Women in Business Q&A: Rebecca Wilson, Chief Curator and Director, Art Advisory at Saatchi Art

05/21/2015 05:07 am ET | Updated May 20, 2016

Rebecca Wilson is Chief Curator and Director, Art Advisory at Saatchi Art. Based in Los Angeles, Saatchi Art is the largest online gallery in the world, connecting artists and art lovers in more than 100 countries. She was formerly a Director at the brick-and-mortar Saatchi Gallery in London, a separate company to Saatchi Art. In 2007 Rebecca created New Sensations, a prize for art students which identifies and supports the most exciting emerging artists in the UK. She worked for 14 years in book and art magazine publishing as editor of Art Review and deputy editor of Modern Painters. She has more than 10 years of experience working with emerging artists.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was brought up by very open-minded, liberal parents whose democratic view of the world made a strong impression on me. I went to a state school in the UK so from an early age encountered people from less privileged backgrounds and was exposed to a sense of social injustice. I think this has had an impact on my feeling that good ideas can come from anyone and, regardless of any kind of hierarchy in the workplace, people should feel able to articulate their views and have them recognised and rewarded. I also learned from my parents the importance of independent thinking. I remember often asking my dad, who knows a lot about a lot things, the answer to something and he'd invariably say, "Go and find out for yourself". This instilled in me an ongoing reluctance to accept the received wisdom of so-called experts and tastemakers.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Saatchi Art?
I started out my career in book publishing working closely with writers for 10 years. I then shifted to editing art magazines before moving into the gallery world, first of all the brick and mortar Saatchi Gallery in London and now online with Saatchi Art based in Los Angeles. I have always welcomed change and looked for new challenges. I'm also very motivated by helping creative people find the recognition they deserve and feel strongly that the traditional art world has failed many talented artists. Whether an artist is taken on by a gallery or not is fairly arbitrary and is certainly not a reflection of the quality of the work being made. At Saatchi Art we are trying to fill this huge gap by giving artists all over the world the opportunity to show their work to an international audience online. We are also helping people who love art to discover many fantastic artists they wouldn't otherwise find. In the last 6 months we have sold works to people in over 80 countries by artists in 100 countries.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Saatchi Art?
It's been incredibly gratifying to hear from so many artists that Saatchi Art has enabled them to make a living from their art that would not have been possible otherwise. Whilst more and more people are comfortable buying art online it is for many still a daunting experience. But what we are learning is that it's actually far less daunting for many people than going into a gallery. We are very transparent in terms of giving all the information upfront about each artwork on our website, and for people who want advice or help with purchasing a work we offer the chance to work one-on-one with a curator through our free art advisory service.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Have a clear mission and clear goals early on but also be prepared to adjust and adapt. I think there's also something to be said for not being too much of a perfectionist. Sometimes it's best to launch something and start learning from it.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Be open to change. Be determined and gently persistent. Many people give up but if you don't you will stand out.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I'm not very good at it! I'm passionate about what we are doing at Saatchi Art and the company is still at an early stage so there is lots to do and learn. But my husband and I live 5 minutes from Venice Beach so we take advantage of that, and I'm getting closer to bracing myself and entering the hallowed halls of Gold's Gym across the street.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think women are more inclined to accept their lot which can mean they are taken advantage of but I feel lucky to be surrounded by so many smart, articulate women who are crucial to the success of Saatchi Art.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have learned a huge amount from working with our CEO Sean Moriarty whose strong sense of fairness and determination to do well in the right ways creates an environment people are excited to work in. He also has an enviable ability to see ways through all kinds of challenges which I've learned a great deal from over the past year.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Camila Batmanghelidjh who runs a charity in the UK called Kids Company. They help vulnerable children through educational programs, therapy services and art activities and feed thousands of kids their main meal each day. They also give children the chance to go on holiday for the very first time.

What do you want Saatchi Art to accomplish in the next year?
I want more and more people to learn about what we do, the incredible artists we have on our website and the outstanding service we offer from helping you to choose an artwork to delivering it safely from an artist's studio across the world to your home.