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Grad Program: Art Conservation

Basic Information

At 500 years old, the Mona Lisa started showing her age. The wood panels around her have begun to warp, and to find out what’s happening and what needs to be done to preserve this icon of western art, the folks at the Louvre are calling on art conservationists.

Trained in no less than history, art history, archeology, chemistry, materials science, art and artifact technology, craft skills, preventive maintenance, treatment techniques, conservation history, and ethics and philosophy, art conservationists are the mechanics that help keep our cultural heritage running. Students in art conservation programs specialize in areas such as textiles, wood, paper, photographs, library materials, paintings, and natural-science collections and anthropological, historical, decorative, and art objects of all materials. Professionals in this field fuse their aesthetic sensibilities with technical skill and a firm grasp of context.

Degree Information

Art Conservation (M.S.) programs typically take three years. They mix coursework in with internships (usually during the summer) and usually have a combination of written and oral examinations and a research paper, but rarely a thesis. For some programs, students don’t specialize until they’re a few semesters in. Other programs are already specialized and so require specific skills for admission--for instance, a furniture-restoration program will require demonstrable skill in woodworking.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Do you know what you want to specialize in, whether a particular material or group of objects such as documents and books, paintings, decorative arts, textiles, metals, or architectural material?
  • Are you interested in curatorial work?
  • Do you want to work in the geographical area after you graduate? This is especially important when determining internships.
  • Who are the instructors? What work have they done? How accessible are they?
  • With what organizations (such as museums) does the school have relationships?

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