How to Become an Art Archivist?

By The Arty Teacher - November 4, 1989

What is an Art Archivist?

An art archivist is a professional responsible for the preservation, cataloging, and management of art collections, ensuring the historical, cultural, and artistic significance of the artworks is documented and protected. Their primary duties include the organization and maintenance of art records, historical documents, and visual materials related to art pieces and artists. Art archivists play a crucial role in museums, galleries, libraries, and other cultural institutions, assisting in research, exhibition planning, and the safe storage of valuable artwork. They help bridge the gap between art and history, contributing to the understanding and appreciation of artistic heritage for future generations.

What Skills does an Art Archivist need?

To become an art archivist, you should enjoy keeping things organised, have a good attention to detail, and an interest in art history to understand and protect valuable pieces of art for future generations.

What Qualification does an Art Archivist Need?

A bachelor’s or master’s degree in art history, library science, or archival studies is a common starting point. Specialised coursework in art conservation and collection management can be beneficial. Hands-on experience through internships or volunteer work in museums, galleries, or archival institutions is invaluable. Strong research, organisational, and communication skills are essential, as art archivists deal with valuable collections and work closely with scholars, curators, and conservators. Staying updated on preservation techniques, digital cataloging, and emerging archival technologies is vital, as the field is continually evolving. International organizations like the International Council on Archives (ICA) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) provide valuable resources and standards for art archivists worldwide to adhere to in their professional practice.

Types of Archivist

While the overarching role of an art archivist involves the preservation and management of art collections, there are various specializations and areas of focus within the field of art archiving, each catering to specific aspects of art and cultural heritage. Some common types of art archivists or specializations include:

  1. Museum Archivist: These professionals work within museums and art institutions to manage the archival records and documentation related to the museum’s collection, exhibitions, and history.
  2. Gallery Archivist: Gallery archivists are responsible for maintaining records and documents related to the art and artists represented by art galleries, often working in commercial or private galleries.
  3. Artist Archivist: Some archivists specialize in working directly with artists to document and preserve their creative process, artistic materials, and personal archives.
  4. Photograph Archivist: These archivists focus on photographic collections, preserving and cataloging photographs, negatives, and other visual materials in the context of art history.
  5. Digital Archivist: With the growth of digital art, digital archivists specialize in preserving and managing born-digital art and related documentation.
  6. Archival Conservator: Archival conservators work to preserve and restore art archives and documents to ensure their long-term survival.
  7. Historical Manuscripts Archivist: While not exclusively focused on visual art, these archivists work with historical documents, manuscripts, and letters that may include art-related content.
  8. Cultural Heritage Archivist: These archivists focus on the broader cultural heritage, which may include preserving records and artifacts related to not only visual art but also music, literature, and other aspects of culture.
  9. Research Archivist: Research archivists often collaborate with scholars and researchers, providing access to and expertise on archival collections relevant to art history and cultural studies.

Each type of art archivist may require specific knowledge and skills related to their area of specialization, but they all share the common goal of preserving and providing access to valuable cultural and artistic materials for the benefit of future generations.

What Can you do Now?

Building a strong CV to become an art archivist while still in school involves a combination of education and practical experiences. Here are some steps students can take:

  1. Academic Excellence: Maintain a strong academic record, especially in relevant subjects such as art history, library science, and archival studies.
  2. Art and History Courses: Take art history and history courses to build a foundational knowledge of art and cultural history.
  3. Library or Archival Studies: Pursue additional coursework or workshops related to library science and archival studies, which can provide essential skills and knowledge.
  4. Internships: Seek out internships or volunteer opportunities in museums, galleries, or archival institutions to gain hands-on experience in art archiving. People are usually pleased to help.
  5. Digital Skills: Familiarise yourself with digital archiving and cataloging tools and software, as digital archiving is becoming increasingly important.
  6. Cataloging and Documentation: Practice cataloging and documenting art or historical materials as part of your coursework or internship tasks.
  7. Art Conservation Exposure: Familiarize yourself with art conservation principles and practices, as conserving art materials may be part of the archivist’s role.
  8. Art Handling Experience: Learn about proper art handling and care, which is crucial when working with delicate and valuable art pieces.
  9. Language Skills: Consider studying a second language, as many art archives contain materials in multiple languages, and language skills can be a valuable asset.
  10. Networking: Attend art-related events, lectures, and conferences to build connections with professionals in the field.
  11. Create a Portfolio: Document your coursework, projects, and internship experiences to create a portfolio that showcases your skills and knowledge.
  12. Research and Writing: Develop strong research and writing skills, which are essential for documenting and presenting historical and art-related information.
  13. Cultural Awareness: Learn about various art forms, cultures, and art movements to have a broader perspective on art history.
  14. Stay Informed: Keep up with current trends and developments in art archiving and cultural heritage preservation through relevant publications and organizations.
  15. Leadership and Communication: Demonstrate leadership, teamwork, and communication skills, as art archivists often work collaboratively and need to convey information clearly.

By taking these steps and actively seeking opportunities to gain experience in the field, students can gradually build a strong CV and prepare for a future career as an art archivist.

Useful Links:

What is an Archivist?

Duties of an Archivist

Real Job Advertisement for a Digital Archivist

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The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

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