The History of Art is the academic study of art works, including paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and decorative arts, that were created in the past by individuals from various cultures and parts of the world. The study seeks to examine the composition of art pieces as well as the historical surroundings, social and political backgrounds of the artists and users of art to better understand the artistic views and ideas in context. To interpret, understand, and present the artwork within its context, interdisciplinary work should be pursued in history, philosophy, and modern languages, especially German, French and Italian. This work should complement studies of the major periods of art history: Ancient, Medieval, Baroque/Renaissance, and Modern. Students who are interested in careers in the History of Art should be skilled in critical writing, research, and visual recognition in addition to possessing a great appreciation for art itself.
Hopkins offers a Bachelor of Art degree in the History of Art for study of the methodology of art history and of the four major periods of European Art: Ancient. Medieval, Baroque/Renaissance, and Modern. The History of Art program emphasizes the value of investigating works of art in various historical contexts and enables students to deepen their understanding of cultural history. All students take an introductory survey of European Art History and then deepen their understanding of cultural history through courses in another department, which comprise a secondary field that complements advanced courses within the department. Additionally, students must demonstrate intermediate-level proficiency in Italian, French, or German language. The department’s focus on the historical, cultural, and social context of art, combined with the development of critical writing, research, and foreign language skills prepare History of Art graduates for careers in the arts and education and for advanced study in the History of Art.
Graduates with a Bachelor of Arts degree in the History of Art are equipped for a wide range of professional careers outside of cultural and academic institutions. Many careers require a range of skills and abilities and not necessarily a specific major. The ability to interpret social, historical, and political context, combined with the critical and creative thinking skills of the undergraduate History of Art student are valuable traits in any profession.
Within the art world, History of Art graduates seek to interpret and understand works of art of many types, ranging from the monumental to small scale, by learning about artists’ lives and their societies. As Art Historians they work in academic or cultural settings, including universities, public and private museums, and commercial galleries. Their work with art objects ranges from the identification and acquisition, to the preservation and arrangement of objects for exhibition. They use their research skills to interpret and explain the cultural and historical significance of objects and include this information in the descriptions they create for fellow scholars and the general public. As Art Historians, they may also perform such tasks for the Federal, State, and local governments and for private corporations.
A major in the History of Art is not only a sound preparation for any professional field, it may provide a distinct advantage for entry into those fields, given the increasing preference of law, medical, and professional schools for students with a broad intellectual background. Coursework in a secondary or even a third field combined with internships, apprenticeships and directed research prepare the bachelor’s degree History of Art graduate for registration and administrative work with museums and galleries, art criticism and art journalist for general and specialty publications, and art acquisition, sales, and appraisal for auction houses. An advanced degree is required to teach at the collegiate level or to become a curator or director of an art museum.
A few areas of professional specialization for History of Art graduates include:
Collections Management Librarian - Collections Management Librarians provide leadership, planning, and coordination for the management of a specific collection within a library. They are responsible for the selection, acquisition, cataloging, binding/end-processing of objects, analysis of collections, and the development of collections management policies. Many of the libraries are part of a larger library and/or university collections program, and therefore, the librarians will work with other collections managers and librarians.
Visual Resources Coordinator - Visual Resources Coordinators administer the visual resources program of a college or university. This work includes the licensing and management of image collections to support the institution’s curriculum; supporting faculty in their use of still and moving images in classroom instruction; providing general and image-specific reference and instruction to faculty and students; and curating unique visual resource collections of the institution. Visual Resources Coordinators must have knowledge of digital and analog asset management systems and be able to translate analog data to a digital image.
Instructional Designer - Instructional Designers develop and design instructional materials for on-line fine arts courses, podcasts, audio/video supplements, and satellite television courses. They must assess the needs of learners, the educational goals, and settings to determine the most appropriate instructional format for each course they design. Some instructional designers create or edit text, develop audio or video projects, or write computer-programming codes. Most of the work is performed on the behalf of universities and community colleges, government agencies, and training departments of corporations.
Art Critic/Reporter - Art Critics and Reporters analyze, evaluate, interpret, and study works of art and write articles that are published in newspapers, magazines, books, and on web sites. Art critics provide a subjective evaluation of a piece of art or exhibitions, whereas the work of an art reporter is more objective and based on facts. One can work in both roles and provide services to a publication as a member of the staff or as a freelance contributor. Art Critics and reporters help to promote the work of artists, galleries, and museums.
Curator of Education for a Museum - Museum Education Curators make the most of museum collections as learning resources for visitors and the wider community. They develop both curriculum based and interactive learning opportunities for adults and children, scholars and novices, and for fellow museum professionals. Part of their responsibilities may include recruiting, training, and supervising docents in their work to provide lecture and tours for museum visitors, as well as acting as liaison with area schools and research institutions.
Auction House Assistant/Manager - Auction House Assistants work within the various departments of an auction house and perform such tasks as acquiring works for sale at auction, writing catalogues to give an academic description available works, and organizing a specific auction. Some staff members work specifically with appraisals and evaluate the quality, condition, rarity, provenance, and source of a particular piece of art in order to establish its value. Auction House Assistants regularly interact with art dealers, collectors, and administrators of trusts and estates in their work.
Corporate Curator - A Corporate Curator is hired as a staff person within or consultant to a corporation that seeks to acquire fine art for a collection. The curator works with a team of leaders within the corporation to identify, acquire, and place pieces of art for the facilities owned by the corporation. This person is also responsible for the careful maintenance of the collection including record keeping and storage and moving the artwork when necessary. They may also help determine the budget for acquisitions and create educational programming for the staff of the corporation, shareholders, leadership, and for the general public if the collection is substantial.
History of Art graduates also find successful careers outside of cultural and academic settings; many work in jobs that range from advertising and marketing, corporate communications, human services, and publishing. Several positions are as diverse as Public Relations Specialist, Cultural Tour Guide, Artists’ Rights Advocate, Estate Appraiser, and Military Museum Curator for the United States Department of Defense.
Over the next few years, the outlook for careers in the History of Art is expected to grow. Art Historians with a bachelor’s degree will enjoy abundant employment opportunities in a vast array of sectors due to the need for creativity, visual recognition skills, and critical thinking and writing in more industries.
A broad range of studies in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences are incorporated into undergraduate coursework in the History of Art, and undergraduates develop the skills and abilities associated with careers in the field including:
- Attention to Detail
- Interpretive Skills
- Appreciation of Aesthetics
- Communication and Interpersonal Skills
- Presentation/Public Speaking
- Intense Research Skills
- Manual dexterity and physical strength
- Ability to organize large amounts of information and write clear instructions for its retrieval and use
Art historians must have an appreciation of the aesthetics of a wide range of groups and cultures, an understanding of historical, political, and social contexts and knowledge of research methods relevant to the field. This ability combined with professional development coursework in computer science, business management, and marketing enable Art Historians to have a competitive edge in the job market.
An undergraduate major in the History of Art can be combined with a second undergraduate major in History, Archaeology, Film and Media Studies, or with a minor in Museum and Society Studies to broaden the impact of the degree and create a connection to greater career opportunities. An applied knowledge of chemistry, physics, and studio art will strengthen career possibilities for History of Art students. Students should also take advantage of the many workshops available through the Digital Media Center to develop strong computer design skills. Experience with graphic design and web design software such as Adobe Acrobat, InDesign, Dreamweaver, and Photoshop is valued by museums as well as for-profit organizations.
History of Art students should take advantage of Hopkins’ unsurpassed opportunities for the study of art history. Participation in excursions to local institutions in Baltimore and Washington, DC and attendance of lectures with visiting artists and scholars are part of the field observations that will expand their practical knowledge of the discipline. Internships, apprenticeships, and independent research will further enhance the skills, abilities, and experiences of History of Art students.
Listed below are actual job titles that JHU alumni acquired with their degrees in History of Art:
- Artistic Director, Performing Arts
- Brand Manager, Cosmetics Industry
- Computer Systems Architect
- Curator of Manuscripts
- Development Associate, Museum
- Director, Banking and Financial Services
- Education Manager, International Non-Profit
- Financial Advisor
- Freelance Writer/Painter
- Information Assurance Consultant, Defense
- Internet and Product Marketing, Financial Services Industry
- Market Research Analyst, Healthcare Advertising
- Peace Corps Volunteer
- Programmer Analyst
- Senior Specialist, Auction House
- Special Collections Librarian
- Stewardship Coordinator, Museum
- Strategic Communications Consultant
Hopkins Art History alumni go into a variety of career fields. Since 2005 the Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses from the Post-Graduation Survey of History of Art Majors.
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
For more information on what you can do with a History of Art Major go to What can I do with a major in History of Art.
Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Nonprofit, Marketing, and Media & Entertainment.
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For information on the top Graduate programs, the best people to talk to are the experts in the field you wish to study such as faculty members and graduate students in that specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and/or other faculty members with whom you have a good, working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation.
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Student Art League
Hopkins Museum Club - The HMC is a club for museum enthusiasts interested in visiting and volunteering at Baltimore area museums and learning from museum professionals. Email the group president for more details. Contact info is available on the Homewood Student Organizations website.
Art History Graduate Lecture Group - The group organizes a lecture series that brings in 4-6 speakers every year to speak on topics ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The lectures are often interdisciplinary in nature and are open to the public. Email the group president for more details. Contact info is available on the Homewood Student Organizations website.
Additional Professional Associations and Honor Societies include: