Students who are creative and love learning about past cultures often pursue an art history degree. Art history programs explore famous paintings, sculptures, and architecture from various eras and civilizations. Students learn to analyze pieces of art for meaning and insights into history, economics, and social structures. This process requires attention to detail, research skills, and critical thinking abilities, which graduates apply to art history careers and positions in other fields. Graduates often pursue roles as museum technicians and curators, postsecondary educators, and event planners.
Since these programs can lead to a variety of careers, learners should consider their professional goals when choosing a program. For example, students who are interested in museum work should consider programs with a museum studies concentration. Art history students can also complete relevant electives and internships to prepare for their career.
This guide explores concentrations, degree options, and careers for art history majors.
Skills Gained in an Art History Program
The coursework, internship opportunities, and training featured in art history programs help students develop skills that are applicable to both art history careers and roles in other fields. Students may need to analyze art pieces in presentations and research papers. These assignments build research, communication, and analytical abilities, while introducing students to artistic techniques, historic eras, and cultures from around the world. Exhibit designers, museum curators, art buyers, and tour guides 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 new pieces for damage. This ability benefits event planners, managers, and photographers, as well.
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. Research can also help students better understand artists; connections between eras; and stories behind pieces, such as Greek myths in Renaissance works. Research skills apply to field positions, such as museum curator and art historian, as well as roles in other fields, like analyst and manager.
- Cultural Awareness
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 graduates can apply to positions in art museums. This global awareness is also beneficial for public relations specialists and politicians.
Why Pursue a Career in Art History?
Art history programs prepare students for positions such as museum director and technician. Careers for art history graduates also exist outside of museums and galleries. For example, graduates can pursue roles as photographers, who must pay attention to minute details and consider aesthetics when building sets, looking for photo opportunities, and editing images.
An understanding of aesthetics is also necessary for positions as floral, fashion, interior, and graphic designers; cake decorators; tattoo artists; art directors; and illustrators. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects steady growth for most of these positions from 2016-2026, which means art history students can explore cultures and famous masterpieces while preparing for promising careers.
Art history programs also help students build skills necessary for management and leadership positions in various fields, as well as careers in education. Depending on their degree, graduates can teach at K-12 or postsecondary institutions or advise on K-12 art curricula.
To increase their earning potential, students can pursue a graduate-level art history degree. According to World Education Services, professionals with a liberal arts bachelor's degree earn an average of $2.046 million during their lifetime, while master's degree holders earn an average of $2.448 million. Professionals with a doctorate average $2.705 million.
How Much Do Art History Majors Make?
Salaries for art history careers vary based on factors including industry and geographic location. According to the BLS, art directors in the motion pictures and video industries earn a median annual salary of $117,360, while art directors who work for newspaper and book publishers earn a median salary of $81,060. Museum workers, curators, and archivists working in the highest-paying industry earn a median salary of $54,290.
Experience also impacts salary potential. For example, early-career exhibit designers earn an average salary of about $45,000 per year, according to PayScale, while designers with 20+ years of experience average $60,000 per year. Professionals should also consider how location impacts pay. For example, the District of Columbia offers the highest salaries for U.S. curators, according to the BLS.
The table below summarizes salary expectations over time for a few art history career paths.
|Job Title||Entry-Level Employees
|Early Career Employees
|Art Gallery Curator||N/A||$41,000||$49,000||N/A|
Interview With a Professional
Megan Mahn Miller
Megan Mahn Miller is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in art history. Mahn Miller began her career working in 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 -- Graduate Personal Property Appraising -- for the National Auctioneer's Associate 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 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.
I encourage students to try a lot of different things in their discipline. There are more careers than you can imagine. Try a few to discover the thing that keeps you excited about art and the study of art.
- 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 -- because 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 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 the receptionist, business developer, webmaster, etc. At the auction house, the deadlines were a challenge -- and 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?
To summarize: Find out about as many possible careers as possible where you can use your degree; get internships; talk to people in the industry or corporation where you want to work; find complementary disciplines to study that will make you more attractive for the position you want; and 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.
How to Succeed in Art History
Some art history positions require only a high school diploma, such as roles as tour guides for art museums or historic sites. Other related careers, such as desktop publishers, require an associate degree in the field. However, most art history careers, including positions as museum technicians and art directors, require at least a bachelor's degree.
Master's programs explore art history in more depth and often require students to complete a thesis or project that involves significant research. A graduate degree can help candidates secure positions as archivists, curators, and instructional coordinators in the field.
Doctoral programs deliver extensive knowledge and often allow students to explore individual areas of interest. Doctoral students gain advanced research skills while completing their dissertation. Students who plan to write scholarly art history pieces or to pursue careers in higher education should consider earning a doctorate.
Art history careers at museums and historic sites often require years of field experience. Though not all positions require experience, candidates can still benefit from obtaining fieldwork and training. For example, independent artists hone their skills with practice, and clients often prefer hiring art consultants with a proven record of success.
Many hiring organizations accept internships or training to fulfill experience requirements. Some companies also accept portfolios from candidates applying for art-based positions, such as art directors. A candidate's experience should relate to their intended career. For example, an applicant for an archivist position should have experience with exhibits and recordkeeping.
Students should research the requirements for their preferred careers to ensure they complete all necessary prerequisites.
Licensure and Certification
Most art history careers require no certification or licensure. However, candidates can earn an archivist certification through the Academy of Certified Archivists to improve their marketability.
Concentrations Available to Art History Majors
Concentrations in art history programs may focus on 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. Although different art history programs may offer different concentrations, the specializations below are common options that learners can pursue while earning an art history degree.
- Ancient Art: This concentration focuses on art by ancient people, such as the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Aztecs. Learners may examine architecture, statues, cave paintings, and pottery. Coursework often explores historic events that shaped the ancient world, such as the fall of the Roman Empire.
- Renaissance Art: This specialization explores Renaissance paintings and sculptures, which often depict Christian characters and stories. The Renaissance also revived mythology and artistic techniques from ancient Rome. Departments may cover Renaissance architecture and divide studies into specific areas and times, such as the Northern Renaissance.
- Architecture: This focus explores one specific artform but encompasses multiple eras. Curricula often examine pyramids from ancient Egypt, the Roman aqueducts, medieval castles, and Renaissance cathedrals. Learners consider the architectural structures and decorative elements associated with each era, along with the historical significance of specific buildings.
- Modern Art: Students in this specialization explore art from recent centuries, often beginning with the 18th century. Coursework typically includes art from different geographic areas, such as Russia, Asia, and Latin America. Classes may also prepare students to create modern art exhibits and address legal concerns related to contemporary works.
What Can You Do With an Art History Degree?
For an art history major, career opportunities depend on a worker's degree level. For example, photographers and museum tour guides need only an associate degree or a high school diploma. However, individuals in these positions can still benefit from completing art history programs. Art history curricula familiarize students with aesthetics and help them develop a good eye for details. These skills benefit photographers and museum tour guides who must understand museum objects and exhibits to educate guests.
Many art history major careers require a bachelor's degree. For example, museum technicians, exhibit designers, and purchasing agents typically need a bachelor's. Advanced positions generally require a graduate degree, including roles as postsecondary teachers, instructional coordinators, and museum curators.
Careers for art history majors may also require field experience. For example, employers may only consider exhibit designer candidates with at least four years of industry experience. To begin building their resumes, students can pursue internships while earning their art history degrees.
Learners can also select programs with available certificate programs or minors that relate to their career goals, such as visual or museum studies.
Associate Degree in Art History
An associate in art history qualifies graduates for field positions as museum tour guides and other professions that involve artistic techniques. Associate degree holders can secure positions as photographers and desktop publishers. An associate degree also helps learners understand aesthetics related to various types of artistry, such as knitting, sculpting, cake decorating, quilting, and fashion design.
Associate degrees typically require about 60 credits, including general education requirements, which means students take a relatively small number of major classes. However, general education coursework also benefits job seekers. For example, graduates can apply skills gained during communication courses while delivering tours or selling work to customers.
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. Experienced professionals may also oversee photography workshops. This career does not always require a degree, but an associate in art history demonstrates applicable knowledge and skills.
- Desktop Publisher
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. These publishers must consider image and text sizes to ensure final products look professional. Other concerns may include watching out for grammatical errors. This position requires an associate degree.
- Tour Guide
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 and their historic context to customers. For aspiring art museum tour guides, an associate in art history demonstrates knowledge of the field.
Bachelor's Degree in Art History
Art history bachelor's degrees typically require about 120 credits, including 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 feature a large number of electives and may offer certifications and minors relevant to specific careers. For example, an aspiring art buyer may take finance electives.
Professionals with a bachelor's degree and sufficient experience often 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. Other graduates apply aesthetic concepts to design art projects for companies.
- Museum Technician
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, such as weddings and business meetings. Museums may hire planners to launch new programs or exhibits. These positions may require a bachelor's degree.
- Art Director
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.
- Exhibit Designer
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 after completion. Exhibit designers typically need a bachelor's.
- 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 on artistic periods and works, which prepares learners to perform these tasks for art museums.
Master's Degree in Art History
Career options for art history majors expand for those with a master's degree. Graduate degrees typically require only classes in the discipline. Master's students may complete a capstone, such as a thesis or project. These programs help learners develop an in-depth understanding of the field and qualify graduates for positions as museum curators and archivists.
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 to gain insights into past civilizations, which is a necessary skill for sociologists.
- Museum Archivist
These archivists manage and organize records for museums, such as photographs, websites, and manuscripts. Museum archivists 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.
- Museum Curator
These curators manage museum pieces and objects. Their responsibilities include buying new items and coordinating exhibits. Curators may communicate with museums 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.
- Museum Conservator
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 Coordinator
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 blogs. Students earning an art history master's degree prepare for this position by examining 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 several research classes and an oral defense. A doctoral degree qualifies graduates to teach at universities and oversee college departments. Since doctoral degree holders qualify for some of the highest-paying art history careers, these positions can be extremely competitive. Additionally, a doctoral degree can help job seekers stand out when pursuing positions with lower educational requirements.
- Postsecondary Education Administrator
The responsibilities of postsecondary education administrators vary based on their specific position. For example, administrators in admissions consider applications, while those in registration plan course schedules. Administrators may also work as deans and provosts, tending to budgets and policies. Higher administrator positions generally require a doctorate in any field.
- Postsecondary Teacher
Postsecondary educators teach college-level classes within their discipline. These educators create syllabi, provide feedback on student assignments, and offer guidance on course registration. Teachers may also suggest curriculum changes to their department and publish scholarly pieces. Colleges and universities typically require postsecondary teachers to hold a doctorate.
What Industries Can You Work in With an Art History Degree?
Careers for art history graduates can be found in multiple industries due to the field's diversity. 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 and work as administrative assistants, deans, and provosts.
- Museums, Art Galleries, and Historical Sites
These sites familiarize the public with cultures 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, historic 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.
How Do You Find a Job as an Art History Graduate?
To launch art history careers, graduates can use job boards hosted by professional organizations in the field. For example, the Association of Midwest Museums, the Western Museums Association, and the California Arts Council maintain lists of open positions. These organizations also provide networking opportunities, such as annual meetings, during which professionals can share information about career opportunities.
Candidates can also review statistics for industries that hire art history graduates. For example, museums, historic sites, and similar organizations offer the highest concentration of employment for archivists, according to the BLS. However, individuals working for the federal executive branch make the most money. Professionals should also consider growth projections when choosing a career.
When applying for jobs, candidates submit a resume that details their education and experience. To build their resumes, students can pursue certificates and minors while earning their degrees. For example, museums may prefer applicants with a museum studies certificate in addition to an art history bachelor's degree. Learners can also participate in internships and pursue publication in scholarly journals to bolster their resumes.
Job candidates may undergo interviews. To prepare, applicants can brainstorm answers to common interview questions, select professional attire, get a good night's sleep, and research the company's values and priorities. After the interview, candidates can follow up with an email, letter, or phone call to thank the organization for considering their application.
Professional Resources for Art History Majors
CAA focuses on the visual arts and delivers an annual conference and international programs. The organization provides links to its Resources for Academic Art Museum Professionals project and publications including Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts. Candidates can browse open careers through an online career center, and CAA publishes several art journals.
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. AAMC also offers workshops related to curation and webinars on topics such as management, technology, and social media.
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 writing courses, museum experiences, and book recommendations. AHTR connects professionals with journals, blogs, and workshops. The organization publishes AHTR Weekly and the Art History Pedagogy & Practice e-journal.
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.
Through JSTOR, candidates can research 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.
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.
MAEA provides resources on art education, advocacy, and art history. The group also delivers exhibits on topics such as art education and photography. Candidates can request conference workshops, and the website provides information about career opportunities and state licensure. MAEA connects visitors to funding through organizations such as Adopt-A-Classroom and the National Art Education Foundation.
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. The website includes reviews of exhibitions and a list of job openings.
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: Panorama. Members benefit from networking opportunities, including a directory and a syllabi-sharing tool. They can also access online book reviews.
RSA focuses on culture and history from 1300-1700. The society offers an annual conference and accepts proposals for event seminars. RSA publishes a journal -- Renaissance Quarterly -- 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.