Four reasons why you should study history of art | Top Universities

Four reasons why you should study history of art

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Aisha Khan

Updated Jun 19, 2023




In a world with endless possibilities to create visual imagery, there is so much to learn about the relationship between people and art and its influence on the world we live in today.  

The Courtauld Institute of Art defines history of art as “the study of art across the world…which covers virtually every aspect of human history and experience. This is because it looks at works of art not just as objects, but as a way of understanding the world, and the societies in which they were created.” 

History of art incorporates all objects that are open to interpretation, from paintings and sculptures to pottery and manuscripts. If you find yourself thinking about an artist’s use of lines, shape, texture and composition, as well as its impact, then history of art may be the right subject for you.    

Read on as we run through four reasons why you should history of art, along with the top-ranked institutions you can study at according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023.  

Top universities for history of art
Rank School Location
1 Royal College of Art  London, United Kingdom 
2 Columbia University  New York, United States 
3 The Courtauld Institute of Art  London, United Kingdom 
4 National University of Singapore (NUS)  Singapore
5 Tsinghua University  Beijing, Mainland China 
6 Harvard University  Cambridge, United States
7 Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Providence, United States 
8 University of Cambridge Cambridge, United Kingdom
9 The New School New York, United States
10 Pratt Institute New York, United States


Immersion in visual culture 

Studying art history allows you to examine artworks through a variety of psychological, cultural and social contexts across different historical periods. 

The programme at the National University of Singapore (ranked fourth globally) offers modules which straddle different geographies, time periods and materials such as Chinese Painting: Styles and Masters, Collecting Art in Europe and Asia (1500 CE -2000 CE), and Islam and Modern and Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia. 

Hannuri, a student at the Courtauld Institute of Art, said that the programme opened his eyes to a broad range of art historical discussions: “From Medieval Reliquaries to Contemporary Asian photography, I have developed an interest in diverse forms of art and how they could express reoccurring ideas beyond time and space. 

“The lectures and research reflect the institute’s progressive aims, acknowledging marginalised voices and highlighting the dominant frameworks at work in the writing of art history.” 

Interactive visits to museums and exhibitions 

At many universities, a key component of the programme is to visit iconic museums, exhibitions and galleries in order to analyse the impact of different art forms in person.  

For example, the University of Cambridge (ranked eighth for history of art) encourages students to take advantage of its wealth of resources such as the Fitzwilliam Museum, Kettle’s Yard, and the colleges' architecture and art collections.  

You can also find yourself working on restoration projects as part of your education. Kanon, an undergraduate student at the Courtauld Institute of Art, said: “The association with the newly reopened Courtauld Gallery gave us students not only free and easy access to the exceptional museum collection but allowed us to get involved in its development through voluntary and paid opportunities such as the Digitalisation Project at Somerset House, the Student Ambassador scheme, or assisting the Gallery’s special openings or events.” 

A multi-disciplinary subject 

In order to navigate complex questions, you’ll learn about approaches from other fields such as economics, anthropology and linguistics, meaning you’ll have an enriching and varied education. 

The programme at UCL (ranked 15th for history of art) offers modules in modern foreign languages and a subsidiary subject – either anthropology, archaeology, history or philosophy – to let you focus on your interests within and around the degree.  

Students can also choose the History of Art Combined Honours degree which offers a thorough grounding in the discipline of art history alongside the in-depth study of either philosophy or one of a selection of modern languages. 

Exciting career opportunities 

History of art graduates can find a host of creative roles directly related to their degree such as museum curators, art gallery managers, conservators and heritage managers. Some of the most valuable skills you’ll learn from your degree include the following: 

  • Critical thinking to form strong arguments 

  • Written and oral communication 

  • Analytical skills, particularly visual analysis, to interpret information from different sources 

  • Ability to work independently and with others 

  • Research and presentation through course assignments and dissertation 

As many of these skills are highly valued across a range of industries, graduates are also well prepared for careers in advertising, publishing, marketing, journalism and teaching.