WHAT IS ART HISTORY?
Art history is the study of objects of art in their historical and stylistic contexts. It includes the study of painting, sculpture, and architecture as well as the "minor" arts of ceramics, furniture, and other decorative objects. It isn't just about 'classical' Art - contemporary art, street art and graffiti, art installations and performance art are all subjects for study.
A common misconception is that you have 'to be good at Art' to do Art History. You don't. History of Art has nothing to do with personally producing Art - its about the study of the history of Art, the why/how/when of Art, not 'how to draw'.
Art history as we know it in the 21st century began in the 19th century but has precedents that date to the ancient world. Like the analysis of historical trends in politics, literature, and the sciences, the discipline relies on interpreting and analysing the written word, but art historians also rely on formal visual analysis, and more 'academic' techniques such as semiotics, psychoanalysis and iconography.
WHY STUDY ART HISTORY?
Interested in the visual arts? If you’d like to learn more about the history and theory of arts – painting, sculpture, photography, prints, architecture, installations and video art – then the History of Art is for you. In involves studying the context of that object - what was the historical, political and cultural reasons for its production and why is it valued today?
The study of visual culture can be especially rewarding, enabling a deeper understanding of how and why art works and why objects look as they do. Studying History of Art will develop skills of analysis and interpretation that are highly valued by employers in the creative industries. History of Art graduates are widely employed in teaching, journalism, publishing, TV, Film and Radio production, museums, galleries, the heritage industry and many other roles.
No two History of Art courses will be exactly the same. You need to read the course descriptions for each Uni very carefully and choose those that best reflect your individual interests. Some will be more practical or vocational than others, and will contain more training on practical skills for either working in an Auction House or Gallery setting. Other courses will be more focussed on the academic theory of Art production and consumption.
Individual units will concentrate on skills as an historian, a genre of work or a 'school' of painting, an historical period or a contextual issue. Therefore you could be studying units entitled 'Studying the Past' (awareness of history and art history as a discipline), American Impressionism or The Arts and Crafts Movement (genres or schools of Art), Renaissance Italy (an historical period), Art and Empires or The Politics of Art in the 21st Century (the study of the production and consumption of Art within a particular context). You may also be able to do language units, contextual social history or cultural history units, practical courses in gallery management, archaeology or art conservation.
Some courses will include practical work placements or internships (highly valued by employers). Some will have the opportunity for study in Europe or further afield - again this is well regarded by employers.
Teaching is usually provided through lectures, seminars and individual or group research work. Since the first-hand study of works of art is vital, you may find that lectures and classes involve visits to museums and galleries, and you may even be taught by curatorial staff and other visiting experts.
Assessment varies according the University but will usually include formal exams, coursework assessment through essays and project work, plus a piece of personal research usually called a dissertation or extended essay.
History of Art is offered at a very wide range of different Universities. They will all have different entry requirements in terms of A level grades/subjects and GCSE grades. A good place to look to see where the subject is offered is WHAT UNI. This will also list courses that offer Art History in combination with another subject and has a useful filter to identify courses with requirements that match your predicted grades or points.
Entry requirements are very wide - ranging from Cambridge (A*AA) and the Courtauld Institute (AAB) to Oxford Brookes (BBC) to Manchester Met (240 UCAS points). Whilst most Art History courses do not specify A level subjects, in order to show your commitment to studying this subject, A levels such as History, Art, Literature, Drama, Languages, Classics, Philosophy etc are advisable.
Art History is a common subjects for a combined or joint subject degree. Connected degree subjects include Classics/Classical Studies, History, Ancient History, Cultural Studies, Fine Art, Film Studies or an 'area study' such as American Studies, Middle Eastern Studies or Liberal Arts.
UCAS Form & Personal Statement
Art History is an academic subject. It involves not just appreciating art in all its forms but also being able to read and write about it. If you havn't enjoyed subjects like English Literature, History, Politics, Philosophy etc at school, then its unlikely you will enjoy studying this subject. A high level of 'literate' understanding is vital to show in your Personal Statement. What have you read about Art History? What public lectures have you attended? What Art genres and movements particularly interest you - and why?
You also obviously need to show why you want to study a course involving Art, rather than a conventional History or Classics degree. What is is about studying Art (in all its forms) that you enjoy? What Galleries have you visited that made a particular impression on you? Why would you like to work in this area?
One Russell Group University states this as its criteria for admission : "We consider the personal statement to be vital in terms of providing clear indications of the applicant’s suitability for the course. We are looking for evidence of: • interest in and commitment to the subject, indicated by examples of wider reading or visits discussed with some critical engagement; • appropriateness of the chosen course in relation to declared interests and aspirations, including other disciplines studied. In particular we value evidence of the ability to carry out independent research; • evidence of critical thinking and analytical skills allied to a good standard of written English and clarity of expression within the Personal Statement itself; • interest in other connected subjects such as literature, design, textiles, languages, general history, and production of cultural art forms; • non-academic achievement and experience, including extra-curricular activities and voluntary or paid employment, especially if history-of-art related; • Applicants should be able to demonstrate their interest in the subject through relevant independent reading, museum and gallery visits, and personal research."
Graduate Destinations and Career Prospects
Graduates will have gained a historical and critical awareness of paintings, sculpture and architecture, learning about great works of art from the Renaissance to the present day. Unsurprisingly, jobs as curators in museums or galleries, arts administrators, heritage officers or auctioneers are popular, but you will find Art History graduates in a thousand other roles and careers as well.
What skills will you have you gained? Key transferable skills highly prized by employers include visual and critical awareness, problem solving and time management. You will also have developed effective written and oral communication skills, be adept at analysing and interpreting information from a range of sources, and be able to work independently.
- Art, Music and Drama Study Help Forum - get help with homework and coursework or just ask general academic questions about history of art here.
- Fine Art Uni Course Forum - thinking of applying for history of art courses at uni? Asks your questions here.
- Get help with your course with these University level History of Art revision notes.