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The PhD in social science with a specialization in art history is an academic and research-based terminal degree that culminates with oral exams followed by a dissertation. It is distinguished from the Master of Fine Arts, which is a terminal degree for the practicing artist, who graduates with a portfolio and exhibition. Whether students pursue a PhD in art history, or an MFA in fine arts, specialization is the rule.

Students who graduate with a Doctor of Philosophy in Art History often work as:

  • museum curators
  • art conservationists
  • art directors of corporate and commercial art galleries
  • art appraisers for auction houses, and
  • professors in college and university art history programs

In the seven-year National Career Path Study of Art Historians with PhDs in Art History conducted by the Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education (CIRGE), one professor had this to say about the highly competitive field of art history: "I would encourage only my best undergraduates to pursue a PhD in Art History; those students who are committed to it as if it is a calling."

Despite this cautious suggestion, of the 508 respondents to the researchers' survey, 95 percent believed it was worth the effort to finish their PhD in Art History; and they would do it again. More than 80 percent of respondents believed the PhD in Art History was very important for career advancement in the field.

To view some available doctorate degrees in art history, visit WorldWideLearn.com's guides to Campus Doctorate Degree Programs, and Online PhD Degree Programs.

How to Apply for a PhD Program in Art History

Research, research, research: If you're planning on entering a doctorate program in art history, research is the name of the game. So, start now, by searching for a doctorate program with as much care as if you were publishing an academic paper.

Choosing the right doctoral program in art history requires careful consideration of several factors. Read on for more information about how to find the best online and campus-based doctorate programs.

How to Choose the Right Doctorate Program in Art History

Despite the overwhelming rate of satisfaction that art historians reported about getting their PhDs, more than 40-percent stated what they would do differently is spend more time choosing their PhD program with regard to the following parameters:

  • Prestige of the school
  • Reputation of a specific program
  • Prominence of particular faculty

Ascertaining these factors requires careful study, an understanding of the art history field, and the specializations within it.

Step 1: Identify Essential Features for a Doctoral Program in Art History

Understanding the basics of what makes an art history doctoral program successful can help you make an informed choice about this personal and professional milestone.


This is the benchmark for any pursuit in higher education, regardless of whether you choose to pursue a PhD in art history, or an MFA in fine arts. Accreditation affects your ability to receive financial aid, and impacts the perception of potential employers as they view your credentials. Do your research befor you make the decision to attend an institution of higher learning without accreditation.

Access to Museums, Galleries, and Internships

Choosing where to live might be more important to art history doctoral students than most others. Proximity to art collections and art historians is particularly important to personal and professional development during the doctoral candidacy and dissertation research. Often, this means living in a big city.

Sometimes, universities have their own major collections and museums. Know where these museums and collections are, as well as their most noteworthy features. This is important in the decision-making process about where to complete a doctorate degree in art history. Combined online and campus-based doctorate programs allow professionals working in the art world to continue doing so.

Doctor of Philosophy in Art History Entrance Requirements

For students pursuing a doctoral degree in art history in the United States, taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is required for most campus-based and online doctorate degrees. On rare occasions, as with admission to some Ivy League schools, the GRE subject exam in English Language and Literature may be required.

Other important factors for admission to a doctoral degree program in art history:

  • Statement of purpose
  • Letters of recommendation, usually, three are required
  • Resume of related work, volunteer, or internship experience
  • Previously published research papers are optional, but sometimes, helpful

Carefully review the Web sites of all online and campus-based doctorate programs in art history that you might like to attend. Pay close attention to deadlines. Ideally, you should begin requesting letters of recommendation and compiling supplemental materials at least three months in advance of the deadline. Schedule your GRE test at least three months in advance of the deadline, as well. Study for the GRE.

Graduation Rates and Job Placement for Art Historians

Sometimes, you can ascertain this information on the Web site of a program you would like to attend. It is more likely you'll find program acceptance rates. Inquire with the career services department, current and graduated doctoral students, and heads of departments to learn more about graduation and job placement rates for doctoral degree students at a particular university.

Also, start inquiring with potential employers, in advance, on your own. Graduate study in any field requires a high level of self-motivation. Make a list of galleries, museums, and auction houses in your area. Call human resources departments and curators to find out how they might regard a PhD in art history from the online or campus-based programs you are considering. Ask if they have any work-study positions available. You could land an entry-level position in art history from this simple, informational phone call.

Step 2: Research Specializations, Schools, and Faculty

Understanding Art History Specializations

Do you pine for painting, sculpture, or mixed media? Is it Impressionism, folk art, or the Renaissance that makes your heart skip a beat? Do you prefer Van Gogh, Michelangelo, or Kahlo? Understanding what you love best about art can help you make the important decision of what specialty to pursue during the course of your doctoral degree in art history.

One Art History Guide defines these as the most common periods in Western Art History:

Ancient Art: This period ranges from 8000 BCE to 300 BCE, and includes Egyptian, Persian, Sumerian, Mesopotamian, and Greek art, among other forms.

Classicism: Generally defined as the time period from approximately 800 BCE to 330 CE, Classicism includes Hellenistic, Etruscan, Roman and some Greek art.

Middle Ages: From the late 4th century through the mid-15th century, art of the Middle Ages often includes religious themes. It embraces some of the following styles: Byzantine, Celtic, Islamic, Gothic, and Romanesque.

Renaissance: One of the most famous periods in all of art history, the Renaissance occurred from the 15th to
the 19th centuries. Styles include Rococo, Italian, European, and Baroque. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Pieter Brueger the Elder, and Jan Van Eyck are some of the more famous visual artists of this era.

Pre-Modern Art: The 19th century is the timeframe for this period, which embraces some beloved schools of art, such as Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism. Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, and Seurat are among the most famous painters of this era.

Modern Art: From the late 19th to mid-20th centuries, Post-Impressionism, Dadaism, Expressionism, Cubism, Bauhaus, Surrealism, and Harlem Renaissance schools were among the most popular. Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were European innovators. Palmer Hayden, Archibald Motley, Aaron Douglas, James Van Der Zee, and Richmond Barth�� were African-American artists who conveyed the black experience in America.

Post-Modern Art: This era in art began in 1945 and continues to the present day. Post-modern art continues to fuel the controversy surrounding what defines art. Schools of art from the post-modern era include New Realism, Conceptual Art, Pop Art, Computer Art, and Victorian Revival, among others.

The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History presented by the Metropolitan Museum of Art also offers an extensive, interactive timeline of art from around the world, as well as essays, images, and additional resources for researching specializations.


Prominent art historians in a given specialization generally teach at universities and doctoral programs where an art period, art medium, or important art collection is emphasized. Once you know what your specific art history interests are, focus on finding faculty who can mentor your research as a doctoral student. Speak with and ask questions of faculty members with whom you might like to study to determine their level of interest in mentoring students. You should also ask previous research assistants of prominent faculty about their experience studying under a particular art historian. In general, the larger the university, the less likely you are to receive in-depth mentorship.


These Web sites and organizations can help you begin your research on doctorate degrees, specializations, and current dissertation topics in Art History:

Art History Organizations: The following four Web sites can be used as a jumping off point to learn more about the field of art history in the U.S. and the U.K. From these sites you can learn about specific art historians, criteria for curatorship programs, and dissertation topics currently underway in the field of art history.

U.S. News & World Report Rankings: At some point, almost every doctoral student in art history yearns to attend an American Ivy League school, or its European equivalents, such as Oxford and the Sorbonne. Browse their list of the world's best universities for the arts and humanities. If you have the grades, resume, personal and financial freedom to afford these options, by all means apply.

If not, spend time looking into public universities near good art collections; and weigh the excellent options offered by combined online and campus-based programs, which allow adults to work full-time, while pursuing a career as an art historian.

You can save time, stamps, and paper while doing your research by having online and campus-based doctoral degree programs contact you through WorldWideLearn.com.

As you research the location, museums and collections, art history specializations, prominent faculty, entrance requirements, graduation and job placement rates of the doctoral programs in art history that you are interested in attending, note what funding opportunities each online or campus-based program provides. Again, meeting financial aid application deadlines are paramount for a smooth transition into the doctoral program of your choice.

Step 3: Doctorate Programs in Art History: Create a Shortlist

Now that you've done extensive research into online and campus-based doctoral programs in art history, you are ready to apply. Remember to budget for application fees. And summon all your patience and persistence.

The road to a PhD in art history is a long yet satisfying one. WorldWideLearn.com can help pave the way to your future, by providing you access to hundreds of online and campus-based doctorate programs. Begin your journey to a doctorate degree in art history today.


  • Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education, PhDs in Art History, Over a Decade Later: A National Career Path Study of Art Historians, by Sardozinski, R., Nerad, M., Cerny, J.
  • College Art Association: Standards and Guidelines, "Guidelines for Curatorial Studies Programs
  • History of Art, Artists, and Movements: Art History Guide
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
  • Mother of All Art & Art History Links Pages, University of Michigan Museum of Art
  • U.S. News & World Report, "World's Best Universities: Arts and Humanities Universities"

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