Post Alum: After the Bachelor’s Degree

Ozias Leduc, "The Young Student" (also called "The Young Reader"), 1894

This is a bit of an atypical post for my blog, but I think that it is a necessary one to write. As a professor, I sometimes have students asking for advice about getting a job with a degree in art history. These students come to me with varying degrees of preparedness, based on what studies and internships they completed as an undergrad.

I thought I would write a bit of my own experience transitioning to a job. As an undergraduate, I knew that I would like to either go into the museum industry or teach. To be safe, I made sure that I had experience interning at a museum before I graduated. I got an academic internship at my university’s art museum when I was in my senior year. I knew that I would need further education for either career path, so I planned on immediately entering graduate school after finishing my B.A. During the summer before entering graduate school, I found that my university was hiring curatorial assistants for a historical exhibition in one of their buildings. I worked as a curatorial assistant for a few months with this group, and then completed a fellowship at a local art museum during my first year as a graduate student. I also had the opportunity to work as a T.A. and lecturer while I was in graduate school. In terms of academics, I also applied to and spoke at two different art history conferences as a graduate student.

Still, despite this experience, it took me almost a year to land a job after I finished graduate school. I finally found a job after directly contacting art history professors at local universities. Although there wasn’t an immediate teaching position open, I was able to personally introduce myself (and therefore meet some of my future colleagues) after I attended an art history lecture that was open to the public. Soon after, a position opened up and the department contacted me to determine my interest. If there is anything that I would recommend to job seekers in academia, it is to try and build a relationship with the universities and professors who are located in your area. I would attend public lectures, write emails, perhaps meet up, and then afterward keep in contact. And if you are invited to teach for only one school term, make sure that you continue to touch base with your colleagues or the head of the department at that institution.

As for those undergraduate students or graduates with a bachelor’s degree, there are several options of career paths to consider. I’m including some suggestions and links that I found useful when I was looking for a job.

  • If you are still in school, I would recommend that you do all that you can to build up your resumé. Get good grades! Complete an internship or a fellowship! Apply for a research grant! Apply to speak at a conference! Try to publish a paper! Get involved in research that is unusual or highly innovative, to make you stand out among other job seekers. The more that you do while you are in school, the more you will improve your chances of finding work. I imagine that most undergraduate students who land positions in museums are hired because they completed internships at a museum while they were in school or just after they completed school.
  • From personal experience, I would recommend that if you want to go into the museum industry, I would try to land a position at a smaller institution. Smaller museums have smaller staff, which means that there will be more cross-over of responsibilities for staff members. If you want to build up experience in more than one area of the museum (like education, development, or curatorial departments), you can likely do that by working at a small museum.
  • For those who are considering going to graduate school, I would recommend looking at the .pdf file Applying to Graduate School in Art History (A Non-Definitive Guide) by Caravaggista. Keep in mind that most museum and academic positions will require at least a master’s degree. You also don’t need to get a PhD in art history or architectural history, though, if you don’t want to go that route. Remember that graduate school studies include conservation, restoration, library and archival work, curatorial work, etc.
  • Check out the “Career Alternatives for Art Historians” site. Be aware that teaching and museum work are not the only options for art historians. This site contains information about other career paths, as well as recommendations for job postings.
  • Career Center for CAA (College Art Association). These job listings are usually focused in North America. The “advanced search” function lets you filter jobs in relation to your degree level. You will need to have a CAA membership in order to access the full listing, but you can get an idea of the listing (or determine the institution listing the position) from this open site.
  • Association of Art Historians lists jobs available in the UK
  • New York Foundation for the Arts lists jobs across US
  • ArtJobs lists nationwide jobs in US
  • Higher Ed Jobs lists jobs available in various institutions for higher education
  • The American Alliance of Museums lists job openings
  • Follow the job listing sites for specific museums, galleries, auction houses and educational institutions. Even if a position is not listed, it doesn’t hurt to send your resumé or CV to one of the contacts listed on their site. Try to contact the person who is located in the department in which you would like to work.
  • Check to see if your city or municipality has government jobs for people in the arts. For example, the city of Seattle lists job opportunities under the Office of Arts & Culture site.
  • Network! Social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter can be helpful in building contacts and sending out your interest in work.

All this being said, I realize that finding a job with a degree in art history can be very, very difficult. I know from personal experience. I want art history majors to be realistic about the difficulties that they probably will face after graduation, but also encourage them to study something which can enrich their lives. Keep in mind that even if you do end up following a different career path after receiving your bachelor’s degree, it doesn’t mean that your undergraduate education was a waste. The analytical and writing skills that you develop in art history will prove useful in lots of different fields. And remember: Once an art historian, always an art historian! Good luck!

(If anyone has other links or suggestions for students and recent graduates, please leave them in the comments below!)

  • Hels says:

    I agree with what you say about getting a wider range of responsibilities in a smaller museum, rather than a larger, more rigidly structured museum. Better contacts and wider experience!

    I would add one more thought. Any undergraduate degree is, almost by definition, theory based. If an art history graduate hopes to work outside academe, an additional practice-based one year diploma will be very valuable e.g museum studies, curatorship, valuations for art auctions etc.

  • Hels, that’s a great thought! I agree that a practice-based diploma or certificate can be very valuable for a lot of professions related to art. In the United States, many states require educators for children and teenagers to have an additional teaching certificate (even in addition to a master’s degree). If someone in the United States wants to teach a college-prep art history course to teenagers (like AP Art History in high school), they will probably need to get a secondary education certificate.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.