Our guide to art history
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to art history

First published date October 24 2013 Amended date October 24 2013

Have you always fancied a job in a museum, a gallery or indeed any area of the arts, design and culture industries? Or are you simply fascinated by art history and would love to study pictures and paintings and learn about their historical development and style contexts? It might be that you are an eager gallery-goer who is hungry to find out the story behind the image or that you intend to choose art history as a serious career path and gain valuable insight and in-depth knowledge of the art world. Whatever you’re after, there will be an art history course to suit you.


To what degree?

You'd be in good company if you plump for a degree in art history as the Duchess of Cambridge, nee Kate Middleton, studied this very same subject at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. As most of us are aware, while Kate learnt about the great works of art – from the Renaissance to Romanticism and everything before, in between and after –  she also met her very own Prince Charming. However, the same fairytale ending is unlikely to apply to most other art history graduates whose future will far less mapped out!

Whatever level you go for, studying art history will offer an historical and critical awareness of painting, sculpture, photography and architecture from the past to present day. It will help you understand works of art in the context of their time and the society that made and used them. You can choose to combine art history with another subject such as languages, English literature and philosophy for a diverse knowledge pot. There are short courses, courses for AS and A level students as well as diplomas and postgraduate degrees.


Introductions count

If you are an avid gallery and museum visitor with a real thirst for art and its history, why not enrol on an introductory weekend or part time course? You will look at a wide range of images and explore broad questions including how the picture is made, what is depicted and what it means. There will be opportunities to go on location too as you visit some of the greatest galleries in the UK with a chance to enjoy original art close up and learn about the themes that have shaped today's art world.

Choose from a long list of inspiring and educational courses, whether you are a complete beginner to the subject or if you fancy widening your artistic horizons. Some courses will focus on specific points in the history of art or take a more contemporary angle looking at the history of video art and sound art. Superman and Spiderman enthusiasts will revel in the history and art of comic books course, where you will explore superheroes and newspaper cartoons from comic books and strips (who can forget the cutesy Love Is...strip?) to the modern graphic novel, spanning Europe, America and Japan. Study women artists, hidden meanings in paintings, five great photographers or 100 great sculptures – the list is vast, varied and packed with inspiration.


Job prospects

If you choose to study art history to degree level and beyond you will be well-equipped for a vast range of professional careers. Do be mindful that these are extremely popular jobs and getting your foot on the ladder in any of the following careers will prove highly competitive.

• Curator in a museum or gallery

• Art administrator

• Arts and heritage officer/management

• Museum/gallery conservator

• Auctioneer

• Commercial art gallery manager

• Journalism, the media and publishing

• Other positions in the creative arts

Key to the success of getting into any of these careers is to gain as much practical experience as possible, either through unpaid work placements, internships and voluntary work. Apply to as many companies and organisations as possible and don't give up.


Transferable skills and other routes

Don't despair if your dream job as a museum curator seems constantly out of reach, as an art history degree will equip you with a gamut of solid, transferable skills that will be highly valued by employers across all sectors. Some of the most important ones are:

1. Visual and critical awareness

2. Problem solving

3. Time management

4. Effective written and oral communication skills

5. Interpreting and analysing information

6. The ability to work on your own or as part of a team


By Lara Sargent

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