Sometimes the eyes just arent enough when it comes to learning about art and artists, and there's no shortage of podcasts—ranging from the chatty to the serious to the downright odd—out there to enrich the primarily visual relationship we often have with art.

Art UK, © Bob and Roberta Smith
Art UK, © Bob and Roberta Smith

1. Something unpretentious

Art Matters is a brilliant little show, which like us here at Elephant, looks to use art and visual culture as a way of exploring issues in the wider world. Part of its premise is to showcase how “our everyday interests make us excellent art critics”, and as such, there’s an openness to covering a huge range of serious, pop-culture and societal topics in a sincere, approachable way. Highlights are many, and range from The Art of RuPaul’s Drag Race, to The Simpsons, Art and Capturing Twentieth-Century America, to Queer Culture and Art History and Artists’ Love for the Colouriest Colours, featuring Stuart Semple.



2. Something weird

Remember when the KLF burned £1 million in cash? Even if you don’t, you’ve likely heard the story. The band, founded by artists and musicians Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty is probably best known for its Dalek-heavy number one single, released under the band name the Timelords, Doctorin’ the Tardis. In 1994, the pair made headlines and much, much ire when they burned loads of money on a remote Scottish island, with only one journalist and their roadie-come-fixer, Gimpo, in attendance. In what feels like a strange move, the BBC has decided to dramatize the event as a peculiar six-part comedy series, entitled How to Burn a Million Quid. Actors play Drummond and Cauty with that rather thespian-ish tone that every single radio play ever seems to be infused with, but it’s all quite a lot of fun.

Talk Art
Talk Art

3. Something chummy

If you dig B-movie Casio keyboard intros and a chummy sort of podcast delivery, then you’ll probably like Talk Art, a newish podcast hosted by gallerist Robert Diament and actor Russell Tovey, who I personally only remember from godawful (by which I mean brilliant for hangovers) BBC Three sitcom Him & Her, but who is now very much a Serious Actor, and apparently someone who’s really into chatting about art. The pair are clearly good mates—something some listeners will find charming, others slightly annoying—but they do explore art in an approachable, unpretentious way. We’re four episodes in so far, and the pair have interviewed Michael Craig Martin, as well as chatting with actors Sarah Hadland and Laura Aikman about Olafur Eliasson’s melting ice installation, Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirrored room, the paintings of LS Lowry, Beryl Cook, Picasso and Ed Ruscha.


4. Something interdisciplinary 

A meatier number here, thanks to Suite (212), a weekly series on the ever-brilliant Resonance FM that “explores the arts in their social, political, cultural and historical contexts”. This is a wonderful broadcast (if one with varying levels of audio quality) that really does open up entirely new, untold stories and innovative angles on familiar stories. Episodes vary between panel discussions that veer more towards the political side of the arts, and those take a narrower focus honing in on a particular publication, artist, group or exhibition. Highlights include an episode in which Huw Lemmey discusses LGBTQI+ activism before and after the Stonewall riots of June 1969 and a show entitled Race, Racism and the Arts in Britain. The show’s team says it prides itself on taking an “interdisciplinary approach, with an emphasis on innovative, underground or avant-garde work”, and it does so admirably.

Modern Art Notes
Modern Art Notes

5. Something that will “enrich your life”

Art critic and historian Tyler Green hosts the podcast Modern Art Notes, and has a reassuringly professional, calm voice with a little hint of the clipped tones of Kermit the Frog. The weekly hour-long show has been running since 2011, and is always smart, superbly detailed and informative; with featured artists ranging from those deep in the annals of art history to the contemporary. Green discusses the work with a selection of different artists, art historians and authors each week; our highlights include the episode on Rachel Whiteread and an interview with Laurie Simmons. The show boasts that the BBC has dubbed it “one of the world’s top twenty-five cultural podcasts that would ‘blow your mind,’ and ‘enrich your life’.” High praise indeed.


6. Something focused

Once you get past the frankly godawful promo image for this podcast and actually listen to Art Detective, it offers some succinct (if slightly self-indulgent) tales. Each episode focuses on just one work of art—many of which are art history big guns like The Kiss and Guernica, while others are those that need never be discussed at all (for the love of god, that last thing we need is anyone talking about Harry Potter.) As someone naturally inclined towards grumpiness, I find some of these shows slightly irritating in the meandering personal insights from the presenter, but there are some gems to be found.

Art History Babes
Art History Babes

7. Something “hella fun”

While some might find the name Art History Babes vaguely off-putting—and most, surely, will find the weird acoustic guitar jingle pretty annoying—this podcast has some lovely moments as four chipper US-based art history grads talk about art in a way that’s, as they put it, “hella fun”. The talk is lubricated by wine, often, and there’s a fair bit of blathering on about horoscopes; but there are also some nice insights throughout. Some episodes focus on an individual artist or movement (recent shows have included Anselm Kiefer and Modernism); some look at a certain material such as “air ink”; and others see the “babes” answer listener questions about things like applying to grad school and advice on researching.

Sonic Cyberfeminisms zine
Sonic Cyberfeminisms zine

8. Something with robot voices

The Wysing Arts Centre’s podcast series hits a brilliant peak here in its Sonic Cyberfeminisms special, which fittingly begins with a load of really wild robot voice effects. It’s a joy to listen to that combines sound, music, conversation and other elements to form a fitting collage from the collective of artists, musicians and writers, “which draws upon intersectional feminist praxis and the legacies of cyberfeminism”, it says. “The project aims to foreground agendas of social justice in the domains of sound, gender and technology and, in doing so, develop critical cultural work.” Sonic Cyberfeminisms was initiated by Annie Goh and Marie Thompson in 2016, and the group were part of a Wysing residency that went on to produce a zine series alongside sound and text-based works.


9. Something serious

Like its online and print publications, The Art Newspaper podcast covers breaking art world news, exhibitions and insight-led analysis pieces on current art-based goings-on. There’s a great range of content here, with some recent shows including a look at how Paul McCartney helped Richard Hamilton create the artwork for the Beatles’s White Albumhow dealers tried to attribute female Old Master paintings as work by men; and “surreal ideas about sex”.


10. Something comforting

Desert Island Discs is like the comfort food of the audio world, a big plate of chips and baked beans straight into your earholes. Kirsty Young’s voice is the ultimate combination of soothing and exemplary of a superb interviewing technique: she asks probing, difficult and occasional uncomfortable questions and gets the answers she (and we want). Of course this isn’t strictly an art show, but it’s featured some absolute gems in the past—most recently Jeremy Deller, who quite rightly waxes lyrical about Roxy Music (interviewed by Lauren Laverne, a no less charming host). Other art star past guests have included Yoko Ono, Clash fan Damien Hirst and Paula Rego.

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