Taft museum director talked about empathy and passion during Viva Humanities lecture

During the Thanksgiving holiday, Taft Museum of Art director, Deborah Emont Scott took advantage of the moment to ask her daughters why humanities were important.  Her 25-year-old daughter said humanities force you to think critically and that “if you want to think long term success, think humanities.”

Scott’s older daughter agreed with her sister and said that humanities provide you with the opportunity to do “things you would never do on your own time.”

“Now that I’m working, I will surely never decide to read and analyze great 19th century Russian literature in the same way that I did when I was in a bubble in college,” Scott’s 28-year-old daughter said

Scott used these simple quotes to demonstrate the power the humanities possess when she took to the podium at the Otto Budig Theatre as the fourth speaker in the semester-long lecture series on Tuesday.


Humanities teaches three things


The next thing Scott shared was from a talk given by the president of Colgate University who said that the goal of a liberal arts education should be three things; understand what your passions are, teach you how to gain knowledge, and learn how to put your education into practice.

“Her criteria resonated with me,” Scott said. “It seems that if you can’t be passionate, figure out how to get smarter, and how to get along with people, you’re in trouble.”

Scott said she wanted to take all the classes in the course catalogue and how she’d always felt that a liberal arts education “broadens your world and multiplies your ability to understand what’s happening around you.”

“In my opinion, a liberal arts course catalogue is like a history of the world,” Scott said.  “To experience this at a young age is like getting an inoculation against ignorance.”

Scott said she declared English as her major her sophomore year of college even though she had no idea what she would do with it, but decided if she did her best, things would work out.

“It’s only in retrospect that I understand that all that literary fiction helped me develop a capacity for empathy,” Scott said.

Along her way in college, Scott took some art history classes and then studio art classes and by the middle of her junior year, she know she wanted to be a curator in an art museum.

“I’d never met a curator. I wasn’t sure what a curator did…but I was going to work in an art museum,” Scott said.

Scott said that while English literature and art history may not be what some parents and pundits deem practical, “what’s practical today will more likely than not, not be practical in 20 years.”

“I can honestly say that I never, ever doubted why I hadn’t studied anything more practical,” Scott said.  “But through the years, I have felt vindicated by one study or another.”

Scott then shared a study published by the journal Science that concluded that people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence after reading literary fiction.

“Literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuances and complexity,” Scott quoted from the study.


Take advantage of your opportunities

Along her way, Scott found her passion for art and worked on becoming an expert by moving to New York City and working in an art gallery. She applied and was accepted to graduate school where she did a work study.

“That was probably the reason I got employed,” Scott said. “You can’t just graduate and say, ‘Okay, I’m ready. I’m here.’ You need to take advantage of the opportunities that the school offers.”

Scott said that while her studies prepared her for what she needed to know, it wasn’t enough on its own.

“Studying art history wasn’t what turned me into a curator,” Scott said. “It gave me all the grounding I needed, but it hadn’t given me the practical experience.”

That experience came in her work study program.

“It’s like being an apprentice,” Scott said, “and that’s really, really important.”


Lessons learned

“Great artists…had empathy and so did the authors I savored as an English major and I believe their masterpieces elicit that from us,” Scott said.

Amber Burton, senior English literature major, is the English department ambassador for the Viva Humanities lecture series and who has been to all of the events this semester said she thought the event was really great.

“How she connected liberal arts and art history and how not only does it give you intelligence but it also gives you empathy, yeah, she was really great,” Burton said.

Burton also said she liked when Scott answered a question saying, “If you don’t’ know what’s going on in the world, then you don’t have empathy.”

“That was actually very powerful,” Burton said. “It was probably the only thing that really, really spoke to me as someone with a degree in English literature.”

Jessica Beamer, freshman visual communication design major, attended the event to fulfill a workshop requirement and ended up winning the free nook that is raffled at each event.

“[The lecture] sounded more interesting than the other thing I could go to,” Beamer said. “I thought it was pretty interesting.”

Beamer said she will probably give her mother the nook for Christmas.

Scott’s final pieces of advice to the college students in the room were, “Gain empathy, be curious, figure out what it is that you love doing, become the very best you can be at doing it, put your education to use…and if you are passionate, you will get a job.”