Sounding off about art

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Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

The writer, producer and host of the ArtCurious podcasts compares her unpaid evening and weekend work on the show to a different activity. “I basically tell everybody that it’s kind of like my golf,” says Jennifer Dasal ’04M.A. “It takes up a lot of my time, and it’s too expensive.”

In this case, however, she’s not sharing endless stories about the putt that magically dropped or the drive she shanked. Instead, her avocation results in eye-opening tales about, as she puts it, “the unexpected, the slightly odd, and the strangely wonderful in art history.”

Shortstories SchaalArt historian Jennifer Dasal works to make learning fun. Photo by Beth Mann, ArtsNowNC.

What, for instance, is the deal with vandals who destroy pieces of art? Are those weeping statues miracles or is there a less spiritual explanation for their tears? Is the Mona Lisa at the Louvre a fake? And did Vincent Van Gogh really commit suicide or was he murdered?

The associate curator of contemporary art at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh credits her creation of ArtCurious to the “disappointment factor” — the fact that many people tell her they won’t visit an art museum because “I’m never able to get into it.” This attitude animated her plunge into the world of podcasts, a medium that seemed to offer a way to draw listeners into a field she loves. “I wanted to see if I could open up this [visual] world a little bit more,” Dasal says. “I’m a cheerleader.”

And what better way to make people excited about art history than to relate lively, juicy stories that sneakily offer lessons on the cultural and historical significance of art?

Dasal knows a bit about the unexpected enticement of art history. The California native planned to major in science at the University of California, Davis, when as a freshman she was unable to get the classes she wanted. Her counselor suggested she grab an art history class.

“I registered for this class that I had totally no interest in at all, and ended up in something that I found totally fascinating,” Dasal says.

Farewell paleobiology. Hello new career path.

The convert headed to Notre Dame for a master’s degree in art history, with a concentration in late 18th, early 19th century painting, and those credentials eventually led her to the North Carolina museum job.

Her current double duty as full-time museum employee and part-time podcast producer is, she admits, “an ongoing challenge; one that’s fun at the same time.”

Still, the podcast, which debuted last August, is more demanding than she had expected. “If I had known how much time or energy it takes . . . I probably wouldn’t have done it or I would have done it differently,” the 37-year-old says.

Fortunately her husband, Josh Dasal, founder of the marketing firm Kaboonki Creative, lends a hand with the editing, while their 2-year-old toddler, Felix, “a ball of joy,” lends some chaos to the mix. That means that Jennifer, who narrates the podcasts using an older hand-held voice-recorder, must search for a quiet time and a place to record. “I do it usually at night, while my son is sleeping, and in the comfort of my closet. . . . It’s quite a sight, actually.”

It is also, much to her delight, a success. The website Audible Feast named ArtCurious one of the best new podcasts of 2016. The every-other-week episodes boast more than 7,000 subscribers — many of whom follow on the artcurious.com website so they can view the art she is discussing, or on iTunes and other social media feeds. Many also chip in with tax-deductible donations, the only source of funding for the free programs.

“I still just want a good story,” Dasal says. “I think people just want to learn, and if they can learn in a way that’s fun, that makes all the difference.”


Carol Schaal is managing editor of this magazine. Email her at schaal.2@nd.edu.


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