Humanities Degree Doesn’t Equal Cardboard Living

I spent my four years in college joking about living in a cardboard box, post-graduation. Then I graduated and realized that I really didn’t want to live in a box (though with my current apartment less than 100 sq. feet).

After one fruitless art world interview after another, and a lot of, “we’ll hire you if you work for free for six months as an intern,” I gave up. I love art, but I also like getting paid. All the job search advisors who say, “You aren’t entitled to a paycheck after graduation,” are clearly on an entirely different socioeconomic level.

So I branched out and applied to jobs in journalism, marketing, and policy, which are proven to be humanities-friendly, even though the Daily Beast claims that art history, along with psychology and journalism, is one of the most useless college degrees. Nice.

Instead of focusing on my lack of math or economics experience, I instead mentioned my solid writing fundamentals, namely how describing art has taught me how to write about products in an appealing way. Gallery experience can be analogous to high-end retail experience; you have to deal with customers while selling expensive products. Even non-profit experience means something. Whenever I’m asked why I worked for so many non-profit organizations, I discuss how I wanted greater responsibility and was given a larger role in the company than I would have been in an auction house.

So far, it’s worked. Humanities majors are hardly an issue in the job market, unless you’ve had absolutely no internship experience or are interested in a highly technical job. That also might be because I’m based in Asia, which has a far more active job market than that in the U.S. right now, (though given the recent global economic situation, that may change). Regardless, the “fundamentals are essential” argument works well in the job search struggle.

Also, another note for humanities degree-laden grads: e-mail employers using your college or college alumni e-mail address – it works spectacularly. If you can advertise yourself before an human resources employee even opens your e-mail, awesome.

I miss working with art every day, but I’m sure I’ll make it back in that direction at some point. There are ways to stay in the art world, such as keeping in touch with contacts and going to shows every weekend, that don’t require gallery internships and museum fellowships. In the meantime, I’ll focus on not living in a box.

Ashley Lee I'm a recent grad (Wellesley '11!) trying to break into the art world. When I'm not reading, writing, or tweeting about the contemporary art world, I like shoes, soccer, and Star Wars. Like Liz Lemon, I list things in threes.

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