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Why Art History?

Art History is a discipline that seeks to understand different cultures and epochs through the study and analysis of art and architecture as a means of  communication.  We exist in an environment that is filled with the artifacts of human history, architecture, painting, and sculpture. Art History offers the tools to recognize and to understand these forms, and thus is a vital part of any serious liberal arts education.  Art History provides knowledge and understanding of the past, and through it, of the present.  The discipline encourages humanity and sympathy by teaching about other individuals and societies through their visual expression.  Art History provides intellectual confidence gained through learning how to recognize, order, and interpret facts.  In so doing, it  trains one to think and write clearly and to read carefully.  Art History instruction at the secondary school level is sporadic, but common enough for the Educational Testing Service to offer an Advanced Placement exam in the discipline.  Nevertheless most students have not been exposed to Art History in high school.  Take some introductory courses before deciding to major in Art History.  Even if you select another major, do not neglect to add upper level Art History electives that will augment and broaden your major program.

Departmental advisors are often asked about the usefulness of the degree in terms of employment, i.e. is it possible to get jobs in the field?  The more obvious employment applications of a degree in Art History are as a college/university professor or as a museum curator.  Both these occupations require advanced degrees, usually the Ph.D.  To this end, students intending to go on to graduate school would be wise to acquire a reading knowledge of at least German and French.  A reading knowledge of other foreign languages may also be necessary depending on the student's intended area of specialization.  Once a graduate school-bound student has determined which area of the discipline most interests her/him, that student would be well-advised to take related history and literature courses in the appropriate departments.

Rutgers students interested in teaching in secondary schools major in Art History and either simultaneously take courses in the School of Education or go on to do so after graduation, thus allowing them to teach Art History in the limited number of public high schools in which it is offered. (Art History is more commonly taught in private secondary schools.)  For positions in private schools, a B.A. is often sufficient.

Rutgers students with Bachelor's degrees and Master's degrees in Art History have often gone on to law school and found employment in the burgeoning field of art litigation.

Most museum jobs are not curatorial.  Nevertheless, a B.A. in Art History is a desirable qualification for any museum job and is a prerequisite for attending graduate school in  Curatorial Studies.  For majors contemplating employment at a museum, the department affords the opportunity of earning as many as six elective credits as a museum intern (see the section on Internships).  Museums for which the Department of Art History regularly provides interns include not only the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, but also the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum (both in New York and in Venice), the Frick Collection,  the J. Pierpont Morgan Library, and the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian Institution.  Students wanting to serve as museum interns should consult with the departmental undergraduate advisor.

Conservation is another avenue for using a B.A. in Art History.  There are graduate schools, including the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University, that have conservation programs.  Students contemplating this career should be aware that there are scientific prerequisites, often including Organic Chemistry. They are advised to study these subjects, too, at the undergraduate level.

Another direct application of a degree in Art History, and one requiring no graduate training, is to work in a gallery, in the business side of the art world.  Again the Department of Art History sends interns for as many as six elective credits to many of the galleries in the Northeast including the great auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's, as well as to many smaller, more specialized galleries (see the section on Internships ).  In consultation with the departmental undergraduate advisor, every attempt is made to tailor an internship to the career goals of the individual student.

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