When I am asked what my major is, and I respond, “art history,” it leaves many people puzzled or with questions about the field’s professional possibilities. I understand that it is difficult to find employment in the art world, and normally jobs there are not well paid, but my experience has taught me that my own desires are best satisfied by pursuing a career in art museums. Whatever may be its relevance to society in general, art history is relevant to me personally because it offers me the promise of personal and professional happiness.
When I started my undergraduate studies at Parkland College, I was already attracted to working in a museum or gallery. As an intern and student employee in Parkland’s Giertz Gallery, my enthusiasm only increased. I then learned that art history was the most practical major if I wished to pursue a career in museums. My parents were understandably concerned about my professional prospects, as they, like most other people, equated a career in the arts with the starving artist living in their parents’ basement and surviving on ramen noodles and microwave burritos. Now that I have identified the actual positions that I may fill in a museum or similar institution, both their and my concerns in this regard have been allayed.
At the University of Illinois, I have been able to understand more precisely my attraction to art. In my junior seminar I presented on Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Before working on the painting, I already had had an inexplicable affinity for it, but afterwards I understood both how its formal solutions operated upon me and what historical circumstances had produced it. In my art history courses, I have learned much about art, but I have also learned about myself and the peculiar ways art exercises its power over me.
When asked about my major now, I respond with the names and descriptions of the kinds of places at which I wish to work after graduation. I am seeking a job that allows me to work closely with art, as part of the administration of a museum. There may be more education in store for me as some of these jobs require Masters’ degrees, but I am eager to move on to a new chapter of my life.