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Ask Me Anything - Jo from Jo's Art History

This has been a well over-due introduction and from the response from my Instagram - needed!

I'm Jo McLaughlin - art historian, curator, writer and brains behind the Instagram account and blog Jo's Art History.

I asked my followers what they would like to know about me – the woman behind the posts so to speak and the response was lovely!

Here are a selection of some of the questions I was asked!

I had loads of fun doing this so if you would like a part 2 let me know!


Who are you?

I’m Jo. A Scottish art historian, curator and writer who loves talking and writing about art history.

Where are you based?

I’m based in London but I’m originally from Coatbridge, a little ex-mining town just outside of Glasgow. I still have family there so I am back and forth a good bit. Although I sometimes wonder if my life is sponsored by Avanti and LNER trains as I feel like I’m never off them!

Why did you start Jo's Art History?

I love talking and writing about art history and I have this big dream of bringing it to more people – so I thought – why not! The blog and Instagram are the first steps in a bigger plan for Jo’s Art History, I’d love to start a podcast and a youtube channel - so, watch this space.

What is your favourite work of art?

Oh, that is such a tough question! But, hands tied behind my back, absolutely have to make a decision? Then Degas’s Blue Dancers, which is a pastel drawing in Musee d’Orsay. The colours are absolutely breath-taking and it’s a work I still think about. It had a really big impact on me when I first saw it at 21.

Do you have a favourite museum?

Definitely Musee d’Orsay in Paris. It just has some of the most incredible works of art in there and every time I go I see something completely different and learn something new. Also – as it use to be a train station the architecture is just incredible. You can stand behind the clock face on the top floor, looking out onto the river and it’s breath taking.

My second favourite – and in my opinion a bit of a dark horse – the V&A. Every temporary exhibition they do is so fantastic. I recently (before lockdown) visited their ‘Cars: Accelerating the Modern World’ exhibition and it blew my mind. As did the ‘Tim Walker: Wonderful Things’ exhibition. They are both two of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time – and they were polar opposites to each other!

The V&A is great for showing such a diverse exhibition schedule.

Is Jo's Art History your full-time job?

Perhaps one day – but for now it’s my side hustle, if you will. During the day, you will find me working for the sculpture gallery Pangolin London, based in Kings Cross. I am the gallery’s artist liaison so I spend most of my day talking with our gallery artists, organising loans, logistics, writing, curating shows and a whole load of other things as and when they happen!

What is your all-time favourite exhibition?

Ohhh, another tough one! I don’t think I have one that I’m seen – but my all-time favourite exhibition that I have curated was ‘’Carl Plackman and his Circle’ at Pangolin London. It was a really diverse show and it was a nice full circle moment for me as my first show with the gallery when I started as a bright eyed, bushy tailed assistant was a Carl Plackman show, so it meant a lot I got to curate one so diverse and meet so many of Carl’s colleagues, tutors, pupils and friends. You get a really good sense of a person from the company they keep and everyone was so creative, interesting and love.

Is there an exhibition or an artwork you would love to see?

I would have LOVED to have been in London to see Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower Seeds installation at the Turbine Hall in 2010 or Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project which happened in 2003.

I also think some of the surrealist exhibitions in the 1950s in Paris and New York would have been EXCELLENT to see!

You are having a dinner party with 4 artists, dead or alive - who would you invite?

Lynn Chadwick - sculptor

Edgar Degas - painter

Peggy Guggenheim - Although she was a patron and collector – but she would have excellent stories!

My sister Nicole – she is an illustrator so I can’t leave her out. ­Also, I would need someone to back me up that this dinner actually happened!

Who do you admire in the art world?

Historically, I really admire Sir Joseph Duveen which to some might come as a shock as he has a bit of a dodgy reputation in places. But – he was an art dealer in New York in the late 1890s early 1900s and he is credited for being the dealer that introduced branding into the art world. He was not afraid to take risks and he started from nothing. I admire him for that and I think people can say what they like about him – he worked hard and got his seat at the table.

More genuinely, I just admire artists who are brave enough to peruse their passion – how could you not admire that?

Was it difficult to find a job in the art world?

I was really lucky with my job at Pangolin – but it can be tricky. When I left my undergraduate in 2012 I had been promised a job at an auction house which fell through and I spent a lot of time blaming myself and ended back up in a coffee shop – which was of course the last place I wanted to be – but it ended up leading me to an internship at Adidas, which changed my life.

It took a few years but I got there. My advice would be stick with it and don’t lose faith. Yes, it’s tricky but nothing is impossible.

If people can walk on the moon – you can get a job in the art world.

Where is the best place to go to look for art?

In the world? Florence blew my mind so I would say Italy.

Paris has some amazing galleries too but I don’t like the city so it is never my first choice. Controversial, I know!

Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh are all really interesting places too. And the central belt of England like Yorkshire & Leeds has loads going on their too.

What is great about art is that it really is everywhere – just keep your eyes peeled!

What is your worst habit?

Sleeping in!

It’s one of my goals to start getting up earlier in the morning as so many successful people attribute part of their success and drive to having a solid morning routine. But I just love my bed so much –promise I am trying!

What is your Dream job?

TV presenter talking about art history and why it is so important! There. I said it. It’s out in the Universe now so let’s just see what happens!

Do you have hobbies?

Yes – I love swimming and do this minimum twice a week. It’s one of the best things I ever started as I just love being in water. It’s just like hitting my reset button.

I also play guitar terribly but I love it and practise makes perfect. I would also really love to learn the piano – it’s such a beautiful instrument and I am mesmerised by people who can just sit down and play. One day, that will be me!

What's your biggest secret?

That would be telling!

Jo McLaughlin July 2020

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