Master’s in Art and Art History Program Information

Fine artists hone their craft during a graduate program, while art historians build advanced skills in the field. With a master’s in art history, graduates become museum or gallery curators or work as art educators. Artists also benefit from the skills gained during a graduate program, which prepares them to become professional fine artists.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that many of these fields offer the potential for growth, with museum curator positions projected to grow 13% by 2026.

Art and art history master’s programs prepare graduates for careers in fine arts, museums, galleries, and education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that many of these fields offer the potential for growth, with museum curator positions projected to grow 13% by 2026. This article outlines the process of choosing the best graduate program, gaining an acceptance offer, and transitioning from a graduate program into the workforce.

During a master of fine arts (MFA) or a master’s in art history, graduate students deepen their knowledge of fine art technique and process and the historical context of the arts. Depending on their focus area, master’s students take studio classes and create work for an MFA show or complete seminars in art history, building up to a master’s thesis. Graduate students in art and art history benefit from internship opportunities, such as working at a museum or gallery and networking with other fine artists and scholars.

As students near graduation, programs may provide job placement assistance or connections with professional resources for a career in art or art history. After graduation, MFA students can open their own studio or work in a commercial studio. They can also become art professors, as an MFA represents the terminal degree in the field. Art historians may work as curators, art educators, or art directors.

When deciding whether to pursue an art or art history master’s degree, prospective students must weigh the benefits of an on-campus versus an online program. Students moving directly from an undergraduate degree to graduate school, or those with a strong local university, may prefer an on-campus program. Individuals who are unable to relocate for school or with family and professional obligations may prefer the flexibility of an online program. In an online program, students complete internship requirements locally.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Art and Art History?

Graduates with an art or art history master’s degree work in a variety of fields, including fine arts, education, and business. Artists and art historians interested in education can work in museums or galleries as curators, or as a K-12 art teacher or professor. While an MFA qualifies candidates for academic positions as the terminal degree in its field, graduates with a master’s in art history may not qualify for tenure-track positions. Graduates may also work full time as fine artists, or become art directors and work in advertising, television, or another visual field.

Fine Artist

Fine artists work as painters, sculptors, craft artists, photographers, and illustrators, creating art for exhibition and sale. They may be self-employed or work for an art studio. Fine artists may advance their careers by earning an MFA.

Median Annual Salary: $49,160

Projected Growth Rate: 6%

Museum Curator

Museum curators design exhibitions and oversee the collection of items at a museum or gallery. Depending on the museum, curators may preserve, process, and show artwork, historic items, or other objects. Many larger museums require curators to hold a master’s degree in art or art history.

Median Annual Salary: $47,360

Projected Growth Rate: 13%

Professor

Professors work in higher education, creating syllabi, teaching classes, and conducting research or making art. As the terminal degree in its field, an MFA qualifies artists to work as an art professor in colleges and universities. Art history graduates with a master’s may also hold instructor or adjunct positions in higher education.

Median Annual Salary: $76,000

Projected Growth Rate: 15%

High School Teacher

High school teachers design lesson plans, measure student learning, and teach a variety of subjects. An art or art history degree qualifies educators to teach art, history, or social studies. Some states may require candidates with a master’s degree to complete educator training to earn a teaching license.

Median Annual Salary: $59,170

Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Art Director

Art directors work for advertising agencies, media organizations, and producers to design the aesthetic for images and videos. They oversee a project’s design, directing production artists who create the finished product. Some positions require or prefer an MFA, and most art directors have a background in art or design.

Median Annual Salary: $92,500

Projected Growth Rate: 5%

When researching art or art history master’s programs, prospective students should consider several key factors, such as cost and location. Students with specific career goals should also research specializations, internship options, and graduate placement records.

Comparing the cost of different programs allows students to find an option that fits their finances. In addition to considering tuition, fees, and other expenses, students should research financial aid opportunities. Many master’s programs offer fellowships, scholarships, or grants to support graduate students. They may also provide research or teaching assistantships, which can carry a tuition waiver. These options can make a program with a high tuition cost more affordable than one with lower tuition.

Location can also affect cost and job prospects after graduation. Public schools offer tuition discounts for residents, while some online programs provide tuition breaks for fully online students. An online program also offers an accessible option for students unable to relocate for a master’s program. Prospective students considering online programs can research the top online art and art history master’s programs.

Prospective students should also research specializations and internship opportunities, which can increase their competitiveness after graduation. Some art history programs, for example, offer museum studies components for candidates interested in working as a museum curator. MFA programs may offer internships with local fine artists or galleries, which can help students identify career paths.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Art and Art History

Accreditation requires an independent review from a nonprofit accrediting agency, which measures an institution or program by its teaching standards, student learning outcomes, and graduation requirements. Regional or national accreditation evaluates entire colleges or universities to ensure they follow high standards for granting degrees, while programmatic accreditation reviews a specific program, such as a business school.

In art and art history, most programs do not hold programmatic accreditation. Instead, they receive accreditation from a regional or national accreditation agency. Some art schools may hold accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, a nonprofit which designs standards for art degrees. Regardless of whether a program holds regional, national, or programmatic accreditation, prospective students should always choose an accredited program over an unaccredited program. Accredited institutions meet the standards for federal financial aid, and some licenses and certifications only accept accredited degrees.

During the admission process, art and art history master’s programs evaluate applicants to determine which candidates are likely to succeed in the program. The application allows prospective students to demonstrate their strengths, and in many cases, the process requires an essay where applicants explain their education and career goals. The application may also qualify graduate students for fellowships, assistantships, and other financial aid opportunities.

Prospective students should plan to spend several weeks on their applications. The process differs depending on the university, with some online programs assigning an admissions adviser to assist applicants. MFA students may also need to submit a portfolio for review or participate in an interview. By researching the requirements, deadlines, and process for each program, prospective graduate students increase their chances of admission and financial aid opportunities.

Prerequisites

  • Bachelor’s Degree: Most programs require a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as art, design, or art history. Some may accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a nonrelated area if candidates demonstrate art proficiency through work experience.
  • Professional Experience: Art programs may prefer applicants with professional experience, such as solo or group shows, exhibitions, or publications. Art historians pursuing a gallery or museum track may also benefit from showing professional experience.
  • Minimum GPA: Programs may set a minimum GPA for full admission, often around a 3.0. Many programs offer provisional admission for candidates who do not meet the minimum GPA.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Graduate admission typically requires an online or paper application, which lists the applicant’s educational history, relevant experience, and background. The application may also include a statement of purpose or essay.
  • Transcripts: Candidates submit transcripts showing their undergraduate degree and any graduate credits earned. Programs use transcripts to determine whether an applicant has the required background for the program.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Most art and art history programs require two to three letters of recommendation, which speak to the candidate’s ability to succeed in a graduate program. Applicants should give their letter writers at least three weeks’ notice.
  • Test Scores: Some art and art history programs require standardized test scores, most commonly the GRE. However, many MFA programs waive this requirement.
  • Application Fee: Programs charge an application fee to cover the cost of reviewing admission material. Applicants can apply for a fee waiver, typically through the graduate school or program.

Graduate students earning a master’s in art history or a master of fine arts customize their degree around their interests. Within their program, graduate students specialize in a fine art or area of art history, building toward a final research project or art show. Prospective graduate students can learn more about concentrations, standard classes, and opportunities for professional development in this section.

Concentrations Offered for a Master’s Degree in Art and Art History
Concentration Description Careers
Renaissance Art History A concentration in Renaissance art history emphasizes European art from the 15th-17th century. Graduate students study Italian Renaissance artists, the Northern Renaissance, and art techniques. They also study the history of the Renaissance to connect artists with their context. Art historian, art professor, museum curator
Modern Art History Concentrations in modern art history study movements in art dating from the 19th century to today. Graduate students may specialize in impressionism, modernism, postmodernism, or another modern art movement. Some students focus on a single artist or era of modern art. Art historian, art professor, museum or gallery curator
Photography MFA students specializing in photography take seminars and studio classes in photography, working with other MFA students and undergraduate photography majors to develop their craft. They often create a collection of work to show in an MFA show. Photographer, photo retoucher, art professor
Sculpture Master’s programs with a sculpture track provide advanced studio courses in sculpture, with a focus on different media, such as plaster, metal, glass, and found objects. Sculpture students show their work for group critiques and exhibit work at an MFA show. Sculptor, art professor
Painting Graduate programs in painting emphasize painting technique through studio classes. Graduate students build on undergraduate training to critique each other, develop techniques, and create a collection of work to show as part of an MFA show. Painter, art professor, gallery curator, art teacher

Courses in a Master’s in Art and Art History Program

Graduate students earning a master’s degree in art history or an MFA in any fine art take specialized courses depending on their discipline and focus area. They may complete advanced seminars or studio classes, culminating in a master’s thesis or final project to demonstrate their knowledge. While curricula vary by program, the sample curriculum below shows some of the most common classes.

Issues in Contemporary Art

Graduate students in art or art history may take seminar courses that cover contemporary art practices and challenges artists face. The course may include guest lectures from working artists and cover emerging issues in art. Students may be required to design a final paper around an area of interest to artists, such as commercialization and art, museum studies, or art preservation.

Survey Courses

Students often take survey courses to study different art movements and periods in art history. These may cover Renaissance art, Baroque art, impressionism, postmodernism, and other fields within art history. Students may complete a research paper at the conclusion of the course.

Internship

Art and art history graduate students may complete an internship as part of their program. The internship may be with a gallery or museum, with a professional artist, or with another institution that offers the opportunity to build practical experience while completing the degree.

Final Project

MFA students often must complete a final art project to graduate. Students work with a faculty adviser to design a project and often show their work in an MFA show. The work is often within the student’s field, such as sculpture, painting, photography, or video art, and it may be called a master’s thesis.

Master’s Thesis

Many art history master’s programs require a thesis as a culminating project. Students work with a faculty adviser to design a research project, conduct research, and write the thesis. They must successfully defend the thesis in front of a master’s committee to graduate.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Art and Art History?

Typically, a master’s degree in art history takes two years of full-time study and comprises 60 credits. During that time, graduate students complete coursework in art history, design a research project for a master’s thesis, or study for a master’s exam. If students require extra time to research and write a master’s thesis or complete the examination, this can add time to the degree. Most MFA programs require between two and three years. Rather than writing a master’s thesis, MFA students may complete a project to meet the graduation requirements.

Time to completion can also vary depending on the student’s other obligations and the program structure. Students who work full time while earning a degree, for example, may require additional time. Other students may be able to pursue an accelerated option to complete their degree faster. Program requirements, such as a thesis or project, can also add time to the degree.

How Much Is a Master’s in Art and Art History?

The cost of a master’s degree varies by program. In general, in-state, public universities charge lower tuition rates than private schools. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that in the 2012-2013 academic year, public institutions charged an average of $10,408 in tuition and fees for graduate students. In comparison, private universities charged more than double that amount, for an average tuition cost of $21,955 per year. Some programs offer in-state tuition to fully online students as an incentive to attend the program, even if they live out of state.

The length of the program also affects the total cost. An MFA may require three years of study to complete the graduation requirements, which increases the tuition cost. In addition to tuition, graduate students must plan for the cost of technology, fees, and living expenses. These factors can double the total cost of a program. However, many programs provide funding opportunities for graduate students, such as scholarships, fellowships, or assistantships. In some cases, these awards may offer a tuition waiver. Prospective students should inquire about funding opportunities when applying.

Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Art and Art History Prepares For

Most careers in art and art history do not require a certification or license. However, some professionals may benefit from completing a specialized certification or earning a license. For example, artists and art historians working in education may need a teaching license or board certification.

Teaching License

Graduates with a master’s in art and art history may meet the qualifications for a teaching license, depending on the state. Educators planning to teach art at the K-12 level may need to complete additional education to earn a teaching license.

Board Certified Art Teacher

Offered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, art educators can pursue board certification. Candidates must pass an examination to show content area knowledge, demonstrate at least three years of teaching experience, and hold a bachelor’s degree. Teachers can earn an early and middle childhood certification or an early adolescence through young adulthood certification.

Artist in Healthcare-Certified

Introduced in 2016, the Artist in Healthcare-Certified title applies to artists who work with patients involved in any healthcare system. Candidates must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of 800 hours of professional experience facilitating an art form in a healthcare context.

Art Jobs Board

A free resource for artists seeking jobs, the Art Jobs Board also provides information about internships and unpaid job opportunities. The organization offers workshops to support professional artists.

AIGA Design Jobs

With a focus on job opportunities in design, AIGA’s job board also includes academic positions, freelance opportunities, and internships.

H-Net Art and Art History Jobs Guide

Run by a collection of scholars, the H-Net job resources in art and art history list academic job openings; fellowships; and visiting professorships at colleges, universities, and museums.

American Art

The academic journal of the Smithsonian Museums, American Art publishes new research on art and art history, including submissions from graduate students.

Appraisers Association of America

The association offers a membership directory for artists looking for a local appraiser along with other resources on the appraisal process.

Professional Organizations in Art and Art History

Art and art history students benefit from joining professional organizations, which provide career services, networking opportunities, and educational resources. Students benefit from membership discounts and job opportunities, while professionals rely on publications to stay current in the field and conferences to connect with other artists and scholars. These resources can help graduate students transition into the workforce.

College Art Association

The CAA dates back to 1911 when it was founded to encourage collaborations between artists and art historians. Its publications include The Art Bulletin and Art Journal, and the association also provides career resources for artists.

American Institute of Graphic Arts

Founded in 1914, AIGA promotes the value of the graphic arts, providing professional development resources for specialists in art and design. AIGA also offers a job board, membership discounts, and networking opportunities for members.

National Association of Independent Artists

Founded to help artists advance their careers, NAIA provides information on securing an art show, a member directory for networking, a regular newspaper, and several discount programs for members.

Society of Illustrators

The Society of Illustrators has promoted illustration since 1901. Today, the Society runs a museum in New York City, hosts events, and offers competitions for illustrators.

National Art Education Association

Bringing together art educators, NAEA provides support for pre-K-12 art teachers, professors, and students planning to become art educators. NAEA offers resources on teaching, provides summer programs, and hosts conferences.