Why do Serious Art Books Fail to Sell?

The major museums nowadays are like zoos, each year becoming more and more crowded. The trend is so strong that, despite a rise in entry fees and a deep recession, there was a significant increase in museum visitors last year. Yet though art itself has never been so popular, serious books on art will not sell. People willing to pay $20 to visit a museum will not spend $50 to read a work of art scholarship. I am not suggesting that every art lover should be so interested in knowing what the art means, just some of them. Yet, with the exception of Taschen which sells picture books on art with conventional text at a low cost, innovative art scholarship does not sell. It is read only by…..art scholars. Why?

My own belief, based merely on intuition, is that the public are not stupid. There is something about the explanations of art historians, as art lovers experience it in a museum, that they do not believe or find fundamentally boring. Yes, art excites them but not the explanations of art scholars. Perhaps museum visitors sense that the art scholars themselves don’t understand art and, until they do, what’s the point of reading about it. 

Posted 26 Jul 2010: Books

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