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Art History

Overview 

Art History is a major offered by the School of Art, Design & Art History, a program within the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Concentrations

Museum Studies

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 is an interdisciplinary field that offers students multiple ways to understand visual cultures from around the globe, both past and present. The field trains students in visual analysis skills to interpret our world; provides a deep understanding of how the arts can shape and change society; and serves as an exceptional vehicle for hands-on, professional experiences. These include on-campus museum, gallery, exhibition, journalism, media, and archival internships, as well as off-campus professional experiences in arts finance, museums, galleries, auction houses, art conservation, and the public arts, that secure our majors future career opportunities. JMU has one of the strongest programs in experiential learning and arts internships for Art History majors compared to Virginia universities, as well as those elsewhere in the country. JMU’s Art History students graduate with advanced critical thinking skills, the ability to problem solve and collaborate creatively, persuasive writing and communication skills essential for professional success, and accomplished research and analytical skills--all of which are highly sought after in today’s marketplace.

Art History students can further concentrate in Museum Studies for advanced training in museum-related careers. Graduates of the JMU Art History program now serve as Museum and Arts Foundation Directors, Curators, Educators, Media Specialists, Museum Development Officers, and Collections Managers, among the many careers related to the Museum. Student curating of an exhibition, publishing online and in print, and on-site visits to major collections and museums are central to the Museum Studies concentration. Students intending to major in Art History are not required to submit a portfolio or additional material for review.

More About the Field 

The history of art provides a long view of the forces that have informed how and what we see, know, and understand. Visual culture is and always has been a defining force in how people communicate and collaborate. Today visual media – including the Internet and social media – represent and shape some of the most important ideas in the world.

JMU Art History students study arts from around the globe. Our internationally-recognized professors offer one-on-one mentorship to students and represent an incredibly wide range of areas of expertise, from cutting-edge Contemporary Art in the US, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to American art and architecture, including in the American South and across the country, American photography, and public art. The arts of classical Antiquity, the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque Europe, and the Modern era fill out our comprehensive program, along with Islamic, African, and Mesoamerican Art.

JMU Art History majors make lasting connections with JMU alums working around the world, across the U.S. and in our region. At events such as the Art History Student-Alum celebration, held both on-campus and in Washington, DC, majors connect with dedicated Dukes who mentor and inspire our students. After graduation these active professionals aid our students in starting out their new careers.

Study off-campus, both in the US and abroad, allows Art History majors to conduct on-site research and training in some of the world’s greatest art capitals. The Art History major hosts its own Spring Break study program in New York City, focused on Contemporary Global Arts, where NYC galleries, museums, and auction houses connect our majors with leaders in the NYC Art world. Abroad Art History faculty lead programs on Modern Art in Barcelona, Spain; Ancient and Renaissance Art in Rome, Italy; and Modern Art in London, England. One Art History major a year is supported by the Kay Arthur Award for JMU’s summer or semester-long Study Abroad Program in Florence.

Specialization

JMU Art History majors have built successful careers in the public and private sectors, in the commercial art world and the non-profit arena.

Our graduates have achieved highly competitive positions in major museums, including at Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Phillips Collection; Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Monticello in Charlottesville, Roanoke’s Taubman Museum of Art, Williamsburg’s Dewitt Wallace Decorative Art Museum, Winston-Salem’s Reynolda House Museum of American Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the commercial art world, they hold positions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses, and at leading galleries in New York City, including the most successful commercial gallery across the globe, the Gagosian Gallery. Our graduates apply their Art History training to the world of art finance and investment, as well as advising and managing the holdings of private art collectors. They also work as Communications specialists for communications and marketing firms serving the arts, including Resnicow and Associates, NYC.

In the non-profit arena, JMU Art History graduates work for the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC, and Asheville’s Center for Craft, Creativity and Design (NC). JMU alums serve as archivists and collections managers at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in Washington, DC. They also serve as producers at the National Geographic Society.

Many entry-level positions can be obtained with an Art History major combined with a strong record of internship and professional experience. A three- or four-semester Master’s degree is often a stepping stone to more advanced positions. For some fields of Museum curating, and for university faculty positions, the Ph.D. is required.

JMU graduates have an impressive record of entrance and completion of graduate programs, both in Virginia and out-of-state, including with funding. Among these graduate programs are: the Virginia Commonwealth University’s MA in Art History; George Mason University’s MA in Management and Leadership in the Arts; the Smithsonian Associates-George Mason University’s MA in the History of the Decorative Arts; the College of William & Mary’s MA in American Studies; Virginia Tech’s MA in Material Culture and Public Humanities; the Sotheby's Institute of Art MA in Art Business (NYC); Christie's MA in Modern and Contemporary Art and the Market (NYC); Columbia University's MA in Modern and Contemporary Art (NYC); Delaware’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture; Tufts University’s MA in Art History and Curatorial Studies (Boston, MA); Williams College and the Clark Art Institute’s MA in Art History (Williamstown, MA); London’s University of Westminster’s MA in Museums, Galleries, and Contemporary Culture Studies; Queen's University’s Ph.D. in Art History (Ontario, Canada); Rutgers University Ph.D. in Art History (NJ); and the City University of New York-Graduate Center’s Ph.D. in Art History.

Complementary Majors and Minors 

Many Art History majors have taken on a second major or added a minor to enhance their profile depending upon their interests and career plans. Second majors or minors in the School of Art, Design and Art History are common, such as the Art Education Licensure or Studio Art. Other disciplines that enrich student resumes include Foreign Languages, Film Studies, Nonprofit Studies, Educational Media; Communication Studies; Business; Public Policy and Administration; English; History; and Anthropology.

Faculty advisors work closely with students to knit their majors and minors together and to successfully match the interests and goals of every student.

Characteristics of Successful Students

Students with a deep passion for, and interest in, visual analysis, the visual arts and their histories will find success in the Art History major. Faculty mentorship and hands-on professional opportunities, on-campus and off, strongly contribute to student successes.

Careers

  • Art Dealer
  • Arts Archivist
  • Art Appraiser
  • Art Buyer
  • Art Consultant
  • Art Curator
  • Art Director
  • Art Educator
  • Arts Administrator
  • Arts Fundraiser
  • Arts Investment Officer
  • Art Collections Manager
  • Art Conservationist
  • Corporate Art Curator
  • Creative Design Specialist
  • Cultural Affairs Director
  • Development Officer
  • Exhibition Designer
  • Gallery Assistant
  • Gallery Director/ Owner
  • Humanities and Arts Librarian
  • Museum Curator or Director
  • Museum Registrar
  • Arts Public Events Coordinator
  • Public Relations Specialist
  • Publications Manager
  • University faculty member
  • Arts journalist or professional writer

Who Employs Graduates?

Art Museums, Advertising Agencies, Archives, Art Studios, Auction Houses, Book Publishers, Colleges and Universities, Galleries, Historical Societies, Historic Preservation Firms, Libraries, Magazine Publishers, Media Organizations, 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.

Internships and Experiential Opportunities

The School of Art, Design, and Art History sponsors internships available to Art History majors, in the School’s student-run artWorks Gallery and the professional Duke Hall Gallery of Fine Art. Student internships for credit are also offered by the Digital and Special Collections in Carrier Library, the Institute for Visual Studies in Roop Hall, and the Madison Art Collection and the Lisanby Museum of Art in the Festival Center. Art History majors also gain valuable professional experience on campus writing exhibition reviews and arts-related articles for the University’s newspaper, The Breeze, and serving as the Gallery Director or Assistant Director for the Madison Union’s exhibition spaces (work-study); and in the community, interning for the Arts Council of the Valley in downtown Harrisonburg.

Art History majors consistently are awarded off-campus internships in major museums, historic houses, and galleries, including the Smithsonian Museums of American Art, Washington’s National Gallery of Art, Richmond’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, among many others.

Students should consult with their advisors as early as possible to begin work on applying for on-campus and off-campus internship opportunities.  

View our list of internship coordinators for each major.

Career Profiles 

Archivists, Curators and Museum Workers
Museum Technicians and Conservators
Curators
Museum Technicians and Conservators

Research Careers

Visit our Career Outcomes page to find out what alumni were doing right after graduating with this major.

JMU CAREER OUTCOMES


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Copyright

© Career and Academic Planning, James Madison University,

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission from JMU Career and Academic Planning. Content for each major has been written/reviewed by faculty in the respective department and is revised each year. Requests to update content can be submitted to cap@jmu.edu

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