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Study abroad : Subject Guides

What is art history?

From Picasso to pop art, cubism to contemporary, an art history degree will equip you with all the knowledge and skills you need to work in the creative sectors.

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Are you fascinated by the historical and cultural context of art? Do you want to know how different art forms were created and what their significance is? If yes, a degree in art history could be the right choice for you. On this course, you will learn about different cultures, movements, artists, and perspectives over the course of history. You will also gain many valuable skills that employers are looking for. So, whether your goal is to work in a gallery or museum, or you don’t have a specific career in mind, an art history degree will equip you with a range of skills suitable for many different professions.


What is art history?


Art history is the study of art across different time periods. By studying art, we can better understand the human experience throughout history. This field involves analyzing the meaning of art in relation to the geographical, social, political, cultural, historical, and psychological contexts in which they were created. Whether it’s the sculptures of ancient Greece, renaissance paintings, abstract expressionism, or art nouveau, you can expect to gain a deep understanding of these different movements.


Why study art history at university?


While creative degrees are often perceived as less academic than STEM subjects for example, an art history degree will provide you with many useful and desirable skills such as:


  • Critical thinking
  • Analytical skills
  • Communication skills
  • Empathy
  • Forming an argument
  • Listening to others
  • Problem-solving
  • Visual awareness
  • Independent research skills


As mentioned, art history graduates are highly employable across a broad range of industries, giving graduates the freedom to choose a suitable profession. Many art history graduates pursue the following professions:


  • Art gallery manager
  • Museum curator
  • Art director
  • Picture editor
  • Event manager
  • Journalist
  • Librarian
  • Conservationist
  • Marketing/public relations
  • Publishing
  • Teaching


As you can see, your options are far from limited after an art history degree but if you’re not keen on these careers, there’s no need to reconsider your choice. You just need to make sure that you tailor your CV and cover letter to the job you are applying for. Luckily, art history graduates gain many transferrable skills that are highly relevant to many professions. However, we recommend gaining some work experience or volunteering to demonstrate your interest in the field you want to enter.


What will I learn?


The content of an art history degree will vary depending on your choice of university. However, many degrees cover similar topics and art movements such as:


  • Art and space
  • European art
  • Surrealism
  • Feminism, gender, sexuality
  • Romanticism
  • Renaissance art
  • Picasso
  • Contemporary art
  • Classical art
  • African art
  • History of photography
  • Philosophy of art
  • Psychology of the arts
  • Art criticism
  • Portraiture
  • Contemporary Asian art


Most universities will also give you the choice of optional modules to suit your interests each year.


Want to study art history in the USA? Check out the below universities:



How long is an art history degree?


A bachelor’s degree in art history will generally take three to four years to complete depending on your chosen study destination. For example, bachelor’s degrees typically take four years in the USA and three years in the UK.


Master’s degrees take between one to two years depending on the study destination and whether you decide to study on a part-time or full-time basis.  


Art history entry requirements


What do you need to be accepted for a place on an art history course? Firstly, it depends on where you want to study as admissions requirements vary according to each institution. However, we’ve looked into the entry requirements across a variety of universities to get a general sense of what you need as an international student applying for an undergraduate degree in art history:


  • Proof of English language proficiency (typically IELTS 6.0- 6.5 with no component lower than 5.5-6.0)
  • A-levels – BBC-AAB
  • International baccalaureate – 34-35 points
  • BTEC – DDM
  • Personal statement


It would be beneficial for your application if you studied history and/or art at A-level or equivalent so that you have some foundational knowledge, but this isn’t always a pre-requisite. Make sure you check the university website for specific entry requirements for the year of intake that you are applying.


For a postgraduate degree in art history, you will need:


  • Typically, a 2:1 or upper 2:1 undergraduate degree
  • GPA 3.5 or above (US applicants)
  • Proof of English language proficiency 6.5-7.0
  • Personal statement
  • Academic reference


If you don’t meet the English language requirements of the programme you are applying to, you might need to complete a pre-sessional English course before you begin your masters. Your bachelor’s degree also doesn’t necessarily need to be in art history, but you will need to demonstrate your interest in the subject.


Want to see some UK universities offering art history courses? Check out the institutions below:



In the UK, 61.6 per cent of art history graduates are employed, with an additional 12.5 per cent in further education (Graduate Prospects 2021). In terms of expected salary, it really depends on which field you choose to go into. See below for a few examples:


Art gallery manager – GBP 25,000- 40,000

Museum curator – GBP 26,000-35,000

Art director – GBP 25,000-45,000

Picture editor – GBP 31,000

Event manager – GBP 25,000-40,000


As you can see, these salaries do vary, as it will depend on your level of experience and where you are located.


Hopefully now you’ve got a much better sense of what to expect from an art history course and where it could take you. If you’re still not sure on the programme or university, make sure you try out our course matcher tool to find what’s right for you.


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