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What is Art History?

August 13, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Art history might seem like a simple concept since art and history are among the most studied subjects from elementary school to higher learning institutions. But what does the term mean? Art history can be defined as a discipline that entails the study of visual human expressions. Art historians have been involved in developing ways of translating visuals to verbal through well-thought-out analysis and interpretation approaches. 

People in the art history discipline study and categorize the changes in art from the past to better understand how their creators have shaped art as a whole. The field covers the art history of several regions across the world as well as contemporary art, western art, and visual culture. However, how does the discipline shape one’s career? It is undoubtedly true that Art History leads to a wide range of professions in various fields including. Additionally, the discipline helps develop different skills, including critical thinking skills. 

If you doubt the prospects of art history and want to know more about the discipline, you are in the right place. We will explore in detail some of the various things you need to know about Art History. This article gives an overview of: 

  • What is covered by the field of art history? 
  • Importance of art history 
  • Types of art history degrees 
  • Best jobs for people with a degree in art history 

What Is Covered by The Field of Art History? 

In the past, art history emphasized sculpture, drawing, and paintings, among other traditional aspects. Today, art history covers various aspects of visual culture, including contemporary art, studio art, and visual art. We will analyze some of these subjects in detail. 

What Subjects Does Art History Cover?

The art history program covers several programs. Art historians are expected to undertake all the art history subjects to earn their degree. Some of the topics covered in the degree program include: 

  • History
    History subject is one of the most predominant subjects covered in the art history discipline. The subject covers a broad range of issues, including the history of art and how it evolved over the years. As an art history student, you will most likely undertake the history class in your art history program’s preliminary stages.
  • Contemporary Art 
    Here is the other common subject when it comes to art history. Contemporary art, which you will usually take in your degree program’s initial stages, covers mostly the practice and theory of visual art in the 20th and 21st centuries. Under the subject, you cover various aspects, including pop art, social art movements in the 20th century, and postmodernism. Other common elements in most colleges and universities also include conceptual art, the role of media in contemporary art, etc. 
  • American Art 
    When pursuing your art history degree, you will most likely come across the American art subject. American art is among the most studied art in several learning institutions. The issue surveys American art right from the ancient periods to modern American art. The courses cover vital American artists and their works and the impact of the art movements, and it also tends to survey how ancient American art shaped modern American art. This subject also covers the effect of political violence on the development of art in American in detail. 
  • Western Art 
    Western art mainly covers the art of Europe and the surrounding regions. Under the subjects, students will cover the history of the European area and its evolution over time. The key artists, their works, and the region’s critical art movements are also covered in the subject. Well, if you are more intrigued by modern European art, then I bet this subject will come in handy for you. It is also one of the vast subjects covered in the field of art history. 
  • Modernism
    Modernism explores the development of American and European art in the mid-18th and early 19th centuries. This period marks the onset of changes in how people made art, including drawings, painting, and sculpture. This area is one of the most exciting subjects covered in the field of art history.

The list of subjects covered in art history is quite endless. Remember, just like other fields, all students must cover several common subjects. Some of these subjects include such as communication, introduction to business, and philosophy. However, other subjects limited to art history students include: 

  • Asian art 
  • Byzantine Art 
  • Medieval art 
  • Renaissance Art 
  • Visual culture 
  • Drawing 
  • Film and photography 
  • Art and Architecture 
  • Museums and Collection 
  • Antiquity, among others. 

What Is the Difference Between Art Appreciation and Art History? 

If you are passionate about arts and history, you must have come across the terms art appreciation and art history at the point in your life. Despite having some things in common, art history and art appreciation have several differences right from their definitions. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common differences between the two. 

As earlier stated, art history refers to the study of art over time, from the conception period. Art history discusses the deeper aspects of artwork to give more insights on its conception and its impacts, including the message portrayed by the art through iconography. Iconography, in this case, means the analysis of art to understand its symbolism. Art historians familiarize themselves with artwork by determining the artists who created the artwork, their biographies, and the driving factors that led to the artwork’s creation.

On the other hand, art appreciation is more of feeling what the artist is trying to communicate through their artwork. Hence, we can say art appreciation is more of the artwork itself and not its history. Art appreciation uses visual literacy tools to understand and appreciate specific artworks. For instance, when we talk of a painting, art historians don’t have to know about the artist’s history or the reason it was created. The art historian will focus more on the design, materials, and techniques used to create artwork.

What Is the Relationship Between Art and History? 

The relationship between art and history has been one of the most discussed topics by art history students. Art and history are more linked in terms of genre and form.  Both history and the arts have been effectively used to study developments from ancient times to the modern world. Art and history have severely engaged people, especially the newer generations, in various issues and helped support social change.

Importance of Art History 

Art history is arguably one of the most common degree programs offered in several Universities and affordable small colleges worldwide. According to various surveys in some of the top-notch universities and colleges, art history is one of the programs with high student enrolment. But what makes art history important?  We take a look at some of the aspects that make the field important. 

Why Is Art History Important in The Modern World? 

It is quite common in the modern world to hear people say that science is the key to prosperity. We can’t refute or argue against the notions. However, just like the science fields, art history is also significant. Why? Here are some of the reasons why the art history field matters in the modern world. 

  • Skill Development 
    Studying art history will earn you skills that are unique to art historians. As an art history student, you will gain in-depth knowledge of making visual arguments, which is highly needed to become an art history expert. 
  • Cultural Diversity 
    Studying art history introduces us to cultural diversity. Art history enables us to learn about different cultures through various subjects, such as American arts and Western arts. For instance, studying the Italian Renaissance enables us to familiarize ourselves with other European cultures and learn how they relate to ours. 
  • Career Development 
    Obtaining a degree in Art History, especially with an art history major, opens up a wide variety of career opportunities. I know most people think art historians are more committed to working in museums and education sectors. There are many job opportunities that one might pursue. 
  • Rich Discipline 
    The art history discipline incorporates several other fields, including politics, economics, anthropology, and social history. Combining these disciplines helps expose an individual to humanities subjects, leading to the development of various skills unique to these subjects. 

Why Is Context Important in Art History? 

In art history, context refers to all the aspects of an artwork that might have influenced the artwork’s conception. We might ask several questions, including the artwork’s cultural and geographical background, why it was made, and some other artwork’s finer details. But why is it essential in art history? Context helps create a unified experience for the viewers. It helps connect and create a relationship between the artwork and those interested in it. It makes us understand the artwork more by getting an insight into the artist and the influencing factors for its creation. 

How Does Learning Art History Change Your Perspective? 

It is undoubtedly true that art history helps shape our perspective. History gives us insights into the past, the changes, and how life is right now, which significantly helps shape our lives directly, providing different perspectives on situations, events, and people. Art history gives us a bigger view of the future world, leading to a better understanding of what is awaiting us. Art appreciation also helps us connect and create relationships with others by studying their diverse cultures. 

Types of Art History Degrees 

Earning an art degree from an accredited college or university is a stepping stone to various art-related careers. The art history degree ranges from the lower levels up to the higher levels. However, one must always first start with the lower degree before advancing to the higher ones. The types of art history degrees include: 

  • Associate Degree in Art History 
    An associate degree in art history helps prepare you to pursue art history majors such as fine art, museum, curatorial studies and to pursue a bachelor’s degree in art and history. The curriculum helps students gain skills and knowledge needed for knitting, quilting, sculpting, and cake decorating. To undertake the associate program, one needs 60 credits of major courses and general education.  
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Art History 
    This higher education program is offered in higher institutions of learning. For one to pursue an art history bachelor’s program, you must at least have 120 credits. Under this art history program, learners can explore more art history subjects such as contemporary art, visual art, visual culture, studio art, art museum, and much more. The students are also able to learn several other skills unique to art history. The art history degree exposes students to several career paths as they often work as exhibit designers, purchasing agents, and museum technicians. 
  • Master’s Degree in Art History 
    Even though a career in the art history-related field requires you to have a bachelor’s degree in art history, earning a master’s degree will significantly expand your career options. Additionally, a master’s degree in art history will likely advance you to higher career levels. A Master’s degree enables learners to develop an in-depth understanding of art history, qualifying them for higher positions as archivists and museum curators. To complete the program, you must complete a capstone project or thesis. Master’s programs train students to connect culture and art and to gain knowledge on past civilizations. These skills might enable them to pursue a career in sociology. 
  • Doctoral Degree in Art History 
    A doctorate is the highest education level in art history. To earn a doctoral degree, a student must complete a dissertation on a topic in art history. Doctoral degrees qualify students for some of the coveted art history careers. For instance, the degree prepares the graduates to teach in colleges and universities. It also places graduates in prime positions to oversee university departments. 

What Classes Do Art History Majors Take? 

An art history major is crucial to a student as it helps train you for a teaching career, art publishing and advertising, and museum and gallery work. Art history majors help equip students with the required technical skills to improve their skills and expertise as art historians. There are several classes that art history majors take. They include:

  • Ancient Art 
    Successful art historians have a vast knowledge of ancient art. As an art history major, you learn the advanced culture of ancient societies, especially from ancient Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, China, and several other ancient societies. Chinese art is covered extensively due to its rapid popularity. Ancient art is quite a broad topic, as it covers vast forms of art dating back to 1,000 years ago. 
  • Medieval Art 
    Another common class that an art history major must undertake is medieval art. Medieval art, especially of the Western world, is quite complicated as it covers a vast scope of time. The art includes a wide variety of architecture and art from 476 A.D., the early years of the Renaissance. Like ancient art, medieval art is a vast subject that provides several insights into how art developed over time, specifically before the 14th century. 
  • Renaissance Art 
    Art historians believe renaissance art began with the end of medieval art in the 14th century. In this period, humans made great strides in art as the period was marked with a diverse range of artistic styles, including Christian and Byzantine, Romanesque, Anglo-Saxon, and Viking several others. As an art history student, you will cover these styles in-depth and their contexts. 
  • Modern Art 
    This class explores the vast history of modern art. You will learn the new art perspectives and ideas brought about by technological advancement in the industrial age. Under this subject, you are trained on visual art, especially for a master’s in film major, graphic design, studio art, contemporary art, visual culture, among other art styles brought about by the industrial revolution. 

How Can You Determine What Kind of Art and Art History Degree You Should Get? 

Students always have a vast choice when it comes to choosing a bachelor’s degree in art and art history. The art and art history degrees include a master’s in film, a bachelor of art history, a bachelor of art history, and visual culture. Students always find it hard to choose the right program to pursue from the specialized art and design schools, liberal arts colleges, and other universities offering art and art history degree programs. If you are such a student, you need not worry. We help you narrow down your choices. Here are some of the factors you need to consider: 

  • Cost: Colleges and universities have different costs for art degrees. Students need to research to determine the tuition fees and other expenses. Always consider institutions that have lower tuition rates. 
  • Location: The institution’s proximity to your home is always a key factor. Consider schools that you can easily access from home. 
  • Time: Degree programs with lower time frames might be less costly. It is important to consider the number of years it will take to earn your degree.

Best Jobs for People with Degrees in Art History 

If you are considering pursuing an arts-related career, you should enroll for a degree in art history. The field of art history unlocks several career opportunities that require critical thinking, communication, and research skills. In this article, you will find an overview of the careers one might pursue after earning their degrees in art history, the average salaries, and the best minors to pair with an art history major. 

What Is the Average Salary for An Art History Graduate? 

If you aspire to be an art historian, earning your art history degree could be an excellent start. However, is the art history degree the right degree program for you? For the past several years, there have been raging debates on whether an art history degree is worth the investment. I mean, students always invest a lot of financial and time resources to earn their degrees. With this, they still expect to get considerable returns for their investments. 

Most labor experts have always argued that graduates with either manufacturing, trade, or science skills are likely to land higher-paying jobs than those with art and humanities degrees. Well, are some of these claims true? We explore the salary scale for careers related to art history degrees to determine the matter’s truth. 

Salaries for art history careers vary considerably depending on the career path a student follows. For instance, a graduate who decides to pursue a fine arts career path, such as a graphic designer, will take an average salary of $45 677. On the other hand, those who choose careers in a museum, such as museum archivists and curators, bring home an average salary of $51,760 and $53,700, respectively. Please note, this degree is more likely to earn you a career in a museum than in any other field. The average salary for museum professionals currently stands at $49,850. 

Those who have earned higher degrees, such as doctoral degrees in art history, are primed to secure high-paying jobs as university art history professors. These professors earn an average of $78,720 in a year. This indicates to use how lucrative a doctoral degree in art history is. Art history majors also enable you to advance quickly in your career. 

What Jobs Do People Who Have A Degree in Art History Typically Do? 

Typically, a bachelor’s degree in art history will likely secure you a career in museums and other art centers. Nonetheless, you might as well land yourself a teaching job or acquire jobs in other organizations related to the art history field. Let’s look at some of the typical careers for an art history degree graduate. 

  • Curato
    A curator is one of the typical professionals an art history graduate can pursue. A curator primarily supervises collecting, storing, or displaying artifacts, artworks, digital files, and historical memorabilia. In most cases, a curator is likely to work in a museum. However, curators work in large business organizations, educational institutions, and other government organizations. 
  • Art Teacher 
    Skills and knowledge gained in an art history program might lead you into a teaching profession. As an art teacher, you will be tasked with discerning art knowledge in academic and museum settings. 
  • Museum Administrators 
    A master’s degree in art history places you in a prime position to pursue a museum administration career. The museum administrator manages the day-to-day operations of the facility and oversees the collection, storage, and display of artifacts and artworks. They also supervise the museum staff to ensure efficiency. 

Other typical jobs done by art history graduates include:

  • Art publishing 
  • Auctioneer 
  • Art authenticator 
  • Post-secondary professors 
  • Multimedia artist 

What Are the Best Minors to Pair with An Art History Major for Future Employment? 

Art history students need to take advantage of the various interdisciplinary minors related to art history majors to help take advantage of the vast employment options in their future careers. Some of these minors include: 

  • Arts management: Students considering careers in museums and art galleries should pursue an arts management minor. 
  • Chinese Studies: Chinese culture is one of the rapidly developing cultures in the world. This minor will help you establish a strong command of the Chinese language. 
  • Classical Studies: This minor will help students who seek to familiarize themselves with classical cultures. 
  • Design thinking: Students considering a career path in art design should pair this minor with their majors. The minor helps develop multi-disciplinary skills needed to convey ideas through oral, written, or visual representations. 

Other minors of interest include: 

  • History 
  • Art and visual technology 
  • Women and gender studies 
  • Italian studies 

Bottom Line 

Arts history degree programs are some of the oldest degree programs offered by institutions of higher learning. Art history has interesting subjects that help teach and train students to analyze sensual and visual evidence found in artifacts and a wide range of artworks. This evidence is usually interpreted to help identify the artwork’s contexts, including its cultural and geographical settings, the influencing factors for its creation, the artist, and its symbolism. These aspects make art history an interesting subject that individuals intrigued with diverse cultures and art should pursue. 

Also, the skills and knowledge earned by pursuing the degree program unlock a wide range of career opportunities. For instance, an art history student might choose to work as a museum curator, education curator, government curator, museum administrator, art teacher, post-secondary professor, among other lucrative careers. Art history is also crucial to the modern world. It helps art historians learn about diverse cultures, including Chinese culture, the rapidly growing culture, American culture, western culture, and ancient cultures. By doing so, they can identify the relationship between these cultures and how they have evolved. 

With the vast number of art and art history degree programs offered in liberal arts colleges and history colleges, it is always challenging to narrow down to the most appropriate choice. However, we believe you can now make the right choice with the provided information in this article. Finally, after reading this, you now have the discretion to consider a bachelor’s degree in art history.

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