Career Guide to JMU Majors: Art History
Art History is a major offered by the School of Art, Design & Art History, a program within the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
Admission and Progression Standards:
Visit the Major Snapshots site to learn more about the admission and progression standards of this major.
Description of Major
Art History students become acquainted with the art history of all cultures, identify work within major style periods and cultures, and describe, analyze and interpret the form and content of individual works of art in relation to the cultures from which they originate. Students can concentrate in Museum Studies to learn the role and function of museums in society and the ways in which museums reflect and perpetuate the values of the cultures that create them. Students will also understand at least three major historical periods of art in detail, become familiar with art history theory and methods of analysis and criticism, and research and write about significant artists, artistic events, periods and artistic concepts. Students intending to major in Art History are not required to submit a portfolio or additional material for review. A student may also declare a minor in studio art.
Tell me more about this field of study
The Art History area offers all students the opportunity to study the history of the visual arts in their cultural and social context. Courses in Western art (Western Europe and America) from Ancient to Modern times, as well as African Art and other selected non-Western fields, are regularly offered. Students will learn to describe, analyze, and interpret the form and content of works of art. They will become familiar with art history theory, methods of analysis and art criticism. In addition, they will gain valuable experience in writing and researching in the field of art history. It is also the mission of the art history program to educate students with a global perspective. Art History students are encouraged to take advantage of the year-round JMU Studies Abroad programs. The program also advocates interdisciplinary study in other humanistic disciplines and actively supports students who double major with other related fields. A new Museum Studies concentration offered in the major enables students to research museum practices as well as experience applications of these practices in several exhibition, gallery, and museum settings on campus. The Museum Studies concentration also supports those students who are interested in internships offered through various cultural institutions throughout the region.
Tell me more about specialization
Although there are a multitude of career paths art history graduates can pursue, common careers of interest include art historians, museum curators, conservators, collections officers, registrars, educators, docents, development officers and membership officers. Art historians seek to understand the world through the history of its art and the social and cultural context of artists and their work. Museum curators care for and interpret all objects in the museum and for research on the collections. They recommend the acquisitions and removals of art works from the collection. Conservators scientifically analyze museum objects to prevent deterioration and repair these objects as needed. They also keep objects in the collection at the proper temperature, humidity and protect objects from pollution, insects and harmful light exposure. Collection officers supervise, number, catalog, and stores museum objects within each section of the museum. Registrars are in charge of cataloging each object in the collection and maintaining proper documents such as insurance and the copyright and reproduction rights for art pieces. Educators develop, implement, and oversee the formal and informal teaching programs of the museum with the goal of increasing the public’s understanding of the art collection. Docents serve as tour guides to visitors who provide rich descriptions of art objects and the history of each piece. Docents are usually trained by educators and they in turn may train volunteer docents. Development officers raise funds to finance the museum through the solicitation of individuals and corporations for donations of money. This person would plan, coordinate, and implement all fundraising programs. Membership officers have the responsibility of attracting new members, retaining existing membership in the museum, and organizing special events and programs for the members.
Common majors or minors that complement this major
There are no common combinations but some examples may include: Africana Studies, Anthropology, Art, Asian Studies, Biology, Communication Studies, Creative Writing, Cultural Communication, Educational Media, English, Historical Archaeology, History, Media Arts and Design, Psychology, and Theater & Dance.
Students who show an inherent interest in various forms of art, have strong interpersonal skills, excellent oral and writing skills, are able to think analytically and possess a healthy curiosity, do well in art history coursework.
Many graduates choose typical career paths associated with this major. However, some graduates choose unrelated careers that utilize skills and experiences developed during their years in college. Keep in mind, that some fields will require graduate study or further training. The listing below offers examples of possible career paths and is not meant to be comprehensive.
Who employs graduates?
Advertising Agencies, Archives, Art Studios, Auction Houses, Book Publishers, Colleges/Universities, Galleries, Historical Societies, Historic Preservation Firms, Libraries, Magazine Publishers, Media Organizations, Museums, Newspapers, and Performing Arts Centers. Government Agencies such as Institute of Museum Services, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Arts, National Gallery of Art, National Museum of African Art, National Museum of American Art, Hirshhorn Museum, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Art History curriculum includes experiential practica and internship courses that expose students to the wide range of work conducted in museums, including curatorial, collections management, conservation, education, design and installation, media and public relations, publications, development and administration. Museums regularly employ interns. The School of Art, Design and Art History sponsors internships at artWorks Gallery, Sawhill Gallery, and the Madison Art Collection which are a great way to gain experience. Art History majors and minors are encouraged to participate in summer internship experiences in museums, historic houses, and galleries. Students should consult with their advisors about internship opportunities.
What are JMU graduates doing with this major?
A Day in the Life of a Curator
Career Alternatives of Art Historians
Curators, Museum Technicians, and Conservators
Museum Technicians and Conservators
Museum Work – Put Your Skills on Exhibit
A broad range of resources on career fields, internships, and job search information is also available in the Career & Academic Planning Resource Center.
A few titles from our Resource Center related to this field include:
Make an appointment with a CAP career counselor to learn more about this major and your career options.
© Career & Academic Planning, James Madison University, 2013