A Guide to Art History & Cultural Understanding with the Director of Christie’s Education 

Glen Hardwick-Bruce, Director of Christie’s Continuing Education, discusses Art History teaching methods and representation in the auction house industry


Visit to Palazzo Abatellis with @clagulli and @education.christies. Photographed by Glen Hardwick-Bruce.


The task of art history has been widely understood as the tracing of changes and developments that artworks have undergone over the centuries. The present educational system allows for expansive teaching in art, but the core issue remains that an interest in art is related to privileged education. More so, the art of the past is an issue due to the lack of representation. As John Berger famously wrote, “The way we see things is affected by what we know”. Thus, the limited access to Art History for many challenges their ability to look at art. 

Not all is grey because many art institutions have been opening up the conversation of making art history more accessible. We had the privilege to meet Glen Hardwick-Bruce, Director of Christie’s Continuing Education in London, to gain an insight into his views on the current art education system and how Christie’s has been promoting diversity in the art world. In the mix of our energetic conversation, we found it remarkable to hear Glens’ guidance on looking at art because engagement requires more expertise than we imagine. 


Image of Glen Hardwick-Bruce at the Young Collectors Club Launch. Photo owner: MTArt Agency. 

*Struck by endless possible questions, I thought the best place to start was with an introduction and why Glen Hardwick-Bruce could speak on behalf of everyone at Christies. 

My name is Glen Hardwick-Bruce, and I’m the director of Christie’s continuing education, here in London. I’ve been working at Christie’s for almost 12 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes throughout the years, not only with the types of clients that we have, but with the subjects of education that we offer. We’ve tried to do this globally in all our locations to make sure that everyone is sending the same message. We offer programmes in art history, art business, the luxury market and careers in the art world.

As someone who is dealing with art education everyday, what do you think is the special quality of learning art? Why do we need to know about art as a society in general? Do you have an opinion about how it forms the mind, body and soul?

From a cultural perspective, I would say that it helps us fit or understand ourselves and where we fit in the world. And it’s not only our world, it’s other cultures’ worlds. And it is so helpful to understand the people of that country, or that particular area of the world by looking through their eyes, and their art.

I’ve lived in South Korea, Japan, Italy and probably the most important thing I did when I lived there was to go to their galleries and museums. That helped me so much to understand why people do things, how they live and why they have these holidays, customs or traditions. And it’s there in their art.

So you would say that Art is a way to learn about culture and a way to bring communities together?

Absolutely! You do start with yourself and understanding where you are in your own culture and then you are curious about other people.


What are your thoughts on teaching art history in chronological order, in terms of representation and women as artists, not muses? Is that something Christie’s is thinking about at the moment?

We have traditionally done a survey programme of art history, starting from the Renaissance going right through to the contemporary. I have been questioning this for the last few years and especially through introducing courses in African Art. And whether we should be imposing the Western canon on other cultures, and how they produce art and whether it should even be a canon.

I’ve also been asking some presenters and lecturers to come on board and talk about the lack of representation and female artists. We all know that a lot of female artists in the Renaissance were never mentioned in the history of art books, Gombrich, as we know doesn’t mention a female. I’ve made the decision to incorporate this style of teaching art into our programme. However, I still think it’s necessary to look at other art, the traditional way of teaching art, and the main principle artists that we recognise to be the big names at galleries. It just means that we’re being more inclusive. And we want to give a bigger picture of art history. 

That’s exactly the steps that must be taken! Is this being represented in the auction house as well?

We have had a lot of changes within what we do at the auction house. We’ve been introducing exhibitions that focus on emerging artists and women artists. But things don’t change overnight, it takes time. And we’re a very old company and it takes even longer.


The most common motivation for attending an auction house by the younger generations is driven by a sneaker or handbag sale. What is your encouragement for younger people to attend the auction house? Why is the auction house important? 

The auction house, traditionally, can be intimidating. A lot of people don’t understand that you can just walk in. You don’t have to pay, you don’t have to book, you can just walk in whenever there is a preview and look at this amazing art. 

The introduction of our lates programmes, around sales where we have talks, exhibitions and hands-on activities is a great way of encouraging younger people to come in. When we have sales you can come in and watch the auctions and see what is selling. If you’re interested in working within the art market, that is a very very good way of understanding trends.We are probably the most transparent institution within the art world. If you go to a gallery, you’re never gonna know the price of an artwork unless you ask and very begrudgingly, will they tell you what an artwork is worth. The auction house is really a resource for people interested in learning about art, the market and our courses.

Going back to your point about inclusion, we offer equality, diversity and inclusion. We have a committee within Christie’s and we offer programmes around those. In the past, we’ve had free lectures on black artists, women artists, on neurodiversity and queer art.


Colleague @cornahwillis doing an amazing job with the Harris Academy experience at Christies. Photographed by Glen Hardwick-Bruce.


How has the Harris Academy Foundation been going? 

We have been doing that for so many years. A programme where all the Harris academies have a session on art history then we bring them into the auction house and talk to them about the art auction house business, how an auction is carried out, the history of Christies and we get them to create little museums.

That is very important because childhood shapes your future in a way. So getting this insight at such a young age, Christie’s can be an avenue for them.

Exactly. The final session we do is where they go away to their respective schools and create an artwork that is based around a theme that the schools decide on. A few months later, they come back and we run an auction to sell the artworks.They have their own auctioneers and they sell the artworks to teachers, staff, parents, and the money that they raise goes to a charity. It’s an amazing experience for these children who would otherwise probably not have the opportunity to do anything like that.

And it’s a creative outlet as well.

It also helps with public speaking and their confidence. 

That is a very creative way of engaging them because at such a young age you can’t be pinned down and spoken at, you need to be encompassed into the world to feel belonging.


If someone is new to the art world, what is the way they should look at art? How should they be engaging? What are the key thoughts to articulate when stumbling across an artwork?

It varies depending on what you like, and you don’t find out what you like, unless you go out and look at art. You have to go to galleries, you have to go to museums, and you have to just be exposed to as much art as possible. When you get in front of an artwork don’t just look at it and move on to the next one, you need to stand there for at least three minutes. 

They were very clever in the past, hundreds of years ago, they would have someone in the painting looking at you. And you would be taken into the artwork by this person who is looking at you, then you would start to look around the artwork. What was it trying to tell you? Where was it? Why were they using the colours that they did? And then ask yourself, Do I like it? Do I not like it? Why don’t I like it? Or why do I love this?

Any emotional response is a good response!

Absolutely! It is about emotion. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at a fresco from the 14th century or at a contemporary artwork, the process is the same. You will either get a sudden hit in the chest, or you will just be left empty but you will have a reaction to it.


Students interacting with the contemporary calligraphy of Fung Ming Chip-Asian Contemporary Art: An Insider’s View. Hong Kong. Photographed by Glen Hardwick-Bruce.


From personal experience, I find that with artwork I hate, I fall in love with the fact that I hate it because it is causing this anger and starts a conversation, especially if you go with a friend, you start talking about why you hate it. It is just this powerful emotional interaction.

And you could change your mind by the end of that conversation! I mean art generates conversation, it generates thought, it generates emotion.What more could you want?! It’s the greatest entertainment!

It links back to our first question on art in relation to the mind, body and soul. It is all for entertainment.

And that’s what it’s always been, it’s been there to connect with us, as humans. 


The @education.christies Exploring Art Tours: Florence is underway with @thebenstreet and @alikibraine at San Marco’s and the Duomo Museum. Photographed by Glen Hardwick-Bruce. 


So I know that you do a lot of travelling. I believe travel is probably one of the best ways to articulate knowledge and get cultural awareness. If someone is travelling, how would you encourage them to look into the art scene?

Do your research. When you go to another country, you are there to experience this new culture, these new people and you have to be conscious of the fact that they’re not going to do things the same way as you or your country. That is one of the main reasons for travelling, to experience something new.

I ask this question because I fear that some people fall into the tourist trap. For example,“I’m in Paris. I need to see the Mona Lisa.” And because of this mindset they neglect other artworks. Would you say people should try to open their eyes to other things?

This is such a can of worms. There are the people who are box tickers. They can go to Paris, go to the Louvre and say they’ve seen the Mona Lisa. Whether that’s for a second or whether they stayed and actually looked at it. There is so so so much more to see. 

That is not people’s fault. It is no one’s fault. A lot of art that people go and see, it’s because they’re told to. And educating yourself and being curious, is just something that will either come or it won’t come after you’ve seen artworks.

Also it really helps to know the story of the artist and their background, because so much of what artists do will help you understand why they created the work, and what their motives were in producing this artwork. That is so important.

Indeed, to understand their intentions! Especially with political art, as we may not gauge the meaning ourselves.

Especially if you’re visiting another country, and you don’t know the history of that country. To understand the context with which this artwork is produced, is so helpful.


A trip to Palazzo Pamphilj with Christie’s Education. Photographed by Glen Hardwick-Bruce.


What would you recommend new art-goers to do in London?

First thing first, I am guilty of this but if you have time go to an art gallery and don’t try to do the whole gallery all at once. 

I have been guilty of that before!

I used to do that when I was travelling. I was so scared that I would never come back and I wanted to see everything! And I would just be so overwhelmed. 

What I have learnt with age, do one or two rooms. And look at the art in those rooms properly. Take your time, sit down on the benches and look, just look at the artworks and go through the questions I mentioned earlier and then move onto the next one. You will have so much more pleasure from doing that. 

Also remember there are so many smaller galleries in London. Like Dulwich Picture Gallery, Sir John Soane Museum. Break up the city into areas, do the East-London galleries, do Mayfair another day. Do the South of the river galleries, split it up and take it in bite-size chunks.


We hope to witness further social change in art history and hope this article has given you guidance into looking at art.


Deepest gratitude to Glen Hardwick-Bruce for this interview. This interview was conducted on 29, November 2023.


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