To be honest, you probably read the title of this and thought ‘oh god, not that question again’. We’ve all been there, especially when your degree is not a mainstream one. Following a chat with one of my fellow art historians, I have come to the conclusion that career paths, unless you know what you want to do, are terrifying things. Hence my reason for writing this blog on what an art history degree can do for you.
Let’s get it out there and start with the most obvious: you can work in a museum. Be that an art museum, an archaeological one, an architectural one, a natural history one, literally any. You can also work in any time period, from the Anglo-Saxons to the contemporary. Even though my personal preference is the 17th (ish) century, this degree doesn’t stop me going for a job in the Museum of Modern Art, if I ever wanted one/if they ever want me…
Staying in the field of institutions, you could end up curating exhibitions if that’s what you want. This is my dream job and I know that it is fairly convivial, but I’ll somehow make it happen! The degree also opens you up to voluntary curatorship work, such as in York Art Gallery and in the onsite Norman Rea Gallery.
A lot of our tutors still take time out now to undergo research as part of their career. Every now and again a tutor will be on research leave, meaning that they are out of the department studying their field in great depth. We have staff researching topics such as Experimental Film and Video, cultural histories of measurements in medieval and Renaissance Italy, and the Pre-Raphaelites – which just goes to show the depth of variation that this degree brings. You can also go out and research whatever takes your fancy after completing the degree. I’m thinking about going on to research the influence of the Renaissance on painting and sculpture in Europe in the 17th century after I finish my degree.
Reading a lot of books in this degree does lead one nicely into a literature career. For one module, which tends to be 10 weeks long, you end up reading around 30 different texts (three a week, ish). Times this by two for the two modules a term, and then by three for the three terms a year, and that equates to a whole load of books. More than I can count anyway, which is why I do history of art and not maths… But anyway, you end up becoming very familiar with what makes a good piece of writing, and what doesn’t. This might mean that you choose to write your own book, amalgamating all the stuff you’ve read (and that interests you) into your own argument. Many of our tutors have their own books, and a lot of them are very good reads.
What about a PhD, Masters or a Postgraduate course? Those words don’t make that much sense to me, but I know that there’s sometimes nothing better to do than extending your education when you have no other idea of what to do. The university provides loads of postgraduate courses, so it’s worth checking these out when you fancy being scared by your future. You might even decide to move cities, or even countries.
There’s the saying; ‘if you can’t do *blank*, teach’. Nothing against teaching of course, I completely respect anyone who has the energy and enthusiasm to teach. I can imagine imparting knowledge on art history being very rewarding.
These are all fairly arty and historical, but any employers will look for our traits so I think we could theoretically go for any job out there. We are taught how to present ideas, how to think critically, how to work independently and in a group, how to tackle problems head on and how to analyse big pieces of information to pick out the key parts. To put it simply, any employer would be lucky to have an arts and humanities student on their team.
Keep doing what you’re doing and enjoy it, and the career will find you!