Who Needs Art–my latest on counterpunch.org


Who Needs Art?

When Obama mocked art history, he revealed the extent to which people in power hold the arts in contempt.  Here’s my response. 





12 thoughts on “Who Needs Art–my latest on counterpunch.org

  1. Of course, as an historian, I too love the arts. But I’m afraid that your article did not present a very convincing case for our position.

    Please try again.

    Best regards,

    Dr. Jonathan M. Kolkey

    • I’m talking about improving the world, not just studying it. What’s your plan? Tell me it’s something more than cataloging wars in order to show that they’re all “the result of leaders’ cynical, self-serving political manipulation.” My teenaged students have already figured that out. How about we try to stop wars instead of making money studying them?

  2. Look. Come on. This is rather smug. Let’s demonstrate some intellectual integrity here and place the conversation in context and taken as given (which is the first thing I think a liberal arts background should command-how to think).

    It’s really a yes or no question. If you want a job and career is a liberal arts degree your best choice? Clearly the answer is no. The next question is do you want a well-wounded education of just a job.

    Obama is not saying anything that academics have not themselves been parroting for decades. He is not talking about a well-rounded EDUCATION per se but one that will provide jobs, employment. I don’t think anyone can argue that, when it comes to jobs an employment, that liberal arts degree is a wise investment. It is unfortunate that colleges and universities have turned into vocational schools and it’s wise to ask if they are really getting an education. A liberal arts core should still be the foundation of any respectable education – presuming one wants to be regarded as ‘educated.’

    That said it cuts both ways: It would not hurt of a liberal arts degree also required basic business courses to that liberal arts majors are not as ignorant of busies as business if of the arts. In that sense one ignoramus is not much better than any other.

    • Did you read the essay? I’m not a college professor and I’m not out to defend a “liberal arts” education–whatever the hell that means. I’m not talking about employment either. I am placing the conversation in context: a corporate shill getting some yuks about how useless art history is from his corporate sponsors. I’m talking about a systemic, institutionalized contempt for what art actually does–which I won’t repeat here since I wrote about it and suggest you actually go and read that. The question is not about college being just vocational training. There’s a bigger picture here, pal.

      • “I am placing the conversation in context: a corporate shill getting some yuks about how useless art history is from his corporate sponsors.” An excellent point!

        I am not a lib ed major but a life sciences major. However, I started out in the Humanities Department majoring in philosophy a course of study that was derided by some (Hey! Just fire up a bowl and think about that electrical socket! So funny). I later double majored in biology and philosophy and also took non-required courses in fine arts. Funny thing about that biology major is that it has never made me rich but then my path in the sciences was more towards another “useless” study: plant taxonomy. There was a prof in our biology department who firmly believed that it was not the purpose of a college education to get you a job and money. He said the purpose was to get you to think.

  3. Interesting article and Kolkey’s reaction. The arts themselves are also responsible for the low esteem in which they are being held today. Once Duchamp decided that anything could be art what he told the public as an ‘artist’, the gate was open to undisciplined human potential and since his very French cynicism was fully misunderstood, thus like Cole Porter’s clever song: ‘Anything goes’. Art is simply not for amateurs nor for dreamers, It is and has been for a very long time in almost every culture, a very stringent and highly disciplined effort to transcend
    daily life and beauty only came about from reaching that almost unscaleable goal. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy…

    • And did YOU read what the president said? My, my, let the hyperbole fly! What the President said was “ But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree. “

      True or false. Of course it’s true! I know hairdressers and carpenters who make more money than most lawyers I know. And *that* is what the man is talking about,

      He also said “Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree — I love art history. So I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody [or smug trolls?]. I’m *just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need.*”

      Right or wrong. He is absolutely correct. Get off it. This is not bashing the arts! What IS your problem? In *context* they were “Remarks by the President on *Opportunity for All and Skills for America’s Workers*”. It is an expression of RESPECT for dignity of skilled blue collar workers who opt out of ‘higher education’ to still make an honest living and who should not be looked down on for it.

      So, what’s your problem, why do you attack a man who, in *good faith*, tells skilled labor they need not feel like second class citizens by snobs who look down on them? To call that an attack on liberal arts is not only smug but sanctimonious and self-righteous.

      Wow! some people just go around in life looking for any opportunity to take umbrage. Get off it already.

      • Francois,
        ” smug …sanctimonious and self-righteous.” this seems to describe you more than Dr. Graham. If you look around in every school district arts and music are being cut and more and more funds are being directed toward things like STEM….to create a workforce for the corporate market….this isn’t just Obama but is policy…

  4. We all need art! Ignorant statements to the contrary just show people like Obama to be fools, if not charlatans!

    I have been interested and tinkering with and working with technology since I was about ten, which is great, but nothing expands one’s horizons like a tour of off-the-beaten-path museums (like the ones at Harvard, or in small European cities), or reading a profound and though-provoking good book. Life is much more than programming or physics or the latest and greatest (even the most profound) computer technology.

    Opposite opinions are just narrow minded and foolish. PBS programs, heavily favoring technical subjects of many kinds, always take second place in broadcasting when really good art, architechture and music are shown.

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