Revisited: On studying Art History (seriously– is it a useless degree??)

It appears that the most popular post on this blog is On studying Art History (a useless degree?). In fact, one of the most common search terms I get is some derivative of “Is an art history degree useless?” Unsurprisingly, I saw a pronounced spike in this type of search around college application time. My previous post discussed what one can do with an Art History degree at a rather broad level, as I am sure that there are other things one can do with such a degree that I haven’t thought of. However, I did get one search phrase once– “is studying art history hard”– that I would like to delve into a bit more, as well as more real world analysis of what it is like to study and work in the arts.

Brilliant man, Einstein.

Let’s start with the inspiring question of “Is studying Art History hard?” Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, but so are most areas of study. Everything requires work whether you are good at it or not, and what it really comes down to is if you care about it. Things can seem especially difficult if your mind does not operate along the lines dictated by your chosen discipline. Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

For Art History, there are different skills that one needs to acquire and cultivate, including (but not limited to): memorization, which is necessary pretty much anywhere but in terms of Art History means remembering scholars’ arguments, specific artworks, events, dates, etc; analysis, or being able to look at an artwork and scrutinize how it is made, what it means, and so on; critical thinking, which is tied to analysis and basically means reading between the lines and questioning an argument or artwork; efficient communication, both in terms of writing and speaking so that one can make an effective argument. When I started grad school, I had spent most of my academic and professional careers thinking in more practical terms (and I mean practical in the “practice” sense of the word): in art conservation and collections management, there are set ways in which one handles or takes care of an object, like not touching an antique silver teapot with your bare hands. Granted, many rules in the various academic disciplines are made to be questioned, as questioning and reformulating ideas are what drives knowledge forward (and since conservation is a very scientific field, it is as open to evolving ideas as chemistry is). However, unless someone develops a better glove than nitrile, I doubt that anyone will be changing how they handle silver any time soon. Continue reading

On studying Art History (a useless degree?)

As I was waking up this morning and doing my usual ritual of checking email/Facebook/Wordpress/Dragonvale, I came across a blog (which I will not link here) that featured an article from This article listed Art History as one of the “10 Degrees Hiring Managers Don’t Want to See: The College Majors That Won’t Get You an Interview.” The following degrees were also included: architecture, Latin, music therapy, theology, English literature, American studies, puppetry (wtf, that’s a degree?), and poetry. Here is a link to the article, which also referenced Rutgers, Georgetown, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as sources contributing to the study.

Oh Donald, say it isn’t so!

Alright, so in other words, this isn’t some BS speculation that someone made up. There is actual data to back up the fact that these degrees make it difficult to find a job in an already competitive market. But this article also said that having a degree in Art History only qualifies you for one job: being a museum curator. It goes on to say that it is much more beneficial to have a degree in design, as that would give you a more valuable skill set. As soon as I read the word “curator,” I said to myself, “Clearly, whoever wrote this didn’t do much digging into the actual field of Art History.”

Continue reading