An Art Grad's Guide to the Art World – Comments from London's Olyvia Kwok

Friday 22 May 2020, UCAS advice

by Ella Hendrix

An Art Grad's Guide to the Art World – Comments from London's Olyvia Kwok

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Ella Hendrix

Whether you are heading towards graduation from university or have already completed your art degree, one thing is for sure – that things won’t quite be the same in a few months as they are now. The art world can be a daunting one, especially for those who are just starting out and that’s where old-hands in a young body like Olyvia Kwok can help.

Kwok began dabbling in the art world at the age of 22 and has quickly risen to success in art investment. She has recently hosted an exhibition in New York showcasing over 30 works by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat – some of which are being shown for the first time, and she now runs her own highly successful art investment company – named Willstone Management.

To be successful in art investment, you need to have a good knowledge of the world of art – and although the art world is always changing, its nature doesn’t, so a lot of that knowledge can be passed on from Olyvia Kwok to the next generation of artists, investors, collectors, historians, and auctioneers. Some of the observations that she has made about the world of art include:

The World of Art is an Open Book
One of the most exciting things about working in the art world is that, according to Olyvia, “Art is unregulated.” In other words, the world of art is always throwing up the unexpected and surprising us, as you never quite know what we are going to see next.

As someone who is graduating – or has recently graduated – from university, you will be well-placed to know what kind of thing we will be likely to see, but the fact that it is unregulated suggests that anything goes and there are no rules.

This makes it a highly exciting industry to work in, but one where you must have a degree of caution to ensure that you make the right decisions.

Know What People Want
Regardless of whether you are working as an artist and trying to sell your own work, working in art investment and looking to buy and sell art on the behalf of your clients, or are in art sales and auctioneering, it is important that you know what people want when it comes to buying art.

It is important to know what people like, what drives them to buy particular works of art, and what drives them to pay more money for one thing rather than another. Kwok states that “People are getting more selective and more sophisticated, when [something] is adequate, it doesn’t attract people. When things are super quality or super fresh I think people [are] happy to pay premium.”

This shows how knowing who you are selling to and working with is extremely important and the key to making money out of art.

Always Multi-disciplinary
It is unusual to be spending all day, every day talking to and working with people who do exactly the same job as you in the art world, so it is important that you try to get used to working with people across all disciplines. And that includes people who don’t work in art at all.

Olyvia Kwok spends a lot of time investing people’s money for them in art – and these people aren’t all art experts. Olyvia has stated that “Non-art people are very literal and objective, and I like to talk to them.” This shows how it is important to be able to bridge the gap between those who are fully immersed in the art world, and those who aren’t.

Play to your Strengths
As with most industries, it is important that you play to your strengths to make a successful career for yourself. For Olyvia Kwok, this includes using the fact that she understands both European and Chinese cultures – including speaking the languages.

Kwok suggests, “I think, geographically, I have quite a good advantage because I’m Chinese, so I speak the language, so it’s quite, well, it’s easier for them to work with me and you have this trusting ability as we look the same, and then I grew up in England since I was very young, so I think the mentality could be quite European, and also I had a lucky way of how I got into an art business, so I know lots of people and I think also, I lived in Miami so the whole idea of this American go-getting – I can do a combination of it all.”

Taking your first steps as an art graduate into the art world can be a little intimidating and daunting for some people, however, it is an exciting and potentially very lucrative world to go into. Just by looking at the success that Olyvia Kwok has had over the past few years, you can see that those who are willing to learn, be flexible, and play to their strengths can forge a great career out of art.