At the end of last month, Barack Obama caused crises of confidence in art history majors across the world by quipping that it wasn’t a very valuable degree. ‘I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody’, he said at the time, back-peddling nervously, but it seems he did, along with snail mail. Professor Ann Collins Johns from the University of Texas at Austin was among those who got in touch to defend her subject. Last week she received the following, hand-written note of apology (first published on Hyperallergic):
Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed.
So please pass on my apology for the glib remark to the entire department, and understand that I was trying to encourage young people who may not be predisposed to a four year college experience to be open to technical training that can lead them to an honorable career.
Johns herself seemed taken aback at the gesture, remarking on Facebook: ‘What I did NOT expect is that THE MAN HIMSELF would write me an apology. So now I’m totally guilty about wasting his time’.
Incidentally, the art historians at the Whitney Museum certainly seem to have forgiven him – they loaned two Hopper paintings to the White House earlier this month…
Obama Fails Art History (Maggie Gray)
Was your arts degree worth the time and money? Join the debate! (Spectator)
‘She changed how we encounter sculpture’ – remembering Phyllida Barlow (1944–2023)