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So I Don't Have an Art History BA...


rococo_realism

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...but I do have a minor in art history!

 

I was wondering if any of you have any advice for someone who might possibly be considering an MA in art history. I'm also considering museum studies, which is far more interdisciplinary, but I want to keep my options open.

 

I'm in the English-rhetoric-film-area, so I obviously have textual analytical abilities, but how would I parlay that to an art history program? That is, how would I convince an adcomm that I belong in its program over those who not only majored in art history, but are also published/have specializations/etc.?

 

I just feel that my minor probably didn't prepare me for an art history grad program. For example, I didn't write a major paper in any of my art history courses. (Well, there's the one I wrote on the Arch of Constantine, but that's nowhere near my research area of interest.)

 

Any advice? :)

Edited by rococo_realism86
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A major in art history is not required for graduate work in Art History, particularly at the MA level. Some programs do have a minimum number of courses you should have taken (NYU requires 4, for example) but your minor should have covered that - you can always verify with the programs you are interested in. What is important is that you did well in the Art History classes you took and can get recommendations from AH professors. Aside from that, I think being good at analysis and knowing how to write a good research paper is a skill that translates well into other humanities disciplines.

 

What do you hope to do with the MA? Figuring that out will both help you narrow down the kinds of programs you want to apply to, and be your ticket to "convincing an adcomm" -- I think that having a clear focus of why you want to pursue the degree and what you plan to do with it is what will make you a compelling candidate. Can you demonstrate sustained interest and involvement with the field, and does it seem like you have an idea of how you will translate your skills into the real world? If I were an adcomm, these are the questions I'd be asking. 

 

Also, to allay your fears, most people applying to MA programs (and many applying to PhD programs) won't have any published work yet. Many who apply to MAs don't have specializations, either. In fact, when I was applying to grad schools this round, I considered applying to some terminal MAs in addition to PhDs, and multiple advisers, including a professor I contacted at an MA program, told me that since my interests were already very specific I should apply directly to PhDs. Most MAs are meant for more general studies in Art History, while allowing you to hone in on your particular field as you go along. For going into an MA, I think it would be helpful to have a general idea of the region, time period, or conceptual issues you're interested in... but you don't need to know all three. 

 

I'd focus on composing a strong writing sample (you could either rework a course paper or write a new one), doing well on the verbal section of the GRE, and gathering some good letters. Experience in the field is also helpful - and if you don't have any art world experience, I'd at least start with volunteering at a museum or historical society, etc. 

 

Good luck!

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I would say that close to a third of the people in my MA program did not have Art History BAs. One girl was even a neuroscience major. It's really not a big deal at all, especially if you took enough AH classes to get a minor. In terms of not having an AH paper to use as a writing sample, you could write a new paper, but you could also submit a paper from a related field. I was an AH major, but when I applied to the MA I submitted a course paper from another discipline because it was my strongest paper and had won several department and university awards. It also worked out, because it was on the same historical subfield and issues that my art historical work focuses on. 

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A major in art history is not required for graduate work in Art History, particularly at the MA level. Some programs do have a minimum number of courses you should have taken (NYU requires 4, for example) but your minor should have covered that - you can always verify with the programs you are interested in. What is important is that you did well in the Art History classes you took and can get recommendations from AH professors. Aside from that, I think being good at analysis and knowing how to write a good research paper is a skill that translates well into other humanities disciplines.

 

What do you hope to do with the MA? Figuring that out will both help you narrow down the kinds of programs you want to apply to, and be your ticket to "convincing an adcomm" -- I think that having a clear focus of why you want to pursue the degree and what you plan to do with it is what will make you a compelling candidate. Can you demonstrate sustained interest and involvement with the field, and does it seem like you have an idea of how you will translate your skills into the real world? If I were an adcomm, these are the questions I'd be asking. 

 

Also, to allay your fears, most people applying to MA programs (and many applying to PhD programs) won't have any published work yet. Many who apply to MAs don't have specializations, either. In fact, when I was applying to grad schools this round, I considered applying to some terminal MAs in addition to PhDs, and multiple advisers, including a professor I contacted at an MA program, told me that since my interests were already very specific I should apply directly to PhDs. Most MAs are meant for more general studies in Art History, while allowing you to hone in on your particular field as you go along. For going into an MA, I think it would be helpful to have a general idea of the region, time period, or conceptual issues you're interested in... but you don't need to know all three. 

 

I'd focus on composing a strong writing sample (you could either rework a course paper or write a new one), doing well on the verbal section of the GRE, and gathering some good letters. Experience in the field is also helpful - and if you don't have any art world experience, I'd at least start with volunteering at a museum or historical society, etc. 

 

Good luck!

I did quite well in my art history courses. In fact, I even won the College of Liberal Arts award in art history, which was pretty cool. :) And, fortunately, I still chat with my two art history professors. (I went to a regional campus of one of my state university systems, so our art history department consisted of two professors.)

 

Honestly, I'm not interested in teaching art history the university level; I want to work for a museum or some other cultural institution. I've done an internship with a museum, and I currently work at that same museum. (Though, not because of my internship. I had volunteered there some years ago, and they thought of me after I finished the internship and offered me an attendant/receptionist job a few hours a week.)  I think that I can impress upon the committee how fervent my desire to be in the art world is.

 

As far as my interests? They're pretty diverse. As my user name suggests, I have a fascination with the Rococo period. So appropriate that it kind of coincided with the reign of Louis XV and a relatively peaceful period for France. I'm also interested in pretty much all American art, depictions of domestic life in 17th-19th century England (this ties into some of my literary interests), black American art, and the emergence of the modern city--the latter of which I studied in a class of the same name. Obviously, I need to start contacting POIs and researching dominant areas in the field.  :D

 

I'm really considering writing a new paper in art history. It'll not only give me a chance to explore an area of interest, but it'll also let me indulge my nerdiness even more! We shall see...

 

Your last full paragraph is, in a nutshell, on what I should be concentrating. I'm definitely studying for the verbal section big time. (The English major in me is a little preoccupied with that particular part.)

 

Thank you so much! :)

 

I would say that close to a third of the people in my MA program did not have Art History BAs. One girl was even a neuroscience major. It's really not a big deal at all, especially if you took enough AH classes to get a minor. In terms of not having an AH paper to use as a writing sample, you could write a new paper, but you could also submit a paper from a related field. I was an AH major, but when I applied to the MA I submitted a course paper from another discipline because it was my strongest paper and had won several department and university awards. It also worked out, because it was on the same historical subfield and issues that my art historical work focuses on. 

That's comforting--that so many others majored in fields far more disparate than English! And as I told brown_eyed_girl, I'm really considering writing a new paper on the topic of my choice. I'll have to prep for that; the rules of writing for the art history academe are a bit different than the ones for English.

 

I alluded to this above, but some of my art history interests intermingle with my English ones. I did extensive summer research on women's fashion and its implications in 18th century English Lit. I won an academic prize for a paper I wrote on the subject, too, which was exciting. Hopefully that'll mean something.

 

Thank you oh-so-much! :)

 

If either of you have any other advice, feel free to share!

Edited by rococo_realism86
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I did quite well in my art history courses. In fact, I even won the College of Liberal Arts award in art history, which was pretty cool. :) And, fortunately, I still chat with my two art history professors. (I went to a regional campus of one of my state university systems, so our art history department consisted of two professors.)

 

Honestly, I'm not interested in teaching art history the university level; I want to work for a museum or some other cultural institution. I've done an internship with a museum, and I currently work at that same museum. (Though, not because of my internship. I had volunteered there some years ago, and they thought of me after I finished the internship and offered me an attendant/receptionist job a few hours a week.)  I think that I can impress upon the committee how fervent my desire to be in the art world is.

 

As far as my interests? They're pretty diverse. As my user name suggests, I have a fascination with the Rococo period. So appropriate that it kind of coincided with the reign of Louis XV and a relatively peaceful period for France. I'm also interested in pretty much all American art, depictions of domestic life in 17th-19th century England (this ties into some of my literary interests), black American art, and the emergence of the modern city--the latter of which I studied in a class of the same name. Obviously, I need to start contacting POIs and researching dominant areas in the field.  :D

 

I'm really considering writing a new paper in art history. It'll not only give me a chance to explore an area of interest, but it'll also let me indulge my nerdiness even more! We shall see...

 

Your last full paragraph is, in a nutshell, on what I should be concentrating. I'm definitely studying for the verbal section big time. (The English major in me is a little preoccupied with that particular part.)

 

Thank you so much! :)

 

Have you considered museum studies/arts admin over art history? What is it that you're looking to gain at the end of your program - more information about the curatorial side/the potential to do more curatorial work while you're in your program? I'm just asking because your endgame isn't teaching in an institution a research-based MA might not necessarily be the best option! Just a thought! 

 

But writing a new paper (and getting one of your old profs to look it over for you, I assume) is probably a great start!

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Have you considered museum studies/arts admin over art history? What is it that you're looking to gain at the end of your program - more information about the curatorial side/the potential to do more curatorial work while you're in your program? I'm just asking because your endgame isn't teaching in an institution a research-based MA might not necessarily be the best option! Just a thought! 

 

But writing a new paper (and getting one of your old profs to look it over for you, I assume) is probably a great start!

Yes, I mentioned that in my original post; museum studies or arts administration is actually ideal, but I'm trying to cast a wide net. I feel that a research-heavy MA might appeal to museums and other cultural institutions later.

 

The paper is kind of in the works now, which basically means that I'm selecting topics that interest me.

 

Thanks for your response!

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Museum studies or arts administration is actually ideal, but I'm trying to cast a wide net. I feel that a research-heavy MA might appeal to museums and other cultural institutions later.

 

 

What kind of museum work do you want to do? I'd start looking at the LinkedIn's of the people at the museum you work in now and/or places you would like to work, as well as job listings at those places, to see what degrees lead to the jobs you are interested in. In the museum where I work, people with Museum Studies degrees do mostly admin work, whereas curatorial assistants and even some junior curators have Art History MAs. Other museum professionals have degrees in things like nonprofit management or communications. The Art History MA could also lead to jobs in auction houses and galleries, whereas the MA in Museum Studies could lead to work in museums that aren't art related. Just things to weigh in terms of figuring out what kind of degree would be best for your needs. 

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This depends entirely on the type of work you want to do.  Overall, an MA in Art History will allow more flexibility.  

 

I studied Religion as an undergrad, and then have worked in museums and in the field for 3 years since graduating. I had no problem getting into graduate programs and have lots of options at this point. My background is in archaeology. 

 

My personal opinion is to approach any museum studies degree with great caution.  These degrees are designed more for people who want to work in educational programs at museums, or outreach, etc.  Most, though not all, people with these degrees do not have as much mobility as art historians.  There is also generally  much less funding available.  

 

If you enjoy working in a museum and your experience is good, that should be all you need.  Take one or two museum studies courses, but be careful about the degree seeking UNLESS you decide that you care less about the historic aspect/working/writing about the art and care MORE about the museum business side of things.  

 

Even so, I would personally still recommend that you seek an art history degree and continue working/interning in the field for more experience.  Remember, you can always get a Museum Studies certificate enroute to your MA in Art History.  Many programs have these to coincide with their art departments.  Much better to earn a certificate along the way, then to shell out money for a program that isn't as specialized.  

 

One last thought - if you ever decide to pursue a PhD, the "museum studies" degree will not be attractive to admissions committees.  Unless, you're applying to some type of PhD in Museum Studies or Business Management.  

 

Remember, many museum directors do not have a degree in anything related to museums.  Sometimes not even in art.  Often times they come from strong financial backgrounds, and may have studied business or fundraising.  

 

You sound like you have a lot of enthusiasm and love what you do.  My advice is to determine what exactly you like the best about what you do - and then try to foresee which path would help you better reach your goals. Working on a museum studies degree may still make you happy and successful - but it does come with limitations and may produce extra work/costs for you in the long run.  

 

GOOD LUCK!  :) 

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I agree with arthistorian90. An MA in art history is much more flexible than a museum studies MA. Anything you can do with an museum studies MA you can also do with an art history MA (but the reverse is not true), and a museum studies MA could limit your ability to continue onto a PhD if that's what you decide. The best way to get a job in a museum is by having experience working in a museum (I know it's a bit catch 22) and by making connections. 

 

As for only having a minor in art history -- it certainly won't keep you from getting into art history MA programs (I only had an minor too), but it could make it harder for you to get into the top MA programs. Do you have any research papers from your major (you mention film) that you could rework to focus more on aspects of the visual study/analysis of the topic? Do you have a short paper from an art history class that you can expand? If not, you will probably have to write a completely new paper to use as your writing sample.

 

Good luck!

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What kind of museum work do you want to do? I'd start looking at the LinkedIn's of the people at the museum you work in now and/or places you would like to work, as well as job listings at those places, to see what degrees lead to the jobs you are interested in. In the museum where I work, people with Museum Studies degrees do mostly admin work, whereas curatorial assistants and even some junior curators have Art History MAs. Other museum professionals have degrees in things like nonprofit management or communications. The Art History MA could also lead to jobs in auction houses and galleries, whereas the MA in Museum Studies could lead to work in museums that aren't art related. Just things to weigh in terms of figuring out what kind of degree would be best for your needs. 

I've been doing just that--looking at museum peoples' LinkedIn profiles. What I'm gathering is what you've suggested here: they have degree in a very vast array of disciplines. (But mostly in the humanities--even many admin people!) I must say, that's reassuring. I'm interested in all kinds of work in museums, from registrar work to event planning. I'm not as picky as some people are. I just love that world!

 

I've identified three, THREE, professors at various universities who started with BAs in English (as I have), and minors in art history (ditto)--all of whom have moved on to get graduate degrees in Art History. *Very* comforting. I'm thinking of contacting them; I probably won't be applying to their programs, so there's not much at stake. Maybe they can give specific advice.

 

This depends entirely on the type of work you want to do.  Overall, an MA in Art History will allow more flexibility.  

 

I studied Religion as an undergrad, and then have worked in museums and in the field for 3 years since graduating. I had no problem getting into graduate programs and have lots of options at this point. My background is in archaeology. 

 

My personal opinion is to approach any museum studies degree with great caution.  These degrees are designed more for people who want to work in educational programs at museums, or outreach, etc.  Most, though not all, people with these degrees do not have as much mobility as art historians.  There is also generally  much less funding available.  

 

If you enjoy working in a museum and your experience is good, that should be all you need.  Take one or two museum studies courses, but be careful about the degree seeking UNLESS you decide that you care less about the historic aspect/working/writing about the art and care MORE about the museum business side of things.  

 

Even so, I would personally still recommend that you seek an art history degree and continue working/interning in the field for more experience.  Remember, you can always get a Museum Studies certificate enroute to your MA in Art History.  Many programs have these to coincide with their art departments.  Much better to earn a certificate along the way, then to shell out money for a program that isn't as specialized.  

 

One last thought - if you ever decide to pursue a PhD, the "museum studies" degree will not be attractive to admissions committees.  Unless, you're applying to some type of PhD in Museum Studies or Business Management.  

 

Remember, many museum directors do not have a degree in anything related to museums.  Sometimes not even in art.  Often times they come from strong financial backgrounds, and may have studied business or fundraising.  

 

You sound like you have a lot of enthusiasm and love what you do.  My advice is to determine what exactly you like the best about what you do - and then try to foresee which path would help you better reach your goals. Working on a museum studies degree may still make you happy and successful - but it does come with limitations and may produce extra work/costs for you in the long run.  

 

GOOD LUCK!   :)

Yes, it does seem that art history programs are, strangely enough, funded better than museum studies ones. And as I've noted above, I've figured out that degrees in the museum world vary tremendously, which is great. I do feel that an Art History MA would give me the opportunity to bring some of my art historical interests to future jobs.

 

I'm glad that my enthusiasm is showing. :) I'm hoping that'll give me the momentum to get through this whole upcoming admissions season!

 

I agree with arthistorian90. An MA in art history is much more flexible than a museum studies MA. Anything you can do with an museum studies MA you can also do with an art history MA (but the reverse is not true), and a museum studies MA could limit your ability to continue onto a PhD if that's what you decide. The best way to get a job in a museum is by having experience working in a museum (I know it's a bit catch 22) and by making connections. 

 

As for only having a minor in art history -- it certainly won't keep you from getting into art history MA programs (I only had an minor too), but it could make it harder for you to get into the top MA programs. Do you have any research papers from your major (you mention film) that you could rework to focus more on aspects of the visual study/analysis of the topic? Do you have a short paper from an art history class that you can expand? If not, you will probably have to write a completely new paper to use as your writing sample.

 

Good luck!

Yes, I could definitely tweak my film papers to focus more on visual analysis. (Mis en scene, talking about composition, depth, etc. etc.) Here's where I could run into some problems: admissions committees could think, "Why the hell is he applying to an art history program rather than a film studies one?" I think that I should just revise one of those papers, but I don't know... I'll look into it.

 

 

Thank you all for being so helpful! I really appreciate it! :D:lol:

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  • 6 months later...

@rococo_realism I'm applying to grad school so I can also be in the museum world! My background is a bit different from yours though. I'm getting a BS in geology and I've mainly worked with science museums. I want to become a director for community outreach, organize lectures, etc. So I'm focusing on an MA in Museum Studies/Non-Profit Management. I've been involved with museums for several years now and I never want to leave ha. Where are you thinking of applying? 

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While it can be instructive to look at profiles of people who currently occupy important posts in the profession, their backgrounds may differ from what is expected from new applicants. It is no news that the expectations of the baby-boomers on the qualifications of millennials far exceed their own qualifications when they started out. I would recommend scouting job postings and perhaps doing an information interview with decision-makers in the museum which you know to see what they would expect from an ideal candidate.

In the same logic, look at programs which have strong ties with museums, so that you may be able to intern in a prestigious museum through your MA school or otherwise do some interesting museum work.

It's great that you have experience in the museum world. That will certainly have a strong impact on the committee. If you manage to write a good paper on a topic of your interest, that's great but don't stress too much on the paper being strongly aligned with your interests: it's not very important at the MA level. imo textual analysis has very little to do with visual analysis but it's true that many art history profs have English lit majors. In my program (a top program in the field) there is a person who, I know for sure, did not major in art history. I wouldn't know what was in his/her application but it shows that there are ways to persuade an adcom to admit a non-major. In addition to what was mentioned above, a strong letter of intent which shows that you have a good understanding of what's going on in the discipline would certainly increase your chances. Also, relevant languages can be useful.  

 

 

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While it can be instructive to look at profiles of people who currently occupy important posts in the profession, their backgrounds may differ from what is expected from new applicants. It is no news that the expectations of the baby-boomers on the qualifications of millennials far exceed their own qualifications when they started out. I would recommend scouting job postings and perhaps doing an information interview with decision-makers in the museum which you know to see what they would expect from an ideal candidate.

In the same logic, look at programs which have strong ties with museums, so that you may be able to intern in a prestigious museum through your MA school or otherwise do some interesting museum work.

It's great that you have experience in the museum world. That will certainly have a strong impact on the committee. If you manage to write a good paper on a topic of your interest, that's great but don't stress too much on the paper being strongly aligned with your interests: it's not very important at the MA level. imo textual analysis has very little to do with visual analysis but it's true that many art history profs have English lit majors. In my program (a top program in the field) there is a person who, I know for sure, did not major in art history. I wouldn't know what was in his/her application but it shows that there are ways to persuade an adcom to admit a non-major. In addition to what was mentioned above, a strong letter of intent which shows that you have a good understanding of what's going on in the discipline would certainly increase your chances. Also, relevant languages can be useful.  

 

 

This is so so important to keep in mind! We have a family friend who was the head curator of our town's art museum, his highest degree is a BA. When he retired last year the woman who replaced him had a PhD from a really well-known school. 

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I thought about what credentials I would need so I've been looking at job postings on websites like indeed.com. Do you guys think that's a good way to get an overall idea on the education requirements? Most of the postings I've been looking at say they prefer a masters degree. Hopefully, I will be able to get one of those jobs and not have to compete with PhDs.

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From what I've seen of museum job postings (I've only looked at entry-level positions in small museums though as museum work is not really my goal, which also tells you that my advice may not be entirely accurate but I'm not sure we've got museum-oriented people here on this forum), it does seem like they are fine with just MA. But the degree seems to be the least of their concern. Experience with museum-related work seems to be key. While a professional MA would get you closer to that profile by virtue of being profession-oriented and presumably having hands-on opportunities, a PhD who framed their work with several years of museum internships (or with prior museum experience) would probably look like a more suitable candidate, esp. if the museum is a major one with a rich collection of art in the PhD's specialization which otherwise is not represented among the staff. Smaller museums probably would not want someone whom they deem overqualified. In order to get a more precise idea of how posts get filled, if at all possible, match the postings you've seen with the people who actually got hired. But ultimately, if you don't want to do a PhD, you shouldn't.

 

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