President Loves Art History, But Not How it Pays

  • January 30, 2014 22:26

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Berkeley No. 52, Richard Diebenkorn, 1955, picked by the Obamas for the White House in 2009.
Courtesy of the Estate of Richard Diebenkorn / ...

While speaking on Thursday at a General Electric manufacturing plant in Waukesha, Wis., President Obama made a comment that manufacturing jobs might be a better paying line of work than ones secured with an art history degree.

“I promise you that folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree,” Obama said. “Now, there’s nothing wrong with an art history degree; I love art history, so I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody.”

“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 training that you need,” he added.

While Obama's speech was centered on boosting job-training programs, his dig on art history majors got the attention of the College Art Association.

The CAA president Anne Collins Goodyear, and executive director and CEO Linda Downs, said they support the President's efforts to increase "opportunities for higher education."

“However, when these measures are made by cutting back on, denigrating or eliminating humanities disciplines such as art history, then America’s future generations will be discouraged from taking advantage of the values, critical and decisive thinking and creative problem solving offered by the humanities,” Goodyear and Downs said in a statement.

Opportunities for all was the keynote of Obama's State of Union address on Wednesday when he focused on America's workforce.

He noted, "Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don't resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success. But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, museum curators make a median annual salary of $54,600. More salary information for the museum field is here.

Sotheby's Chairman, CEO and President William Ruprecht made $6.3 million is 2012, according to SEC filings. Starting salaries at auction houses can hover around the mid-$20,000s, near the poverty line.

Obama did say he "loves art history" and that can be seen in the selections that he and First Lady Michelle have made for the White House. View the art inside the White House with the Google Art Project, here.

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