Best Online Master’s in Art and Art History Programs 2021
| TBS Staff
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Online art history master's degrees prepare learners for prestigious positions as museum curators, college professors, and art directors.
Graduate students in art and art history strengthen their critical thinking, analytical, and research skills. Fine arts students also develop their artistic abilities. While earning a master's in art history online, graduate students complete coursework in a distance learning format, which allows them to arrange schoolwork around other responsibilities.
Advanced training in art and art history can lead to employment in education or in the nonprofit and public sectors. Graduates can work in art museums, schools, art studios, and advertising agencies. A master of fine arts (MFA) also meets the requirement for art professor jobs.
This guide explores differences between master of arts (MA) and MFA degrees, common graduate-level art and art history courses, and careers in the arts. It also includes rankings of the best online master's programs in art and art history, which students can use to find the right program for their professional goals.
The Best Online Master's in Art and Art History Programs
A senior member of the State University System of Florida, UF moved to its current campus in 1906. Today, UF welcomes over 52,000 students per year.
UF Online offers a master of arts in art education. Focusing on one course at a time, the two-year program balances teaching and practice, offering strong support for students' studio work. Participants may complete their three studio courses online or through optional summer residencies at the university. All students must also complete a final capstone project.
Requirements entail a bachelor's degree in art history, art education, or a similar field with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Additional admissions requirements include three letters of recommendation, a digital portfolio, a resume, a writing sample, and a personal statement.
Founded in 1876 as the Iowa State Normal School, UNI today enrolls more than 10,000 students annually.
UNI's online master of arts in art education provides real-time weeknight synchronous classes through Zoom and an online learning management system. All students take the same courses in the same order over five semesters (including one summer). Courses include holistic approaches for art education, readings in art education, and themes in art education.
Applicants must hold either a BA in art education or a bachelor's in either art history or studio art, along with a valid teaching certificate. UNI requires transcripts, two letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of purpose.
Founded as a teachers' college in 1895, EIU serves more than 8,600 students.
EIU offers an online master of arts in art education. The two-year, non-licensure program requires an eight-day on-campus studio course each summer. Otherwise, studies stay online, including two art history courses and seven courses in art education. All students must pass a comprehensive oral exam before graduation.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA and submit three letters of recommendation.
Established as the Louisiana State Normal School in 1884 and now part of the University of Louisiana system, NSU welcomes 11,000 students per year.
The university offers a mostly online master of arts in art. Students must attend either one in-person semester or two three-week on-campus summer sessions at the beginning of their program. All other courses remain online, but students must return to campus for their graduate thesis exhibition.
Admission requires official transcripts, GRE scores, and two letters of recommendation.
Established in 1902 on the grounds of the closed Fort Hays military outpost, FHSU moved to its current location in 1904. Today, the university serves 15,000 students.
FHSU offers a fully online master of liberal studies - concentration in art. All students take the same courses, including origins and implications of the knowledge society, non-Western art history, and 20th century art. Students must also complete a culminating course entitled Graduate Readings in Art History.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in art history or studio art with at least 12 credits in art history and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Additional requirements include a resume and an art history writing sample.
Established as the Nebraska State Normal School in 1903 and now part of the University of Nebraska system, UNK enrolls 6,000 students each year.
UNK offers a fully online master of arts in education: art education. Though neither track grants teacher licensure, students may emphasize either classroom or museum education. Both tracks allow students to carve their own path with various electives, such as women in art, creative photography, or painting. All students must complete a final research paper.
For admission, UNK requires bachelor's degree in art education, visual arts, or a related field, with a minimum of 24 credits in art, art history, or art education. Applicants must also submit a resume, two letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.
An evangelical Christian university established in 1899, APU now welcomes more than 10,000 campus-based and online students every year.
APU offers a fully online master of arts in modern art history, theory, and criticism. The program blends a detailed study of modern and contemporary art history with a strong Christian worldview. All students take history of 20th century art, criticism and theory, and methodologies of art history, along with such electives as history of modern and contemporary sculpture or modernism and religion.
Students must also take reading and translating French or demonstrate mastery of a different foreign language. The degree also requires a capstone writing project and a capstone portfolio.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a GPA of 3.0 or above. Additional requirements include a statement of purpose, a resume, and two recommendations. The department may request an online interview.
A public university founded in 1967, AUM enrolls more than 5,100 students annually.
AUM offers a fully online interdisciplinary master of liberal arts with a specialization in visual arts. The program requires just three core courses: research and writing, and themes in culture and society I and II. Students then take six electives, up to five of which may be in their area of specialization. All students may also complete a thesis if desired.
Requirements include official transcripts and GRE or MAT scores for those with a GPA below 2.75.
Founded in 1805 and the oldest art museum and art school in the United States, PAFA serves just 275 students each year.
PAFA offers a low-residency master of fine arts. Students attend eight-week summer sessions on campus for three summers in a row, while the fall and spring semesters occur fully online. Enrollees receive private studio space and attend seminar classes during the summer sessions.
Fall and spring semesters feature off-site critiques and courses such as writing on art for artists and the studio and beyond. All students complete a written thesis off-site and a visual thesis during their final summer session.
Applicants submit official transcripts, a 20-image portfolio, two letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. The school encourages but does not require a resume.
Online Master's in Art and Art History Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.
Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.
While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.
The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.
The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.
Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.
Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology
About Our Ranking Factors
Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.
Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.
We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.
In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.
If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.
We thank you for your readership and trust.
Featured Online Master's in Art and Art History Programs
What Are Online Master's Degrees in Art and Art History?
A graduate degree in art or art history builds advanced skills in art criticism, studio art, and art movements. During an art history program, graduate students explore art theory while strengthening their critical eye. They take courses in postmodernism, impressionism, and other artistic movements. Art history graduate students also strengthen their analytical skills through research projects.
A fine arts program emphasizes the creative process within specialties like painting, sculpture, and new media. Fine arts master's students critique each other's works and build portfolios as part of the curriculum.
Art and art history programs can prepare graduates for careers as art educators, museum curators, and conservators, or as designers, art directors, and art professors. Earning a master's in art or art history generally takes two years for full-time students.
Choosing an Online Master's in Art and Art History Program
Online master's programs in art and art history offer different specializations and award different degrees. Prospective applicants must consider which program best fits their interests and career goals.
For example, while earning a master's in art history online, students explore art criticism, curation, and analysis, while an MFA focuses more on preparing studio artists for careers in fine arts.
Prospective students should also weigh factors such as cost, program length, and financial aid opportunities when choosing a master's program. By researching several potential programs helps future graduate students find the right fit.
What Is the Difference Between an MFA and an MA?
At the master's level, art and art history programs offer both master of art (MA) and master of fine art (MFA) degrees. An MA emphasizes academic and research-based approaches to art, while an MFA focuses on studio art and the practical creative process. Both degrees typically take around two years, but they require different courses and lead to distinct career paths.
In an MA program, graduate students take courses in art criticism, artistic movements, and art theory. An MFA includes more studio art or workshop courses. While an MA often requires a master's exam or thesis, an MFA culminates in a final artistic project.
An MFA is a terminal degree in fine arts, meaning that graduates can't go on to earn a doctorate in the same subject. With an MFA, graduates can work as fine artists, art teachers, appraisers, and art professors. The MA is not a terminal degree; graduates can go on to pursue doctorates.
Accreditation for Online Master's in Art and Art History Degrees
When researching master's in art history online degrees, prospective students should always check institutional accreditation status. Regionally accredited schools meet the highest standards for educating students and granting degrees. Accredited universities also qualify for federal student aid programs.
In art and art history, applicants can also look for programmatic accreditation. For example, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) grants accreditation to art and art history schools. NASAD also accredits art and art history programs within public and private universities.
What Can I Expect When Pursuing a Master's in Art and Art History Online?
During a master's in art or art history, graduate students take courses in art criticism, theory, and studio art. Many programs offer concentrations to specialize the degree, including modern art, painting, new media, and museum studies. It is common for students to specialize in one type of art, such as sculpture.
This section covers common courses and concentrations for art and art history graduate programs.
Common Courses for Master's in Art Programs
- Approaches to Art: In this course, students examine theoretical and critical approaches to understanding art. Learners analyze art through different critical lenses while also studying artistic techniques and movements. Depending on the program, students conduct critiques, write papers, create projects, or visit museums to develop their critical analytical skills.
- Contemporary Visual Art and Postmodernism: Graduate learners examine movements in contemporary visual art, including the postmodernist movement. Coursework considers the intersection between society, culture, and art, emphasizing the rise of postmodernism and the role of new media in visual art.
- Expressionism: Learners explore the early 20th-century expressionist art movement, including the influence of World War I on visual art. By examining artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, graduate students trace the rise and evolution of expressionism. The course also considers the connection between expressionism and later artistic movements, like Dadaism.
- Impressionism: Graduate students examine the rise of impressionism in the 19th century, including painters like Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. The course addresses the role of Parisian culture in the artistic movement, the reception of impressionist artists, and the post-impressionist movement. Learners also study the artistic impact of impressionism on modern art.
- Italian Art: Learners explore painting and sculpture in the early, high, and late Italian Renaissance. The course examines prominent artists like Giotto, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo, including their relationship with patrons, like Lorenzo de' Medici. Students also trace the changing techniques in Baroque art and the influence of Italian Renaissance art on modern movements.
- Modern and Contemporary Art in Asia: Art history graduate students explore Asian art, including its historical roots, contemporary movements in Asian art, and prominent Asian artists. The course examines Asian art in the global art market, particularly trends in art and art production. Graduates apply this knowledge in museums, galleries, and auction houses.
Common Courses for Master's in Art History Programs
- Art Theory and Criticism: MFA students often study art theory and criticism to strengthen their interpretive skills. Learners explore different theories behind presenting and critiquing visual information. The class also emphasizes research skills, asking learners to investigate artists, designers, and art critics. Theory and criticism classes prepare graduate students for advanced MFA courses.
- Ceramics: In graduate ceramics classes, learners explore advanced techniques in clay and ceramics. For example, they study design elements such as color and texture while strengthening their building techniques. Enrollees learn about sculpture, hand building, and traditional ceramic arts. The course's studio component allows students to craft finished works and strengthen their critiquing skills.
- Drawing: At the graduate level, drawing classes emphasize advanced techniques for different styles of drawing, including sketching, digital drawing, charcoal, and cartoon drawing. Students also explore animation and hand rendering. Some drawing courses include an educational perspective, building the skills necessary to teach drawing. Each student develops a drawing portfolio.
- New Media: New media includes digital art and storytelling in several modern media platforms. The course incorporates creative processes, including multimedia storytelling and building a new media portfolio.
- Painting: Painting courses cover advanced techniques and methods in the field. MFA students in painting complete studio work; critique work from fellow students; and study narrative, portraiture, and the gaze.
- Sculpture: Graduate students taking studio sculpture courses complete works in various media, including clay, marble, plastic, and wood. In addition to creating works, enrollees critique each other's projects to strengthen their critical analysis skills. Graduate students also read works on sculpture and explore current practices in the field.
Art History Concentrations
An ancient art and archaeology concentration focuses on works from the classical period, including artistic styles and movements popular in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and Greece. In addition to studying ceramics, sculpture, and monument building, art history graduate enrollees complement their studies with archaeological research.
A concentration in East Asian art and archaeology focuses on the art of China, Korea, and Japan. Students learn about Japanese print culture, Chinese building projects, and Korean art installations. Degree-seekers often focus on ancient art and archaeology, but also cover more modern works.
An architecture concentration emphasizes the design and building elements common in different periods and cultures. Students learn about design and technology, intellectual movements in architecture, and contemporary issues in the theory of architecture. The concentration provides an interdisciplinary perspective on architecture by drawing on material science, history, geography, and art.
Coursework traces developments from the classical, medieval, and modern art movements. Learners study Baroque, Neoclassical, and Romantic art, including their dominant artists.
Art and Art History Careers
A master's degree in art or art history offers a pathway to many careers. Graduates can work as fine artists, museum curators, art directors, and educators. An MFA also meets the education requirement for art professor jobs.
This section covers common careers for art and art history graduates. Some careers may require additional specialized training or a specific concentration.
Curators work in museums, managing the acquisition and exhibition of valuable objects, including works of art. Some curators research and authenticate art to determine its value or whether to add it to collections. Curators can also become directors of departments or whole museums. Museum directors manage research projects, educational programs, and loans between institutions. Most curators hold master's degrees in fields like art or art history — particularly those employed in art museums. A focus in museum studies or coursework in administration, public relations, and nonprofit management can help curators enter the field.
Art directors create the visual style for advertisements, product packaging, and media productions. They work with creative directors and production artists to develop and execute visual concepts. Art directors also oversee design staff. Within their department, art directors coordinate work, manage timelines for projects, and oversee budgets. Art directors often have a background in art and design. While a bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement for art director roles, many employers hire candidates with a master's-level education in art, which demonstrates their creative abilities.
Postsecondary art and art history teachers, also known as art professors, instruct students in studio art, art criticism, and art history. Art professors often produce artistic works and organize gallery exhibitions as well. Professors also conduct research and publish their work in scholarly journals. With an MFA, artists qualify for tenure-track art professor roles. In art history, a master's degree may meet the requirements for adjunct roles. However, most art history professors hold Ph.D. degrees in art history.
Frequently Asked Questions
Master's in art history degrees train graduate students for careers as museum curators, art teachers, authenticators, and conservators. The degree leads to opportunities in academia, nonprofits, and the public sector.
Earning a master's degree in art history generally takes two years for full-time students. However, part-time or accelerated programs can offer alternate timelines.
A master's in art prepares graduates for careers as artists and art educators. The degree provides advanced training in art, art theory, and criticism. For many careers, an art master's degree is worth the investment.
Art history programs teach students how to critically analyze art. Art history majors learn about art and artistic movement during different time periods and cultures throughout history.
Header Image Credit: Luis Alvarez | Getty Images
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