Reader question: “What does an Art Historian actually do?”
This question doesn’t really have any straightforward answers. Although I call myself an art historian, the term “art historian” doesn’t actually directly indicate a particular profession. In short, it means someone who studies or is an expert in art history.
Here’s a short list of jobs that can fall under the “art historian” umbrella:
- Art museum curator
- Art museum tour guide
- Art history professor
- Author of art history books or journal/newspaper/magazine articles
- Researcher / Research assistant
- Art gallerist (depending on the art gallery)
- Conservator of artworks
- Art history blogger…?
Basically, an art historian has knowledge about and/or works in some capacity with old artworks (that is to say, artworks created before the contemporary period, which started around 1960 – 1980, depending on who you ask). Most art historians will have many different jobs related to this subject matter throughout their lives, and sometimes these jobs only have a tenuous relation to art history.
For example, I call myself an art historian, based on my degree and previous jobs. But my actual full-time profession right now is as gallerist for a contemporary art gallery. Without my art history background, however, my position in this gallery would be completely different. My skills as art historian are essential to what I do, despite my title.
If you’re interested in art history, the good news is that this interest will go a long way. There are a large number of jobs you can occupy that fall under the umbrella term of “art historian”, and there’s an even larger number of jobs where your art history skills will largely influence your position. One of my favourite art historians on TV is Amy Santiago from Brooklyn Nine Nine, who graduated with a degree in art history but works as a cop. The sky’s the limit.