Art History In The Internet Age

A PhD student objects to Obama’s lighthearted dig against her field:

In the coming years, it’s likely that visual literacy will become a key skill, alongside textual literacy, for workers throughout our economy. This is why it’s important for President Obama to understand that art historians don’t simply teach the historical development of artistic styles; more critically, we teach people how to look at images. I don’t think he would make a public statement against teaching our children to read … so why should he implicitly ridicule teaching people how to read images, when images are now as important as text in the construction of our common culture?

It’s especially worrisome for a politician, of all people, to casually dismiss the very field most responsible for training American citizens in visual literacy (now that the arts are all but banished from high school curricula). Political campaigns and culture wars alike are now waged through images as much as through soundbites – just ask Michael Dukakis. An informed electorate has to know how to decode visual information: not just art history majors, but all Americans, should learn how to read images.