For our 8th episode, Color & Curiosity founder & COO Megan Zink interviewed Janelle Diethelm – founder of The Curious Art Historian, web designer and educator about amazing art history and travel, the best hidden gems for art and art history and her new efforts to open her platform to early academic researchers.
Wider Worldview is a new live podcast hosted by Color & Curiosity founder Megan Zink that explores the power of travel – how it can change the world: spark new ideas, foster different perspectives, catalyst curiosity and lifelong learning. Join her for interviews with entrepreneurs, educators and explorers and get inspired to tap into travel as an experiential learning and empathy building tool.
Head over to this link to catch the full audio recording with Janelle & The Curious Art Historian – but in the meantime, here’s a snippet of the conversation. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
To start us off right now, I’m just going to get right to it – I know this is kind of a loaded question, but you’ve been many places all over the world. You’ve seen a lot of art. What is your favorite work? And if that doesn’t work, if that isn’t a question you can answer, where in general, is your favorite art?
That is a very loaded question. I think, one, it depends on my mood of the day or even the mood of the minute; it’s always changing. I am a classic ‘old masters’ paintings person. There are two that come to mind: one, my art history nerd always loves Johan Zoffany and his painting of the Tribuna of the Uffizi; for me this has always been a piece of art that I love coming back to time and time again. If you go into the Wikipedia page it will actually allow you to scroll over the different images in the painting and tell you what they are, which I think is really cool; I love when technology meets art history.
My other ultimate favorite is actually the piece that got me started into art history, which is the Raft of Medusa which sits in the Louvre. For me it was such a full-circle moment when I was studying in Paris. I was incredibly privileged and my classes were in the actual gallery spaces, as we talked about the collection; it’s so many of the things I love, the lighting, the story. For me that’s always been a big part of understanding art and art history – the stories of the history that comes along with these pieces.
In terms of art, and your platform, The Curious Art Historian, a lot of it is geared toward people who maybe are interested in the topics of art, art history and the art market but don’t really know where to get started. At least for me, I know sometimes there’s this mentality where art can kind of be a little stuffy perhaps or like seem like a hard thing to navigate, especially in a culture where maybe you don’t speak that language. Do you have any tips for people who are new to art or integrating it into their travel plans?
There is a little bit of a learning curve, you learn what you enjoy looking at and, like what Marie Kondo says, what sparks joy, and that very much applies to art as well too. Give yourself a little trial and error. When in doubt, Google the art that you’re interested in. The thing about traveling in Europe is most of the museums are free, or they’re pretty low cost tickets, so even if you walk in you can walk right back out if you don’t like it, like, don’t be intimidated that you’ve spent money on a ticket or you’ve taken the time to go there. I also know for a fact that I love architecture so when I went to Brussels, I just kind of Googled famous buildings and actually it’s how I found my favorite house in Brussels, the Van Buuren House. It was incredible. It’s Art Deco. It’s so cool and like I said it was one of the things I wouldn’t have found if I hadn’t just Googled like famous architecture in Brussels.
What are some hidden gems, both nationally and internationally, to see, in terms of art history, art museums public works.
I think it really does depend on where you go. I am originally from the Bay Area, I am born and raised. One of the things I always loved and I didn’t realize wasn’t a thing anywhere else, is the Grace Cathedral in downtown San Francisco – there is the only existing replica of the Gates of Paradise, from the Baptistry at the Duomo in Florence by Lorenzo Ghiberti. I didn’t realize they have the only existing copy of it. It is so worth a visit. I feel incredibly privileged to have seen that in my lifetime and have the ability to grow up with that. The other thing I recommend is the Steven Rivera mural at the City College of San Francisco – you can really just walk on the campus for free and have a look – it will take your breath away.
The last one is in London, I spent quite a bit of time there and lived there for a few years. It’s not necessarily art related there is a very long inconspicuous water pump marker in Covent Garden – it’s right next to a pub called The John Snow – and everyone’s very excited about it, but they forget the pump. It’s actually where the famous scientist John Snow discovered that cholera was transferred through water. It’s a huge medical discovery. And you can just stroll up to it in Carnaby Street. There’s also delicious food – I mean, Carnaby Street is what the Beatles were there for – it’s got a really fun energy in the area.
As far as art goes in London, one of my favorite ‘sleeper’ hits that many people don’t realize is the Sir John Soane’s Museum. He was a teacher at the Royal Academy back in its early days and he just loved to collect stuff – if he could put his hands on it, he collected it. And it’s hidden away, tucked into a sort of field – it’s right next to the Holborn Tube Station, which is about a 15-minute walk from Covent Garden.
Fun fact, you are opening up The Curious Art Historian to early career research; can you share a quick high level summary about what that means?
I found that through my career and in the art world that it is very difficult for people who may have these different topics that they’ve been researching to get published in academic journals, and so I wanted to open my platform to early career researchers, so they have a place in which they can promote their words. They can use my platform and I will promote them through social media. And actually I want to give a shout out to one of my colleagues, Vikki Jenner – my counterpart – who is actually in London – her passion is maritime churches – and she wrote a beginner’s guide to maritime churches that now sits on the site.
I think everybody needs to get their start somewhere, and that’s what I love too – with Color & Curiosity I love aggregating experiential learners and lifelong learners through different avenues.
So talking about souvenirs and collecting art and on a global scale, or even a national scale – are there any places specifically where it’s really awesome to bring back artwork, or do you have any tips for people expanding their collection?
There’s this really great fair called the Affordable Art Fair and they come to different cities and represent artists from your local region – it’s a really great place to find artwork under $5000 – sometimes a little bit more if you’re willing to up your ante on the budget. Another one that’s just started to is the Super Fine Art Fair, I think they’re just on the East Coast right now but it’s the same concept actually, and I’ve met some incredible artists through it. They have a website now and you can reach out to artists directly through a lot of these platforms, so I would recommend to people who want to just kind of start scouting out things.
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BONUS: What’s your first ‘art hug’ post COVID now that restrictions are easing up? Head over to Fireside to catch the whole episode with Janelle!
Learn More About Janelle and The Curious Art Historian
- Website: www.thecuriousarthistorian.com
- Design Services: https://www.janellediethelm.org
- Instagram: @thecuriousarthistorian
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/janelle-diethelm-5a213237/