Art History Careers
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Art history majors study and analyze famous works of art, and art history programs teach skills related to research, critical thinking, and communication. Graduates can pursue a variety of positions, including roles as curators, archivists, and professors.
On this page, readers can find information about art history careers and salaries, resources for art history majors, and answers to frequently asked questions.
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Why Pursue a Career in Art History?
Graduates can pursue many different careers with an art history degree, including jobs in museums, archives, and schools. Art history students gain analytical thinking and communication skills. Students also learn how to research and evaluate artwork and historical documents.
Art history careers often require workers with strong organizational, planning, and creative skills. Most of these careers take place predominantly indoors or behind a desk. Research positions require long periods of focused, independent work, while curator and educator jobs require candidates with excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
Art History Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 9% growth for archivists, curators, and museum workers between 2018 and 2028. These professionals make an annual median salary of $49,850. Job applicants usually need at least a bachelor's degree, although some positions require a master's degree.
The table below displays the median annual salaries for a few common art history careers. This table explores salaries for different levels of experience, from entry-level workers to experienced professionals.
|Art Gallery Curator||N/A||$43,380||$49,480||$50,180|
Skills Gained With an Art History Degree
Art history programs help students develop skills that are applicable to art history careers and roles in many other fields. Analyzing art pieces by giving presentations and writing research papers builds research, communication, and analytical abilities, while also introducing students to artistic techniques, historic eras, and cultures from around the world.
Exhibit designers, museum curators, art buyers, and tour guides can apply this knowledge in museum and gallery positions.
Students learn to determine the artist, era, and medium of a piece of art. Learners also examine pieces for meaning. These tasks develop analytical abilities that help art buyers and consultants estimate the value of art. Students also gain problem-solving skills they can use in management positions.
Attention to Detail
To analyze a piece, students must consider small details of the work. For example, color variations can impact a work's meaning and architecture depicted in a painting can reveal the work's timeframe. This attention to detail can also help museum workers and art buyers inspect pieces for damage. This ability also benefits event planners, managers, and photographers.
Art history students often write papers and deliver presentations on specific pieces, eras, artists, and regions. These assignments prepare learners for positions that require strong verbal and written communication skills, including roles as tour guides, art history writers, and museum curators. These skills also apply to careers in other disciplines, such as public relations, speech writing, and news reporting.
Students perform research to determine cultural and historical elements in artwork. Conducting research can also help students better understand artists, connections between eras, and stories behind pieces, such as Greek myths in Renaissance works. Research skills are useful in many fields.
Art history programs include explorations of art from various geographic areas, such as Greece, Rome, Spain, China, and the United States. Students explore global history and cultures, gaining knowledge they can apply to positions in art museums. This global awareness is also beneficial for public relations specialists and politicians.
Art History Career Paths
Art history programs may offer concentrations related to a single artistic method, such as architecture, or an era, like the Middle Ages. Each concentration prepares students for specific art history career opportunities.
For example, students who plan to oversee museums can pursue a museum studies concentration. Aspiring art consultants, on the other hand, can look for programs that focus on certain artistic eras.
Upon graduating, art history students can pursue careers as museum archivists, educators, and self-employed artists, among many other positions. Read on to learn more about how to begin a career in this field.
How to Start Your Career in Art History
Many art history careers require a postsecondary degree. Some jobs, like museum technicians, only require a bachelor's degree. Other professionals in the field, including archivists, curators, and conservators, need a master's degree in art history or a related field. Additionally, most positions in postsecondary education require a master's degree or higher.
Internships and volunteering can help young professionals find their footing as they look for careers with an art history degree. Some employers may accept professionals with a lower degree level if they have lots of practical experience in the field.
Associate Degree in Art History
An associate in art history qualifies graduates for positions as museum tour guides, photographers, and desktop publishers. The curriculum of an associate program also helps learners understand aesthetics related to various types of artistry, such as knitting, sculpting, cake decorating, quilting, and fashion design.
Associate programs typically require about 60 credits of general education and major courses. General education courses provide a solid foundation in the humanities and help learners prepare for careers in many fields.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Art History?
Photographers may take pictures to sell as artwork or contribute images to news pieces. These professionals may also manage portrait sessions at studios. Responsibilities often include designing sets for photo sessions and editing photos with software. This career does not always require a degree, but an associate in art history helps students develop applicable knowledge and skills.
Desktop publishers develop layouts for print and virtual materials, such as brochures and newspapers. These professionals may work with other designers and writers, and they use software to place images. This position requires an associate degree.
Tour guides lead groups through places of cultural or historic significance and provide information on settings and pieces. For example, museums may hire tour guides to explain pieces of art and their historic context to customers. Aspiring art museum tour guides can earn an associate in art history to demonstrate their knowledge of the field.
Bachelor's Degree in Art History
Art history bachelor's programs typically require about 120 credits and include several core art history courses. Learners explore more art history topics, techniques, and eras than students in associate programs, gaining a deeper understanding of the field.
Bachelor's programs typically allow participants to take several elective courses, and they may also offer certifications and minors relevant to certain careers. For example, an aspiring art buyer may take finance electives.
Professionals with a bachelor's degree and sufficient experience often find work as museum technicians, purchasing agents, and exhibit designers. Learners can also use their art history knowledge to plan events with artistic or historic themes.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Art History?
Museum technicians help maintain the safety of museum pieces. These professionals tend to insurance matters, assess the risk associated with relocating pieces, and keep records. Technicians may also communicate with museums interested in borrowing pieces. This position often requires a bachelor's degree in a field related to museum work, such as art history.
Meeting, Convention, and Event Planner
These planners manage events that reflect various consumer objectives. They consider budgets, schedules, locations, and meals for events like weddings and business meetings. Museums may hire planners to launch new programs or exhibits. These positions typically require a bachelor's degree.
Art directors communicate with clients before designing sets and publications. These professionals may build budgets, lead other designers, make decisions about images and layouts, authorize finished pieces, and offer completed products to customers. Organizations often require art directors to hold a bachelor's degree.
These designers develop exhibits that fulfill specific purposes. For example, an art museum's exhibit may showcase works connected to a certain artist or time period. Designers draft exhibit structures using software, manage installation details, and ensure that exhibits remain in working order. Exhibit designers typically need a bachelor's degree.
Purchasing Manager, Buyer, and Purchasing Agent
These workers manage the buying and selling of products for companies, such as art pieces for museums. These professionals identify trustworthy sellers, decide on pricing, create contracts, and keep records. A bachelor's in art history helps students develop knowledge about certain artistic periods and works, which prepares them to perform these tasks for art museums.
Master's Degree in Art History
Career options expand for art history majors who earn a master's degree. These programs help learners develop an in-depth understanding of the field, qualifying them for positions as museum curators and archivists. Master's students often complete a capstone, such as a thesis or a project.
Master's degree-holders can also shape art curricula for K-12 school districts, which requires advanced research skills and art history knowledge. Art history master's programs also train students to make connections between art and culture and gain insights into past civilizations, which is a necessary skill for sociologists.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Art History?
Archivists manage and organize records for museums. They may also oversee museum programs, guide museum employees working on exhibits, and create policies regarding museum pieces. These professionals typically need a master's in a relevant field, such as history or archival science.
Curators manage museum pieces and objects. Responsibilities include buying new items and coordinating exhibits. Curators may communicate with other museums about lending pieces, oversee museum research, and act as a spokesperson at events. Curators typically need a master's degree in a relevant field, including art history.
Conservators maintain museum records and make decisions on piece conservation. They often work with technology, such as X-ray machines, to determine each piece's needs. Conservators may also research and write on field topics and assist with museum programs. These professionals need a master's in conservation or a similar discipline.
Instructional coordinators analyze data to determine learning needs for school districts. Coordinators offer advice on teaching techniques, curriculum alterations, course materials, and new technologies. They may also oversee faculty workshops. Graduates of art history master's programs can perform these tasks for courses related to their field.
Sociologists explore the behavior of individuals and groups through research and experimentation. These professionals publish findings in books, scholarly journals, and online articles. Students earning an art history master's degree prepare for this position by examining the culture, history, and meaning in artwork. Sociologists typically need a master's degree.
Doctoral Degree in Art History
A doctoral degree is the highest level of education and typically requires students to complete a dissertation on an art history topic. Dissertation requirements may involve taking several research classes and giving an oral defense.
A doctoral degree qualifies graduates to teach at universities and oversee college departments. Doctoral degree-holders qualify for some of the most lucrative art history careers, which can be extremely competitive. A doctoral degree can also help applicants stand out when pursuing positions with lower educational requirements.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Art History?
Postsecondary Education Administrator
The responsibilities of postsecondary education administrators vary based on their specific position. Administrators may work as deans and provosts, tending to budgets and policies. Depending on the position, higher education administrators generally require a master's or doctorate.
Postsecondary educators teach college courses within their discipline. These educators create syllabi, provide feedback on student assignments, and offer guidance on course registration. Professors may also suggest curriculum changes to their department and publish scholarly pieces. Colleges and universities typically require postsecondary teachers to hold a doctorate.
How to Advance Your Career in Art History
Employers often consider experience when awarding promotions. However, professionals can take advantage of other methods to move their career forward. For example, earning additional education or certification can make an art history professional more desirable to employers. This can also lead to a higher salary.
In the following sections, readers can find information about how to advance their art history careers. Readers can learn about certification and licensure opportunities, continuing education, and other future steps to take.
The Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA) provides certification for professional archivists, including art historian archivists. ACA requires that candidates take an exam about archival practices and standards. The organization charges an examination fee and a certification fee for candidates who pass the exam.
Certification lasts five years, after which professionals must renew their credentials.
Continuing education offers professionals a chance to advance their skills or learn more about their field without needing to return to school and earn another degree. Art history professionals can find continuing education courses through professional organizations and museums.
Most continuing education programs apply to specific careers. For example, museum curators can find continuing education opportunities with the Center for Curatorial Leadership, while art teachers can find options through online programs, community colleges, and universities.
Art history professionals looking to advance their careers should look for opportunities to improve their skills and make new connections. Some workers join professional organizations, which often offer resources, conferences, continuing education opportunities, and certification.
While professionals typically pay for membership, the benefits of joining a professional organization can far outweigh the cost. In particular, professional organizations provide opportunities for networking with peers and leaders in the field.
How to Switch Your Career to Art History
Some art history professionals, such as art history archivists and museum technicians, must hold degrees in art history. Professionals in these careers need actual art history knowledge to carry out their jobs effectively.
Other positions, such as general archivists, museum curators, and educators, may allow more flexibility when it comes to entering the field. Bachelor's and graduate degrees in the humanities or communication may translate well.
Professionals considering a career change should carefully assess the skills and knowledge they need for their desired job before deciding how to proceed.
Where Can You Work as an Art History Professional?
Art history knowledge is applicable to many careers in museums, and the degree provides an understanding of aesthetics to help graduates develop new art.
Students also gain insights into historic eras, which can prepare them for teaching careers and for positions advising individuals and organizations on art purchases. Graduates can also help theatrical companies choose realistic costumes, settings, and stage props for period plays.
When choosing a school, learners should consider which industry they plan to enter to ensure their program offers relevant preparation.
Colleges and Universities
Colleges and universities educate students in a variety of fields, including art history. Depending on their education level, graduates can teach art history courses or work as administrative assistants, deans, and provosts.
Museums, Art Galleries, and Historical Sites
These sites familiarize the public with culture and history by showcasing artistic pieces from different eras and geographic locations. Art history graduates can work as museum curators, technicians, purchasing agents, and tour guides.
Advertising, Public Relations, and Marketing
These fields focus on developing public awareness of products and services, along with fostering relationships between companies and consumers. Art history graduates can perform these tasks for museums, historical sites, and galleries.
Performing Arts Companies
Performing arts companies put on productions, including plays, ballets, magic shows, and concerts. These companies may consult art history graduates when designing costumes and sets for historic pieces.
Freelance and Independent Artists
This industry includes various types of art, such as writing and music. Art history graduates with a solid understanding of aesthetics can excel in these positions. Professionals can also use their art history knowledge to create pieces that explore past cultures and ideas.
Interview With a Professional in Art History
Megan Mahn Miller
Designated as a master personal property appraiser by the National Auctioneers Association, Megan Mahn Miller earned a bachelor's degree in art history from the University of Minnesota. Mahn Miller began her career working for nonprofit organizations supporting the arts. In 2006, Mahn Miller joined Julien's Auctions -- an internationally renowned auction house of rock and roll and Hollywood memorabilia.
Mahn Miller attended the Reppert School of auctioneering in 2009. In 2014, Mahn Miller established Mahn Miller Collective Inc. to provide appraisal and consultation services beyond the auction house.
Mahn Miller continues to work with Julien's as a consulting sales specialist. She has also taught an appraisal report writing course for the National Auctioneers Association and is a contributor to the WorthPoint newsletter.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in art history? Is it something that you were always interested in?
Initially, I thought I would study anthropology with an emphasis on art. My freshman year, I took classes in both and it turned out my aptitude was in art history. Anthropology became the emphasis.
At that time, in the early 1990s, students were being told that having a liberal arts degree was all that mattered -- that your actual degree subject was secondary. In one way, that was very freeing because I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree, but [it was] very unsupportive in another. I had to make a special effort to find internships and outside projects to build credentials while studying. Art has always been important to me, but it took time to figure out how to make it a career.
How is an art history program different from other college majors?
How to say this delicately… there are a lot of people who don't take this degree seriously. And that is unfair. The study is rigorous and can incorporate many different areas of study. My personal interest was the intersection of women's studies and art. The connections to other subjects are endless.
The business of art is evolving; how art is sold, what is bought, who is buying. This creates a lot of fear from people who have been in the business and only worked in one way. It creates opportunities for young people entering the field to innovate.
What was the job search like after completing your degree?
I was very lucky that when I graduated -- jobs were easily obtained. I started at a museum in an entry-level position. Later, I moved into arts programming on a community level. It was helpful for me to discover how I wanted to incorporate my degree into my job. I enjoyed teaching, something I discovered while assisting on a project at our campus museum. Getting art out to the public was a passion. Once I understood that, it informed my job search.
Is art history a versatile degree? Or one that has a clear career path?
To be honest, I have been called a unicorn. It would be helpful for someone undertaking this degree to have a clear idea of what they want to do with it.
I thought I was going to end up in academia. As a student, that was all I knew. Academia is a great choice, but the reality is there are not that many positions for professors.
A person with an art history degree can work at an auction house or museum, but you should know what capacity you are interested in.
If it is curating, what specifically draws you to that position? If it is business development for an auction house, what courses will you take in order to complement your degree? If you want to represent artists or open a gallery, will you know how to get funding or clients? If you want to restore artwork, where will you study after completing your degree?
I have met very few people whose career paths followed a straight line -- and thank goodness. You will learn so much along the way. My path was winding, and in the end it was luck that brought me to appraising.
At the same time, an art history student needs to take control of their destiny. Their degree is not going to be enough. Internships, informational interviews, and connecting with people whose jobs they think they want will put them in a better position to get hired once they leave school.
Why did you decide to start your own business? Is this something common for those who pursue a career in art history?
I worked as a property specialist at an auction house for 12 years. I loved it, but it stopped being challenging. I was getting feedback from my peers and mentors that appraising was something I could and should pursue.
You don't need to open your own business to be an appraiser. It was the right choice for me. There are a number of careers in art history that lend themselves to being a solopreneur, but it isn't everyone's fate.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job? The most challenging?
What I primarily want to do every day is research. That is my passion. I enjoy that each assignment I take is different, so I am always learning. When I was working at the auction house, I loved how every day was different and the excitement of the auctions.
As a solopreneur, my job is challenging because I am not just the appraiser but also the receptionist, business developer, and webmaster. At the auction house, the deadlines were a challenge, as were the multiple ways that a consignor or buyer can be disappointed.
What advice would you give to students considering pursuing a degree and career in art history?
Find out about as many possible careers as possible where you can use your degree. Get internships. Talk to people in the industry or at the corporation where you want to work. Find complementary disciplines to study that will make you more attractive for the position you want. Don't get frustrated if your career trajectory isn't a straight line.
Any final thoughts for us?
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Find a mentor who will encourage you and help you grow professionally.
Resources for Art History Majors
Art history professionals can take advantage of educational and professional resources to advance their careers.
Below, readers can find information about art history resources for educators, curators, and researchers. These resources feature professional organizations and postsecondary institutions and include archives of art history sources and professional conferences.
College Art Association of America: CAA focuses on the visual arts and delivers an annual conference and international programs. The association provides links to various publications and best practices. Members can browse open careers through an online career center.
Association of Art Museum Curators: AAMC educates the public on the responsibilities of a curator. The group provides several resources, including a forum for educational discussions and information on programs, fellowships, and internships. Members can speak at the association's annual conference and browse career opportunities through the website. The association also offers workshops related to curation and webinars on management, technology, and social media.
Art History Teaching Resources: Through this organization's website, art history educators can find lesson plans on specific eras, including Byzantine, Greek, Roman, medieval, and Renaissance art. Visitors can also browse resources related to museum experiences and book recommendations. AHTR also connects professionals with journals, blogs, and workshops.
Yale University Library: This library provides art history databases that focus on art, architecture, drama and theater studies, and general humanities. However, users may need separate accounts to access articles through certain databases, such as JSTOR. The website also links visitors to WorldCat, where they can find local libraries offering particular books.
JSTOR: Through JSTOR, users can access scholarly e-books and articles on multiple topics. Art history students can find sources on Asian, ancient, and medieval art. Many schools provide students with JSTOR access. Learners without school access can register for an individual account.
Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Met offers classroom resources that cover multiple eras and cultures, such as the ancient Near East, the Renaissance, and Byzantine art. The Met also provides exhibitions and programs for elementary, middle, and high school students. Teachers can participate in museum workshops, attend events, and browse art history publications through the website.
Massachusetts Art Education Association: MAEA provides resources related to art education, advocacy, and art history. The group also delivers exhibits on topics such as art education and photography. Members can request conference workshops, and the website provides information about career opportunities and state licensure.
SECAC: Formerly known as the Southeastern College Art Conference, SECAC focuses on visual arts at the postsecondary level. The organization hosts a conference and publishes a semiannual newsletter and a journal called Art Inquiries. Its website includes reviews of exhibitions and a list of job openings.
Association of Historians of American Art: This association focuses on American art, beginning before colonization. AHAA participates in CAA's annual conference and delivers its own symposium every two years. The organization also publishes a journal. Members benefit from networking opportunities, including a directory and a syllabus-sharing tool. Members can also access online book reviews.
Renaissance Society of America: The RSA focuses on culture and history from the years 1300-1700. The society offers an annual conference and accepts proposals for event seminars. The RSA publishes a journal and works with the Digital Humanities Summer Institute to provide financial assistance to students. The society also delivers fellowships and a mentoring program for individuals who are new to the field.
Tangible Things - Harvard: This course explores history through artwork, artifacts, and scientific specimens. Students learn about museum curation through an examination of historical and artistic items collected by Harvard University. The course explains how museum collections can shape academic disciplines and reinforce cultural ideas.
Hollywood: History, Industry, Art - University of Pennsylvania: Students explore the history of film and how the industry of Hollywood has grown and changed over the years. This course demonstrates how world events are reflected through the art of film. Students also learn about the technology that advanced and shaped this art form, from color cinematography to computer-generated special effects.
Inspiring and Motivating Arts and Culture Teams - University of Michigan: The University of Michigan presents this course through its business school in collaboration with National Arts Strategies. The class teaches valuable skills in motivation and communication. Students also learn to effectively present ideas and inspire team members to produce desired results.
Arts and Culture Strategy - University of Pennsylvania: This course helps develop effective leadership among professionals with careers in the arts. Students learn to develop and lead arts organizations in a sustainable manner. Those who finish the course earn a certificate of completion.
Art History - Journal of the Association for Art History: This journal publishes essays about new methods and areas of concern in the field of art history. The journal goes to print five times a year and takes submissions from established and emerging art history scholars. Readers can subscribe online or in print.
Oxford Art Journal: This publication offers critical works about art history topics. The journal includes articles about art across all disciplines and eras. Readers can find pieces that offer political analysis of visual art and essays offering critiques of art and culture across the globe. Readers can subscribe online or in print.
The Art Bulletin: Published by the College Art Association of America, this journal prints scholarly essays about art history practices in museums, universities, and other institutions. The publication also offers peer-reviewed articles about art history topics across time periods and styles. This journal goes to print four times a year and encourages debate about the contemporary practice of art history. Readers can subscribe online or in print.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of jobs can art history majors get?
Art history majors can pursue work as museum curators, researchers, archivists, and educators. Graduates with an art history background can also find careers in business.
How much do art historians make?
Salaries for art history careers differ depending on a worker's job title, experience level, location. However, the BLS reports that the median annual salary for archivists, curators, and museum workers is $49,850.
How do I get into art history?
Many community colleges and four-year universities offer on-campus and online art history programs. Students may pursue an associate, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in this field.
Is an art history degree worth it?
Art history degrees provide essential skills related to creative and analytical thinking, organization and research, management of resources, and communication. Graduates may use these skills to earn a job in art history or branch out to other fields, such as business and education.
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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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