Everything about Quality

Interview with Nixi Cura
Programme Director, Arts of China, Christie’s Education, London.


Christie’s Education is the first British institution to offer a Master’s programme devoted exclusively to Chinese art. While acquiring experience in object analysis, students will explore archaeological and historical contexts and the multiple narratives in the story of Chinese art. The course also explores cultural developments from the 19th to the 21st century, when intensified contact with foreigners generated new practices, functions and meanings in Chinese art.



ART.ZIP: What are your students like? Are they mostly Chinese?

NC: Some have noted the number of quite a lot of Chinese students in the programme. I would respond, what do you mean by Chinese? In my opinion, China is a space not a place. This course is conducted entirely in English, with many of the lecturers—specialists in their field—also speaking English as a second language. This means that even if the students come from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore or wherever, they have to have fantastic English. So generally, they’ve already done their first degree, either in the UK, US or Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, etc. The Mainland Chinese students whose English is good enough for this course have usually studied or worked abroad for a little while. The majority of students have Chinese heritage, but grew up somewhere else. So we get a lot of Canadians, Chinese-Americans, Australian Chinese, and we get ethnic Chinese from Singapore, Malaysia. We get one or two students each from Taiwan and Hong Kong every year. We do have the occasional Brit, but they are rarer these days, partially because it’s very daunting to take on this course without some Chinese language, but also because it’s cheaper for them to attend an English school at £3000 a year. They really have to make a commitment to the course.


ART.ZIP: 能談談你的學生嗎?會不會大部份都是中國學生?

NC: 有人會說很多中國學生上這個課程,我會反問他們,你指的中國人是什麼?在我的理解裡,中國是一個空間而不是一個地域。這個課程全程由英語教學,就算是客座專家講師,他們的第二語言都是英語,所以無論從中國大陸、香港、新加坡還是別的地方來的學生,他們必須擁有很高的英語水平。普遍來說,他們通常已經完成了本科學習,無論是在英國、美國、加拿大、澳洲、香港等等。中國大陸來的學生普遍都在國外學習或工作過一段時間,英語水平才能達到我們的要求。我會說大部份學生是華裔,加籍華人、美籍華人、澳籍華人,還有從新加坡和馬來西亞來的華人等等,他們都在中國以外的地方長大。每年大概還有一到兩名來自台灣和香港的學生。有時候也有英國本土學生,但不多,這個課程涉及大量中文參考資料,這可能是讓他們望而卻步的原因。而且英國本土學校的學費每年才3000鎊,比我們便宜很多。他們確實需要很大的決心和毅力來完成這個課程。


ART.ZIP: When choosing your students, what are your criteria?

NC: We interview everyone in person. All candidates must meet the requirements listed on the website, then our recruitment officers arrange interviews. We do interviews here in London, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, wherever the Arts of China faculty might travel. For example, if I’m over in Singapore, our website will indicate the possibility of meeting with me in Singapore. The interview is a two-way conversation, really. We ask applicants what are they looking for in the course, and they ask us what we have on offer to enhance their careers. Applying to graduate school is very nerve-racking, right? When you meet someone from that institution to establish direct contact, it eliminates the fear of the unknown, and the impersonality of sending out your application and then praying that you’ll get a letter of acceptance in the post. So in the interview we can determine whether you are appropriate for the Master’s: Is this the right course for you? Or perhaps you would prefer to study Art, Law and Business, not the Arts of China? Students obtain a University of Glasgow degree in the History of Art and Art World Practice, which trains them around objects and their histories and social, archaeological and economic contexts. To gauge fluency in English, I might speak very quickly on purpose. For applicants who do not yet meet our standards, I would suggest that they first improve their English by living or working somewhere where they have no choice but speak English all the time, then re-apply.

In interviews, we also assess applicants’ art history knowledge, or whether they have embarked on this path only to please their parents. So if they don’t possess the requisite knowledge, but they are really excited about Chinese art, I might also suggest they take a course in art history, and then apply again in the following year.

We see the students everyday during term time. The interview can help applicants decide whether they can live with me and other faculty. Honestly, if at interview I peg you as a prima donna, you’ll have a slim chance of getting in. Likewise, if the applicant finds me mean, overbearing, and arrogant, someone you couldn’t live with on a daily basis, then it is not going to work. Somehow I’m not scary enough! — the students keep coming, but we do wish them to know we have standards, that we are serious.

ART.ZIP: 你們的擇生標準是什麼呢?

NC: 我們會面試每一個符合要求的申請人。首先他們需要符合網站上列出來的要求,然後負責招生的同事就會安排一對一的面試。我們在倫敦、紐約、香港、上海都會安排面試的機會,例如當我剛好帶學生們到某個城市遊學的時候,就會在那個城市進行面試。打個比方,如果我在新加坡,學院官網就會告示面試的時間地點。







ART.ZIP: How many applicants do you get to meet normally?

NC: I interview a lot, more and more in Asia. We try to keep the numbers in line with the upper limits to hold handling sessions at museums. This course is flexible; we could hire additional staff to accommodate the number of students to maintain small class sizes. The students here flourish in this environment and get to know one another very well. They become a tight network after they graduate.

ART.ZIP: What does the programme offer them?

NC: Christie’s is the biggest art business in the world, and we manage their expectations. Not every one of them could get a job at the Christie’s, but we do offer professional development sessions and networking possibilities, as part of the degree in We make them meet people in different fields involved in the Chinese art world: experts, curators, academics, journalists, people who work in foundations, insurance, art law, corporate collections, and the collectors themselves, too. They get a sense of not just the art history, but also how the Chinese art world works right now. And hopefully we empower them to gain the confidence to go out and look for jobs. We also offer the Christie’s Education students opportunities for work experience at Christie’s and to meet the relevant specialists at the Christie’s. They also can apply for a the Christie’s Education Hong Kong internship, open to all the students in the Arts of China, Arts of Europe, Art Style and Design, and Modern and Contemporary options at Christie’s. The competition can be intense, and the students work really hard to prove their mettle.

ART.ZIP: 你通常要面試多少個申請人呢?

NC: 我面試很多申請人,現在亞洲的申請人越來越多。因為我們採用小班的授課模式,所以我們都會把最後的學生數量控制在一個合理的數量,讓大家可以在博物館進行小型授課和學習。這個課程彈性很大,如果學生人數較多,我們可以抽調額外的教員來確保高質量的小班教學,這樣能夠保證學生之間有足夠的交流和溝通,他們在畢業以後也能保持緊密聯繫,形成自己的關係網。

ART.ZIP: 課程為學生提供怎麼樣的體驗呢?

NC: 佳士得是世界上首屈一指的藝術商業機構,我們幫助學生達成他們的期望。不是所有人都能在佳士得獲得工作崗位,但是我們提供專業的培訓和關係網絡,讓學生能夠面對面地和中國藝術圈內人士交流,各個領域的專家、策展人、學者、媒體人員、基金會人士、保險從業者、藝術法律顧問、企業和私人藏家等。所以他們學到的不僅僅是藝術史,同時也了解現今中國藝術圈是怎樣運作的。我們希望能夠給他們足夠的信心去找工作,因為他們在佳士得已經有了與各類專家見面和合作的經驗。另外,他們還能申請在香港佳士得美術學院的實習機會,這是對所有佳士得美術學院學生開放的,包括中國藝術、歐洲藝術、藝術風格與設計、現代及當代藝術等課程的學生。這個實習機會很難得,競爭也很激烈,所以學生們都需要竭盡全力去爭取。


ART.ZIP: Where do the students go normally after the course?

NC: This is my seventh year of teaching this course. We’ve had ten to twelve students per year, 40% of whom have worked at Christie’s in London (South Kensington and King Street), New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. As we’ve trained them here at Christie’s Education, they know what Christie’s demands from its employees. So they know the standard and work towards it. We have one or two students each year who wish to go on to do a PhD, and we support them and provide advice on undertaking further advanced research in Chinese art. Some of the students, to be honest, don’t need to work ever. But I’d say the majority actually do end up working. Through the programme they all learn transferable skills, because the assignments accord with actual working the art world. For example, students write critical reviews, so if they are considering a career in journalism, they understand the expectations and that type of writing. Among their essays is a standard research paper with footnotes and bibliography, so if they want to pursue an academic or museum career, they know that the standards.

ART.ZIP: 學生畢業後的去向通常是什麼呢?

NC: 今年是我在這裡的第七個年頭。我們每年有十到十二位學生,40%的學生會留在佳士得工作,倫敦、紐約、香港、上海和北京分部都有。因為他們在佳士得美術學院受過專業訓練,所以他們知道佳士得需要什麼樣的人,他們朝著標準努力就是了。每年有一到兩位學生會選擇繼續修讀博士學位,我們會給予他們全面的支持,為他們進一步研究中國藝術提出建議。還有某些學生其實一輩子都不需要工作,但大多數都是會去工作的。學生們在課程裡學到的東西都能活學活用,因為課程作業都是根據當今藝術界的實際情況來佈置的。例如,學生們需要寫評論,如果他們想要從事新聞媒體行業的,他們會懂得媒體的需求和挑選適當的寫作形式。又譬如說,他們的研究論文都是嚴格符合學術標準的,註腳和參考文獻各項都不允許有差錯,如果他們想要往學術方向或博物館方向發展,他們都知道這種學術標準是什麼。


ART.ZIP: Do you think art education in the UK is more likely to help students prepare for the future?

NC: I have to say that Christie’s Education is not representative of the UK as a whole. The government currently encourages schools to ensure career possibilities for the students. Earlier this year the Quality Assurance Agency, which accredits institutions of higher education in England, noted as ‘good practice’ our support towards students’ future employment. We actually make it a part of our business to look after our students’ happiness. Because Christie’s Education is so small, we become a kind of family, and we keep track of students after graduation. We give them advice, write references, and we give them introductions even after they’ve left the building. Part of my job is to help students develop guanxi (connections) for their career prospects.

ART.ZIP: In this course there are two divisions, one is PgDip, the other is Masters. Would you explain more about the PgDip programme? How different is it from Masters?

NC: The Postgraduate Diploma course covers the same material as the Master’s, but without a thesis. Students can convert to the Master’s if they do really well in the first term. There are four tiers in the British system: Postgraduate Diploma, Master’s, MPhil and PhD. A Postgraduate Diploma is actually a perfectly respectable postgraduate degree recognised, particularly in the Commonwealth. Outside the Commonwealth, such as China and the US, the PgDip remains a bit of a mystery. As such, at interview we always alert applicants who wish to work in Mainland China or Taiwan or the US. Some of our Mainland Chinese students have expressed concerns about the PgDip, and tend to work towards the Master’s degree. With the PgDip degree, our alumni have found meaningful work in, for instance, Poly International Auction.

ART.ZIP: What is the relationship between Christie’s Education and Christie’s the auction house?

NC: Christie’s Education operates as an independent company owned by Christie’s as part of its core business. In practice we have the ability to step outside the auction world, as it were. We are Christie’s and we are not Christie’s. We can step back and from an outside perspective. But because we are part of Christie’s, we can also engage our students with everything Christie’s has to offer. For the auction house, Christie’s Education provides a talent pipeline and an institution for learning that embodies the expertise and passion for art for which Christie’s is renowned.

ART.ZIP: 你覺得英國教育是為學生就業準備的嗎?

NC: 我覺得佳士得美術學院並不能籠統地作為英國教育的代表。近年來政府鼓勵學校為學生的就業提供幫助和保障。今年年初,監管英格蘭高等教育院校的QAA(The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education──高等教育評估與質量保障機構)在為學生未來職業發展方面給予了我們很高的評價。讓學生滿意是我們的責任之一。因為佳士得美術學院很小,我們就像一個大家庭,所有學生畢業後的去向我們都會很上心。我們不但給他們就業建議,還給他們寫推薦信,就算畢業後我們也會給他們介紹相關專業人士。我認為為學生未來發展而拓展關係網絡是我的義務和責任。

ART.ZIP: 這個課程有兩個分支,一個是PgDip(Postgraduate Diploma)課程,一個是碩士學位課程。你能給我們說說PgDip課程嗎?它和碩士學位有什麼不一樣?

NC: PgDip就是進修文憑課程,內容與碩士課程沒有分別,只是不需要提交畢業論文而已。如果修讀進修文憑課程的學生在第一學期表現不錯,他們就可以申請轉到碩士課程。英國高等教育有四個級別,進修文憑(PgDip),碩士學位(Master’s),哲學碩士(MPhil)和博士(PhD)。進修文憑其實是一個相當受尊重和認可的學位,特別是在英聯邦國家。可是在聯邦外,例如中國和美國,人們對進修文憑的認識很有限。因此,我們在面試的時候都會特別提醒日後希望在中國大陸,台灣或者美國工作的申請人。好些中國大陸的學生都會對進修文憑表示疑慮,因此都傾向于讀碩士課程。但其實獲得進修文憑的校友都能找到不錯的工作,例如在保利國際拍賣行工作的。

ART.ZIP: 佳士得美術學院和佳士得拍賣行的關係是什麼呢?

NC: 佳士得美術學院由佳士得全資擁有,是佳士得旗下獨立運營的公司。我們能夠跳出拍賣圈來進行藝術實踐。我們是佳士得的,也可以說不是佳士得的。我們可以退一步來客觀地審視佳士得。但是其實我們又隸屬於佳士得,所以我們可以給學生提供任何佳士得現有的資源。佳士得美術學院為佳士得拍賣提供了各類專業人才和學習進修的地方,所以兩者的關係很好地體現了佳士得對藝術的專業和熱忱。

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