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Why Art History?

Nils Kahler, Bowl, 1945-1950, earthenware

Nils Kahler, Bowl, 1945-1950, earthenware
Nils Kahler, Bowl, 1945-1950, earthenware. Collection of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Art history is the study of human values as they are expressed visually by cultures around the globe from the beginnings of human society to the present.

Today, art is a multibillion dollar international industry. Art history prepares students to participate in the cultural economy at the local and global levels. Art history majors go on to enjoy higher job satisfaction and lower unemployment rates over the course of their working lives than peers in vocational tracks. Our alumni go on to work in a variety of careers including exhibition planning and management, corporate art collecting, auction houses, art conservation, museum curation, K-12 education, non-profit arts management, and library science. In addition, many go on to graduate school to become scholars and professors.

Art history operates with the understanding that visual/material artifacts may speak more directly and deeply about a culture than its written record. Put another way, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then art history equips students to read it. This is called “visual literacy” and it is an invaluable skill in our increasingly visual world.

Students in art history learn to analyze a wide variety of artifacts from all geographic regions and historical eras, including our own. Not limited strictly to the so-called “fine arts,” art history seeks to understand visual and material culture more broadly: from paintings and sculpture, to architecture and urban design; from films and photographs, to ceramics and textiles; from scientific illustration and political posters, to performance art and street graffiti.

Through engaging closely with these and other forms of visual expression, students of art history become adept practitioners of the following skills: visual analysis and interpretation, original research and careful argumentation, image-based thinking and communication, and clear and persuasive writing in a variety of modes (e.g., analytical, creative, and journalistic).