Become an Art Conservator: Step-by-Step Career Guide
Research the requirements to become an art conservator. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in art conservation.
Art Conservator Career Requirements
Art conservators restore, preserve and analyze artifacts and works of art. A career in art conservation requires knowledge of science as well as skills in art. The conservator specializes in a particular type of object or material, such as paintings, books, sculptures or textiles. Conservators may work on staff in art museums or provide services to museums, galleries and individuals as freelancers. A master's degree and significant work experience is generally necessary to work as a conservator. The following table summarizes the key requirements for these professionals:
|Degree Level||Most employers require a master's degree*|
|Degree Field||Art conservation or a closely related field*|
|Experience||Most graduates of master's degree programs go on to complete fellowship programs lasting 1-4 years before seeking employment as art conservators**|
|Key Skills||Analytical skills, critical thinking skills, organizational skills*|
|Technical Skills||Conservators must know the appropriate techniques for chemical testing, examining x-rays and using microscopes and other laboratory equipment to assess and preserve works of art*|
|Additional Requirements||Physical stamina and strength is important, since art conservators may work at outdoor sites or have to handle heavy or bulky items*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Step 1: Complete an Undergraduate Degree Program
Individuals planning careers as conservators can begin their education with an undergraduate degree program in fine arts, art history, anthropology or one of the sciences. A studio arts background can provide students with courses in sculpture, painting, ceramics, printing, graphic design and photography. The foundation courses in art provide the student with a base of knowledge before selecting a specialization. Courses in art history, chemistry and archaeology also prepare the student for advanced training in art conservation.
*Study a foreign language. Knowledge of a foreign language may be helpful for students who are preparing to enter master's degree programs in the field. Competition for admission into these programs is often strong, so study of a foreign language may be an advantage when applying for a graduate program, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
*Select courses based on your desired specialization. Certain areas in the field of art conservation require highly specialized skills. For example, sculpture courses may be beneficial to students who wish to specialize in the restoration of monuments. It may be useful to plan ahead and base courses selection on future career goals.
Step 2: Obtain a Master's Degree
Employers typically require a master's degree to qualify for a position as an art conservator, but graduate degree programs in conservation are rare and difficult to enter. Graduate degree programs in art conservation can require the student to have 1-3 years experience in the field. According to the BLS, a graduate degree program in a related field can qualify an individual for a position in art conservation. The master's degree program typically includes courses in research methods, the structure of art materials, chemical techniques and cleaning methods.
*Complete an internship. A master's degree program in art conservation might include an internship in an art museum. In these internships, students can work with experienced conservators. An internship program can take up to a year to complete and give the student an opportunity to assist in the restoration of art objects and artifacts.
Step 3: Gain Experience
Work experience provides the hands-on training art conservators must have to work in the field. Employers generally require art conservators to have years of experience and a portfolio of work. Working under a skilled conservator allows the novice conservator to observe various restoration and preservation methods while building a portfolio of successful projects.
*Pursue research interests. For art conservators, engaging in research and publishing articles is essential for advancement in the field. Art conservation is a competitive line of work and notable publications and research activity may benefit a conservator's career.
*Take advantage of continuing education opportunities. Some institutions offer workshops, symposiums and conferences on the subject of art conservation. Attending these events allows an art conservator to stay aware of the latest advances and research in the field, as well as meet and connect with others in the field.
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