The Lost Art of… Art (as a major)

art history picThis guest post was written by Katie Merrill, an NU and BC alum and Academic Advisor for the Honors Program at NU.

I can remember being eighteen years old and having just gotten accepted to my dream college. I was sitting with the student handbook and course catalogue in my lap, and flipping through all the possible majors I could declare.  There were classes I had never seen before, topics I was eager to explore, and a few I was thankful to be free from (goodbye math!!!). I remember my father telling me that I could major in anything I wanted, that the purpose of college was the quest for knowledge (he comes from a liberal arts mindset), and so scanning the pages I picked out the two subjects I liked the best in high school: history and art.  I couldn’t decide which I wanted to pursue, so I figured why not squish them together? Mind you, I had never taken an art history course before in my life, but I liked museums and Indiana Jones’ adventures as an archaeologist, so I thought that was reason enough to declare an Art History major. I spent four years studying all the great artists through the ages, and even spent a semester in Italy taking art lessons and eating gelato.

Not once, during my entire undergraduate career, did I have that desperate thought I hear so often today as an advisor: “But what am I going to do with That?…”

The answer? Anything you want. My degree in art history taught me to examine things analytically, to write well, and to understand how others organize thoughts and information. Did it lead me to becoming a world renowned Art Historian? No. But it could have, if I hadn’t had an internship at a highly regarded art museum, during which I learned that I had no interest in becoming a curator.  Pouring over texts in Dutch and spending all day in the underbelly of a museum was not my passion. (Note: the basement of even the most beautiful museum still looks like a basement.) The point is that it was the skills I learned that mattered, not necessarily the content. That is why experiences are so important to your undergraduate education.  Very basically, experiences teach us about our likes and dislikes. Better yet, intentional and meaningful experiences can teach us about what we do or do not like about a career path.  They can teach us our strengths and weaknesses, about our abilities to adapt, our way of interpreting new information, and they can shape our values and goals.

I am not saying that everyone should switch majors to pursue something with art.  What I am saying, is don’t rule anything out completely because you have rationalized in your head that one major is going to set you on a path to success, while another will condemn you to eating ramen for the rest of your life.  I think it is important to pursue what you love and stop worrying so much about the end result. Skills and experiences are what lead you to succeed, not necessarily the specific content you studied. After all, that’s what graduate school is for.

Katie Merrill HeadshotKatie is an Academic Advisor for the Honors Program at Northeastern University. She studied art history as an undergraduate in Boston, and received her Masters degree in College Student Development and Counseling from the Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University. She likes to run and cook in her free time.