A museum-goer snapping a photo of Johannes Vermeer’s “Study of a Young Woman” (ca. 1665-67) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Most Americans have a positive attitude towards arts and humanities, a new study reports. But their relationship to art and art history varies significantly according to their political leanings, socioeconomic status, and gender.

The study, conducted in the fall of 2019, surveyed a nationally representative sample of 5,015 American adults about their engagement with and attitudes toward different disciplines of humanities (art, history, literature, philosophy, etc.) The extensive survey, coordinated by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’s Humanities Indicators project, was made possible with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

According to the study, 80% of American adults hold a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the arts (35% reported the former). However, subjects like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) received higher favorability rates between 85-90%.  

The respondents reported a positive view of the arts, but only 11% of them said they visit art museums or attend arts events regularly, while another 29% said they do so “sometimes.” Americans with a college degree are more likely than those with a high school education or less to participate in art events; however, education is not found to be predictive of literary event attendance.

Estimated Shares of Adults with Favorable and Unfavorable Impressions of Academic Fields and Disciplines, Fall 2019*
A breakdown of the favorability responses by discipline: 35% of Americans view the arts as very favorable; 45% as somewhat favorable; 16% as somewhat unfavorable; and 4% as very unfavorable (courtesy the American Academy of Arts and Sciences)

The study adds that higher-income Americans are more likely to have visited art museums or attended art events, but they are less likely to attend poetry and literary events. It also found that Latinx and Black Americans are nearly three times as likely to have frequently attended poetry or literature readings and other literary events as white Americans; the youngest adults among Black and Latinx communities (ages 18-29) are more than twice as likely to attend these events as those 45 and older.

Overall, Americans across all demographics have displayed a positive attitude toward the terms arts and the humanities. However, self-identified liberals are 26% more likely than conservatives to have a “very favorable” view of the arts.

Asked about the value of art studies in the school system, only half of the respondents agreed that it is important that K–12 students learn art history and appreciation (the lowest level of support among the 10 humanities subjects in the survey). These results differ by gender identification: More than half of women (55%) consider art history and appreciation critical for a child’s education, compared to 44% of men.

And when asked if they wish they had taken more art history or appreciation courses in school, only 22% responded positively. A gender divide was observed here as well: 26% of women hold this view compared to just 19% of men.

This divide continues across political preferences also, as conservatives are “markedly less likely” than liberals and slightly less likely than moderates to consider art history as important in young people’s education. Conservatives are also substantially less likely to wish that art history had been a bigger part of their education.

Still, a slim minority (12%) believes that art is best taught outside of school. And finally, a telling factoid: only 10% of Americans recall their parents discussing art frequently.

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...