“Art history? So can you paint really well?”

When you specialize in humanities you get asked a lot of weird questions. Sometimes I have the feeling that when people ask what you’re studying, they want to hear something simple, something they understand: Say “psychology” or “business administration” and people are happy. They know you’ll end up having a proper job.

But when you’re asked for your major and answer “English literature and art history”, people are confused and immediately assume: “To be a teacher, right?!”. Because teacher is a proper job. You’d be providing knowledge for kids. That’s a decent way to earn your money. I however did not do my undergrad in English literature and art history to be a teacher. I studied these subjects simply to study them.

“But what are you going to do with your degree then?”. Oh, yes, this again. I recently realized that if I had asked for a coin each time someone asked that very question, I probably wouldn’t have to worry about my future financial situation now. So, what I am I going to do with my degree in those otherworldly humanities? I don’t know.

I’ve tried to answer this uncomfortable question humorously by saying that I’m going to be a cab driver. But then again — I’m the worst driver ever. I once drove into a lamp post which was standing right in front of me. Another time I was stopped by the police, because I was driving too slowly. Driving TOO SLOWLY. Has this ever happened to any other person?! Also, I really can’t differentiate left from right. My driving school teacher even made me write the letters L and R on my hands. So yeah, people who know me, know that I can’t drive a car on a professional basis — they’re not buying my cab driver joke.

My next answer to the unloved question is simply “I’m going to marry rich”. You see, this really does happen sometimes. Most famous example: Kate Middleton. She studied art history, met a guy at university, and ended up wearing really fancy, expensive hats.

But if I answer the question truthfully and say that I don’t know what I’m going to do with my degree, I always get asked even more uncomfortable questions: “What do you mean you don’t know? How can you not know? What could you do then?”. Well, I could do anything. Or nothing. Who knows. I’ll figure it out. And this is where most people lose interest in the conversation. I don’t seem ambitious enough. Obviously, I don’t seem to have a proper goal. Just another one of these students who just study, because they don’t know what else to do with their lives.

The truth is: I love being a student. I love studying and learning on a daily basis. I love reading and discussing things that seem irrelevant to most people out there. But just because I spent the last six years of my life at university analyzing paintings and texts, it doesn’t mean that I’m not ambitious. Actually, I am very ambitious. About learning and understanding art, culture, and literature. About being passionate and about following my dreams even though I don’t know what they are yet.

I chose a field of study and a career path that most people don’t understand. I chose uncertainty and I chose to be confronted with annoying questions on a daily basis. I giggle inside my head every time someone asks me for the actual title of my Master’s Degree — “International and Historical Studies of Culture”, specializing in medieval art history and courtly literature — and their faces go blank. I’ve learnt to stand above that people can’t handle my uncertainty. Because I can handle it. And I enjoy the thrill of not knowing what’s next, even though I’m afraid sometimes.

I could be anywhere in a year — I don’t even have the slightest idea where that might be. But I do know that I will have ended up there, because I didn’t choose to go after the money and to study something “useful” just because everyone thought I should. It’s okay to not know and to take your time to figure out what you want.

And no, I can’t paint really well. Art historians don’t usually paint, because art history is a theoretic approach to art. Just FYI — but honestly, I’ve been asked that question way too many times.

Did you ever have to defend your field of study?
What’s the most annoying question you’ve been asked?