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President Obama Pens Personal Apology to an Art Historian

by Alicia Eler on February 18, 2014

Art historian (image used with permission)

Art historian Ann Collins Johns of the University of Texas at Austin (image used with permission)

Professor Ann Collins Johns at the University of Texas at Austin was just as peeved as many people were about President Barack Obama’s knock on art history majors. So she did what any self-assured art historian would do and wrote a letter to Obama on January 31, shortly after the President’s remarks, and sent it using the White House website. Then came the surprising part: Obama responded with a handwritten note on February 12.

Johns told Hyperallergic that she did not save her original email because she posted it via the White House website:

However, I’m pretty sure that my email was not so much one of outrage at his statement, but rather a “look at what we do well” statement. I emphasized that we challenge students to think, read, and write critically. I also stressed how inclusive our discipline is these days (even though my own specialty is medieval and Renaissance Italy).

Asked for permission to reproduce the letter, Johns wanted to make it clear that she loves Obama. “What I did NOT expect is that THE MAN HIMSELF would write me an apology. So now I’m totally guilty about wasting his time,” she wrote on her Facebook profile page.

Here is Obama’s response, written on official White House letterhead then scanned and sent to Johns by email. We’ve transcribed the text below; the White House let the professor know that the original will be mailed to her shortly.

Ann —

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.

So please pass on my apology for the glib remark 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 them to an honorable career.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

OBAMA1

(letter reproduced with permission)

OBAMA2

(letter reproduced with permission)

With reporting and contributions by Hrag Vartanian

h/t Andy Campbell, Senior Lecturer in Art History at Texas State University

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