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Jennifer Dasal: Art Connoisseur

Jennifer Dasal: Art Connoisseur

Twenty-year-old Jennifer Dasal would not have guessed her life would become so busy by age 40. Dasal, a mother to a five-year-old son, currently works at her dream job as an associate curator for the North Carolina Museum of Art where she spends countless hours every week making checklists for a feature exhibition, on the phone trying to get artists to carry out a work of art they said they would have ready a week ago, and completing copious amounts of writing. Despite her already full days spent at the museum and looking after her toddler, Dasal also had to flesh out time to write, produce, and host her bi-weekly art history podcast.

When her podcast is in season, Dasal hardly has time to herself.  She has to deeply research all of her stories and write them out in advance. “It’s basically like writing a term paper every two weeks,” she says.

Negativity, however, is not in Dasal’s character. Her personality is remarkably positive; it shines through the phone and reaches out to welcome me. Just by the way she speaks, it is apparent that the art curator has a fiery passion for her craft. 

Dasal’s podcast rose to fame unexpectedly. “I would say starting this podcast, I did it kind of on such a whim, that I never really thought that more than 100 people will listen to it.”

Four years later and eight seasons into her podcast, she is thriving. “Art Curious” ranges between 30,000 and 40,000 downloads per episode. Many online publications have also featured her podcast, “Art Curious,” including O, the Oprah Magazine, NPR, and Salon. She’s also a hit interview subject, recently being interviewed by the Washington D.C. bookstore, Politics and Prose.  

Dasal emphasizes that she is  just a normal person who decided to push herself to try something new. She encourages others to do the same. “If I can do it, anybody can do it. It’s just about making it happen.”

Dasal created “Art Curious” to speak to the art philistines of the 21st century. She emphasizes that it’s acceptable to feel impartial, unacquainted with, or even hostile towards visual art. The current art curator empathizes with these individuals as she used to feel the same way. She was not so interested in art growing up.

“I thought it was pretty boring or painful at best,” she says.  

Dasal consequently wanted her podcast to be engaging for everyone, so she decided to share some of her favorite stories that got her hooked on the subject matter.  

Her most popular episode is one of her original releases, “Was Van Gogh Accidently Murdered?” In this episode, Dasal discusses Van Gogh’s gloomy piece “Wheatfield with Crows.” While many viewers have interpreted this work as representing the artist’s growing depression and a suicide note before his upcoming death, Dasal theorizes that somebody murdered Van Gogh.

The podcast, which has thousands of listeners and is growing, discusses “stories of the unexpected, slightly odd, and strangely wonderful in Art History.” Podcast episodes include anything from true-crime in art, such as if Walter Wicker was actually Jack the Ripper, to the coolest artists you don’t know, such as Katsushika Oi and Romaine Brooks. “There are weird stories in art, and I promise you that there’s something fun that you can discover from it.” 

Bella McKelvey, a 22-year-old art history student at Sarah Lawrence College, boasts about its originality. “The podcast talks about art history in an interesting and engaging way. It’s unique from every other art podcast, and it’s not like the traditional stories you hear in class,” she says. “It’s sort of addicting.”

Her favorite episode of Dasal’s is  “The Semi-Charmed Life of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun.” In this episode, Dasal talks about how men have created almost all well-known art pieces.  Some of the earliest sculptures and portraits were also pure depictions of the female form. 

The art curator’s journey to success was a long one. When she entered as an undergraduate at the University of California Davis, she had no intentions of studying art history. However, due to the fateful change of an overenrolled class, she found herself in an Art History course.  After attending a few lectures, Dasal found herself enamored by the subject matter. She eventually graduated with a major in art history and went on to receive her master’s degree in Art History from the University of Notre Dame. 

Shortly after completing her master’s, Dasal craved a mental break from the educational world. She decided to work at an art gallery in Los Angeles. “It was just the hardest thing because it was throwing me out of an academic environment and into a retail space.” 

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However academia called her back, and after two and half years she began to pursue coursework for her doctorate at Pennsylvania State University. 

Her vision for creating a podcast came to her just four years ago when Dasal had a layover in Paris on a business trip. It had been a while since she had seen the “Mona Lisa,” so she was hoping to stop by the Louvre upon arrival in the City of Lights. Before she got the chance to go, the thought of the famous museum reminded her of something.  As she sat in the airport,  she suddenly recalled that her undergraduate professor had flippantly told her years earlier that if she ended up visiting the Louvre to see the “Mona Lisa” then that was wonderful, but if not, she wouldn’t be missing out on much because the image in the gallery is a fake. 

“That was such a weird statement, and it never left me because it was so bizarre,” Dasal says. “So, all of this just made me want to begin researching, and then I thought, this is a story that needs to be told, and why not do it on a podcast?” 

It was not long before Dasal’s idea became a reality. She launched her first episode, “Is the Mona Lisa a Fake?” in 2016. In the episode, she tells an action-packed story about how the “Mona Lisa” was stolen and potentially replaced with a copy. 

“Go big or go home, right?” she remarks jokingly. 

As Dasal and I close the interview, the art connoisseur leaves her listeners with some parting words, “I would say that there is art for everybody. You just have to kind of do the legwork a little bit to find what you aren’t really personally interested in.”