Art History is one of the most undervalued areas of knowledge you should have. Why study it, then?
When choosing a degree, it’s common to consider career perspectives that it offers. However, what people often overlook is a different kind of development: the one that truly equips you with skills you will use for the rest of your life. Art History is one of those.
Art History is the field of study that focuses on artistic expression in past time periods. It considers all kinds of art in its historical context and also looks at its impact and influence on society.
According to art historians, art is not only aesthetically captivating but, importantly, combines human expression, past influences and culture.
Art History is more complicated than just a chronology with all the art movements listed. It is the examination of works of art in the context of their historical setting. Art historians study the significance of visual arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture) in the period they were created.
Establishing the authorial origins of artworks, or learning who created a certain work of art, when, where, and why, are some of the main goals of Art History.
Courses in this discipline often cover a range of topics, including art production, art criticism, art theory, and history. It’s not only tied to museums; you can work across a range of industries.
Undergraduate courses tend to be more extensive and cover a wide variety of topics. This is what we mean by getting equipped with knowledge and skills that will likely serve you for the rest of your life.
With a broad base of critical thinking and technical skills, art and Art History graduates work in a variety of growing fields. This is particularly important in parallel to technological development. To back it up, The U.S. BLS projects that positions for fine artists, multimedia artists, and curators will grow between 6-13% by 2026, making now a terrific time to pursue a degree in the field.
By completing a Bachelor's in art and Art History, graduates are prepared for numerous career opportunities while gaining a solid foundation of much-needed soft skills.
Understanding cultures: Visual art recounts narratives from the past and provides an account of historical occurrences. Art History helps us understand ourselves better. Why do we hold the ideals that we do? What influenced our worldview and manner of thinking?
Develop critical thinking: Remembering dates, names of artists, art movements, etc., is not, in fact, the goal of studying Art History. Instead, it drives you to evaluate sculptures, paintings, and other art forms. You must create logical and persuasive arguments to back up your analysis, which forces you to develop and use critical thinking. There’s no more needed skill in today’s world than that.
Your degree, your way: Not every degree allows that, but another benefit of studying Art History is that you can really tailor it to your interests. You might explore how disability is represented in the arts, find out how art can be made more accessible to everyone, discover how LGBTQ+ groups are represented (or not) in the arts, study the influence of indigenous cultures, see how mental health was reflected in art forms, or explore what diversity in the media should look like.
Earning an Art History degree prepares graduates for careers as museum curators, art gallery assistants, or art teachers. Students also gain valuable skills while critiquing each other's work and organizing exhibitions and shows, which can translate into jobs in nonprofit organizations, digital content curation, or event management.
The general rule is that Master’s degrees expand upon the topics covered by a Bachelor’s degree and direct you on a more specialised path of your choice.
Many universities are incorporating innovative learning methods to make sure the subject of Art History, although very old, is as future-facing as any other.
If you have studied a Bachelor’s in a different discipline, such as business or event management, a Master’s in Art History is great to expand on the skills we mentioned above, and narrow down your field of study in the area you are most interested in.
If you’ve already taken a Bachelor’s in history, use a Master’s degree to specialise in art. However, note that during your course, you are not only likely to be writing essays and giving presentations, but might also find yourself producing creative and digital portfolios, curating exhibitions, creating photographs and drawings, or even putting on fashion shows.
Modules vary largely based on where you choose to study, so be sure to check curriculums to get better informed (you will find a list of universities below).
Europe is the home of the world’s art capitals, so unsurprisingly, European teaching standards in this field are almost always first-class. You can expect to get high-quality education in most universities.
If you are looking to get your Art History degree from a renowned university, it can be helpful to consider rankings.
Below is a selection of some of the best schools and universities in Europe that offer Arts & Humanities degrees (according to the QS World University Rankings):
|1||University of Oxford||United Kingdom||98||AAA|
|2||University of Cambridge||United Kingdom||85.65||AAA|
|3||The University of Edinburgh||United Kingdom||88.7||AAA|
|5||The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)||United Kingdom||85.1||AA|
|6||Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin||Germany||84.13||AA|
|7||University of Amsterdam||Netherlands||84.6||AA|
|9||Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne||France||83.7||AA|
|10||King's College London||United Kingdom||83.6||AA|
Art History has an advantage over other industries: it is a vast field and can most likely home most edges of your interests and aspirations. Depending on the educational route you have chosen, you can either look into the practical application of acquired skills or pursue a PhD and stay within academia.
Art Director (also in digital)
Art Librarian/Visual Resource Curator
Museum Reproductions/Retail Manager
And some more nontraditional career options:
Art Crime Investigator
Art Exhibit Installer
Art Insurance Adjustor
Art Investing/Art Lending (Pawning)
Fine Arts Expert Witness
The advantage of the art industry, as mentioned earlier, naturally results in a high saturation of students interested in entering the market, so it’s highly competitive.
Typically, an internship is your best bet when entering any industry, and even more so within the Art field.
Networking is crucial in every area, but in the creative industry, it's a must. You can often find employment by establishing relationships with artists and institutions while still at the university (e.g. by volunteering).
We live in a visual world. Nowadays, there is a shift from text-carried information to visual thinking (Social Media, videos, memes, emojis, avatars, etc.). Thus, as we mentioned above, the need for skilled curators is increasing. Art History is one of the best ways to prepare for this.
Typical employers include academia, museums, art galleries, and auction houses. However, there are as well industries that need art historians, such as architecture, preservation, consulting, advertising or media (in a broad meaning of this field).
To increase your chances of employment, be serious about building a solid portfolio during the university years, try participating in contests, and start building your network as soon as you can.
As with any creative industry, Art History is highly demanding and not for everyone. It requires strong self-discipline, a resilient mind, an innovative and creative approach, highly-developed critical thinking skills, and a willingness to think outside the box.
The job market is especially competitive, and thus it might be hard for you to find employment right after graduation. Salaries aren’t very high straight out of university, and one needs to gain experience (and usually reputation; hence networking is essential, as we mentioned earlier) to apply for higher-paid jobs.
On top of that, it’s worth remembering that Art History isn’t a degree that prepares you for active participation in art creation — there are different degrees for that. You won’t become an artist after graduation; think of it more as an art observer and analyser.
Here are some points that can help you assess whether pursuing a career in Art History is the right choice for you:
Essential Skills for Art Historians:
Visual Analysis. Students will learn how to identify the artist, time period, medium, and meaning of an artwork. These activities will help experts in Art History assist art buyers and consultants in determining the value of an artwork.
Critical Reading. The ability to incorporate and express arguments in a coherent, clear manner.
Original Interpretation. Independent thought instead of memorization.
Cultural Awareness. Art History programs explore artworks, history, and cultures from different locations. Students learn about cultural nuances and the global connections in the way humans evolved.
General Skills for Art Historians:
Attention to Detail. To examine a piece of art, students need to note even its smallest details. Attention to detail can also guide art buyers and museum workers in looking for damages in artworks.
Communication. Art History entails writing papers and delivering presentations about certain artworks, artists, timelines, and geographic areas.
Research. Research delves into the historical and cultural components of an artwork. It also helps students in understanding how artists do their work, the relationship between different periods, and more.
Technology. Whether it is to analyze antique pieces, to improve their preservation, or even to find new design approaches, technology has become a key component in this field. Because of this, skills in certain programmes are an indisputable sought-after attribute among art historians.
To gain an even better understanding, take some time to read blog posts related to the topic, watch videos online, try out free Art History courses, or talk with people working in this field. If you find yourself interested and engaged in the material, then Art History might be a good fit for you.
Art is definitely not an easy industry, and there are many nuances you will need to learn about to navigate it well. Whether it’s worth it or not, it’s subjective.
Try to assess your career goals. A degree in Art History can be a great starting point for students who want to pursue a career in art or design. But you need to be quite good at it to have a thriving career. The hands-on skills obtained during the degree might be a bit limiting, however, the soft skills, as we mentioned, are highly sought-after. Lastly, depending on how you curate your educational path, it might be difficult to switch sectors/roles later in life.
Given the somewhat limited options for employment, there is a higher risk than with other subjects that you'll end up working in a field you did not originally intend to work in, or possibly unemployment for some periods.
If you are deeply passionate about Art History and all the hardships don’t scare you too much, then don’t let that deter you and give it a try. However, if you don’t feel a strong push in this direction, it might be worth considering other creative routes.
If after reading this article, you have a growing feeling that Art History might not be the right path for you, below you can find a short list of alternative paths. They still harness creativity and cultural insight, and are broad enough to allow some exploration:
Ready to learn more about Art History?
Check out these Bachelors & Masters in Europe