Sniping Art History Majors, Romney Ally Edward Conard Just Made a Few Enemies

There are many reasons a left-leaning reader might take issue with the defense of income inequality posited by Bain Capital exec Edward Conard in his profile in this week’s New York Times Magazine. For a moment, though, it might be worth setting aside Conard’s contentions that his success is based on a penchant for macho risk-taking that others lack, or that his own super-wealth is a motivator for others to climb the socio-economic ladder, both of which can be argued in a civil debate. What’s far less civil is what he has to say about art history majors.

Conard, who occasionally flashed a mean streak during our talks, started calling the group “art-history majors,” his derisive term for pretty much anyone who was lucky enough to be born with the talent and opportunity to join the risk-taking, innovation-hunting mechanism but who chose instead a less competitive life…He said the only way to persuade these “art-history majors” to join the fiercely competitive economic mechanism is to tempt them with extraordinary payoffs.

Oh. No. You. Didn’t. We at ARTINFO will not sit here and be insulted by someone who is willing to be quoted, in print, to the effect that students of art history have wasted their potential. Anyone who argues this has sorely overlooked the fierce competitiveness of professions related to art history and the immense talent of the people work in them, to say nothing of the incalculable value of art in our culture and quality of life. To quote Tom Schulman (via Robin Williams): “Law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Mr. Conard, know that you have just made beef with a stout, athletic young man who never forgets a face. I say this even as I emphasize that it does not come from a place of longstanding emnity. From high school and college, I can count many people who entered the financial services industry among my fellow graduates. Some of them are almost my friends. I mutter to myself at class reunions that it’s their right to think that art history is trivial and useless, or to suggest that knowing what a standard deviation is is more important than knowing who painted “Las Meninas.” It’s their right to believe that water is dry, the sky is green, or that risotto milanese can be prepared with Velveeta cheese and Skittles. “Go ahead,” I think. “Be wrong.”

— Reid Singer