The art of painting—that really should be called the art of resemblance—makes it possible to describe, through painting, a thought capable of becoming visible. This thought includes only figures that the world offers: people, curtains, weapons, stars, solids, inscriptions, etc. Resemblance spontaneously reunites these figures in an order that directly evokes mystery." ~Rene Magritte, Born November 21, 1898- Guerlac, Suzanne. “The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte.” Representations 97.1 (2007): 38. Accessed November 20, 2013. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/rep.2007.97.1.28.” (via philamuseum)
girl-in-the-pearls asked: Hi! First of all, I LOVE your blog! Secondly, being an Art History major as an undergrad, I had a few questions concerning grad school. I thought you'd be the perfect person to ask! I'm currently a Junior in college and I know I want to go to grad school for Art History, but is it best to take a year doing internships, working, etc., rather than jump right in to grad school? This is possibly my biggest question. I know grad school is completely different from the undergrad experience. Thanks!
Thank you! I love your blog and literally everything you post! (I hope you don’t mind that I’m publishing your question - I just thought it would be useful to others as well. :))
I think whether or not you take a year off before grad school depends on a few things. I’ll tell you my story briefly and then offer some items to consider.
I applied to grad school straight out of undergrad and didn’t get in. This was quite possibly the best thing that could have happened. I ended up taking about 2 years off and in that time I got married and was able to work to save a little nest egg for what I knew would be a big move. There’s no guarantee you will get in the first time you apply because so many factors are out of your control, so you have to be prepared for the possibility that you might not get in and think “ok, if I don’t get in, what will I be doing? Am I applying again next application season? If so, what can I do between now and then that will help me to improve as a candidate?” Of course, even if you wait a year and do an internship and/or work, there’s still no guarantee you’ll get in. So, my advice is to consider the following, and then if you feel comfortable moving forward, apply this year and see if you get in. If so, awesome! If not, work on your Plan B.
Things to consider before taking a year off…
- Emotional & Intellectual Health: Depending on when your commencement is and your progression toward your BA, you’ll probably only get one summer off before you start grad school. As you finish your junior year and begin your senior year, how do you feel? Are you exhausted? Sick of constantly having to research, read, and write? Do you lack motivation to write your papers, complete reading, or participate in class? The reading and writing required by my undergrad was extensive (25 page research papers due per class except 100-level every quarter), so when I got to my graduate program, a 15-20 page paper per class every semester was like a vacation. The past two semesters have been the busiest of my life: last semester, for instance, I took 3 seminars, TA’ed for a class that required intensive grading (I graded over 3,000 short-answer/essay questions), and was writing my MA thesis. So before you decide to jump right in, consider that you won’t just be reading, researching, and writing; you’ll probably be expected to TA or work in some other capacity in order to secure funding - maybe not right away, maybe not for a couple years, but probably, eventually, for most programs. I just want to warn you because it is absolutely common to see grad students dropping out of programs because they are mentally exhausted from their Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees and didn’t have enough time to unwind. If you think you’re okay with that after four years of what I’m sure has been intense academic work, then great!
- Money: Art history is not a lucrative field. The pay is often low once you first get on the job market (adjuncts being treated terribly is often a subject in the news these days; of course, pay depends on so many factors, so I’m generalizing), so taking out loans is not an option, in my opinion, if you already have undergraduate loans (which usually freeze for 5 years once you enter a grad program) or if you are living off a graduate stipend with no extra income, which is extremely likely. I strongly recommend only looking at programs that will fund your education and that offer you a living stipend of some sort, which is often granted through service to the school by TAing. These programs definitely exist and admission can be fiercely competitive, but if you can get in, it’s worth it. There are even more programs (often MAs) that don’t offer any funding. I’d steer clear of these. One of the benefits of taking a year off is that if you were to enter a program where you would be expected to pay tuition or cost-of-living expenses, then in your year off you could likely save a decent amount of money that would be able to pay for these costs or at least supplement any financial support you get (unless what you do is an unpaid internship).
- Experience in your areas of interest: How much experience do you have working in your area of interest? Have you written a paper or two (or three) related to what you want to study in grad school? Have you worked in a museum or gallery in a capacity that relates to this area? Although most programs won’t expect people applying straight from their BAs to publications or conference presentations under their belts, it certainly doesn’t hurt if you can find conferences or journals that allow undergrads to present or publish. Are you able to write a Senior Thesis at your university? If so, take advantage of this and write it on something related to grad school interests. Another thing to consider is your potential school’s strengths and weakness related to what you want to study. If you spend your Junior year looking for programs and can’t find a program that’s a good match, maybe it’s a good idea to refine your interests before you apply.
- Your career goals: What do you want to do with your grad degree? Teach, curate, something else? If you don’t have any internships or related experience and you want to curate or do something related, then I would recommend taking a year off to obtain that sort of experience. During your Junior & Senior years, look for programs that have resources that will help you meet your professional goals (e.g., partnerships with museums, teaching opportunities, department publication, curatorial track, proximity to museums and other institutions for job, research & networking possibilities, etc.)
- Your personal relationships: I knew I was going to marry my husband before I even applied to grad school, so taking a year off (even if it was a forced year off), was actually great because we could get married and go on a long honeymoon without having to also worry about a cross-country move. I’m not sure if you have a boyfriend or anything, but if you do… is he going with you to wherever you get in? How about your family - are you comfortable moving away from them? (You might already be away from them, but I put this here for people who might still live at home or close to their families)
- Health insurance: Seriously… I’m lucky that I’m still covered by my parents because of Obamacare. And I’m sure you’re young enough to be covered by your parents for a few more years before you have to worry. But, when that inevitable day comes that you have to buy your own health insurance… just be prepared for that moment. (For instance, I wasn’t prepared for the fact that my university offers grad healthcare at a discounted rate, which for two people for a year is $3k upfront. Yeah, right.)
- Languages: What languages do you know? What languages does your area of interest require? What languages do your potential programs require? You’ll be tested on your language ability soon after you enter a program, so be sure that before you go to grad school your skills are sharp. Some programs also require that you take exams in certain languages (I’ve seen a few schools that require German, regardless of your specialty), so be sure to check that information before you apply. Otherwise, when you get the program you might wish you had taken a year off to study languages (and do other things…)! It’s certainly not a dealbreaker since if you don’t pass an exam schools usually give you a few chances, but your language skills are something to consider at least a little.
TL;DR: Whether or not you take a year off depends on if you’re currently burnt out, what experience you have in your grad-school area of interest, your career goals, and your financial situation.
Sorry this is so long, but I could literally write a book about applying to grad school in art history and I just really want everyone to be happy in their programs and not drop out and be financially secure in some capacity… So! I hope this helps!!
Play is of the essence for learning- One of our curators (via asianartmuseum)
thevideowall asked: Emily, have you heard about the Bonhams natural history auction happening on Tuesday? Included in the sale are museum specimens such as the famous Montana duelling dinosaurs. What are your thought about distinguished museum pieces ending up in private ownership?
It’s a huge bummer. Thankfully, it didn’t sell at auction, and may end up in a museum collection after all.
Taking specimens and articles that have immense and uncalculable historic, scientific, and cultural value is depriving the rest of the world the unknown contributions of that object. Slapping a price tag on a fossil or similar object makes it appear that these items have monetary value and can be traded as commodities, therefore devaluing the public’s interpretation of collections as a whole. It spreads misconception about the real value of these items; that, in addition to arbitrary dollar figures assigned for insurance purposes, they can also be sold off as commercial pieces. It’s not our job to parcel out relics of our collective history for individual monetary gain. Preserve these items for what they are; endowments of knowledge for the future, not trophies to hang in our houses.