About Art History
Why study art history? What does it do, or not do for our long term career prospects?
Students enjoying a visit to the San Antonio Museum of Art.
1. Students of this coming generation who are not prepared for an international career as a global citizen may very well have no career.
Art history prepares a person to delve deeply into other cultures, which are distant in time or space, and work inside them.
Most SU art history majors will have some study- and work-abroad experience in a culture which they have studied (60% SU students study abroad). Once one has learned how to do that the first time, one is prepared for the challenges of learning how to work in new cultures for the rest of one’s careers.
The SU art history program is small (four faculty) but it aligns with major shifts in world culture which are going on now in that it is 50-50 Western and Non-Western (covering fields in Classical and Renaissance, Modern, East Asia, and Pre-Modern Latin America). All faculty are active researchers and publishers in other countries and other languages. Art History students have recently been to programs in Peru, China, and Italy.
2. Art history skills open unusual paths of creativity by unifying verbal skills with visual skills.
Researchers in fields such as medicine who have visual and verbal outlook frequently find the most unusual solutions. Steve Jobs famously studied calligraphy:
“I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me.”
3. Students of this generation will on the average have about six major career changes in the course of their professional lives (The Economist).
A professional learns the skills with which he or she earns a living from his/her first job in graduate school.
As an art history major he/she learns rigorous research skills, writing, rational argument, cultural understanding and visual analysis, which are life-long skills which will facilitate success in professional fields and flexibility in moving into new ones.
The higher levels of achievement in many professions lead to leadership and management, which require the kind of superior skills of communication and cultural understanding which art history fosters.
4. Majors who do well in art history often have a higher acceptance rate to medical and law schools.
5. Majors in art history regularly are admitted to the demanding one-semester internship of the New York Arts Program, to work in such venues as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Sotheby’s, and regularly go on to major graduate schools and curatorial and research careers in art history.
Kris Ercums, ’93, Ph.D. Univ. of Chicago: Curator, Global and Contemporary & Asian Art at the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas.
Kelly Johnson, ’12, enrolled in curatorial graduate program at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s (MICA) Curatorial Practice MFA (CPMFA) program in Baltimore, MD. Kelly received the Elizabeth Stafford Hutchinson Endowed Internship at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 2014.
Elizabeth N. Schlatter is Deputy Director and Curator of Exhibitions at the University of Richmond.
SU Art History was featured in the Winter 2012 volume of Southwestern Magazine: “Broad Strokes: The Rigorous and Demanding Art History Major at Southwestern”. Read the full text here.
The following is a testimonial to a combined business and art history major from a recent SU graduate, Marina Staber:
“Whether applied locally or globally, best business practices thrive on a balance of quantitative and qualitative data. Students who pursue an art history education with a paired business major gain an advantage over their single-major peers, as they can reap the rewards of two diverse, complementary areas of education.”