Become an Art Conservator: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Dec 11, 2019

Explore the requirements to become an art conservator. Learn about what art conservators do and check out the step-by-step process that can help you start a career in art conservation.

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  • 0:01 Art Conservators
  • 0:37 Career Information
  • 1:35 Step 1: Undergraduate…
  • 2:40 Step 2: Graduate Education
  • 3:21 Step 3: Experience

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Art Conservators

Art conservators restore, preserve and analyze artifacts and works of art. A career in art conservation requires knowledge of both art and science. Art conservators typically specialize in a particular type of object or material, such as paintings, books, sculptures or textiles. They might work on staff in art museums or provide services to museums, galleries and individuals as freelancers. Some art conservators may also supervise other employees.

Career Information

Degree Level Most employers require a master's degree
Degree Field Art conservation or a closely related field
Experience 1-4 year fellowship typical
Key Skills Analytical, critical-thinking, and organizational skills; physical stamina and strength; knowledge of the appropriate techniques for chemical testing, examining x-rays, and using microscopes and other laboratory equipment
Median Salary (2015)* $44,880 (for museum technicians and conservators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Most employers require that art conservators have a master's degree in art conservation or a closely related field. Graduates of master's degree programs typically complete 1-4 year fellowship programs before seeking employment as art conservators. Art conservators should have good analytical, critical-thinking and organizational skills, along with the physical stamina and strength needed to climb, stretch or lift heavy objects. They should also be familiar with the techniques used to conduct chemical tests and examine x-rays and know how to operate microscopes and other laboratory equipment. In May 2015, art conservators and museum technicians earned a median annual salary of $44,880, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Let's explore the steps you'll have to take before you can apply for a position as an art conservator, beginning with an undergraduate education.

Step 1: Undergraduate Education

Aspiring art conservators can pursue and an undergraduate degree program in fine or studio arts, art history, anthropology or one of the sciences. Studio arts programs can provide students with a background in painting, sculpture, ceramics, printing, graphic design and photography. Once enrolled, students usually complete foundational art courses before selecting a specialization. Courses in art history, chemistry and archaeology also prepare students 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 knowledge of a foreign language relevant to your chosen sub-field may help candidates stand out.

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.

Step 2: Graduate Education

While art conservators usually need a master's degree before they can qualify for a position, graduate degree programs in conservation are rare and difficult to enter, with some requiring 1-3 years experience in the field. These master's degree programs in art conservation typically include 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, through which students work with experienced conservators to assist in the restoration of art objects and artifacts.

Step 3: Experience

Entry-level and internship work provides art conservators with hands-on training they need to work in the field and the opportunity to build a portfolio. Working under a skilled conservator allows the novice conservator to observe various restoration and preservation methods while developing a collection of successful projects.

Take Advantage of Continuing Education Opportunities

Some institutions offer conferences, symposiums and workshops in art conservation. Attending these events allows an art conservator to stay aware of the latest advances and research and meet and connect with others in the field. Professional organizations, such as the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, provide access to job boards, continuing education resources and networking opportunities.

If you're still interested in becoming an art conservator, you'll need a master's degree in art conservation and experience working alongside seasoned professionals. In May 2015, art conservators and museum technicians made a median annual salary of $44,880.

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