Art Historian

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Art Historian


One of the things which unifies humankind worldwide is art. Artistic endeavors can be traced back thousands and thousands of years. Art tells the history of the world in a very special and complex way. From simple sketches on cave walls to the colorful pottery of the Aztecs, from the pop art of Andy Warhol to the tags spray painted on downtown walls: these are all ways that we as humans have forever expressed our feelings, our ideas, our views of the past, present and future.

Art historians interpret the history encoded in painting, sculpture and design. Their knowledge can take them many places. They might work as appraisers, examining art for signs of authenticity, place and date of origin, and, if possible, the name and history of the artist who created it. These art historians can set the price for artwork on sale in galleries, auctions and through private sale.

Some art historians study the history of various cultures, as well as their own, by studying styles, genres, and time periods. This can be useful when trying to find common ground between different cultures. Respect for the art of other cultures can form a foundation of respect for the artists and their people.

Histories about human development, migration, scientific development, religious beliefs and practices, even clothing styles and recreational activities can be formed by art historians. Art historians take their research and present it to the public through articles and public talks. They use their knowledge and expertise to place paintings, sculpture and other artistic artifacts into the rich web of history, revealing a clearer picture of history to us, one brush stroke at a time.
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Regent University
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  Interests and Skills  
Art historians need to be patient, firm and decisive individuals with good communication, people and teaching skills. They require good writing abilities as well. An informed cultural outlook is important, as are some foreign language skills. They should have good eyesight, and be able to lift heavy items. They should have a love for art, history, and an understanding of various styles, genres, and time periods.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Gather research information on a painting, an artist or a genre from a wide variety of sources, including libraries, galleries and museums
  • Organize and interpret the information
  • Decide which pieces of art should be held in a gallery collection or displayed in an exhibition
  • Write and publish research on art
  • Give lectures to public and other historians on findings
  • Advise developers of historic sites, buildings and monuments
  • Advise legal firms on copyright issues
  • Identify forgeries
  • The typical day for an art historian will depend on where they work. Generally, though, they will spend some of each day with artwork, examining it closely, looking for clues about its origin and its artist. They will also spend time researching in libraries, and a substantial amount of time writing up that research. They may give classes, public lectures, or present significant findings at conferences. They may travel, visiting other galleries and libraries, especially if studying a genre or style found in cultures or countries other than their own.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Art historians apply their expertise in a number of places. Some work as professors in universities, while other find work in art galleries, art museums, private companies and auction houses. Sometimes they work independently as consultants. They spend their time in offices, storage spaces and galleries.
  • They generally work alone while researching, but will interact with other historians, art dealers, collectors, curators and the public. They usually work regular hours, but may work longer hours if they are appraising something important or helping mount an exhibit.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Art historians can work with museums as interpreters, exhibit consultants or researchers. They can find work with various governmental departments. They can become freelance researchers, appraisers, and consultants for lobby groups, Native leaders, and writers of historical novels, television, and film scripts. They can also become art teachers, art therapists, open galleries or become artists themselves.

  Educational Paths  
Most universities offer bachelor's programs as well as master's programs in art history. Some students study art history while pursuing a museum studies or a fine arts degree. Volunteering at an art gallery or museum is an excellent way to explore this career.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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Regent University
Regent University prepares students with the knowledge to excel and the faith to live with purpose.
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  • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - History
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