Will your neighborhood art historian be replaced by a robot?

The most expensive painting on record is currently Paul Cezanne’s The Card Players, which sold for an estimated $259 million in 2011. (The exact price is unknown.)
In a paper entitled Toward Automated Discovery Of Artistic Influence, Babak Saleh and his Rutgers team claim to have used imaging software and ‘classification systems’ to automate the process of identifying artistic influences.
Last week, Apollo Magazine askedwhether robots can indeed replace art historians. They reached the same conclusions as did I—nope—but for different reasons.
The second most expensive painting on record is currently Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948, which sold for $140 million in 2006.
The international art market moved $66 billion last year, so the experts in authenticating and analyzing paintings are valuable. And when they work at museums and galleries, art history majors are not badly paid. In 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, museum curators and archivists made slightly more than $45,000 a year.
But the rub is when art historians enter the academic stream. While post-secondary teaching jobs are expected to growin the next decade, even the BLS admits that many of these jobs will be for adjuncts, or part-timers. In fact, more than ¾ of college professors are adjuncts, and their wages are abysmal: between $1000 and $5000 per course. As Salon pointed out this month, that leads to professors with PhDs earning the same amount as the average full-time barista—who’s not expected to do curriculum development or grade papers on his own time.
The third most expensive painting on record is currently Willem de Kooning’s Woman III, which sold for $137.5 million in 2006.
Why does the United States tolerate a system where university educations are obscenely expensive at the same time as they’re being provided by slave labor? Beats me. But there is no reason to automate intellectual disciplines when we pay them atrociously. Your art history degree is safe for now.

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