Art History Careers

You are here

Careers for Art Historians

Training in art history can prepare students well for a wide variety of careers.  This is because art history relies on the simultaneous use of several different and complementary skills, including the visual analysis of images, the historical and contextual analysis of their meaning, and the effective presentation of these analyses in written and spoken form.  These skills are highly relevant in the increasingly image-driven world of modern culture, but since launching a career can still be tricky, it helps to have some sense of the options that others have pursued, and a list of resources that may be helpful in identifying professional opportunities.

Art historians can use their training in universities, museums, and galleries, as well as in many settings beyond the “art world” as traditionally understood.   In universities, art historians work most frequently as professors and in addition to teaching they write books and articles, give professional and public lectures, and sometimes they work with museums as advisors, authors, guest curators, or consultants.  In museums, they can work as administrators, curators, conservators, art educators, and docents; in galleries they may work as appraisers, researchers, consultants, and sales staff; in business they may work as corporate curators or collecting advisors.  Art historians write as art critics and commentators for print or electronic media, and they also work as editors, librarians, and tour guides. 

Professorial, curatorial, and other senior positions typically require graduate training in art history.  Further specialized training is also required for students who wish to become architects or lawyers; art law and intellectual property law are currently growing fields.  Art historians’ skills in close looking and the decoding of images can also open up careers in fields as diverse as forensics, intelligence analysis, and advertising.  

All art history student are encouraged to acquaint themselves with College Art Association, the major professional organization for artists and art historians working in the US:

One particularly useful subsection of the site is the jobs board, which can help to convey a sense of what qualifications are expected for different positions:

Also worth exploring is the list of affiliated societies:
Many of the listed groups, such as those for conservators, curators, editors, and librarians, have sites of their own.  

A few of these sites are the following:

American Alliance of Museums

Art Dealers’ Association of America

Art Libraries Society of North America

There are also professional organizations based on the medium or the period studied, such as:

Society of Architectural Historians

Archaeological Institute of America

Renaissance Society of America

This is just a sample of the professional information readily available through leading organizations.  Explore these resources, and you may soon find yourself inspired with new thoughts about how to plan your career.      

All art history students are also encouraged to seek out their professors for consultation about career planning and professional development, starting early in the undergraduate program.  Such consultation can open up research and internship opportunities, and it can also just help to provide orientation to the field.  Don’t be shy!