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Art History

The Breakdown

Are you kept awake at night pondering the true identity of da Vinci’s mysterious Mona Lisa? Do you wonder what makes Picasso’s Guernica so powerful? Are you amazed by how raw and relatable Munch’s The Scream truly is? Does it enrage you that Damien Hirst’s diamond skull went on the market for a cool $50 million? If you’re excitedly answering these questions to yourself, you might want to investigate majoring in art history.

Art history students are quite fortunate in the fact that their chosen major provides a strong background in the humanities. Indeed, one cannot study a piece of art or an artistic movement without analyzing the historical, political and social context in which it was created. Art history undergrads study each work for its aesthetic and cultural value, learning how to appreciate the present by evaluating the past. Moreover, they examine paintings, sculptures, tapestries, etc. to understand what each piece says about the human experience.

As an art history major, you’ll take a wide range of courses. Almost all art history departments require their students to take introductory survey classes of Western Art. Additionally, they typically demand that their students take courses that expose them to a variety of periods, from the Greek and Roman antiquity through the Baroque period and even up to modern art. Many art history departments also encourage their students to study abroad. After all, nothing augments an education like seeing the works you’re studying in person.

Fortunately, you won’t need to be a 21st century Picasso to achieve academic success as an art history major. However, a great appreciation for visual images will certainly help. Perhaps of more importance, like all humanities disciplines, keen analytical and strong writing skills are necessary. And you’ll likely find if beneficial to come in with a strong foundation in history.

Nuts and Bolts

Art history majors have the opportunity to study nearly any historical period and any geographic region. Course options might include classes such as: African Art: Masks and Masquerades, Northern European Art of the 15th and 16th Centuries, Buddhist Visual Worlds, The Age of Cathedrals, Italian Baroque Art, Realism and Impressionism, Revolutions and Romanticisms, Visualizing Race, History of Photography, Modern Art in America, Graffiti: Past and Present and Modern Architecture.

Decisions, Decisions

As you might have already guessed, art history majors tend to be interested in both art and other cultures. Therefore they also might enjoy studying studio art, photography, history, anthropology, architecture, East Asian studies, Latin American studies, Middle Eastern studies, African studies, art education, art therapy, classics, graphic design, digital media and comparative literature.

What's Next

It’s quite common for art history majors to try and transition into the art world post college. Some recent grads find entry level, administrative positions within galleries or auction houses. Others secure employment with museums. These jobs can range anywhere from admin to education with a lucky handful perhaps landing curatorial assistant positions. Of course, some students also continue on to graduate study, often necessary for those who want to rise within the museum ranks. Art history majors also go into teaching and arts management. Still other graduates move on to successful careers as archivists or work in art conservation or restoration. Art therapy, art appraising and art criticism are additional options to consider. And certainly, plenty of art history majors leave the art world altogether finding jobs in marketing, public relations and a variety of industries in between.


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Don Munce