What Does an Art Historian Really Do? Insights for Art History Students in Rome

Study Art History in Rome

“Art history is important because it’s our inheritance, and the World’s inheritance. We can see how people not only made work, but felt, saw, thought, and lived.”

So says Tatiana Afonina, a UK-based art historian who aptly sums up what is so fascinating about the study of art. Far more than simply memorizing dates, movements, and the names of artists, art history students are the great explorers of humankind. They are decoders, storytellers, and theorists. Art historians appreciate both the aesthetic beauty of masterpieces, and their capacity to expand our worlds with radical new viewpoints and interpretations of reality.

Given the breadth and scope of this field, it’s no surprise that art historians don’t “do” any one thing. In fact, their specialized skills make them eligible for a range of careers.

Here are just a few ways talented art historians apply their expertise and passion in the professional world.

Art Historians are Teachers

Students who love the idea of sharing the wonders of art with a new generation of enthusiasts might consider pursing a teaching career. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to earn a PhD. If your interest lies in working with young children or teenagers, your Bachelor’s degree combined with a teaching certificate will be enough to qualify for elementary and secondary teaching positions.

Of course, if you would like to further your art history knowledge and dig deeper into a particular area of research, doctoral work – and subsequently university teaching – could be your ideal career path.

Art Historians Work as Museum Curators and Heritage Managers

Undergraduates who study art history in Rome are no doubt already familiar with the curator career path. The Eternal City boasts an impressive collection of museums and galleries, and you have probably already visited a few!

But what is really exciting about pursuing an art history degree in Rome is the prospect of earning an internship at one of these prestigious institutions. John Cabot University (JCU) art history students can apply for internships at the Biblioteca Angelica and the British School at Rome (among others) to get hands-on experience in curation and arts administration.

Check out a recent post on what exactly a curator does for more details on this multi-faceted career.

Art Historians Restore & Conserve Works of Art

Want a more hands-on career in art history? Art conversation and restoration involves cleaning and stabilizing a work of art, so it can live on to inspire and enlighten future generations. A Bachelor’s degree in Art History is one possible path toward graduate study in art restoration and conservation.

If you study in Italy, you will likely visit several famous works of art that have undergone restoration, including Michelangelo’s statue of David, which has been cleaned more than once to remove dirt and grime from its surface. Or, the Sistine Chapel which needed repairs due to cracks and a build-up of soot.

Vatican City (where the Sistine Chapel is located) is just a short bus, cab, or even walk away from JCU’s campus in the neighborhood of Trastevere.

JCU students are surrounded by inspiring art history

JCU students are surrounded by inspiring art history

Art Historians Become Expert Art Appraisers

Art appraisers apply their knowledge of art history and the current art market to authenticate and price works of art. They work with auction houses, museums, insurance companies, and private collectors to determine the fair market value, replacement value, and marketable cash value of select art pieces.

Art appraisers tend to focus on a particular kind of art, artist, or time period. If you’re fascinated by art market trends, and the intriguing business of buying and selling art, you might consider becoming an appraiser after completing your art history degree.

Art Historians Work in NGOs and Foreign Affairs

The ability to read visual culture as historical sources provides Art Historians with skill-sets ideal for jobs in international and/or multicultural settings.

Rarely has the ability to understand the impact of art as cultural identity been more needed than today. As archaeological sites and museums are looted, destroyed or threatened in war zones, art historians are working closely with political, military, religious, and aid organizations to facilitate international relations.

The fundamental ability to read visual culture in context means art historians are ideal in multicultural sectors. Context means: to understand on its own terms, to be sensitive to diverse traditions and aims, to be aware of particular settings – be that an artwork, a group, or a person.

Art Historians Take up Managerial Positions

Communication is visual as never before and art historians know how to manage this language.

You may choose to emphasize your skills as a historian and develop tourist or heritage strategies for individual, local, or national institutions. This is not only a growing economic sector but it is increasingly important that the ‘experience’ conveyed is of the highest quality.

You could also choose to apply your skills as an analyst and go into marketing, advertising, or cultural management. Since art historians are formidable at understanding the impact of an image, they are ideal at devising strategies for visual communication.

Are you inspired to study art history in Italy and begin mapping out your career as an art historian?

Visit John Cabot University to learn more about our Art History program, studio art courses, and museum internships!

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