President Obama Personally Apologizes to UT Art Historian
When President Barack Obama told employees at a manufacturing plant last month that “folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree,” he immediately countered by adding, “Nothing wrong with art history degree. I love art history. I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody.”
But the emails came anyway, including one from Ann Johns, senior lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History, who saw an opportunity to clarify some misconceptions about her field.
“I wanted to dispel any notion that art history is frivolous, and I wanted to dispel the notion that we are elitists,” Johns says.
She says her message “was not so much one of outrage at Obama’s statement, but rather a ‘look what we do well’ statement. I emphasized that as art historians, we challenge our students to think, read and write critically. I also stressed how inclusive our discipline is these days,” she says.
As has been widely reported in recent days (New York Times, ABC News, Chronicle of Higher Education), Johns received the surprise of a lifetime when the White House delivered a handwritten apology letter from President Obama himself. The note read:
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.
The entire art history department, including students, has been electrified about the discussion surrounding art history since Obama’s remarks were first reported. Students in associate chair Julia Guernsey‘s undergraduate capstone class crafted a statement explaining the value of majoring in art history and inviting the president and Mrs. Obama to the Undergraduate Art History Research Symposium in April.
“We feel strongly that our education as art historians prepares us to do a variety of things, many of which are vital to the educational well-being of our country, and some of which are also politically, socially, and economically-charged,” the statement reads. “We develop strong writing skills, learn to do in-depth research, read multiple languages, work collaboratively, engage and support creativity at all socio-economic levels, and promote diversity within the arts, archaeology, and the museum world.”