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04.24.12

An Art Critic Responds: In Defense of Useless Majors

What’s more important, the people who made works of art, or those who shell out millions to buy them? Art critic Blake Gopnik responds to ‘The 13 Most Useless College Majors’ list.

I say we could simply retitle The Daily Beast's survey as "The 13 Most Useful College Majors" and it would be equally valid. 

After all, who's more important today, Rembrandt or the people who bought his art? Monet or the people who bought his? Van Gogh or the rich idiots who FAILED to buy what he made? Useless is as useless does, I say, and it seems pretty clear to me that, across history, many of the people who made the biggest difference had training in the most useless professions. (Aristotle, anyone?)

Again, which is more useless, adding another million dollars to the millions you already have, or adding a new work of art, or a new thought, to the world's store of ideas? The single biggest problem the world has today, by far, is that people in the West are used to owning and using too much, and are setting an impossible example for the rest of the planet. (See the new movie Surviving Progress.) So there's real-world, practical virtue in living modestly, "uselessly", and taking your pleasure from the thoughts and ideas you acquired in getting your "useless" degree in art or poetry or philosophy. The world will not be a better place when more people have more money and stuff. It can ONLY be better when more people have better thoughts.

I'm proud to say that my first degree, in medieval history, and my second and third, in art history, are as useless as they come. I'd do them all over again.

PS: The most recent issue of Newsweek magazine, The Daily Beast's sister publication, ran a nice long and positive review of a book by philosopher Michael Sandel claiming that money is not the measure of all things—and that it's ruining America's values.