Art History

Seven Reasons to Study Art History

Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Why did I decide to study art history? It might surprise my readers – it even surprises me a little now to think back on it – but it hasn’t been a life-long calling for me. I pretty much stumbled upon it by accident. I started college with no idea what I wanted to study, but during the admissions process, it seemed like every tour guide I met was an art history major. I figured that there must be something to it, so I decided to register for a class in my first semester. I immediately loved it. I now know that there are a bunch of better reasons than that to take an art history class or make it your major, and I share them in the hopes that some upcoming college students will decide to pursue art history, too.

Why Study Art History?

  1. You get to look at gorgeous images in every class. It’s like surfing Pinterest for credit. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. There’s much more to it, like writing papers and memorizing dates. However, you get to spent hours looking at and talking about beautiful artwork. This is what attracted me to the subject, and it makes all the studying worth it.
  2. It’s a great excuse to study abroad. Art history is perfect if you want to travel. In fact, traveling is highly recommended in this major. But if you don’t have the resources to do so, art history also allows you to armchair travel all over the world and even back in time.
  3. If your college is within driving distance of any significant museum, you’ll likely get to participate in a free or low-cost visit as part of your class.
  4. You also learn about many other things. While studying art history, I’ve learned a great deal about history, politics, science, religion, anthropology, literature, and more. Art connects to the wider world in countless ways, so you can’t help but pick up a lot of other knowledge alongside it. Since all these side-topics come with a healthy dose of art, you’ll stay engaged in topics you wouldn’t normally seek out.
  5. You don’t have to become an academic. It’s a popular myth that art history majors have limited job prospects, but that’s not true at all. There are many career paths for people with art history degrees. Not all require advanced degrees or pay mere pennies. If you don’t want to become a professor or curator, you have plenty of other options.
  6. You learn useful (and marketable) skills. Some that come to mind are: identifying deeper meanings and symbolism, research, writing, the ability to express visual ideas in words, understanding how visual features affect people, and cultural and historical awareness. These art history skills will serve you well in many different jobs outside the field.
  7. Art history is culturally useful stuff that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Even a one-semester course will give you a greater appreciation for every artwork you ever encounter.

I love to hear from current and future (or past) art history students, so please feel free to ask me whatever questions you might have by commenting on this post! You might also want to check out my related posts “What Is an Art Historian?” and “Surviving College Art History and Its Exams“.

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2 thoughts on “Seven Reasons to Study Art History

  1. Hi Alexandra, i really like your writing- from the heart. Your passion for art is evident! I make Youtube videos interpreting art in my own way on my channel Art Analysis by John R. Shipp. I have a question, have you ever seen a pattern of famous artists taking parts from several works of art and incorporating them into a single artwork. I think this is a secret technique used by the masters but the only evidence I have seen is not written down but only seen in the art itself.

    Sincerely, John Shipp

    1. Hi John: Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad that you are enjoying my work. Regarding your question, if you mean that artists sometimes make reference to works by prior masters in their artwork, than yes, this has been something of a common practice throughout art history. For example, Renaissance painters often based the poses of their figures on works of classical statuary. Is this what you’re referring to?
      Thanks for stopping by!

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