All art history students dream of the day they will finally come face-to-face with the Old Masters, a Picasso, or a Pollack. It is one thing to sit in a lecture hall and learn about the history of the world’s most influential artists, but it is something else to immerse yourself in art culture by visiting museums, galleries, and exhibitions. What if you could combine the two?
Studying art history abroad exposes you to new cultures and experiences that are so much more meaningful outside the lecture hall. It allows students to combine their passion for art, love of adventure, and desire to immerse themselves in some of the most cosmopolitan, exciting art cultures in the world. Being able to meet passionate artists, curators, restorers, and historians is another major draw for students of art history.
If you are interested in going overseas to study art history, there are lots of different types of programs, destinations, and short courses for you to explore!
There are several different program types that allow you to study art history, and some programs might be a mixture of some (or all!) of the following types. Programs can differ significantly by tertiary organization, depending on the nature, history, and academic direction of the university or institute in question.
Real World Immersion
An immersion course throws you right into the deep end, taking you into the heart of art culture, or introducing you directly to art historians or artists themselves. Classes can be taught at a series of locations, including museums or galleries, or even studios or workplaces. Real world immersion offers students the opportunity to get a feel for the art industry, and to gain an understanding of whether they wish to build a career in this space or not.
Field work courses are usually short courses of less than three months, which allow a student to visit a specific area or location and study for a specified period of time. Many universities offer fieldwork courses in the form of a trip abroad during a semester, during which students will be guided amongst famous paintings, sculptures, galleries, architecture, and historical sites, with the goal of gaining an in-depth understanding of a different art culture.
Discussion-based classes are often based on campus or in lecture halls, but may also be held in locations of significance, such as galleries, where particular art topics, themes, or pieces are discussed. While discussion-based classes are not for everyone, the ability to bounce ideas off your fellow students is an invaluable part of appreciating and understanding the dynamics of the art world.
A research thesis in art history will involve the creation of a thesis or body of work that is rooted in academic research and describes a point of view or particular theory. Students undertaking thesis studies are generally older and comfortable working independently, but will still have guidance from a supervisor within their educational institution.
Where to Go
Undertaking study in some of the most renowned art destinations in the world not only means that you will learn from experts in their respected fields, but it also offers the opportunity for field trips and lectures in inspirational settings. The following destinations are just a sample of where the wide variety of art history programs are available for students who wish to study overseas.
When we think of art destinations, we’ll always have Paris! Paris is home to the Lourve, the Pompidou Centre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Musée Rodin, not to mention countless independent galleries. You can study a Bachelor of Art History at the American University of Paris, immersing you in the center of the French art scene. The Paris College of Art is another alternative, with partnerships with local French institutions, such as Research Center of the Château de Versailles and the Université de Paris – Sorbonne.
Want to take your art history study to the next level? The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers a Master of Arts specializing in contemporary arts culture. This degree focuses on today’s art, including site-specific projects, digital or new media art, and performance and activist projects. As a city of tolerance and creativity, Amsterdam offers the perfect setting to study contemporary art, with plenty of fieldwork and a rich student experience woven into your postgraduate study.
If you don’t want to be tied down by a solely academic program, how about considering study through the CIEE Berlin: Open Campus Program? This program offers students the opportunity to create flexible and innovative study programs based in Kreuzberg, Berlin –- a trendy hub for the arts and culture. Being able to combine fieldwork, research, or lecture-hall based study to suit your needs is one of the key benefits to studying with CIEE Berlin, as well as being located in one of the world’s funkiest cities of the arts.
If you are looking for a shorter-term commitment, Art History Abroad (AHA) offers summer programs of four to six weeks in Rome, Naples, Siena, Florence, Verona, and Venice for students of all academic backgrounds. With accommodation, travel and museum bookings all sorted by AHA, the program offers the perfect opportunity to see some of Italy’s treasures up close –- and to be able to mix with fellow art history enthusiasts from all over the world.
While Prague is a late bloomer on the art scene, experiencing massive cultural revolutions between the world wars and following the Velvet Revolution, it has a booming contemporary art culture and a fascinating history. A CEA Study Abroad Program at the Anglo-American University of Prague will provide you insight into the very unique culture of the Czech Republic, and how it developed behind the iron curtain.
Planning Your Trip
With many different institutions throughout the world offering study abroad programs for learners, going overseas to study art history is a relatively painless process. The hardest part should be choosing what it is you want to study -- and where exactly you would like to go!
How to Choose an Art History Study Abroad Program
To decide on a program of study, you will need to determine what it is you want to achieve with your time overseas. If you intend to carry on to post-graduate study in your home country, or another country, you need to be careful that your studies will be credited or recognized by other institutions. Furthermore, if you intend to carry on to a specialization, you will need to make sure your pathway leads you in the right academic direction, too.
The cost and length of the program will also be significant deciding factors in where and when you decide to study. Whilst most major organizations offer scholarships, art history places are highly prized, so competition for these scholarships can be high. It is also important to clarify which language your program will be taught in –- and whether your language skills are up for studying full-time in that language.
For those who are unsure about committing to a whole semester overseas, a shorter-term summer or gap year program can be a fantastic introduction to the art history space, allowing students the opportunity to see what studying overseas is all about.
Health & Safety
The world’s biggest art destinations are also some of the world’s biggest tourist destinations. While this means there will be a lot of support and information available in English, it also means busy streets, over-worked transportation systems, and lots of scams. Don’t let this put you off, but remember to be sensible and read about the precautions you need to take at your specific destination. Your educational organization should be able to give you some tips on living safely in your new home.
When studying overseas, or even travelling for a short course, you should always have travel insurance. It is always better to have insurance and not require it then to be caught short with a huge medical bill and no way to pay it. Be sure that your medical insurance covers you as a student and covers your whole period of study.
Other Need to Know
Many art history courses are very specific to the artwork and culture of a country. While this makes sense, you may want to consider whether you feel ready to commit to a year of studying Aegean or Italian art, or whether you would like to seek out a broader program.
It is always a good idea to get in touch with the art history faculty of the institution you wish to study at, in order to gain an understanding of how they operate. Art departments are known for their creativity and for thinking outside the box with some of their teaching and methods -- which may or may not suit you!