Faced with the cultural splendor of pre-Revolutionary France, a different President—John Adams—prophesied American art history majors to come:

“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

To major in art history is therefore the destiny of a mature nation—a rare and precious possibility literally dependent upon generations of costly sacrifice. To observe how the diffused light of historical events and intellectual forces is refracted by the magnifying glass of art history into the intensified beams of distinct works of art, is of itself useless, and its impracticality is its very splendor. But such liberal pursuits are also, according to Cicero, a condition of our happiness, and a refusal to cultivate such skills invites the revenge of hideous places. Obama and Santorum, consequently, are right to tell machine operators that they need not pursue an art history degree. They can pursue a perfectly honorable career in machinery, so that their children can major in the history of art.To major in art history is therefore the destiny of a mature nation—a rare and precious possibility literally dependent upon generations of costly sacrifice. To observe how the diffused light of historical events and intellectual forces is refracted by the magnifying glass of art history into the intensified beams of distinct works of art, is of itself useless, and its impracticality is its very splendor. But such liberal pursuits are also, according to Cicero, a condition of our happiness, and a refusal to cultivate such skills invites the revenge of hideous places. Obama and Santorum, consequently, are right to tell machine operators that they need not pursue an art history degree. They can pursue a perfectly honorable career in machinery, so that their children can major in the history of art.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s