Why Art History?

Art degrees get a lot of bad press, perhaps less now than they did a few decades ago, but you do still often get the mildly condescending comments.

“What are you studying?”

“Art History”

“Oh...”

And that’s it. That’s how your conversation ends. One of the main things I learnt from my undergraduate degree was that it really doesn’t matter if people think less of your discipline. There will always be people who will judge your interests in comparison to their own, but if you have a passion and a drive for that kind of knowledge, that’s the only validation you need. (Don’t get me wrong, getting the grades you want helps too!)

Although it doesn’t seem like it at the time, when you’re going through the motions of choosing GCSE’s to make sure you can do the right A Levels to suit your chosen career, your passion will often outweigh opinion. Art History has had a bad reputation in recent press coverage. Most recently, during Michael Gove’s ‘culling of soft subjects’, where the Art History A Level was due to be scrapped. Thankfully though, passion prevailed. Due to nationwide uproar, from both established and budding art historians, to artists and those in positions of prestige within the arts community, gallery directors, institution heads etc. the Government reassessed their stance and the course is now due to remain as part of the curriculum.

Art for me was always one of my favourite subjects, but after discovering no real artistic ability had manifested within myself (many an art lesson was spent painting page backgrounds of my sketchbook...), I had to find another route to go down. Then, the idea of art history was suggested to me, and my interest was piqued. During my undergraduate degree, and even more so during my Postgraduate studies, it has become clear just how embedded within society art history is. As a field of study, it compliments, influences and utilises a wide array of other disciplines, such as English literature, architectural studies, music, and archaeology to name a few. Not only that, but art history acts as an insight into the very nature of cultural development and human history.

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National identity and art also go hand in hand, artworks act as a means of public recognition, regardless of whether these artists and their artworks hang solely in national museums and galleries. For example, Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian artist, JMW Turner was an English artist, Pablo Picasso was a Spanish artist, Claude Monet a French artist. These attributions are often the first thing that is thought of, regardless of whether they are a contemporary artist or one who has been an accepted member of the canon for decades, or even centuries. 

My main point here, is that if there is something you have a great passion for, but you aren’t sure of potential careers or what you might do after you finish school or college, if you have a love for a subject, go with it. I myself had no idea what I wanted to ‘do when I grew up’, or whether I even planned on going to uni. I chose topics that I enjoyed at school and thankfully, I lucked out. There is an awful lot of pressure put on young people from the age of 15 to know what you want to do. But if you don’t, and you chose subjects that interest and engage you, I think you’re more likely to do well and find your own little niche in your academic career.