Art History Degrees

Art history doesn't necessarily only require an appreciation of art — though that's important. Art is multidisciplinary by nature — it crosses paths with music, literature, philosophy, religion, history, and science. It is essentially the history of ideas. Therefore, people who have many interests, from music, to literature, to traveling, may be drawn to art history as an area of study and, potentially, a career.

An art history program would develop a student's critical thinking, analytical, and writing skills. It will provide a foundation in art and its many periods, styles, and creators. Depending on the program, a student may also develop highly specialized skills, such as art appraising or conservation. Given its global influence, foreign language skills are often developed, particularly in French, German, or Italian. Graduates of an art history program will leave with a sophisticated art vocabulary, as well as an understanding of the different social, political, and economic contexts that effect artists and the art they make.

Classes and Assignments of an Art History Major

Art history programs cover a range of periods, styles, themes, artists, and cultures. Students may learn the histories of different mediums, such as photography or architecture, study the art of areas like Africa, Asia, or America, and gain a historical and cultural context through related classes like in history, politics, philosophy, and music. Students may also practice art-making through classes in drawing, design, ceramics, and sculpture. Programs may be proud, or require a concentration in a specific area or work, such as art conservation.

Art history programs are very research-heavy, with reading and papers often required. They also tend to be very hands-on, with students making art, visiting museums and galleries, and finding internship opportunities at museums, galleries, and cultural institutions to put their knowledge to real-world use. For students look for flexible learning opportunities, there are online degrees in art history at various levels of your education.

Degree Levels for an Art History Major

  • Associate. Online associate art history degrees would not be the most useful college degrees for the serious study of art history, as there are limited opportunities at this level. But an associate degree would provide a general studies education and prepare students for online bachelors art history degrees, at which point they would have the opportunity to focus on arts history courses.
  • Bachelor's. Online bachelors art history degrees provide a foundation in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Upon completion, students may go onto higher education at the graduate level, or enter the workforce at such institutions as museums, galleries, education institutions, or state cultural programs.
  • Master's. Those looking for greater specialization in an area, to teach, or to open up more employment opportunities may pursue online masters art history degrees. Curators, for instance, tend to require a master's degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), making this the best college degree for future curators. Students generally take courses, teach, and write a thesis during their program. A proficiency in German, Italian, or French also may be required. Upon completion, graduates may go on to earn a Ph.D., or find employment at museums, historical associations, or as teaching assistants.
  • Doctoral. Doctorates in art history are primarily pursued by scholars who want to teach at the college or university level. A Ph.D. program generally demands course work, teaching, research, and writing a dissertation. At this level, you will also be highly specialized in a particular area of art history, such as a time period, style, or location where art's made.

A Future as an Art History Major

Art historians may find employment at any institution that works with art in some capacity. That means museums, galleries, historical sites, auction houses, and in publishing. Different types of jobs that an art history student may pursue, depending on their exact education, include curator, art appraiser, art dealer, antique dealer, or art restorer.

Employment of archivists, curators, and museum technicians in particular is expected to grow, according to the BLS, with a 20% increase anticipated over the 2008-2018 decade. There will especially be a greater need for archivists who specialize in electronic records and records management, as organizations increasingly digitize their collections and information. Graduates with highly specialized training, such as master's degrees in both library science and history, may have best opportunities, according to the BLS.

Prospective wages in this area will vary by occupation, as well as employer, location, and experience. Though for an idea, according to the most recent data available from the BLS (May 2010), the mean annual wage for museum technicians and conservators is $41,940; for archivists, it's $49,190; and for curators, it's $53,160.