Focus On…Art Conservation

Art conservation is a fascinating and highly specialized field that plays a crucial role in preserving our cultural heritage for future generations. This profession involves a delicate balance between science, art history, and hands-on craftsmanship. Art conservators work on a wide range of materials, including paintings, sculptures, textiles, ceramics, manuscripts, and more.

To pursue a career in art conservation, you’ll need to follow a specific educational path and gain hands-on experience. Here are the steps to become an art conservator:

Educational Background:

  1. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree: Start by earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. While there is no specific undergraduate major required to become an art conservator, you should consider majors such as art history, chemistry, materials science, archaeology, or studio art. These majors provide a strong foundation for the knowledge and skills needed in art conservation.
  2. Complete Relevant Courses: During your undergraduate studies, take courses that relate to art history, chemistry, and materials science, as these subjects are crucial for understanding the materials and techniques used in artworks.

Gain Practical Experience:

  1. Internships and Volunteering: Seek internships or volunteer opportunities at museums, art galleries, or conservation labs. This hands-on experience will give you exposure to the conservation field and help you develop practical skills.
  2. Conservation Workshops: Participate in conservation workshops and training programs. Many institutions and organizations offer short-term workshops and courses where you can learn specific conservation techniques.

Pursue a Master’s Degree in Art Conservation:

  1. To become a professional art conservator, it is typically necessary to earn a master’s degree in art conservation or a related field. These programs are highly competitive and provide comprehensive training in conservation theory, techniques, ethics, and practical skills.
  2. Research Graduate Programs: Look for accredited graduate programs in art conservation. The most renowned institutions offering such programs include the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, the University of Delaware, and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.
  3. Application Process: Admission to these programs is highly competitive. Prepare a strong application that includes letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a portfolio of your relevant coursework and experience.

Complete a Graduate Internship:

  1. Most art conservation programs require students to complete a graduate internship or a practical component as part of their degree requirements. This internship provides valuable hands-on experience in a conservation laboratory.

Specialize and Network:

  1. Consider specializing in a specific area of conservation, such as paintings, textiles, sculptures, or paper conservation. Specialization can make you more marketable in the field.
  2. Attend conferences, workshops, and professional meetings in the conservation community to build your network and stay updated on the latest developments in the field.

Seek Employment:

  1. After completing your education and gaining practical experience, start looking for job opportunities. Art conservators can work in museums, galleries, private practices, cultural heritage organizations, and more.

Professional Certification:

  1. Consider pursuing professional certification from organizations like the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) or other relevant organizations in your country. Certification can enhance your credibility and career prospects.

Career Opportunities:

Graduates in art conservation can pursue various career paths, including:

Museums and Galleries: Many conservators work in museums and galleries, where they care for the institution’s collections.

Private Practice: Some conservators establish private practices, working with individual collectors or institutions on a freelance basis.

Academia and Research: Conservation professionals may teach, conduct research, or contribute to advancements in conservation science.

Cultural Heritage Organizations: Art conservators can find opportunities in cultural heritage organizations, such as libraries, archives, and historical societies.

Art conservation is a dynamic and rewarding career that combines science, art, and history to preserve our cultural heritage. It requires a strong educational foundation, hands-on experience, ethical principles, and a passion for the arts. Art conservators play a vital role in safeguarding our artistic treasures, ensuring that they endure for generations to come. If you have a deep appreciation for art and a desire to protect it, a career in art conservation may be the perfect path for you.






By Katie Sullivan
Katie Sullivan Assistant Director