Online Master's Programs in Art History

Those interested in art history can earn an online master's in art history, which provides in-depth explorations of artistic eras and masterpieces. Master's programs may also include directed studies and research projects on personal areas of interest but still build general knowledge of artistic techniques and periods.

This degree can qualify you for museum and postsecondary education positions. For these professions, the online format proves useful since teachers may oversee virtual classes, and museums use technology for museum publicity. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art provides a virtual tour of the museum.

This page examines specific careers for this degree, along with program traits, possible salaries, and professional organizations for art history professionals.

What to Know About Online Master's in Art History Coursework

An online master's in art history typically requires 30-36 credits students complete in 2-4 years, depending on their learning pace. Specifically, part-time learners can graduate in four years by taking 7-9 credits per year, while full-time candidates can take 15-18 annual credits for a two-year graduation.

In these programs, students can study art from eras stretching from medieval to contemporary, studying these works through lenses like race, religion, and other cultural contexts. Through these explorations, degree seekers learn to appreciate pieces from aesthetic perspectives while making inferences about the civilizations that produced their artists. Learners also develop written and verbal communication skills since they deliver findings through papers and oral presentations.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Art History Program?

Courses for online master's in art history programs vary among schools, particularly since departments may offer concentrations with specialized coursework. However, the best art history programs cover multiple periods, geographic areas, and art types throughout history. Programs may also address museum management, thesis-building, and research strategies. Common courses among programs include the following:

Museum and Gallery Studies
Courses may explore managerial elements of museum work, including budgets, exhibition designs, and marketing. Students also study museums throughout history, along with ethical and legal concerns regarding museum pieces. Other topics include preservation, recordkeeping, and public engagement. These courses may also require fieldwork.
Art History Theories and Methods
Classes equip students with strategies for interpreting art pieces and solving field problems. Coursework also addresses the evolution of those strategies throughout history and trains students to perform solid research. Addressed methodologies for interpreting art often relate to the artist's life, social contexts, and theories like Marxism.
Renaissance Art
These courses examine famous Renaissance artists and pieces. Specifically, students may study paintings, sculptures, and architecture from artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Filippo Brunelleschi. Departments may separate this information by geography, such as the Northern Renaissance, or time period, including the late Renaissance. Candidates also explore the origins of this artistic style and its influence on future eras.
History of Photography
Students learn about photographic techniques and traits from the 19th century to modern times. Courses explore artistic movements and technologies that shaped the artform. Departments may also relate this art type to other forms, like painting, and explore social contexts of how cultures engage through photography.
Modern Art
These courses often begin with mid-20th century art and extend to modern pieces. Courses may cover multiple artforms like painting, architecture, and photography and can also focus on certain geographic regions, which are often the U.S. and Europe. Students typically explore the impact of technology and culture on modern art.

What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Art History Program?

Art history explores different times, civilizations, and techniques. This diversity leads to numerous specializations that help students prepare for different careers. Learners interested in museum work, for instance, can select a museum studies specialization. Candidates can also choose concentrations in their primary interest area to become historians and postsecondary educators on those topics. Possible specializations include the following options.

  • Museum Studies: This specialization explores historic concepts, current trends, and future concerns for museums. Top online master's in art history programs also address conservation and curation techniques and educate learners on popular artists and eras. Candidates may also explore the impact of museums on the public. These focuses may require capstones or field experience.
  • Greek and Roman: This focus examines artforms from ancient Greece and ancient Rome, such as pottery, statues, and architecture. Courses also explore the historical context of these works for commentary on Greek and Roman civilizations, politics, economics, and culture. Students may also choose specializations in other eras, such as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
  • History of Architecture: This specialization addresses architecture throughout artistic eras, from ancient to modern times. Learners study architectural traits for each period and infer cultural details based on architecture. Courses may also explore the meaning or purpose of famous pieces, such as the Roman aqueducts and Stonehenge.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Many online master's in art history programs require students to complete a thesis. These projects require students to choose a field-related topic, extensively research that topic, and write a lengthy paper on their findings. A thesis can also call for an oral defense. Departments may allow learners to focus more than one course on thesis research and construction.

Numerous programs also require field experience through internships and practicums. Schools typically approve fieldwork locations but may allow distance learners to choose art-related locations near their homes. Less common program requirements include portfolios, comprehensive exams, and demonstration of fluency in a foreign language.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Art History Program?

Students should only choose online master's in art history programs that are offered at accredited schools. This status means an approved agency has reviewed and approved the school's academic merit. However, degree seekers should ensure schools hold national or regional accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education offers a database that helps learners make this determination.

Other considerations include faculty reputation, graduation rate, job placement rates, and available concentrations. Specifically, graduation and job placement rates indicate student satisfaction and professional merit. Renowned field experts as faculty indicate strong academia. Available concentrations allow students to focus their education on ideas related to their career goals.

Warning signs of substandard colleges include low student retention rates and extensive teacher turnovers, since these numbers indicate students and faculty are unsatisfied with the institution.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Art History Degree

Candidates who earn an online master's in art may qualify for positions in education and museums, like teaching art history at postsecondary institutions or overseeing exhibits at museums. Graduates may also use aesthetic knowledge from programs in artistic careers, such as photographers, interior decorators, and floral designers. However, employment chances vary based on location. For instance, New York, California, Texas, Maryland, and Illinois offer more archivist positions than any other states, with the District of Columbia boasting the highest concentration of archivist jobs. Some professions also require additional credentials, such as certification.


Archivists work at museums to manage objects and documents. This process includes maintaining organized records, making copies of resources, and developing electronic management procedures. Archivists must also determine the value of museum objects and decide on preservation methods. Additional tasks include creating policies for object handling and guiding museum employees for exhibit construction. This position typically requires a related master's. Programs that include a focus in archival studies particularly prepare for these careers.

  • Median Salary: $52,240
  • Currently Employed: 6,800
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +14%

Museum curators assist with object management but also develop public outreach programs, including workshops and tours. Curators also choose topics and setups for exhibits and publicize the museum at local events. Other tasks include overseeing museum workers, choosing new pieces for the museum, and pursuing research opportunities. Candidates need a relevant master's to become curators. To best prepare for these positions, students can choose programs with museum studies concentrations.

  • Median Salary: $53,780 per year
  • Currently Employed: 12,400
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +14%

Historians research past civilizations and occurrences through primary and secondary sources to create written publications and oral presentations. Historians may also help organizations, such as museums and nonprofit companies, understand historical contexts and concepts. These positions often require a master's. Students can choose concentrations in their preferred period to prepare for these careers.

  • Median Salary: $61,140 per year
  • Currently Employed: 3,300
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +6%
Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary educators design syllabi and teach classes within their discipline. For example, students who obtain an online master's in art history can teach several related courses per term. Other responsibilities may involve helping students build class schedules and performing field research for publications. Candidates may also offer curriculum advice to their departments. Some colleges and universities allow master's degree-holders to obtain lecturer or adjunct positions, though most tenure-track teaching positions require doctorates. Choosing concentrations in a preferred art history topic can help graduates teach classes in that particular focus.

  • Median Salary: $78,470 per year
  • Currently Employed: 1,314,400
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +15%
Instructional Coordinators

Instructional coordinators analyze student data to determine educational needs. Candidates shape curricula, advise educators on teaching methods, recommend textbooks, and offer training opportunities for faculty. Coordinators may focus on a specific subject, such as art or history. These positions require a master's degree in education or the focus field. For instance, art history master's graduates may qualify for positions where they coordinate related curricula. Some states also require licensure and substantial work experience for these positions.

  • Median Salary: $64,450 per year
  • Currently Employed: 163,200
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +11%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

What's the Expected Job Growth for Art History Careers?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an increase in positions for all of the careers detailed in the previous section. In fact, the BLS projects faster-than-average growth for archivists, curators, postsecondary teachers, and instructional coordinators by 2026 due to an increase in technology and student enrollment.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Art History

Professional benefits from art-related organizations include networking opportunities through forums, meetings, and events. Often, these events explore art history concepts so that learners grow in the field while interacting with other professionals. These groups may also publish field-related journals and connect members with art history resources. Other benefits include job boards, fellowships, and financial services, like awards and scholarships.

The Association of Art Museum Curators
AAMC hosts the Annual Conference and Meeting where members can deliver panels. The association also provides webinars on topics such as social media, management, and e-publications, along with workshops on employment and museum management. Members can view field positions, internships, and fellowships through the site.

College Art Association
CAA hosts a yearly conference and provides the Online Career Center where candidates can explore field positions. The association also offers several art-related publications, including Art Journal and The Art Bulletin.

Association of Historians of American Art
AHAA started in 1979 and focuses on American art since the beginning of colonization. The group boasts connections with CAA and participates in the association's yearly conference. AHAA also provides a symposium every other year and offers the peer-reviewed journal Panorama.

The Medieval Academy of America
This society delivers a yearly event and publishes several book series, such as Medieval Academy Books. The group connects site viewers to Medieval Digital Resources and also provides resources for K-12 teaching, including lesson plans.

The Renaissance Society of America
RSA hosts a yearly conference and offers awards and prizes for articles, books, and lifetime achievement. The society also provides fellowships and informs site viewers on open field positions. Members can explore field topics through the RSA journal Renaissance Quarterly.

How to Pay for a Master's in Art History Degree

The costs of earning a master's in art history include tuition, textbooks, and fees. Financial assistance for these expenses include federal loans students must repay after leaving school. However, students may prefer scholarships, since these funds do not typically require repayment. Other financial assistance methods include work-study programs, fellowships, and tuition reimbursement plans. Learners should consult with their advisors, financial aid department of their schools, and employers to determine available funds.

Federal Financial Aid
Federal financial aid includes grants, loans, and work study. Details for these funds vary. For instance, loans require repayment, and work-study offers funding in exchange for employment. Grants, however, do not call for either but typically only extend to undergraduate learners. To receive federal funding, students should submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Scholarships provide students with funding for college expenses and typically do not require repayment. However, some scholarships come with stipulations. Students who fail to complete those stipulations must repay the funding. Schools or external companies may offer scholarships based on academics, athletic achievements, financial need, and ethnicity. Learners can also earn scholarships based on their major. For example, the University of Iowa offers several scholarships for art history students.
Fellowships allow students to gain field experience while earning money for college. Schools may work with organizations to continually offer fellowships, such as the University of Chicago's agreement with the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. Students may also pursue fellowships beyond school connections. For instance, the Metropolitan Museum of Art provides fellowships in art history.
Tuition Reimbursement
With tuition reimbursement, employers agree to pay for part of the employees' tuition. This process can involve paying before or during the semester or reimbursing funds after students earn passing grades. Companies such as Home Depot and Bank of America offer this assistance. However, some companies limit reimbursement to courses for a specific purpose or field. Museum workers may qualify for this funding, depending on the employer. For instance Harvard's Tuition Reimbursement Program provides tuition reimbursement for museum guards.