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How do I Become an Art Restorer?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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To become an art restorer, it is necessary to receive a degree in fine art, studio art, or a related field, generally with a concentration in a particular area of art to get advanced training in topics like handling textiles or restoring paintings. This work commonly requires apprenticeship after graduation to develop practical skills in the workplace. Once fully qualified, an art restorer can work for museums, galleries, and private collectors.

Members of the lay public often use the terms “art restorer” and “art conservator” interchangeably. These two careers both involve preserving and caring for art, but they are quite different. Art restorers work with the goal of restoring art to peak condition, using a variety of techniques to repair art after damage or neglect. Art conservators are interested in preserving art with minimal interference. They usually have advanced degrees like master's and doctorate degrees, and they consider the cultural history and context of the art, working to prevent further damage and to keep the art as safe as possible, but not necessarily repairing it. In a simple example, when an art restorer encounters a statue with missing limbs, new limbs might be fabricated. The art conservator would stabilize the piece, leaving the damage intact, and discuss the cultural and historic reasons for the missing extremities.

Someone who wants to become an art restorer needs training as an artisan. Art schools along with some colleges and universities provide training of the type needed by art restorers. This can include education in working with historic art pieces, repairing damage to art, using materials like those used when art was originally produced, and exploring themes and symbols used in art. People also typically study the cultures surrounding the art they are interested in, as this information can be valuable when restoring damaged artworks; understanding things like how people used color will help people restore art accurately.

People can choose areas of specialization like painting, sculpture, textiles, ceramics, and so forth, developing advanced skills for preservation and restoration. A person who wants to become an art restorer should strongly consider seeking out internships in museums and galleries to get experience handling and working with art before graduation. After a prospective art restorer graduates from college, this experience can be used in resumes to apply for restoration positions and internships.

Artistic skill is necessary to become an art restorer. In addition to understanding the cultural, historical, and social context of art to restore it as accurately as possible, people also have to be able to handle the art, replicate techniques used by the original artist, and make repairs as unobtrusively as possible. Repairs can have a significant impact on the value of artwork, and a clumsy restoration can cause irreparable damage; someone who wants to become an art restorer usually has a passion for creating art, as well as repairing it.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By MrsPramm — On Feb 05, 2014

@croydon - I'm sure if someone was to take up an art restoration career, they would be well-schooled in both ethics and techniques. And there are plenty of times you wouldn't want to restore a piece of art. As you say, the restoration might do more harm than good, or it might be impossible to recreate the piece. Given what we can do with technology, it might be better to just digitally recreate the heyday of a painting or other artwork, rather than messing with the original.

By croydon — On Feb 04, 2014

@Ana1234 - It depends on the situation though. I mean, if someone spray painted a Van Gogh tomorrow, you wouldn't expect them to just leave the spray paint on there as a part of its "history". Not to mention that some damage is covering up valuable information about the piece. This is particularly true of paintings. I mean, I can't think of many things that could justify not taking steps to restore a painting as much as possible to its original state if you can.

Fine art restoration is a difficult process, though. I'd be more worried that the restoration will cause damage, than that the restoration is the right thing to do.

By Ana1234 — On Feb 03, 2014

I think this is actually a really difficult thing to know the right course of action. I mean, in the example given I would personally prefer it if they didn't fabricate new arms for the statue. They could maybe show us what the arms were supposed to look like, if they know from other sources, but adding them onto the art seems to erase a part of its history.

If you put arms onto the Venus de Milo now, for example, people wouldn't know it anymore. And part of its identity would be erased. Art conservation should be just as much about conserving history as it is about conserving the artist's original vision.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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