Road to Art History: Milestone Map
The museum’s head conservator wanted to find a path that integrated her diverse interests in language, art, culture, and travel. She discovered an online art history master’s program could combine all her passions and launch an appealing career.
Excelled in chemistry and Italian in high school
Majored in art history, minored in chemistry
Studied abroad in Europe; visited historic art sites and museums
Got an internship as a conservator’s assistant
Online Graduate Degree
Earned an online Master’s in art history, specializing in conservation
Scored a position as an art conservator at the city art museum
How Do Online Art History Programs Work?
Art history is an enriching and potentially lucrative field of study for a range of people—whether they are interested in documenting and preserving art works, curating museums, teaching art or even entering a seemingly unrelated field, like medicine or finance. However, traditional art history programs don’t suit everyone’s needs, especially when it comes to finding nearby graduate degree programs with the right art history focus. The ability to attend school from anywhere is one of the many benefits of earning an art history degree online.
Beyond convenience, online education affords students flexibility that traditional programs usually can’t, and because students don’t have to commute, pay for parking or go to cafes between classes, earning a degree online can save money, too. Art history students who earn their degrees online also cut costs by not having to rent an on-campus studio space. Instead, they can complete studio-based courses from their homes or personal studios with the guidance of an academic advisor.
Most accredited online art history programs follow the same curricula as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, so students can be confident that they are getting a quality education when studying online. Various learning platforms and tools allow students to effectively communicate with their peers and professors whenever they want, not just during prescribed classroom time. Students often complete course materials and assignments at their own pace, but some courses may have students participate in live lectures or group discussions online via webcam. Other programs, especially at the graduate level, may require internships or residencies where students spend a specific period of time on campus as part of their studies. Students should find out before applying if their online programs have on-campus components needed for graduation.
Online Degree Types for Art History
Prospective students may decide to study art history at various points in their academic or professional careers. Luckily, there are online art history degree programs to suit those who are just out of high school as well as those with extensive professional or educational experience who want to expand their knowledge and pursue higher-level careers. Take a look below to learn about different online art history degree programs that may be available.
Students seeking online bachelor’s degrees in art history typically have two options: a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of fine arts (BFA).
A BA in art history is designed to give students an overview of art history and related topics along with a comprehensive general education. Through electives and general education courses, BA students have the opportunity to explore disciplines outside their major while still focusing on art history. Students who earn an online BA in art history may be prepared for art history-related careers and internships, as well as opportunities in a variety of other professional or academic fields.
A BFA in art history focuses more on specialized art education. Students still have to take general education courses, but they may have fewer options regarding which general education courses are available to them, since specific, major-enhancing ones may be required. Students getting a BFA in art history tend to get a practical education in art along with a comprehensive exploration of art history. Graduates will be prepared to pursue careers in art history, Master of Fine Arts degrees and doctorate degrees.
A master’s degree is a great opportunity for students to expand on their undergraduate experience and get an in-depth education in art history or an art history-related concentration, like modern art of arts education. Some master’s programs may require students to have backgrounds in art history, either through their degrees or select coursework, but many accept applicants from a variety of educational backgrounds. Programs may require students to complete internships or on-campus residencies, where they can gain hands-on experience, visit museums and galleries or participate in studio time. Online art history master’s degree programs prepare students for PhD studies and advanced art history careers. Those focusing on arts education may or may not have to get additional credentials to become teachers, depending on the program.
A PhD degree is the highest educational credential students can earn. Not only can a doctorate in art history advance students’ understanding of specific art history concentrations and provide them opportunities to contribute to scholarly research and literature, many institutions require that prospective art history professors hold PhD degrees in a related field. Because PhD students tend to work either part- or full-time, many PhD programs are designed to be completed part-time. This means that earning a PhD in art history can be a considerable time commitment, depending on how much time students need to complete their required thesis. During their time of study, PhD students will get a highly in-depth education in their area of focus, often with hands-on learning, the aid of an advisor and internships.
Art History Online Curriculum
Art has a deep history, and as a result, online art history courses cover a wide range of topics and eras. Depending on their areas of interest or concentration, students can take many different art history courses, including the following:
Ancient and Medieval Art
This course provides a comprehensive study of architecture, sculpture, and painting from the ancient through Gothic periods with emphasis on aesthetic values and historical implications, iconographic and symbolic significance.
In modern art courses, students analyze the work and thought of major masters of twentieth-century painting, sculpture, architecture and photography.
Writing Art Criticism
Students will learn a variety of strategies for interpreting and building meaning and experiences in visual art, and they will learn how to effectively communicate their analyses in writing.
History of Photography
History of photography focuses on the development of photography as an artistic form. Courses may explore how a photograph communicates its visual message, its function as a historical tool, photographic movements and specific photographers.
Online art history students may have the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in practical settings, gaining experience and mentorship from museum curators, archivists or art conservationists.
Narrowing Down Your Online Options
Students can make choosing an online art history school easier by considering what is most important to them in a degree program. Here are some things prospective art history students should consider when narrowing down their online program options:
- Figure out what degree level you plan to pursue and whether the school offers it at a time that works for you.
- Make sure you meet GPA and other requirements, like professional experience or minimum education level.
- Learn about the concentrations or focus areas different programs offer and see if they interest you.
- Be sure the online school you choose is accredited.
- Look into what internship, residency or studio requirements the program has, and be sure you are available to attend them.
- Find out if the school offers support services, like career and technology help, to online students.
- Check the school’s or program’s financial aid options and whether you qualify for them.
- Make sure you can afford the program without too much stress.
Accreditation for Art History Programs
Students can help ensure they get a quality art history education by attending an accredited institution. Accreditation is an optional, comprehensive evaluation of schools’ adherence to certain quality standards. It’s important that students attend accredited online schools because employers tend to trust accredited institutions more, and students can only receive federal financial aid if they attend an accredited school.
Different bodies can provide accreditation, and they often have varying standards, so it’s helpful for students to look into how schools and programs earn their accreditation. There are national art school accreditors, like the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, that assess the quality of online and on-campus arts programs. Many schools earn approval through regional accrediting bodies, which prospective students can learn more about in our complete accreditation guide.
For additional information on accreditation for art schools, take a look at our comprehensive online arts schools page.
From Bachelor’s to Master’s: Art History Timeline
Keeping track of the tasks they need to complete before beginning an online art history degree program can help keep students from getting overwhelmed during the application process. Making a schedule of important dates can keep prospective students on track with crucial deadlines and application requirements. Below is an example schedule for a prospective online masters of arts student who recently earned a bachelor’s degree.
||Time Before Program Start Date
Graduate from bachelor’s degree program
Begin entry-level arts job
Request recommendation letters and write personal statement and letter of intent
Apply for desired M.A. programs in art history
Complete FAFSA®, apply for and secure financial aid like grants, loans and scholarships
It’s never too early for students to begin preparing for their educations and careers. Taking some preparatory steps before beginning their degree programs can help art history students get the most out of their online educations:
- Joining a professional organization that specializes in your interests or area of study, like archiving, curating or art education.
- Learn a foreign language. Proficiency in a European foreign language is helpful in art studies and may even be required by some programs.
- Volunteer or work at a local art museum or gallery.
- Travel if you can. Studying abroad in high school or during undergraduate studies can give student the opportunity to see famous artworks and learn about their historical context.
- Go for an internship. Many art history-related jobs require prior hands-on experience in a related field, and the skills you learn can also help your studies.
- Familiarize yourself with online galleries. Knowing how to navigate these sites will quicken the process if it’s needed during your degree program.
Opportunities for the Art History Graduate
Studying art history can lead to a wide scope of related careers. Most of these careers deal with sharing, preserving, studying and educating others about works of art, but the specifics of how those things are accomplished can vary quite a bit. Those who study art history may become conservators, which mixes art history with chemistry to preserve pieces of art. Others may take on curatorial roles, planning exhibits and education programs.
Jobs for historians are expected to increase by 2 percent through 2024, so those with higher education levels and related experience will tend to be more desirable candidates for employers. Prospects for archivists and conservators are higher, with a 7 percent and 8 percent projected increase, respectively. Conservators can expect a 5 percent job increase, while postsecondary art teaching jobs are expected to rise 11 percent by 2024.
||National Median Annual Salary (2014)
||Minimum Education & Licensure
||Research and analyze artworks to put them into historical context and contribute to understanding their significance.
||Preserve artistic artifacts by analyzing damage and determining and carrying out treatment plans.
||Plan and direct exhibits in museums and galleries. Curators are in charge of acquiring, storing and displaying art.
||Preserve and keep records of artworks and their historical significance.
|Art History Professor
||Teach art history at the postsecondary level.
Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014)
Certifications for Art Historians
Becoming certified in certain disciplines can make art history graduates more appealing to employers. For those who can’t find certifications in their concentration, many professional associations offer continuing education programs that show employers a willingness to stay up-to-date on their knowledge and qualifications.
The Academy of Certified Archivists offers certification for archivists who have mastered the skills and knowledge needed to practice modern archiving. Applicants must pass an exam, which is offered yearly.
The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute offers fellowships and internships that will enhance conservation professionals’ and students’ professional qualifications and skills.
- Museum Professional Training:
The International Council of Museums (ICOM), a global organization promoting museum excellence, offers professional training and development to those who work in museums.
Similar Online Art Programs
If you’re interested in the arts but aren’t sure that art history is right for you, take a look at these related online degree programs.
Online Architecture Degrees:
Those interested in planning, designing and constructing buildings and community areas might want to consider pursuing an online degree in architecture.
Online Landscape Architecture Degrees:
Landscape architecture is a good option for students interested in natural and man-made outdoor landscapes, designing parks, yards, and sustainable design projects.
Online Fashion Merchandising Degrees:
Prospective students who are curious about the business aspects of the fashion industry, like marketing, buying and selling, might want to look into degrees in fashion merchandising.
Many professional associations and other resources can serve as great tools for prospective students wanting to learn more about various aspects of art history and its related careers.