Last Updated on August 28, 2023
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The Top Eight Traditional Careers in Art History
Graduates of art history degree programs emerge primed for a wide range of careers in the art field and beyond. While many art historians choose self-employed fine arts jobs or nontraditional art history careers, the following sought-after careers in art history represent the top eight traditional uses for an art history master’s degree:
A curator oversees the collection, storage, and display of artworks, historical memorabilia, digital files, or artifacts. Depending upon the size of the organization, curators may be responsible for working with artists, collectors, donors, or other organizations to acquire artwork; documentation and storage; original research and publication; and creative display of works. Traditionally, curators work for museums, libraries, and other arts organizations. However, in recent years this role has expanded to include business curators managing corporate memorabilia and art collections, curation for educational institutions, private foundation or personal collection curators, government curators working with public spaces, and independent, freelance curators.
Art history educators share art knowledge in museum or academic settings. Depending upon the specific role and organization, level of audience, and specialty, art history educators may spend significant time conducting research, interacting with the public, or mentoring art students in the classroom.
3. Museum Administrator/Director
Museum directors carry ultimate responsibility for advancing their organization’s mission, artistic direction, collections, scholarship, and programs. The director manages the museum’s day-to-day operations. Like curators, directors influence creative direction of the museum’s exhibitions and oversee the collection, storage, and display of artworks. In addition, museum directors manage the administrative side of the organization. An administrator’s job typically includes a significant amount of fundraising, donor and community relations, financial and investment management, hiring, and oversight of museum staff.
4. Conservator/Art Restorer/Conservation Scientist
Art conservators specialize in the preservation, care, and restoration of works of art. Conservators manage the safe storage and transportation of works, analyze the display environment, document and record current condition, and determine restoration efforts needed. Patience and attention to detail are critical in this role. Conservators typically choose an area of expertise, such as paper, textiles, painting, furniture, or art objects. They often work closely with conservation scientists—chemists who concern themselves with the scientific elements at work in an art piece’s environment and composition, and in the chemical components of the restoration and preservation process.
5. Art Authenticator
The sophistication of art forgers, the prevalence of art theft, and the unlawful transfer of artworks from war-torn countries means that potential art buyers and sellers often require the authentication services of an art historian. Typically, authenticators specialize in a particular artist or style, and must display substantial research and investigative skills. Authenticators research the “provenance” of a work by tracing the path of ownership as far back as possible, work with other recognized experts, consult with artists’ foundations, and contract scientific testing to determine the viability of the materials used.
6. Museum Reproductions/Retail Manager
A museum reproductions role can involve museum store retail management and decision-making regarding which artworks in the museum’s collections should be reproduced for sale. It may include working with artists and navigating copyright issues, design and artistic decisions for the display and reproduction of the artwork in the retail setting, managing sales staff, and other duties related to running the retail arm of an arts organization.
7. Art Librarian/Visual Resource Curator
Visual resource curators and art librarians manage the cataloguing, documentation, storage, and retrieval of visual resources in art libraries, educational institutions, and for-profit organizations. In addition to expertise in the artwork itself, art librarians bring research and technological skills to the role, along with the people skills necessary to work with the public and academicians as they access the works. In addition to a graduate degree in art history, art librarianship roles may require graduate work in library science.
8. Art Publishing
Academic, commercial, and independent art book publishing houses employ a range of arts professionals in graphic design, writing, editing, and administrative roles. While entry level roles typically will not require a master’s degree, advancement in these roles often requires higher education in the arts, and these roles will provide opportunities to explore and influence art history dialogue and interpretation.
An auctioneer represents the seller of a piece of art. The auctioneer must creatively describe the piece and create excitement during an auction in order to sell it for the highest price possible. Auctioneers often research particular art pieces to gain knowledge about the artwork itself, and additionally must have the ability to remain cool under pressure, relate to art owners, and read a crowd.
For more careers in art history, check out these related resources:
- The Top Nine Nontraditional Art History Careers
- The Top Seven Self-Employed Arts Jobs for Art Historians
Practical experience is extremely valuable and will make you a more attractive candidate in the world of art galleries and museums. Having the right knowledge and qualifications will help your application, so you should take any opportunity to carry out a work placement.
Placements will often be arranged as part of your course but you should also try to gain as much additional experience as possible. Try applying to small, local museums, which may not get as many work experience requests and can offer a range of experience. Think about the experience that will be relevant for your career, such as education or outreach work.
For advice on work placements and volunteering, see the Museums Association, which offers a concessionary price on membership for volunteers. As well as linking you to volunteering opportunities, membership of the MA gives you access to training, events and networking opportunities.
Search for placements and find out more about work experience and internships.
Many graduates work in museums and galleries. As well as curatorial work, you can find opportunities in areas such as:
- events management
- public relations (PR).
Specialist booksellers, antique dealers and auctioneers are also key employers and another option is to follow an academic career in higher education.
Alternative careers include working for the civil service or going into the screen industries in roles such as picture researcher or editor.
Skills for your CV
Studying history of art allows you to examine the visual arts through a range of historical, social, geographical, cultural and psychological contexts. You’ll consider the meaning implied by the subject and style of art forms, as well as the impact that art has on our lives.
You’ll also gain a number of broad skills that are desirable to future employers, such as:
- analysing and interpreting information from different sources
- using critical judgement to form opinions and strong arguments
- presenting information in an intelligent, coherent and balanced way
- oral and written communication skills
- time-management skills
- the ability to work independently and in teams
- listening skills.
Study Art History
At a world-leading specialist institution, with an internationally-famous art collectionVisit
Many postgraduate qualifications relate to jobs in the art history field. For example, you can study an MA in museum and gallery studies, curating or conservation science. These qualifications can lead on to jobs in museums and galleries.
Arts and heritage management are also popular choices, as they provide a broader skills base and open up a range of job opportunities, often at a more senior level.
Research degrees, such as PhD or MPhil, are useful, and sometimes essential if you wish to pursue an academic career and need to develop expertise in a narrowly-defined area of art history.
What do history of art graduates do?
History of art graduates enter a variety of careers but popular roles include secondary education teaching professional, marketing associate professional, human resources and industrial relations officer, primary education teaching professional and public relations professional.
|Working and studying||12.3|
Graduate destinations for history of art
|Type of work||Percentage|
|Retail, catering and customer service||21.4|
|Marketing, PR and sales||19|
|Clerical, secretarial and administrative||17|
|Arts, design and media||10|