Why Art History?

Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse

Art and design are all about doing. Creating, building, drawing, painting, sculpting; you get the picture. Sometimes we forget that an important aspect of creating something new relies on understanding something old; something that others have created before us. It could have been designed last month or constructed two centuries ago. The age doesn’t matter; it all adds value.

Just like today’s artists, those of the past depicted the world as they knew it, they brought new ideas to the public’s attention, and they broke new ground. Through their dedication, they’ve enriched today’s broader understanding of varied perspectives and viewpoints. And perhaps unconsciously, they are guiding and influencing today’s and tomorrow’s artists.

If your passion is to understand the indigenous peoples of Pre-Columbia or the natural beauty of the world as depicted during the Renaissance, you’re not alone. There are a number of excellent art and design history programs to help you explore and comprehend a specific time or place, or to provide you with a broad understanding of artistic influences across a wide time period.

Chinese statues, Chin Dynasty

Chinese statues, Chin Dynasty

The study of Art History typically incorporates theory and criticism, as well as archeology, conservation, and museum studies. Period-relevant cultural and social contexts are examined, and many programs integrate studio work for an additional hands-on perspective. Apprenticeships and internships in galleries, museums, or educational settings are encouraged for a comprehensive understanding of potential career opportunities. Study abroad experiences add even more depth.

According to SnaapShot 2012, an annual online survey by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, the top career paths for art history majors include education and training, library services, curatorial and museum/gallery work. Careers in publishing, grant writing, and auction houses are also common.

Where do you begin your search? Try some of these colleges:

Most institutions offer a BA, but some provide the opportunity for a BFA as well. Minors are common for those wanting to add value their studio focus. If for no other reason, I’d suggest taking art history courses just to give you a different perspective. They’ll enhance your life, and work. Among those I’ve taken, the one on indigenous peoples of Indonesia and Africa fascinated me, and forever changed my life… in a good way.

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