After President Obama knocked art history majors last month in off-the-cuff remarks, Dr. Ann Johns, an art history professor at the University of Texas, decided to send the president a message defending the work of art history professors and students.
“It’s a changed discipline and I think in many ways it does prepare students very well for a complex global world,” Johns, a senior lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History, told ABC News today about the note she submitted to the president on the White House website. “Perhaps the idea of just going and looking at nice images is not really what the discipline is about.”
“We teach our students to do critical thinking, critical reading, critical writing. We present a very global approach,” she said.
Little did she know the president would pen a handwritten apology for his comments.
Johns, whose expertise is in Italian renaissance art, received an email on Feb. 12 from the correspondence office at the White House, informing her that the president had personally penned a handwritten response apologizing for what he called “glib remarks.”
“I was stunned. Whoever really thinks … the man has time to do this,” Johns said. “The discipline was feeling kind of beleaguered.”
Attached to the email was a PDF copy of the handwritten note from the president.
“Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. 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,” the president wrote on White House letterhead.
“So please pass on my apology for the glib remarks to the entire department, and understand that I was trying to encourage young people who may not be predisposed to a four year college experience to be open to technical training that can lead to an honorable career,” the president wrote before signing his name.
The president was apologizing for comments he made in Waukesha, Wis., where he suggested last month that skilled manufacturing workers who go through job training programs have the potential to make more money than art history majors.
“I promise you, folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree,” the president 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. 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.”
Johns said the president’s response has been a “teachable moment” for her students and colleagues. She said that students in their senior capstone seminars are planning to write back to President Obama to tell their stories about what their art history degree means to them.