February 1, 2014

Why did the President say "art history"?

We were talking about this yesterday, and here's Virginia Postrel — via Instapundit — talking about the factual inaccuracy of pointing to art history, in particular, as a college major that might not correlate with a good income:
[A]rt history isn’t a major naive kids fall into because they’ve heard a college degree — any college degree — will get you a good job... [I]t’s famously elitist.... It’s stereotypically a field for prep school graduates, especially women, with plenty of family wealth to fall back on. In fact, a New York Times analysis of Census data shows that art history majors are wildly overrepresented among those in the top 1 percent of incomes. Perhaps the causality runs from art history to high incomes, but I doubt it.
That is, it's not that studying art history leads to a high-paying job, but that people who are already in a very affluent social class choose this major and then do very well exploiting pathways that exist for them because of pre-existing wealth. 

Since art history is an unusual and difficult major, Postrel says, Obama should have used communications or psychology as his example: "It would have been much braver and more serious to take on the less-rigorous majors that attract lots of students."

As I said yesterday, I think saying "art history" was subtle — i.e., deniable — gender politics. Whether or not you know it's a major that skews very female — and it does — it sounds feminine. Obama was speaking to young men, talking up manly skilled manufacturing and trades.

But Postrel makes me think another reason to say "art history" was to refer to those rich 1%-ers out there somewhere. You don't know them — he was speaking at a GE plant in Wisconsin — they mean nothing to you. Go ahead and a laugh at the other.

It's funny that he can get away with that, telling working-class people to feel good about working class jobs because the things those other people learn in college are... Well, what did he say they are? Unmanly? Not for you? Did he say it without saying it? He didn't say it! But he got that idea into their heads, didn't he?

71 comments:

Pogo is Dead said...

Stalin's jokes always got a big laugh, too.

Dave said...

Of course, he could have mentioned gender/ethnic/alternative sexuality "studies", which are even more massively useless, but that would have been a direct shot at a big piece of his base.
Honestly, without the ethnic/gender/LGBT grievance industry, where would the Democrat party be?

madAsHell said...

I'm thinking our favorite Bachelorette of Fine Arts is a getting a little defensive. It's an Mrs. degree.

iowan2 said...

To question the science of Art History being responsible for global warming is anti science.

traditionalguy said...

Getting things into people's minds by suggestions is a salesman's art taught by the Father of Lies.

Hagar said...

I have been in the office at 4 AM because I was staying late, and I have been there at 4 AM because I was coming in early.
What the hell was I doing there if I was not "working"?

AJ Lynch said...

The transcript of his speech reads "fart history" so you need to put up a "never mind" post Professor.

Bob Ellison said...

There's gotta be a word for what Obama did, and "metonymy" ain't it. What's the word for saying a word or phrase that isn't necessarily accurate, but still instantly gets the idea across? Not like "it's raining cats and dogs", nor like "that's about as funny as a fart in a spacesuit", but more like "Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree..."

PB Reader said...

Just more of the class warfare.

You should ask Obama if he felt that a person who'd never been to college was qualified for higher office. This is just an attempt by the elites to consign rational thinking folks to the lower classes and make educational degree or course of study the sole factor in compensation level in life.

Bob Ellison said...

I propose "noxonymy".

virgil xenophon said...

My post about this on the previous thread on this subj alluded (indirectly) to the fact that my post-PhD "Art-History" studies girlfriend in London indeed came from Boston's "upper crust" as this post suggests such majors usually do...so my anecdotal experience seemingly tracks the norm......on that same thread Michael K mentions his daughter graduated from undergrad school with a major in French, but her current status makes no use of her major. LOL! As my Father used to say about the value of a "liberal arts" education to most potential employers: "OK, speak to me in French if you must, but just make me a buck!" LOL!!

Bruce Hayden said...

Last post failed due to the obnoxious Blogger conflicts error - something that anyone with a decent multiprogramming background could have prevented.

In any case, right after that, I ran into this article: No, Women Don’t Make Less Money Than Men which has this list (along with the opposite one):

And here are the 10 least remunerative majors—where women prevail in nine out of ten:

1. Counseling Psychology: 74% female
2. Early Childhood Education: 97% female
3. Theology and Religious Vocations: 34% female
4. Human Services and Community Organization: 81% female
5. Social Work: 88% female
6. Drama and Theater Arts: 60% female
7. Studio Arts: 66% female
8. Communication Disorders Sciences and Services: 94% female
9. Visual and Performing Arts: 77% female
10. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs: 55% female


I will say though that the author's facts seem a bit behind the times - she claims that on 17% of engineering degrees are being earned by women, but half of my kids incoming mechanical engineering PhD program are female.

Bob Boyd said...

Picks daisy.
"Art History Diesel Mechanics Art History Diesel Mechanics Art History Diesel Mechanics....Shit...Dad!"

Bob Ellison said...

Bruce Hayden, you teach mechanical engineering, and half of your PhD students are female?

That's amazing! Seems like an article someone should publish somewhere.

Laslo Spatula said...

Nothing sadder than a homely Art History student. Beauty everywhere except in the mirror. More ice cream and tears.

SOJO said...

Not all art history majors are rich. You gave to distinguish btwn the majors, and the surviviors. Maybe successful ah tend to be elitist, but lots of others get sucked in along the way. And on what planet is it 'rigorous' ? Lol. Compared to what? A 5 year engineering degree? Drywall? AA studies? Sociology for hungover Delta Gammas? It's not rigorous.

m stone said...

Postrel also writes: "If the president had been serious about his message, he would have compared learning a skilled trade to majors that are actually popular, such as communications and psychology."

Communications as a major ranked number one on a business survey I read ten years ago, an all-purpose discipline that emphasized critical thinking. Now communications is in disfavor and journalism in communications is plummeting

jacksonjay said...

Why listen to or analyze the Flim-Flam Man?

Laslo Spatula said...

Homely Art History student poses nude for the Drawing class. She cannot bear to look at the resulting depictions. More ice cream and tears.

Laslo Spatula said...

The spoonful of ice cream reminds her of the texture of a certain painting that she has studied. She skipped class this morning, comfortable in knowing that no one would recognize her absence. A world of turpentine.

Laslo Spatula said...

A stabbing thought in the middle of the night: museums don't hire homely Art History graduates. People want a pretty face to explain the paintings. More tears.

Laslo Spatula said...

Pretty Art History students can use the word 'sensual' and it creates a subtle tension in the classroom. Homely Art History student uses the word and: nothing.

Laslo Spatula said...

Homely Art History girl was always good at math. Maybe her choices are wrong, all wrong. She is fearful that everything is a mistake.

Laslo Spatula said...

Her latest paper was graded a B-plus. Somehow she knew that if she was prettier it would have been an A-minus.

virgil xenophon said...

@Laslo Spatula/

Yes, my gal was a "looker" alright, but her gig had her "interfacing" more with rich art/museum patrons, board members, politicians, etc.

Curious George said...

I think you are giving that grifter too much credit. He needed a worthless major, and it started with "A". He couldn't do anything starting with "African" because of the Kenyan thing so what's next? Art History.

Laslo Spatula said...

When the Professor uses the phrase "Rubenesque" she is sure everyone is looking at her and thinking unkind thoughts. Maybe everything will be better when they study Abstract art.

Laslo Spatula said...

All the pretty Art History students show up to class with coffee beverages in hand. Homely Art History girl can never do that: she would have to leave the classroom mid-session to urinate, and everyone watching her make her way down the steps would know why.

ironrailsironweights said...

Compared to what? A 5 year engineering degree? Drywall?

Now that you mentioned drywall, I'm going to go on a brief rant. A couple of months ago I started a second job, working about 15 hours a week at a Major Nationwide Home Improvement Retailer. My title is "puller," meaning that I pull and stage phone and Internet orders for customers who want to come into the store and pick up their purchases without having to spend more time than necessary.

As you might guess, many of the customers who want their orders pulled in advance are contractors, to whom time is money. And not infrequently their orders involve sheets of drywall.

I hate drywall. It is an utterly loathsome substance to handle. While their sheets are not particularly heavy, around 45 pounds for the standard weight types, their 4x8 size makes them extremely awkward. Even worse, drywall is fragile. Bump a corner even slightly onto the floor when trying to handle a sheet and the sheet's ruined.

Peter

ironrailsironweights said...

All the pretty Art History students show up to class with coffee beverages in hand. Homely Art History girl can never do that: she would have to leave the classroom mid-session to urinate, and everyone watching her make her way down the steps would know why.

Drinking liquids will make even hot girls have to Bail out the Canoe. There are photo and video blogs on Tumblr which specialize in young ladies going Number One.

Peter

Laslo Spatula said...

Her sister is beautiful. She is studying to be a doctor: a wonderful life is laid out in front of her. Homely Art History looks at her future and sees nothing. There is no more ice cream in the freezer. Cereal.

Laslo Spatula said...

Conventional. That was the word that her Professor wrote on her paper in red pen. Some wounds never heal.

Hagar said...

"Environmental Engineering" is another major that naive young women seem to fall into a lot.

"Environmental Engineering" used to be a euphemism for "sewage plant and water supply design" as a specialty of Civil Engineering, but I believe that has changed and now probably is mostly about preparing and reviewing environmental impact statements (EIS) in line with Obama's ideas of "job creation."

Bruce Hayden said...

Bruce Hayden, you teach mechanical engineering, and half of your PhD students are female?

No - my offspring is a ME grad student in a well ranked program, and half of their entering PhD class was female. That was the class entering in 2013. 2012 was close to even. You apparently have to go back to 2011 or 2010 before you see a big male/female disparity. (of course you have to wait 5 or so years to see if the 50/50 split continues).

As a side note, there is currently a big boom in engineering in a lot of universities right now. The BS/ME program at that school has grown by maybe 1/4 in the last couple of years, and funding and staffing have yet to catch up. Entry level classes over 100, with TAs having 50+ students each. That sort of thing. And, a big part of the growth seems to be female, to probably double the 17% cited in the article.

BTW - looking back, I do think that I should have gone for a PhD after my BA, but probably in CS. Instead, I got most of a MS/CS, an MBA, and ultimately a JD, and work as a patent attorney specializing in software and computer related patents. Never was much into mechanical things, which is what ME was about back then (and, my next brother, with an MS/ME and JD writes that type of patent). Now, MEs are into a lot of more interesting things (though, as a former committee chair in the IEEE, I think EEs do even more interesting things), such as lasers, energy atmospheric, robots, etc. Long way of saying that I don't teach ME, and really never had any inclination to do so.

Bruce Hayden said...

"Environmental Engineering" is another major that naive young women seem to fall into a lot.

When I mentioned "EE" in my last post, I meant Electrical Engineering, not Environmental Engineering. Electrical Engineering still seems to be male dominated, along with CS, and probably mining. But many of the rest of the engineering disciplines seem to be rapidly feminizing. It is one place where the money is, and, despite Barbie opining that math is hard, a lot of females do just fine there, at least with the level of math required for most engineering.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

While I respect her point, there's a flaw in her reasoning. She says Art History is not a major people enter for an easy but worthless degree. As one part of her proof, she says that Art History majors make up 0.2% of employed graduates. That might just as easily refute her point. Suppose Art History majors comprised (made up number here, don't quote it) 30% of UNemployed graduates?

The proportion of a given major in the workforce says something about the demand for that major in the economy. It says nothing about demand for that major in the student population.

rehajm said...

That is, it's not that studying art history leads to a high-paying job

In fact the type of art history majors of which Postrel speaks, a high paying job is a strong possibility, especially if that art history major graduates from Williams.

somefeller said...

Postrel scores a direct hit with this one. Obama's comment was dumb and fed into the sort of anti-intellectualism one generally associates with social conservatives. Shame on him for that.

Postrel's older article (linked in the piece) is a good one also, in that it points out that people in so-called impractical majors (like "something studies" majors) are a miniscule portion of college students and blaming high unemployment among recent college grads on them not majoring in something practical isn't supported by the facts.

Scientific Socialist said...

He was wearing his Patronizer-in-Chief hat and, as is often the case, put his size 12 oxford in his mouth.

somefeller said...

As one part of her proof, she says that Art History majors make up 0.2% of employed graduates. That might just as easily refute her point. Suppose Art History majors comprised (made up number here, don't quote it) 30% of UNemployed graduates?

No, she uses the 0.2% stat to show what art history majors are a miniscule portion of the college grad pool and the implication that there are lots of unemployed college grads who would have been employed if they had majored in something else isn't supported by the facts. So Obama (and other people) who use art history or other humanities as a data point when talking about unemployment are engaged in misdirection at best.

William said...

I've only known a couple of art history majors, so I shouldn't generalize. Nonetheless, I get the sense that they would not do well in the building trades......I also get the sense that pretty girl with a art history degree would make a better trophy wife than an accounting major. It's like having your brain stylized with highlights and a pixie cut. I bet Daisy Buchanan was interested in art history.

Hagar said...

Electrical Engineering has been a schizophrenic branch of engineering since WWII.
You really want good pay and job security, pick EE, but in power generation and transmission. Not glamorous and sadly neglected for public attention, but absolutely necessary, and not complicated by a lot of women and "personnel problems."

Hagar said...

What is "CS"?

Bob Ellison said...

CS = computer science

Bruce Hayden, so do you suppose the Larry Summers conjecture is out of date? Maybe women are moving, Marie-Curie-like, to take a big place in STEM.

A female math professor told me about 25 years ago that she thought the best math students were not the wizards, but the ones with stick-to-it-ive-ness.

Hagar said...

They are moving all right - but not "Marie Curie like."

Hagar said...

Larry Summers rules!

David said...

He didn't dare say Gender Studies, which is the prime example.

Hagar said...

Computers are mechanical devices, even if they are worked with electrons. How does "science" come into it?
Looks like just EE (electronics) to me.

Trashhauler said...

"...daughter graduated from undergrad school with a major in French, but her current status makes no use of her major."

Nothing wrong with language courses, even if they don't lead directly to a job. I studied Latin for two years in High School and German for two years in college. Over the years, both have been very useful.

Trashhauler said...

A PhD program in mechanical engineering? How many are in the program? One would expect that Mech types would all be working on full time jobs long since. My brother is a long-time electrical engineer, but got his first full time job right after getting his BS.

I took two semesters of ME forty-some years ago. The instructors were hard asses.

Iconochasm said...

SOJO, art history is certainly rigorous. Brutally so. It may not ultimately be *useful*, but it certainly appeared to be one of the most intensely grueling slogs of the into classes to various majors. So much so, that many of the people I knew who took it were considering majoring in the subject in what seemed to be a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Like, that 101 class required so many hours of memorization that going all-in seemed less painful than having done all that work for a measly 4 credit hour elective. Fortunately, most of them recovered after a summer break.

Robt C said...

My wife is an Art History grad. (One of the pretty ones, I might add.) After a couple of years starving/curating, she became a paralegal. Went to work for a big (Fortune 20) firm, ended up with a fine career in accounting/finance. Our two sons both got liberal arts degrees (history and linguistics) and are now successful entrepreneurs.
No problems with my non-STEM family.

rcocean said...

I agree with Art majors being well off. I knew two in college, both were trust fund babies. It was also good for young women trying to get a mrs degree.

cf said...

How effortlessly we got comfortable that our President Prince would isolate and convict Regular Folks with cruel, dishonest generalizations.

Remember doctors that cut off limbs or have unnecessary surgeries to make a buck? The list is long and regularly added to.

This is a reckless Cunt of man, and we should all be ashamed for tolerating his treachery.

Jupiter said...

"Computers are mechanical devices, even if they are worked with electrons. How does "science" come into it?
Looks like just EE (electronics) to me."

Algorithms.

Strelnikov said...

He said "art history" because that is a cliche. Cliches make up most of what he says in any topic. He's never had an original thought.

hombre said...

He picked Art History, because Psychology would have pissed off too many people.

Hagar said...

Algorithms is applied mathematics, not "computer science."

gk1 said...

I am sure he blurted it out. It wouldn't be the first time he strayed off the teleprompter and stepped in it. Art history majors are his peeps. I am sure the press will give another mulligan to the "Greatest Orator of the Century!"

Bruce Hayden said...

I agree about gender or race studies - they spend their time in college being outraged, and then find that no one wants to hire them because of a worry that they will see their employer's policies or employees as sexist, racist, etc, and then sue. Might work for law school or maybe social work, but otherwise ridiculous. Actually, a lot of the traditional humanities and social sciences are turning out to be counterproductive in terms of degrees. And even worse is going to graduate school in many of these areas.

Hammond X Gritzkofe said...

Why did the President say "art history"?

No telepromper.

Next question...?

R. Chatt said...

I was an art history major, too, because I really love art and it wasn't OK for me to become an artist. My classmates went on to become museum directors, chief curators, college professors, an architect, and in one case, the urban planning major became very successful in NYC real estate. The major requires one to develop a prodigious memory, critical thinking, writing and speaking skills, as well as developing a eye for authenticity and connoisseurship, i.e., being able to discern the value of things.

Whenever he goes off his teleprompter Obama shows he is an ignorant man. Sadly, his persona has become that of a pompous egotist ("I am the President!") who can not admit even a simple mistake, (don't email me, I love art history) but at least he's not a womanizer, he has that going for him.

Obama inspires excuses.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

Sorry, somefeller, but you've misread the stat. It does not say "art history majors are a miniscule portion of the college grad pool". It says (emphasis added):

Art history majors account for less than 0.2 percent of working adults with college degrees.

Art history majors could make up half of the entire college grad pool and still only make up 0.2 percent of the working college grad pool. Her statistic tells us nothing about how many unemployed Art History graduates there are. For the purpose of her argument, her statistic is irrelevant at best. At worst, if Art History graduates were 5% of all graduates yet only 0.2% of all employed graduates, that would speak very poorly for the programs. But since she never tells us what percentage they make up of total graduates, we can't know.

rcocean said...

You know who can look at painting and then write 26 pages of bullshit about it?

Art majors.

rcocean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rcocean said...

Like Lawyers, they make the simple complex - only for a lot less money.

RecChief said...

He just didn't want to say that "Women's Studies" was a worthless major

Inga said...

My daughter got her art history degree from UW Milwaukee. She didn't come from a rich family, but met a man from a wealthy family. Her husband, my son in law, is quite succesful. Although she is quite pretty she met and married her husband before he became wealthy himself, so I guess she isn't a trophy wife.

Inga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fernandinande said...

The Art History is Settled.

Jan R. said...

To prove your point, I believe Catherine Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, majored in Art History.

I wish I had.