way they did, and what would change if I could. So I decided to throw myself into the nerve center of the art world. Unfortunately, pretty much nobody except me thought this was a good idea.

In GET THE PICTURE can you share some of the most surprising insights or discoveries you made during your research and writing process?
Nothing prepared me for how secretive the art world would be. I began reaching out to people, hoping to get art experts to talk to me, and instead of answers, I got threats. Warnings. Art professionals assured me my plan to go work in the art world was impossible. Maybe even
dangerous. I felt like an FBI agent trying to get in on the mob.

This surprised me: Based on everything the art world advertised about itself, I assumed I’d find a group of open-minded iconoclasts who wanted to embrace as many people as possible in the warm hug of art. Eventually, I got a gig at a very cool, up-and-coming gallery in Brooklyn, and while spackling walls and writing press releases, I began to be initiated into how the art world wields strategic snobbery to keep people out. This includes everything from the use of artspeak (more an exclusionary code than a clear form of communication) to where galleries are placed (many are located less like stores than speakeasies) to how people are expected to act (I got lectures on my overly-enthusiastic personality and unimpressive wardrobe, and artists told me they felt pressure to develop a carefully-honed “artist personality” to fit in.). To me, GET THE PICTURE is part user guide to the hidden logic of the art world, part quest to live life more expansively. I hope that by laying bare how the art machine currently works, people can learn to navigate it—or better yet, improve on the current system.

Also, having my face sat on by a nearly-naked stranger in the name of art—that surprised me. I didn’t see that one coming.

What do you hope readers will take away from GET THE PICTURE, particularly in terms of how it might change their perspective on the art world?
I’d always thought of art as a luxury—I mean, it can’t feed you, house you, or be used to kill predators. But as I began working as a studio assistant for artists and embedding with the sort of researchers who’ll strap eye-tracking goggles on tourists at art museums, I was fascinated to learn—and experience—all the ways that art is crucial to our existence. For instance, our sense of sight isn’t nearly as trustworthy as we think. We don’t see the world like video cameras,
objectively recording everything around us. Instead, our brains are more like trash compactors, and our brains’ “filters of expectation” preemptively dismiss, ignore, and prioritize the raw data even before we get the full picture. But the purpose of art, I came to see, is that it helps us fight the reducing tendencies of our minds. Science shows that art introduces a glitch into our brains.
A glitch that is a gift. A glitch that helps our minds jump the curb—no velvet ropes or made-up language necessary.

I came to see that there is an artist in each of us to the extent that we struggle to keep our brains from compressing our experience. Art is a choice. It is a fight against complacency. It is a decision to forge a life that’s richer, more complex, more mind-blowing. And ultimately, more
beautiful.

As someone who’s written about a diverse range of topics, from wine to China’s “duplitecture” to art, what draws you to such varied subjects? And how do you approach each topic with fresh eyes and unique insights?
I’m obsessed with obsession and I feel a magnetic pull toward passionate people. A lot of my writing projects begin when I experience what I can only describe as seismic activity: I come across a group of people who approach the world in a way that shakes the foundation my life.
They’re doing something that makes me question the principles on which I’ve approached the world. Something that makes me sit up straight and think, Oh my God, I’ve been thinking about life all wrong.

GET THE PICTURE was, for me, a journey to develop what art connoisseurs would call an “Eye,” and it was guided by the questions of why art matters and how any of us can engage with it more deeply. Gradually, I saw art differently. But I also began to see everything differently.
Cultivating your “Eye” allows you to experience art on your own terms. To trust your taste. But it also enables you to see beauty where you never did before. It’s hard for me to walk down the street now and not want to dash off to savor, say, the radiant orange of a brick wall. Even a
sewage treatment plant, I discovered, can be beautiful. The mind-bending jostle we get from art can be found nearly anywhere, and beauty, I came to see, doesn’t necessarily lie in a color or a shape. Beauty is that moment your mind jumps the curb. But you have to be open to seeing it, and exercising your eye helps you do so.

In terms of my research, I try to let my reporting be guided by questions, which feels more honest than searching for specific answers. I love not knowing where I’ll end up. I didn’t expect
this at the outset, but I think GET THE PICTURE is in many ways a love story, with all the agony and ecstasy that goes along with love.

With your extensive experience in journalism and writing, what advice would you give to aspiring writers looking to pursue careers in investigative or feature writing?
A key part of writing is writing. If you want to write, there’s no substitute for seeking out great story ideas and then sitting your butt in a chair and putting words on a page. At the same, don’t assume that just because writing isn’t easy that it isn’t for you. I find that a lot of the time, writing is agony. And also bliss. There are days when I will rearrange the fridge, scrub grout in the shower—anything to avoid grappling with a sentence. And yet I’m also addicted to the thrill,
challenge, and fun of wrestling words into place.

More about the author: Bianca Bosker is the New York Times bestselling author of Cork Dork and, most recently, Get the Picture: A Mind-Bending Journey among the Inspired Artists and Obsessive Art Fiends Who Taught Me How to See. A contributing writer at The Atlantic, she has also written for publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Her work has been recognized with awards from the New York Press Club, the Society of Professional Journalists, and more, and has been included in The Best American Travel Writing. She lives in New York City.

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