University For Eyeballs: Why Marketers Should Learn Art History

I believe marketers’ eyeballs* need Art History education.

Marketing relies more and more on visual storytelling (Facebook, Instagram, Youtub)

So it’s important to have a visual vocabulary –

in order to create strong images,

critically look at communications  

and say whether and which images will have the desired impact.

*The story behind the phrase “University of my eyeballs” is below – see PS1

If we can understand why and how the Sistine Ceiling, Rembrandt’s portraits, Van Gogh’s landscapes, and Munch’s Scream still touch us today, then perhaps we can help all of our businesses connect more effectively in this crowded, competitive visual landscape.” Stephanie Storey, Huffington Post

I studied art history in university. My MA thesis was about Marcel Duchamp.
What did I learn from this laborious project?
To “think broadly and creatively”.
Knowing and understanding images that have moved people for hundreds of years helps me to better conceive and manage content—both written and visual.


National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Used to read there a lot, too. 

Practical ways to learn Art History:

1. Buy small format art books and keep them by your bedside. Sometimes you are too tired to read a book, but looking at pictures is much easier for tired brains.

The Art Book. $5 or less on Amazon


2. Get the Google Art chrome extension – and passively look at museum masterpieces when you open new tabs during desktop work hours.

4. Take short online courses (for free) by the Museum of Modern Art (NY) on Coursera

5. Laughing helps learning: do a Google image search for “art history gifs”. There are some great Tumblers in the results, like Hipster Art History, or Gangstas of Art History.


Who would have thought that early renaissance paintings are relevant to young men’s gangs? Did Jesus have a gang? Yeah, he kind of did actually.



1. The story behind the phrase “University of my eyeballs”:

The phrase “University of my eyeballs” was coined by Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg. He didn’t mean it in the way that I do. But it’s just great. And the story behind it is also great:

So at my first big greenlight meeting, one of the top finance people at the company looked up and asked, “What was the take rate?” And every head at the table turned to look at me. And I said, “Uh, well, we didn’t do that research this time.” And he said, “Oh. Okay. What research did we do?” And I said, “Well, we did a study at The University of My Eyeballs. And the results were conclusive.” (cited on Fast Company)

“The University of My Eyeballs” caught on within the company – and became famous after Hirshberg told this story during the commencement address to graduates of UCLA School of Art and Architecture (2015). This is such a good speech – Hirshberg is a brilliant leader.

2. The story about how Pres. Barack Obama offended art history students

Pres. Barack Obama reputedly insulted some art history majors during a speech in Milwaukee in 2013. He recommended young people to not go study Art History, and instead choose a more practical education. He later offered an apology to one professor who took offense and made it public. Obama apologized in a handwritten note:

“Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed.” Pres. Barack Obama


3. You can meet Prince Charming in Art History class

Prince William met his future wife Catherine Middleton in Art History A-Level course at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. So don’t shy away from Art History nerdiness.


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