A Different Way of “Using” Art History

Art history is often written off as one of the most useless degrees out there. When, critics of people going into this area of study will say, are you ever going to use this?

Well, using a passion for art history for a variety ends is not exactly as uncommon or as difficult as you’d think.

Justice for All, a not-for-profit, pro-life organization, has developed a traveling exhibition called The Art of Life focusing on art history. Presenting several paintings by da Vinci, Velazquez, and more for the public to enjoy, the exhibition also makes a comment on “the hotly-debated topic of abortion” and, according to their website, seeks to create “a different kind of conversation about abortion.” Whether you’re pro-life or not, the organization’s use of art history to create a conversation is an unconventional and intriguing way of going about opening up a conversation, one not taken by many organizations, nonprofit or not.


Justice For All's The Art of Life exhibition uses art history to start a conversation--a unique way of using the discipline that organizations, regardless of what end they're pursuing, ought to consider using. Image c/o jfaweb.org.
Justice For All’s traveling The Art of Life exhibition uses art history to start a conversation–a unique way of using the discipline that organizations, regardless of what end they’re pursuing, ought to consider using. Image c/o jfaweb.org.


Justice for All’s exhibition probably wouldn’t have ever come about had someone, somewhere within their organization not studied art history. Which just goes to show that perhaps, maybe, studying the arts is a good idea. The Art of Life is making headlines because it’s something different–a different way of engaging what’s sometimes a hard-to-discuss topic.

Aside from opinion blog after opinion blog about whether studying art history is actually as pointless as Obama said it was (jokingly) (I hope), studying art or art history even in a minor capacity (we’re talking general ed courses or–hey! The kind of teaching we do in our program) does require a different way of engaging subject matter. Critical thinking as well as close looking and attention-to-detail, in addition to the facts (i.e. date, artist, etc.), are part of the skills developed when one takes art history seriously. In today’s visual culture (if you think it’s not, explain Instagram), learning how to look and see carefully are skills that could not possibly be more important (we have a whole other post about art history and the art of looking, which you can find here). Article after article by Princeton grads, art history authors writing for the Huffington Post, and even economically-minded blog posts for the Washington Post explain why art history grads ought to be more valued than they are for this very reason. And while that’s all mainly opinion, they kind of have a point.

Circle back to the when-are-you-ever-going-to-use-this question. If you don’t become an art history teacher, professor, or the next big museum curator hotshot, that’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s relatively normal. Let’s use our Justice for All example again–what if the person who had come up with the idea for the exhibition had decided not to go into nonprofit work? Again, whether you agree with their work or not, I think it’s safe to say that their use of art history as an organization is unique–and one that other nonprofits and for-profit corporations might take note of.

Art history can be a lot more useful than we give it credit for, and using the skills developed by studying art history can mean a lot more than you’d think.

Interested in the exhibition’s aims and use of art history? Check out more at Justice for All’s page regarding their The Art of Life exhibition here.

What exactly do you do again? Check out more about our love for art history and what we do at the Art Docent Program here!

More art history blogs? You got it–just look here.

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