Art History Career Guidance
Speak with your advisor (undergraduate or graduate, depending on your status) to learn more about career possibilities, to find out how best to prepare for particular jobs, and for tips on the application and interview process.
The internet has created many opportunities to learn about jobs quickly and efficiently. You can subscribe to a service offered by H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences OnLine) to be notified of jobs that meet the criteria you select. You can also hear about opportunities by joining a listserv in a given field-see the references to individual listservs in the “Prospects” section of the profession that interests you. Joining one of those listservs also is a great way to find out about the issues, concerns, and opportunities in a particular field.
You might also consider joining the College Art Association (CAA), the professional organization for art historians and studio artists; graduate students should certainly join this organization. Student memberships are available at a reduced rate. The CAA publishes listings of jobs online for holders of the Ph.D. or M.A.
For People with a B.A. in Art History
Commercial art gallery or auction house
Special requirements: Since most galleries deal in contemporary work, some expertise in modern is desirable. If interested in sales positions, strong public relations skills are important. Prospects: Extremely competitive, especially in major centers like New York and Los Angeles; pay is often low. Benefits: Work around cutting edge art; excitement of the hunt for possible sales; occasional travel. Duties: All aspects of gallery work-keeping track of finances, planning displays and exhibitions, researching works of art, writing catalogs, sales, and packing and shipping works of art.
Antique gallery Special requirements: Familiarity with decorative arts a big plus.Prospects: Similar to art galleries. Benefits: Hands-on contact with historical material; tracking down and identifying objects for sale can be great fun; occasional travel. Duties: Similar to art galleries (but less likelihood of catalog writing opportunities).
Museum work (lower level administration and/or smaller institutions) Special requirements: Student internships are an excellent means of getting one’s foot in the door; D.U.’s program offers chances for such internships at the Denver Art Museum and at corporate collections-see your advisor for details; for a list of internship opportunities outside of this region, scan through the job listing sites below (under “Prospects”); also consider joining the Museum Listserv MUSEUM-L [send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with “subscribe Museum-L [your name]” in the body of the message]. Prospects: Positions are competitive; for listings, see the jobs section of the Museum Resource Board, the Employment Resources Online published by Aviso (a newsletter for museum professionals), or the CAA’s online job listings and check out these Museum Job Hunting Tips. Benefits: Can be a good means of launching a career in the museum world (but will need an additional degree to advance far). Duties:Administrative assistant; fund-raising; financial management; editing; light research.
Art book editing and publishing Special requirements: Meticulous work habits and strong writing skills; having some sort of editing experience (e.g. on the college newspaper) is very helpful. Prospects: Small industry mostly limited to New York and Boston; free-lance work sometimes available but doesn’t pay terribly well. Benefits:Satisfaction of concrete product when done; exciting region of the country to live in; occasional travel. Duties: Editorial (proofreading, fact checking); bibliographic research; finding and researching illustrations.
Magazine publishing Special requirements: Strong writing skills; examples of published work a must. Prospects: Expanding field (especially in the case of regional publications). Benefits: Satisfaction of finished product; set your own hours in the case of free-lance work. Duties: Editing; writing.
Local arts agencies Special requirements: Self-motivation; entrepreneurial skills; strong interpersonal skills and ability to work well under pressure. Prospects:Opportunities in a wide variety of organizations, from fine arts agencies to work in underprivileged communities; short-term projects are often available. Benefits: Good networking opportunities; pay is often low. Duties: Wide range, from public relations and publications to grant writing and office work.
Grant writer Special requirements: Clear, concise writing skills; good communication skills; creative ideas; specific training as grant writer is helpful (grant writing classes are available through a variety of colleges and universities including low-cost options like Colorado Free University); previous work experience (you can volunteer for a small nonprofit to gain this experience and to develop a track record); knowledge of budgeting; organization and self-discipline. Prospects: The demand for development directors is high, but competition for positions is also stiff. Most nonprofits are looking for experienced people. Contract grant work is also in demand if you are motivated and are willing to be an independent contractor. In many cases, a person has to make the initial inquiry with nonprofits. Contract work is not always widely publicized. Benefits: Grant writers have the ability to affect programming which is exciting. There is a level of stress to meet continuous deadlines. They have a great deal of flexibility as independent contractors. Duties: Research funding prospects; develop funder prospects and a funding calendar; create programming; write draft proposals; edit and finalize proposals; review (and occasionally develop) budgets.
With at least a B.A. in Art History and an Additional Degree in Another Field
Art Law Special requirements: A Law degree, optimally from a program specializing in art law and intellectual property rights (for example, from Columbia University’s Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts.
- Prospects: Good-a growing field.
- Benefits: Deal with very important issues and get paid well doing so.
- Duties: Offer legal representation to museums, arts organizations, and/or individual artists; serve as legal consultant (and possibly courtroom representative) in cases dealing with the repatriation of artwork stolen during wars; NAGRPA issues; copyright issues; contracts for public works of art; etc
Art investment Special requirements: An MBA or finance degree can be helpful (but is not always required). Prospects: Fair (art not always the best investment); may be able to set up business as consultant to both dealers and collectors (possibly including major corporations). Benefits: High salary; buy art with other people’s money! Duties:Evaluate trends in market for all types of art; advise clients on potential increases in value.
Archive management or art reference librarian Special requirements: A Master of Library Science Degree (MLS) may be required; computer skills necessary.Prospects: Fair. Benefits: Provide valuable service to other scholars; can involve intriguing detective work and research into a subject that interests you. Duties: Manage collections of photographs, manuscripts, books, and other resources; advise researchers; some publication opportunities.
Conservator Special requirements: Degree from a conservation graduate program (of which there are four in North America: the University of Delaware, the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, Buffalo State College, and Queen’s University in Ontario). The degree demands strong knowledge of chemistry, languages, studio art and laboratory techniques, often some knowledge of physics, a steady hand, and lots of patience. DU’s BFA in Pre-Art-Conservation can be an excellent preparation for graduate work in the field. Prospects: Heavy competition for institutional positions; more prospects in private practice; opportunities vary by region (i.e. best in areas with high concentrations of institutions, dealers, and collectors; often jobs are listed on theMuseum Employment Resource Center, on the Employment Resources Online published by Aviso (a newsletter for museum professionals), or in the jobs section of the Museum Resource Board. Benefits: Constant close contact with works of art; pay is good (but you won’t get rich!). Duties: Preserve and repair works of art; you generally develop a specialization (e.g. works on paper; furniture; etc.).
With an M.A. in Art History
Note that with an MA you can find work in any of the fields listed for BAs, and probably have a stronger chance of getting a job in one of those fields or of entering at a higher level. DU’s own MA program in art history is a great place to obtain this degree!
Museum work – curatorial staff Special requirements: Previous experience (as an intern or as staff member) is strongly desirable. Prospects: The job market is competitive but not impossible, due to the variety of museum’s and cultural institutions that exist; for listings see the jobs section of the Museum Resource Board, the Employment Resources Online published by Aviso (a newsletter for museum professionals), or the CAA’s bimonthly Careers bulletin; also consider joining the Museum Listserv MUSEUM-L [send an e-mail to email@example.com with “subscribe Museum-L [your name]” in the body of the message]. Also, check out these Museum Job Hunting Tips. Benefits: First-hand contact with works of art; opportunities for research and publication; opportunity to introduce the public to the art that you care about. Duties: In smaller institutions you may be in charge of an entire department (e.g. Painting; Decorative Arts; etc.); in a larger institution you may be given more focused research or administrative tasks.
Museum work – administration Special requirements: See above; financial experience may also be a plus. Prospects: See above. Benefits: Sense that you are contributing to the preservation of works of art and to educating the public about them; work in a museum environment. Duties: All manner of administrative work-from serving as a registrar and keeping track of new objects, to managing an institution’s finances, to engaging in fund-raising; in smaller institutions you may be doing multiple jobs.
Museum work – education department Special requirements: See above.Prospects: See above. Benefits: Opportunities to introduce members of the public to the works of art in your institution. Duties: Design educational programs for all age levels, from public school students to adult visitors; can also include public presentations (either on guided tours or in lecture format).
Work in a cultural institution (such as a historical house or center) Special requirements: Special knowledge of the particular field addressed by the institution.Prospects: Opportunities exist in a variety of settings. Benefits: The chance to introduce members of the public to the period that interests you; sense that you are preserving the past for future generations. Duties: Various-can include designing educational programs and publications; research; lecturing or giving tours; maintenance of collections.
Visual resources curator Special requirements: In addition to the MA in Art History, a Master of Library Science degree (MLS) may also be desirable, but it is not necessary; occasionally it is possible to be hired in this field without an MA, but in such cases you must have some other means of demonstrating that you are deeply familiar with the history of art; some previous experience in a slide collection is essential. knowledge of digital imaging processes, databases and intellectual property rights are increasingly important. Prospects: Good and improving; the technological revolution of the past few years has greatly expanded opportunities in this field as universities have seen the need for electronic visual resources, and with the increasing technology component of the field has come a greater level of professional respect within the institution; for job listings, see the CAA online job listings, or the Visual Resources Association Bulletin and listserv. Benefits: Spend all day looking at (albeit in reproductions) and learning about works of art; work with technology; generally in a college or university setting. Duties: Manage collection of slides and visual resources in other media (for instance, web management sometimes part of the job).
Teaching – community college or high school (most likely private) Special requirements: Teaching experience is a plus; to obtain a job in one of the few public high schools that offer art history you need a teaching certificate for that state.Prospects: Fair, particularly in areas with large numbers of community colleges, but those colleges are finding more and more that they can hire Ph.D.s to teach their classes (due to the relative glut of Ph.D.s at the moment); for listings, see the CAA Careers bulletin or the weekly on-line listings from the Chronicle of Higher Education (previous week’s listings available without subscription) or H-Net; if you are paid as an adjunct, the salary can be very low. Benefits: Teach classes on the subject that you love; many community college students are “non-traditional” students, who can be among the most rewarding to work with. Duties: Teach a large number of classes per year; little expectation (or opportunity) for research in your field.
Art Librarian Special requirements: Usually also requires an MLS. Prospects:Fair; for job listings and discussion of the profession, consider subscribing to ARLIS-L (the Art Libraries Society discussion list). Benefits: Work in a college or university setting; chance to play a key role in art education; occasional opportunities for research of your own. Duties: Maintain and expand collection of printed and electronic resources; assist students and faculty in their research in a variety of ways.
With a Ph.D. in Art History
Teaching Special requirements: Teaching experience (for instance, as a teaching assistant while in graduate school) and publications are strongly desirable. Prospects:Competition is intense for the most desirable jobs; for listings, see the CAA online job listings or the weekly on-line listings from the Chronicle of Higher Education (previous week’s listings available without subscription) or H-Net. Benefits: Work in a college or university setting; teach, research, and write about the material that you love. Duties:Generally includes three basic categories of Duties: teaching, scholarship (publication of articles and books, presentations at conferences), and service (serving on campus committees); the ratio between these three categories will depend on the nature of the institution.
Museum work – curatorial (major institution) Special requirements: Considerable previous museum experience is strongly desirable. Prospects: Competition is fierce for the best jobs, but good jobs do open up with some frequency, so with a Ph.D. in an applicable field from a strong institution, it is possible to find a rewarding position; for listings see the jobs section of the Museum Resource Board, the Employment Resources Online published by Aviso (a newsletter for museum professionals), or the CAA’s online job listings; also consider joining the Museum Listserv MUSEUM-L [send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with “subscribe Museum-L [your name]” in the body of the message]. Also, check out these Museum Job Hunting Tips. Benefits: In addition to the benefits of a curatorial position listed above (under “careers for art history M.A.s”), you can find yourself in an institution that places a high value on the organization of impressive shows, with accompanying research and publication opportunities. Duties: Organize, research, and write catalogs for exhibitions; close involvement in acquisition of works for museum’s collection.
Further Reading: Most Affordable Online History Degrees