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Don’t Know Much About Art History

Mar 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 24 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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A couple of weeks ago, Ethan -Epstein wrote in these pages about President Obama’s “naked philistinism,” exemplified in the cheap shot the president took at the study of art history in a speech in Wisconsin (“Philistine in Chief,” Feb. 17). “A lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career, 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,” Obama said—wrongly. (Art history majors earn more than most people in manufacturing and the trades.)

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Understandably, art historians objected, and evidently sent him a lot of mail on the subject. So last week, the president sent a handwritten apology to one of them. “Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks,” Obama wrote to University of Texas professor Ann Collins Johns. “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.”

Obama did persist in error, though, writing, “I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history.” (He seems not to have realized his “point” about the job market was also wrong.) But The Scrapbook is pleased the president apologized just the same. And at this point it’s not exactly news when he says something wrongheaded about the job market.

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