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What Are the Different Types of Art Conservation Courses?

By Jennifer Voight
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Art conservation courses may be offered as part of an art conservation degree program, or there are workshops, seminars, and conferences available to educate those in other career fields who have an interest in art conservation. The art conservation courses required to prepare for a career as an art conservator span a wide variety of disciplines, such as art history, science, and archeology. As an art conservator progresses through her career, short continuing education courses can help keep knowledge up to date. For mid-career non-conservation professionals who want to increase their knowledge about conservation, a seminar, workshop, or even a long-distance course can cover basics of art preservation or historic preservation, including federal regulations.

The field of art conservation involves preserving a work of art with minimal intervention. Although some art conservators do art restoration work, which involves repairing existing damage, the primary focus of art conservation is to preserve and protect an artwork from further deterioration or degradation. This requires a strong background in preservation techniques; knowledge of art history, archaeology, and architecture; as well as proficiency in chemistry and other sciences. Any conservator, restorer, or preservationist should be familiar with a country’s federal regulations that regulate how historical objects and works of art are handled.

For an aspiring art conservation expert, a university graduate degree program should contain all the art conservation courses that are needed to launch a career in conservation and historical preservation. A student may take art conservation courses that teach preservation of various materials or how artists' techniques have changed throughout history. At the other end of the spectrum, a student will also need a thorough knowledge of materials science and organic and inorganic chemistry to understand how to best preserve works of art and monuments. Additionally, knowledge of anthropology and cultures helps art conservationists to consider conservation issues in context within a particular historical era. It’s helpful to learn about art materials and techniques used by a society in an era in order to best decide how to preserve an object’s condition.

Although most conservation and restoration techniques are best left to professionals who have had years of training and experience, there are seminars available dealing with specific conservation issues or that teach non-conservationists how to correctly display, store, and handle works of art. These art conservation courses are regularly given by conservation and preservation societies and museums and range in length from several hours to a week or more. Many of these focus on preservation of specific types of materials.

Finally, professional art conservators often take continuing education classes to stay updated on new technologies and knowledge in the field. Some may take advantage of fellowships to gain more advanced training. These fellowships can help increase skills in specific areas of conservation that might not otherwise be available at a regular employment position.

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Discussion Comments

By pastanaga — On Oct 10, 2014

@croydon - It's a lot more interesting than I would have thought as well. I saw a documentary on the restoration of treasures at a museum once and I was very impressed by the lengths that conservationists will go to. In one case they were trying to restore a feather cloak that was originally made with endangered bird feathers, so they couldn't just go out and get some more when some were damaged.

They ended up negotiating with local tribes who still had an old supply of the feathers from other artifacts that had disintegrated over the years and they used those. It's much more adventurous than I would have thought.

By croydon — On Oct 09, 2014

@Ana1234 - It actually requires a wide range of skills that often have nothing really to do with art history. You don't necessarily need to know the symbolism of a particular piece to preserve it. That's got a lot more to do with science, including climate and chemical reactions and so forth especially if you want to work in a museum.

But there are conservationists working in other places as well, even outdoors among sculptures or with the ruins of ancient cities. There are conservationists who work with more recent art as well, like the kind that wealthy people might have in their homes, which isn't necessarily worth millions, but still needs to be preserved properly.

Not everyone will get to work with the Mona Lisa, but it's actually a fairly robust field if you are open to opportunities.

By Ana1234 — On Oct 09, 2014

If you are interested in doing this kind of work, and you are already in a job, I wouldn't quit it to pursue conservation. It's a tough industry, because there are a lot of art historians out there who end up going into this field.

I would do a part time or night course in it and then put out feelers as to what the job prospects might be. I suspect you have to have a graduate degree in art history before you would even get a foot in the door.

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