Forgotten women and Indigenous painters: the best podcasts to teach you about art

·3 min read
Photograph: Matt Carr/Getty Images

Whether it is contemporary stars or overlooked artists from the past – if you want to learn more about art, there’s a podcast for that

Bow Down

The premise was staring the world in the face: “Women have been expressing themselves since the beginning of time. Yet, ask around and you’ll find that most people struggle to name even one non-male artist from before the 20th century.” Over two seasons, Frieze magazine’s editor-at-large, Jennifer Higgie, has sought to fix that. Each episode features a guest talking about a significant female artist from the past, sometimes only recently deceased (such as feminist film-maker Chantal Akerman, who died in 2015), or long overlooked (such as the 19th-century Argentinian neo-classicist Lola Mora). Higgie’s project has since expanded into books and radio.


This Indigenous culture show from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is hosted by Rudi Bremer, a radio broadcaster of Kamilaroi descent. Through deep dives into poetry, music, painting and ritual, each episode is a prelude of sorts: you come away wanting to take a trip to the library. In one recent episode, the artist Pedro Wonaeamirri details how he collects white ochre near the beach and yellow ochre from further inland, and how he makes red ochre from burning yellow. “I want people to hear and understand where I am coming from, not just painting,” he says. “You share your culture – that’s how people will understand where you’re from.”

Thought Pieces

This is a newbie from Mack Books, a fantastically good indie art publisher. Each episode features a single text read by its author. Episode one is the poet Eileen Myles reading an essay they wrote about looking at photographs by Peter Hujar and Moyra Davey – New Yorkers, all three. If you don’t know those names, or any of the others Myles evocatively tacks to the wall of a downtown Manhattan apartment, it won’t be any less listenable. Other great episodes include the film-maker RaMell Ross’s manifesto for a personal, decolonised poetics (“Welcome the dream”) and Paul Graham on his 1986 documentary masterwork Beyond Caring, surreptitiously shot in unemployment offices in Thatcher’s Britain.


Of the 40-odd discussions Lou Mensah has hosted to date, the 30 May 2020 episode stands out. George Floyd had been murdered days earlier and Mensah’s guest was the Dominican-American art historian Angelina Coronado. She described an early 20th-century fresco by the Brazilian painter Candido Portinari – Portrait Bust of a Mulatto Woman, from 1937 – and went on to dig into how the African diaspora was spoken about and depicted across the Americas in the early modern period. Personally, she told Mensah, research into this field had been an exercise in finding belonging. This podcast is a quiet space in which to ask good questions and be heard. Conversations range across the cultural spectrum, unpicking how creativity, race and identity intersect. Listening in always feels expansive.

A Brush With …

Launched in 2017, the Art Newspaper’s Week in Art podcast has been the engaging news digest you’d expect. Since July 2020, though, A Brush With … has seen host Ben Luke hand over the mic to the artists. He introduces the guest (Glenn Ligon, Alberta Whittle and Tacita Dean, among others) then lands on one salient characteristic of their work (Ligon’s economy of language, Whittle’s empathy, the poetry in everything Dean does). It serves to open up the multifaceted, often intractable approach they each have to making art: the James Baldwin essay Ligon stencilled out in 13-plus metres of coal dust on canvas; the 150 effigies Oscar Murillo burned in the Colombian hinterland. “A first encounter,” Luke says, “is never forgotten.”

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