Art isn’t everyone’s thing, as art historian Jennifer Dasal is quick to admit in her new book, ArtCurious: Stories of the Unexpected, Slightly Odd, and Strangely Wonderful in Art History. But what she also points out, and what resonates throughout the text, is that art “is one of the few things that connects us profoundly to one another and reveals our common humanity.”
Dasal says that one of the best parts of her job is meeting fellow art lovers, but she likes “meeting committed non-art types just as much.” She used to be an “art doubter” herself and can relate to how they feel. On the path that led her to study art history, she became captivated by stories about what drives artists, what certain subjects and themes reveal about art collectors, how art was received in the past and how it’s perceived over time.
Art history is chock-full of quirks and mysteries, from murders and stolen masterpieces to rebels and hoarders. As a result, ArtCurious unspools like a juicy novel, detailing the backstories of several art history notables, their families, mentors, fellow artists, lovers and more. Organized into three categories—the unexpected, the slightly odd and the strangely wonderful—many of the characters are more than just artists. They are collectors, scientists and inventors, too. These eccentric geniuses hail from all over the globe, from countries with prominent places in art history, such as France and Italy, to relative newcomers to the art world like the United States. And they lived during a range of time periods, from Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci to the ultramodern Andy Warhol.
Dasal writes with humor and honesty, offering truth mixed with speculation. (There are some things we still don’t know, such as whether Vincent van Gogh killed himself or was killed by another person.) All this adds up to a fascinating, lively take on a topic that is too often reduced to dry facts. Art history buffs or anyone who likes a good thriller will find ArtCurious a welcome escape.