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Ben Glenn '86

"My degree in Art History from Carleton has opened so many doors careerwise. In addition to instilling in me a lifelong love of and scholarly interest in art history, the skills conveyed by the degree — among them, visual acumen and the ability to effectively communicate verbally and in writing — has taken me from curatorial work at the National Gallery of Art to grantmaking at the National Endowment for the Arts to fundraising to my present position as Manager of External Affairs at the foremost philanthropic foundation in Washington, DC. Majoring in Art History at Carleton was one of the best things I ever did.

For anyone thinking about going further in the discipline, whether in museum work or teaching, it is essential to gain experience working hands-on with art objects. The truth is, the slides and reproductions we studied from at Carleton idealize works of art in general. To really understand what you're dealing with, it's important to handle these objects, turn them around, assess their condition and so forth. And, believe me, it's a major reality check. For example, immediately after Carleton I was an intern at a well-regarded fine art auction house in Washington, DC. This was my first opportunity to pick up an old master painting; looking at the back, there were often clues to its provenance (such as dealer and museum exhibition labels), as well as obvious signs of old repairs, flaws, mishandling, and poor attempts at "restoration." Also, the sheer volume of works consigned taught me that there is a lot of very mediocre art out there — even if it's a work by a "Janson-worthy" artist. This at-times dismaying experience was later offset when, as a curatorial assistant in the Prints and Drawings Department at the National Gallery of Art, I spent my days cataloguing watercolors and oil paintings from the estate of American Modernist John Marin…and my lunch hours in the storage room looking at original Rembrandt drawings!

For the next five years at the NEA, my division — the Museum Program —
was the main battleground in the then-raging culture wars over "obscene art." While this experience truly ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous (another story entirely), exposure to the connections between art and politics was invaluable and unforgettable. Today, as an external affairs officer at a philanthropic foundation — the modern-day version of private patronage — I constantly use the skills I acquired as a Carleton art history major, from designing publications and making presentations before board members, to writing press releases and website text.

My passion for art history — discovered at Carleton and nurtured by the faculty — has and continues to enrich my adult life in countless ways. And, if I say so myself… I can still do a pretty darn good "compare and contrast."