I’ve been thinking recently about going back to school to get a PhD, a terminal degree. It’s not a plan so much as a vague notion of something I could maybe think about looking into “soon.” One reason for being noncommittal is not knowing what to study. I could go into contemporary art history, Chinese art history, Asian American art history, U.S. History, cultural or media studies, or isn’t there a PhD in hip hop or something in probably Denmark? All of these are interesting to me, but they also look generically like a list of interesting subjects that a potentially interesting person would want to be involved in.
I like to learn, but despise classrooms. I like process, but am suspicious of structure. I like questions, but not as platforms for intellectual gamesmanship. I like languid philosophical discussions revolving around current events and art, but I’m an American who appreciates sports and the conformity that that implies. Also, I like my job. And being in a PhD program would probably mean losing it or going on a reduced schedule that wouldn’t really work with the demands of the position.
In my position, I’m sometimes self-conscious about what I don’t know in the field that I’m a part of, and this partially drives my burgeoning desire to go back to school. Shouldn’t museum curators be experts in their chosen subjects? Shouldn’t they be able to critically examine this subject from various perspectives, armed and assured with exhaustive references, able to quote relevant sources, then wryly joke about matters of bureaucratic triviality in academia? Wouldn’t a PhD also help in getting grants?
In plenty of worlds, ignorance is good enough. I know nothing about wine, but like the taste of most brands and types. I know nothing about poetry, but I know that when I recently heard John Yau read from a poem that was a response to a critic (the poem was basically a diss track), and utter the line “I eat food with two sticks” that I was listening to something historic, pure with emotion, and also stupidly obvious.