15 Jobs for Art History Majors

Curators, conservators, consultants, and more

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The Balance/Catherine Song, 2019

Most people think of an art history major as a path to a job in a gallery or, if they're cynical, as a path to unemployment. But many career paths and jobs are open to art history majors—whether they're into Giotto, Monet, or Georgia O'Keeffe.

Take a look at your favorite museum’s staff list and you’ll see every type of career— from fundraising and marketing to facility operations and art restoration. There may be just one or a handful of curators, but the rest of the staff includes dozens of employees who handle everything else—including taking tickets, installing exhibits, writing the exhibit guide, and planning large-scale fundraisers. Nearly all of them have art or art history backgrounds.

Working in a Gallery

Jobs in museums, including curators and archivists, are expected to grow at a rate of about 13% through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This rate of growth is nearly twice the average for all industries combined. BLS cites continued interest in museums and cultural centers as reasons for the growth.

As of 2018, BLS reported the median annual salary for curators was $53,780. It is $51,760 for archivists, $40,670 for technicians and conservators, $52,960 for those in educational services, and $49,430 for government jobs.

Many museums or other historical sites that might hire art history majors receive government funding, so during times of recession when funding is limited, the job market might tighten.

Jobs Outside a Gallery

It's important to think outside the gallery, too. Walk into any swanky hotel or restaurant and you’ll see a wide variety of original art. Someone chose those portraits, paintings, and sculptural pieces, and it likely wasn’t the chef or hotelier. It was an art consultant or gallery curator, a trusted go-between who found or commissioned paintings and sculptural pieces to fit a specific space.

Art consultants typically have at least a bachelor's degree or master’s degree in art history, expertise in interior design and architecture, and a wide-ranging acquaintance with galleries and artists around the world. Many have worked for a gallery or auction house.

However, what sets apart art consultants is their skill in intuiting and interpreting the preferences of clients not particularly savvy about art. They find the appropriate pieces and broker deals to acquire them. It’s freelance work unless you work for a large art consultant such as Artefact Hotel Art Consultants in London or MFI in New York City.

Careers to Consider

Studying art history certainly brings with it a knowledge of art and helps develop an appreciation for art, but there are other broader skills it encourages and develops. Among those are analytical and critical skills and attention to detail, valuable assets in many fields. If a job directly related to art is a priority, consider these 15 jobs for art history majors:

  1. Gallery curator: This, for many art history majors, is the target career. It typically requires a Ph.D. and extensive experience.
  2. Art conservation and restoration: This requires skills specific to maintaining older pieces of art susceptible to damage. It also often involves restoring works of art that already have sustained damage. Knowledge of art and artists is necessary to do good restoration work.
  3. Museum marketing and public relations: For art history majors who also might have minored in communication (or vice versa), this can be a good combination of skills for work at a museum or with another arts organization.
  4. Art law and law enforcement, including the FBI's forgery team: Opportunities for this option are more limited than jobs as a curator, but for those with an interest in law enforcement, the FBI maintains a 16-member art crime team. Pursuing this option would require becoming an FBI agent.
  5. Art consultant for a hotel or corporation: This kind of work often is done on a contract basis. Instead of working for one hotel or corporation, someone might work for themselves, seeking out multiple businesses as clients. This kind of career requires extensive experience and knowledge.
  6. Artist management and representation: In addition to knowledge of art and artists and the marketplace, good business skills are a must. The person in this position typically handles business affairs for artists.
  7. Museum facilities operations: Museums need someone to manage the actual facility, from business to maintenance. While that can be done by professionals without art history backgrounds, it's helpful to have that knowledge and background.
  8. Museum fundraising and development: Somewhat similar to marketing and public relations, this is a position that requires people with the skills to convince donors that a local museum is a good investment.
  9. Special events planner for a museum or other arts organization: Event planning is a separate skill and a separate career. Someone with a background in art history can put that to use planning events for arts-based organizations.
  10. Antiquarian book dealer: This requires extensive knowledge of rare books. A good start is becoming a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America.
  11. Antique dealer: It's beneficial to have experience in an auction house to get a position as an antique dealer. Time spent in the business is the best way to develop knowledge of relevant markings.
  12. Art and estate appraisal for an auction house or private firm: This career requires being certified in art appraisal studies, and good research skills also are a must.
  13. Art investment consultant: Knowledge of the value of works and market trends is necessary for this career. Good business skills and experience also are vital.
  14. Art museum website design: Art history majors can combine their knowledge of art with their web design skills—if they have them—to create a website that captures the essence of the museum.
  15. Exhibit installation: A bachelor's degree often is sufficient for installation jobs, and some mechanical aptitude is beneficial. This is a good opportunity to get experience in the field.