Erin Thomspon is not your average art historian. For starters, she’s one of the more hilarious hosts we’ve had on SideTour (we may have asked her via email to be our personal friend), not to mention one of the smartest. On her SideTour, she’s taking you through the MET to uncover the art that’s smuggled, illegal, and straight up fake. And while her academic background may make it easy to paint her as a stuffy academic, this interview should be all you need to throw that theory right out the window. Below, we find out what makes her tick:
If your life had a soundtrack, what would be your theme song?
Not exactly a song, but you know the noise of an orchestra warming up? That mix of tuning and last-minute practicing of hard bits and general swelling strings and the audience coughing and rustling around and then the conductor raises his baton and everyone pauses for a split second and thinks “hot damn – this thing is ON!” That’s a feeling I like to have in many life situations.
What would be the title of your memoir?
A Matter of Degrees: The Story of Erin Louisa Thompson, B.A., M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., J.D., Esq. I only have one more letter in my name than after it, which obviously means that I’m going to have to go to medical school some day. My many (perhaps too many) degrees illustrate that I’m something of a collector of experiences – another example is that I went to (and blogged about) 98 museums when I lived in Paris for six months a couple years back. My favorite? The Museum of the Parisian Sewers.
What does your ideal NYC day look like?
My recipe for an ideal day goes like this: 1) Find an expert. 2) Ask inappropriate questions.
Recently, this technique has led to learning about how research scientists at the American Museum of Natural History collect the chameleons that they study (they knock them out of bushes where they’re sleeping by shooting rubber bands at them) and what misbehaving visitors to the Metropolitan Museum do (take a crap on the gallery floor while waiting in line to see the Alexander McQueen exhibit, for instance).
Who are your biggest influences?
I love anyone who writes well and has unexpected curiosities, like Mary Roach, who asks and gives meticulously researched answers to questions like “how do astronauts poop in space?” Also in this genre: Richard Fortey’s Dry Storeroom No. 1 (a history of the wacky characters who populate London’s Natural History Museum, including one packrat scientist whose office contained a cardboard box neatly labeled “pieces of string too small for further use”) and pretty much all of the speakers at Nerd Nite NYC, a monthly event that’s billed as “like Discovery Chanel but with beer.” (P.S., I’m presenting at Nerd Nite this November, on “The Hunt for the Illusive Anus: Selected Bits from the History of Taxidermy”.)
Where does your inspiration come from?
Seeing as how I’ve referenced defecation three times in this interview so far, I obviously share some deep wellspring of inspiration with the world’s six year olds. Other than that, New York City is in itself a giant, living, breathing, hot mess of an inspiration and I love it and live it every day.
Meet Erin on her SideTour, Uncover the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Scandalous Past.