President Obama made a gaffe in early 2014 when he off-handedly joked about the utility of an art history degree. The comment caused umbrage but had little in the way of repercussions.
Last week, we learned a great deal more about the slipping interest in art history as a subject when the UK signaled that the A-level exams would no longer be given in art history.
Art is incredibly popular in the UK. Art remains central to British culture. In fact, London has led the way in the current boom of interest in Contemporary art.
How can art be so popular and art history seem so irrelevant? It turns out the A-level was dropped due to lack of interest. UK schools have tens of thousands of students studying art but only a handful interested in art history. Bendor Grosvenor, who did not study art history himself, has been surveying the conundrum:
the narrow social base of children wanting to study art history as an A Level is certainly a puzzling question, given the abundance of free to enter art collections in every city in the UK. […] To that extent, the lack of people in state schools wanting to do art history is a terrible indictment on the failure of art history as a whole – and especially the UK’s museum sector – to broaden ‘access’. This, after all, has been the defining policy of successive governments. If broadening young people’s access to art history through local and national museums had been a success, surely more would want to study it at A-level?
Grosvenor goes further to point out that the broader art economy doesn’t offer enough incentive for students to enter the field or for schools to teach art history.
Around the world, governments are making huge infrastructure investments in the creation of museums as anchors of creative economies. Yet the education system is not producing a large enough nor diverse enough population of art historians, curators or other arts professionals to ensure that infrastructure can achieve its goals.
A-Level Art History Axed (Art History News)