Why you should study art history and what you can do with your degree

Ilaria translated for us a post by Lizzy Vartanian, art history blogger, who tells us why you should study art history and what you can do with your degree!

A recurring question that nags art history students is: where will your degree take you? Here’s what one British girl, Lizzy Vartanian, an art history blogger and aspiring art critic, who posted this article on her blogThe Gallery Girl, thinks about it. Here is the link to the original. And below, my translation!

I just graduated in Art History and already the question sounds even too familiar to me, and what benefit will it bring you in the future?

Since my intent would be to start my master’s degree in September, I now constantly keep a long list of answers ready to give to people’s concerns about what I will do with my life after getting a useless degree, as many consider it.

Even before I even started college, people were turning their noses up at the idea of seeing me studying art history and had tried to dissuade me from taking this career path. One evening this week, after countless snide comments made at a party, I decided to share what I learned and what is possible with an art history degree. Art history is often considered an easy subject, chosen by the privileged or elite who will probably never have a job anyway: see Kate Middleton, the most famous art history graduate. Nevertheless, as some of my classmates will tell you, this is simply not the case, as most of us have spent long nights bent over a book or computer straining to produce an essay with the intent of working after graduation.

Vincent Van Gogh, Girasoli, Monaco di Baviera, Neue Pinakothek

First of all, let me make it clear that art history students cannot immediately tell, in front of a painting, what an artist was thinking while at work. Art historians are neither psychics nor mind-readers. Moreover, it is also not possible to know everything about every painting or sculpture that has been created in history. It would be like a musician knowing all the songs, symphonies or works created over time, regardless of style or genre.

The study of art history is not only about painting, sculpture, and architecture; it also includes photography, performance, film, animation, and decorative arts. Another thing: How would we know without the help of images what people looked like? Written records give us an idea, but it is in paintings that we identify people like Henry VIII. In addition to visual skills, politics and a minimum of aesthetic sense of history are necessary in any case, as are cultural and social history for my personal studies, which led me to study the art of China. Students and graduates in the humanities possess many more skills that are expendable in the working world, such as the ability to write an acceptable essay and conduct research.

As for future career possibilities, the most obvious ones for art history graduates are: working in a museum or gallery or dealing with cultural heritage conservation, antiques and auction houses. And they seem to be the only ones, besides teaching, that always appear in conversations.

While more practical degrees such as Economics and Business may seem more advisable for being able to find work in large financial companies, Art History can also give big advantages. Many companies invest in art by considering it an economic asset. In fact, it is worth remembering that during the recession, the art market continued to thrive while almost everything else was in decline. A corporate art expert can be like a consultant when advising where to invest money or like an actuary; which should not be so easy with a degree in Mathematics.

A degree in art history could even lead you to go deeper into Law, if you pursue graduate studies that deal with laws in the field of art, such as reproduction rights, repatriation and inheritance.

Plus, as with all humanities degrees, it can lead to professions in journalism, public relations, media and marketing. It would be like asking an English or Philosophy graduate what he can do in the future with his studies.

I hope with this article I have clarified the question more about the professional future of art historians, beyond just the possibilities of teaching or working in art galleries. Personally, I don’t see why we should be more concerned than graduates in other subjects about future job prospects.