Art Conservation Programs and Courses

Turn your passion for art into a career by earning a degree in art conservation. Learn about the programs available for art conservation, the kinds of courses typically required, and more by reading below. Schools offering Museum Studies degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is Art Conservation?

Art conservation is a field dedicated to preserving artwork and other culturally influential works for the future. As paintings, statues, and books from hundreds of years ago age, they are at risk of suffering irreparable damage, which may reduce or even destroy the value of the art itself. Conservators, as those who practice art conservation are known, are responsible for maintaining great works of art through restoration, which attempts to return the art to its original appearance, or stabilization, which seeks to minimize the damage sustained and keep it as it looks today. Conservators often work for museums and art galleries, but may also be employed by universities or perform consulting services for private owners. Degree programs in art conservation are somewhat rare compared to other possible majors, but they do exist at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree levels, although PhDs tend to be more focused on research than on application.

Art Conservation Goals Preserving artwork by restoring or stabilizing it for the enjoyment of future generations
Program Requirements Art portfolios are sometimes required. Work as a volunteer or technician in the field of art conservation is highly recommended, if not always required.
Common Courses Organic chemistry, foreign language of choice, art history, studio art
Available Specializations Furniture, paper, paintings, textiles, digital media

What Is Required to Earn a Degree in Art Conservation?

To work as a conservator, a master's degree in art conservation is required. To work towards this, a student may first earn a bachelor's degree in art history or, if possible, a bachelor's in pre-art conservation, which is specifically designed to lead into a master's program. These bachelor's degree programs may have some unusual requirements, such as an art portfolio with detailed information on each piece, demonstrating critical skills like dexterity and an eye for color. For those who have already earned a bachelor's degree in another area, there are some alternative paths, including volunteer work, internships, or technician jobs working with a professional conservator. Most bachelor's degree programs in relevant fields will include some internship work as well, and internships and fellowships are common at the master's degree level and beyond. PhD programs may follow or be taken in place of a master's degree, and they require teaching, with the main focus being on performing research rather than conserving art pieces directly.

What Courses Will I Take in an Art Conservation Program?

Art conservation programs will naturally involve courses on art and art history, but there is more to maintaining artwork than knowing how it was made and where it came from. Chemistry is critical, as it aids in understanding the decomposition processes and offers ways to prevent or reverse them. Studies of foreign languages, particularly European languages such as French and Italian, are often a focus. Students in a master's degree program will have to put together a thesis, as is common at the master's level, focusing on a particular artifact or artwork and establishing why it is important culturally and listing some approaches that might be used to preserve it. Study abroad, especially in Europe in general or Italy in particular, is commonly offered, allowing students the chance to work with experienced conservators in a region with a rich history of art and its preservation.

What Kind of Specializations Are Offered in Master's in Art Conservation Programs?

Master's degree programs in art conservation often have specializations which are dictated by the different types of materials one would primarily work with after receiving their degree. Such specializations might include furniture, paintings, paper (such as ancient documents or literature), textiles, or even photographs, as each has different risks and causes of deterioration. Modern programs have even begun to offer courses in the conservation of digital media, which has become a major issue in recent years as file formats become outdated and the ability to read them could be lost forever. More general specializations, such as preservation design or preservation technologies, are also options at some universities, although even these students may find themselves working primarily with one particular material.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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