In a series of interviews, MAYANNE SORET explores the world of art history podcasts. Here, she introduces the series and shares some thoughts on her own introduction to the world of podcasting. You can read Mayanne’s introduction to the series here.
This is one of a series of articles that were commissioned in January 2018 in association with For Art History, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, have not been able to be published until now. We hope you enjoy them!
Created in June 2016 by four recent Art History Graduates from UC Davis in California, the Art History Babes publishes episodes weekly to talk art history, politics, museums, gender, boxing, cocktails, and more. While the babes started with long format episodes, the podcast evolved into a multi-media platform, including short episodes – the Art History B.B. – pop culture Hot Takes, YouTube videos, and social media content. Corrie Hendricks, Ginny Van Dine, Natalie De La Torre and Jennifer Gutierrez met while studying for their MA in History of Art at the University of California Davis, and since graduating work in a variety of day job, from law to galleries, while growing the Art History Babes brand. I interviewed them in January 2018, on how they got into art history, podcasts, and how their practice has evolved since starting the show.
First of all, I’d love to hear about what got you into Art History?
Corrie: I jumped around a lot in my undergrad, studying everything from Elementary Education to Sociology to Dance. I decided late in my undergraduate career that I wanted to pursue a future in Art History so I took as many classes as possible and graduated with a minor. Two years later, I attended UC Davis for my Master’s.
Ginny: I was drawn to Art History because of a fantastic lecturer who dynamism and passion for art was infectious. I currently work as a gallery assistant at a contemporary art gallery in the San Francisco Bay Area in California.
Natalie: I’ve always been interested in the arts, but developed a strong love of painting in high school. As an undergrad, I took my first art history class with a badass-lady professor, and was instantly hooked.
Jennifer: My interest in art and history came about at a very young age growing up surrounded by Mexican art and craftwork. My father in particular cultivated my deep curiosity of Mexican and Mesoamerican history and bought me many large picture books ranging from the murals of Diego Rivera to photographs of various Mesoamerican archaeological sites. This interest has endured throughout my studies up to today.
How did you come to podcasting, and what first motivated you?
The creation of the podcast was sort of serendipitous. The four of us were having drinks one night to ease the grad school tension. Ginny ended up telling this fascinating story about Gian Lorenzo Bernini in a way that was reminiscent of Comedy Central’s “Drunk History”. Corrie had just recently gotten really into listening to podcasts, so her first instinct was “We should start a podcast!”
Corrie: I think the primary motivation was to make art history more accessible and fun. It is pretty common for people to be intimidated by the arts or, worse yet, brush them off as frivolous and insignificant. Our primary goal is to help people see that art history is incredibly relevant in an increasingly visual culture.
How do you decide on subject and how do you plan each episode? How does that differ from your other art historical practices?
Up until recently we didn’t really have a process to deciding the subject – just whatever sounded interesting. Often we would choose topics that aligned with our research interests, or whatever we happened to be talking about in seminar at the time. More recently, we’ve started compiling a list of ideas and suggestions that we pull from. The process is a bit different from academic art historical practices in the sense that we don’t have to be hyper-focused on the topic we are discussing. The podcast is a way for us to explore our curiosities about a variety of topics without the requirement of a set research question.
Do you think your perception of your the subject has changed since you started the podcast?
Our perception of what qualifies as art has widened since starting the podcast. We attempt to consider all forms of visual culture. We’ve released episodes on everything from depictions of boxing to graphic novels, and we are constantly coming up with new ideas for episodes that don’t exactly fit into the traditional art historical canon.
Did you experience any barriers to the field of art history, both practical (in terms of museums being in your vicinity, readings being available, etc.) and personal (how you or other people around you perceived it/ perceive your desire to do it) when you decided to study it/ work with it?
Corrie: I grew up in a smaller city in the Midwest. We have a nice art centre that I worked at for a while, but I often had to travel to see bigger and more notable collections. I’ve never really felt like I didn’t have access to information, living in the information age and all. Years in academia made that information even more accessible via databases and academic library collections. The perception of art history is a different story however. I have had several positive reactions when I tell people I study art history, I once met a man on a plane that was not involved in the arts, but was really excited about my chosen field. He said it was “nice to hear about someone studying something that actually matters.” However, the more common reaction is scepticism or confusion. Art history has kind of become a trope as the “useless major,” which is really a shame, and an idea we are trying to dispel with the show.
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Coming to this interview as a listener allowed me to bring in certain observations I had about the change in perspectives and awareness that listening to art history podcasts brought about in my own practice. As I mentioned above, the intimacy granted by the format of podcasting is something I particularly enjoy. Being able to grow with someone’s voice, letting it become part of your daily life, the familiarity of it, enables a novel kind of connection to the subject at hand. Part of this connection is the ton, the exclamations, and the choice of language. Hearing someone be excited about a subject that is so deeply personally important to me (and them!), sounding just as excited as I would, gives me a sense of belonging that I found difficult to find in my academic practice. The intimacy of podcasting brings forward the idea of personal and subjective narratives, their roles in writing and understanding history, and their potential to guide researches towards uncharted territories. I wondered if art historians doing podcasts felt the same about it all, hence the second part of this interview.
Having studied Art History as an academic discipline, I’m interested in the ways the historian “objectivity” has been questioned – more and less recently. Part of my love for art history podcast comes from getting both the rigor of academic research, and the personal journey of the researcher: how they came to gain interest in a certain topic, how it grew and interacted with their lives. The idea that the “subjective” vs the “objective” historian is an outdated view of methodology, and that in fact the subjective informs research in exciting, challenging, relevant ways.
Corrie: I agree completely. I have some personal qualms with the notion of “objectivity” in general. I think we are all unique creatures and allowing our subjective experiences to colour our thoughts and our work is what makes the work exciting and interesting – especially when thinking about art. I think that’s why we’re seeing such an explosion of popularity in podcasts. People enjoy the fact that they can learn something but also feel connected to another human being. What a lot of people seem to enjoy about our show is that they feel like they are in the room with us, drinking wine and partaking in the conversation. There’s a sense of inclusion and connection with that.
A lot of the art history podcast and history podcast I listen to (The Lonely Palette, A Piece of Work, Art Detective, Spirits, etc…) are women-led. I really appreciate that, not only because I’m a woman in art history, but also because most of my teachers and peers were women when I was at uni, yet whenever I’d watch a documentary as an undergrad, I’d see the same middle-aged British men telling us about “fascinating!” and “marvellous!” pieces of art by the same dead white man… Obviously, the societal tendency to reject women’s voices and accept it as a form of intellectual authority has been studied before, especially in terms of how woman speak (vocal fry et al.) but I still struggled with that as a student: trying to make my voice less threatening and/or more authoritative. Listening to women speak about their own art historical endeavors in a variety of tons, voices, vocabulary, has been especially refreshing, because I don’t have to be concerned about how I sound anymore. Has doing the podcast as a team of women impacted your individual confidence? Is listening to other women shifting yours & others perception on authority and legitimacy? Is it a way of reclaiming art history from its reputation of a subject for “debutante” and High Society ladies, to something that is truly urgent, challenging, and complex? (ndlr: This question was partially inspired by a conversation between Linda Nochlin and Tamar Garb at the National Gallery, London, in 2015, where Nochlin explained she chose not to study art history at first because she thought it was a subject for “debutante” and instead went for “the hard stuff” classics and philosophy … before understanding that Art History was in fact a challenging and valid pursuit)
Corrie: I definitely feel more confident since starting the podcast. Partially because we have gotten such warm and amazing responses to the show and partially because putting your voice out there for everyone to hear requires a certain confidence. I think women in podcasting are incredibly influential. The majority of the podcasts I listen to are hosted by women, and it’s refreshing to see so many women putting their voices out there in an honest and authentic way. I think there’s a general craving for authenticity by society as a whole right now and a move away from the idea of the “authoritative” voice. Personally, I prefer listening to a podcast or watching a show hosted by someone that I want to hang out with that also just happens to be tackling interesting and challenging information.
Ginny: I also agree that women-run podcasts are of great importance, and fill a void that was greatly needed to be. Women are often criticized for their voices/way of speaking and having a women-run podcast has helped me to gain confidence in my intelligence and ways of communicating ideas in a way that’s informed but also approachable. I think our podcast also tackles the “debutante” stereotype that goes against women in the arts. We emphasize the ongoing impact and relevance of art and art history, and truly believe art is meaningful in providing insight and understanding to various aspects of culture, history, and society at large. Plus, we are no debutantes – no offense to the debutantes out there!
Jennifer: I have thought about our “voice” a great deal throughout the life of our podcast. We have gotten such amazing feedback about how refreshing it is to hear the four of us speak about art history – a stereotypically “stuffy” topic – in such a candid and casual way. At the same time there have been critical responses to the tone and vocabulary we use in our show, and have had some complaints about cackling, slang, vocal fry, etc. I find it very interesting, actually, because I believe that this criticism is a product of the institutionalized rejection of women’s (and especially young women’s) voices in an authoritative context. Personally I have struggled with this topic for a long time. I consider myself educated and professional, however, my style of speech can at times be described as brash, boisterous, or just too bold. I have a good handle on my professional language and do not curse in professional settings, but we all love to dish it out on the podcast. I like to use slang and popular vernacular, and the Northern California area has shaped much of my speech. I like to try to maintain my most genuine tone when we record, as I believe that many of our listeners like feeling as though they are in casual conversation with their friends. Recording the podcast has given me the confidence to maintain my sense of self when discussing art historical topics. I feel comfortable and like I no longer have to try and impress anyone, and I believe I can thank the podcast for that.
To wrap up, I asked the AH Babes what they think are Art History greatest challenges today: “1. Convincing people that it matters and that studying art history is studying humanity. 2. Integrating all elements of visual culture into the study of art history.” Corrie replied, “I think if there is going to be a future for the discipline, we need to be thinking about how the art of the past has developed into the art of the present. We need to consider that the visual material that affects our society today looks much different than it did in the past and move away from this idea that art is only for an elite group of people.”
This seems to me to be something Tabloid Art History can get behind, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next generation of digitally aware art historians brings to the practice when it comes to diversifying, including, politicising and sharing engaging and relevant stories from the past with scholars and the general public alike. In the mean time, you can listen to, subscribe, rate and share the Art History Babes podcast on iTunes, via the Apple podcast app, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. You can also support Corrie, Ginny, Jennifer, & Natalie on Patreon, with a monthly pledge or a one-off payment, or by buying any of the AH Babes Merchandise and Featured Artists products via their website.
WORDS BY MAYANNE SORET