Art historians, also known as art conservators, evaluate, restore and preserve a wide variety of artifacts. They work at art galleries, historical societies, non-profit organizations and museums. Art historians focus on architectural finds, books, historical documents, metals, textiles, fine and decorative arts. They specialize in one area or have general expertise. Art appreciation, detail-orientation, research and writing skills are essential qualities in this art profession.
Art historians document, evaluate, manage and preserve fine art, sculptures, artifacts and archaeological specimens. They use specialized scientific examining processes and equipment such as carbon dating, chemical testing, microscopes and radiographic imagery. Art historians create treatment plans to restore artifacts and reduce environmental deterioration.
Art historians conduct research in their specialty areas, author papers for academic publications and mentor junior historians.
Art historians must earn a bachelor's degree and master's degree with concentrations in art history, conservation or preservation. Graduate programs include on-the-job apprenticeships and training programs.
Aspiring art historians should take courses in archaeology, art history, chemistry, studio art and world history. Undergraduate art conservation internships and reading proficiency in two foreign languages are beneficial.
Successful art historians must have good documentation skills, curiosity, research ability and a sensitive touch to handle rare artifacts and delicate examining equipment. They must be able to lift heavy objects and walk long distances. Frequent domestic and foreign travel are required to evaluate artwork and archaeological sites.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, art conservators earned a mean hourly wage of $19.59 and a mean annual salary of $40,750, as of May 2008. Art conservators earned mean annual salaries ranging from $22,320 for the lowest 10 percent of earners to $66,060 for the highest 10 percent.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth of 26 percent for art conservators between 2008 and 2018. This figure represents a much faster-than-average rate compared to all other occupations. Public interest in historical art preservation and increased museum attendance contribute to the positive growth scenario, according to BLS.
The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) in Washington, D.C., is a leading provider of historic preservation and restoration. At its website, the restorative process applied to a dress from American civil rights champion, Rosa Parks, was described: "Under the guidance of MCI's senior textile conservator, conservation interns repaired the tears using dyed chiffon and a fine silk thread called 'hair silk,' also dyed to match, in a couching stitch to follow the grain of the weave."
- American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works: Become a Conservator
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010 - 2011 Edition: Archivists, Curators and Museum Technicians
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2008: Museum Technicians and Conservators
- Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute: MCI Repairs and Conserves Rosa Parks' Dress
- Photo Credit academy of fine arts image by Dmitry Nikolaev from Fotolia.com Roman art gallery, Vatican Museums image by Eishier from Fotolia.com candles and books image by Victor M. from Fotolia.com close-up of an eye image by Tolchik from Fotolia.com currency image by peter Hires Images from Fotolia.com binocular image by bright from Fotolia.com gallery image by MATTHIEU FABISIAK from Fotolia.com
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