Best Online Master’s in Art and Art History Programs 2021
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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
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.
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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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