Noah Charney is the celebrated author of Stealing the Mystic Lamb and the international bestselling novel The Art Thief. He is the founding director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), a non-profit think tank and research group on issues in art crime, and his work has been praised in such international forums as New York Times magazine and Time magazine, among many others. Charney is Professor of Art History at The American University of Rome.
Lara Ehrlich: What is art crime?
Noah Charney: Art crime is any criminal act that involves objects of cultural heritage or national patrimony, as distinguished from mass-produced collectibles like baseball cards. The most common categories of art crime are theft and theft during war, looting, forgery and deception, vandalism, and iconoclasm, which is the intentional destruction of artwork.
LE: In various interviews, you have said that you developed an interest in art crime while researching your first novel, The Art Thief, and realized that there was no field of study devoted to this subject. When you decided to pursue a PhD in the history of art theft at Cambridge University, did you have a difficult time finding support for your dissertation?
NC: Absolutely. There was no field of study that dealt specifically with this phenomenon because it fell between criminology, art history, archaeology, sociology, and security studies. So I was essentially forging a new field of study. The advisor who finally took me on at Cambridge was actually a historian of Jane Austen-era sociology. I probably should have chosen a criminology professor, but I was coming from a humanities background, and at the time I didn’t have the grounding in criminology. In academia you’re encouraged to stay within your sphere, and the fact that art crime is an inherently interdisciplinary subject was problematic.