First, it is important to note that many schools offer graduate certificates (sometimes called “non-credit”) which are less extensive than masters degrees, but offer some focused expertise in a certain area. With the exception perhaps of art history, most of the degrees listed below can be obtained as a graduate certificate or a masters degree. Certificate programs are ideal for the arts professional who doesn’t have the time to commit to a full masters degree. New York University, for instance, offers a non-credit professional certificate in arts administration that is separate from the NYU Masters in Visual Arts Administration.
It is also worth mentioning that some programs offer different types of masters degrees: for instance, Boston University awards an M.S. in arts administration–not an M.A. And not to confuse my readers, but some programs call their graduate degree an M.F.A. even thought it’s not a studio art program. These distinctions may be superficial, but worth paying attention to.
Art History: The masters in art history is a very useful and flexible degree to have for the arts. Coursework for degrees in art history tend to solely focus on academic subjects, comprising a fairly well-rounded curriculum of world art–that is, there will likely be few to no “real world” courses, such as art law, or financial management, or other like-minded classes. That is not to say that art history classes are impractical: if you’re interested in being an art specialist of any kind–a curator, or auction house appraiser, for instance–you will need a sound and solid foundation of the stylistic history of art in order to make creative judgments, or set a price on an object. This degree is highly recommended for anyone considering a fine arts curatorial career. And remember, there are also even more specialized graduate degrees in art history, such as degrees in film studies.
Arts Administration/Management: Arts administration degrees focus, as one might guess, on the administration and managerial side of the arts. These types of degrees offer flexibility in that you can apply the skills you learn to management of fine arts, performing arts, music, and other public and private art sectors. Coursework for degrees in arts administration vary from program to program, but you will usually find a heavy emphasis on “practical” real world classes related to administration, finance, and business aspects of the arts, whereas elective courses may give you an opportunity to take an art history or studio course to supplement your degree. With these credentials, you will be well-qualified especially for development, grant-writing, and other administrative departments. Requirements and curricula do vary from program to program, so I encourage you to do the research necessary to find the one that suits your needs. The arts administration degree is an option for anyone who has an eye for museum directorship, someday.
Museum Studies: This kind of degree is similar to the arts administration degree, but of course, it is more specifically tailored for the student seeking a profession in museums, and less so in galleries, auction houses or other institutions. A museum studies degree offers some flexibility in the type of museum you can work in: anthropology and natural history museums, science museums, children’s museums as well as fine arts museums. With a museum studies degree, you may also find yourself able to work in various museum departments, such as a Registrar’s office, or in Museum Programming. Depending on the curricula of the program, you may acquire credentials that open up the door for more curatorial or exhibition design opportunities for non-fine arts museums, but again, if you’re looking to be a fine arts curator, the masters in art history is the way to go.
Curatorial Studies: As the name states, this type of degree focuses on the history and practice of curatorial work. Along with museum studies, this degree will offer flexibility in that you can curate or design exhibitions for various types of museum institutions. In curatorial studies programs, you may find the curricula to have more of a balance of academically oriented courses (in art history, theory, criticism, etc) and the practical courses on curatorial practice than you would with a masters in arts administration. For instance, the rigorous curatorial studies program at Bard College, which is well-regarded, is a good example of a program that balances the academic and professional applications of art. The Institute of Fine Arts, the doctoral program of NYU, interestingly has a Ph.D. program in curatorial studies, which is unusual. I must emphasize again, however, that for someone interested working in a fine arts institution, art historical or stylistic specialization will be more valuable, and thus the art history degree is recommended.
Art Education: If you know you’re interested in teaching the arts, a masters degree in art education could be a smart career move. This degree can land you a job as a museum educator: sometimes we forget that museums are educational institutions, and working in the education department of a museum can be extremely fun and rewarding. You can also teach art in schools or community centers. Although it is more geared for an artist, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in conjunction with Tufts University, offers an M.A.T.–Masters of Art in Teaching in Arts Education.
Art Business: For someone who views the art market as just that–a market–a masters in art business will give you the business acumen you need to compete in the international business of buying and selling art. These degrees are fairly new, founded on a new sensitivity to the globalization and commercialization of art, although I do believe a the more versatile M.A. in arts administration opens the same doors as an M.A. in art business. A degree in art business prepares someone well for a career in the commercial sector of art–i.e. an auction house or gallery. It is no surprise, then, that Sotheby’s Institute of Art offers a masters in art business. Sotheby’s, and Christie’s as well, does offer some specialized graduate degrees (in contemporary art, design or arts of china, to name a few examples), and as might be expected, the programs are very object-oriented and geared for professional development. Ergo a degree from Christie’s or Sotheby’s of course can set someone up very well for a career in their own institutions, although their websites do boast to have alumni in museums and galleries too.
Art Therapy: Interested in the psychology of art? It is an undisputed fact that creating art and interpreting art are both powerful methods of self-expression and recovery. With a combined focus on the visual arts (and sometimes music) and psychotherapy, programs in art therapy that can train you to help people use art to express themselves, or to use it as a tool for recovery from medical procedures or trauma. Patients can range from children, to the mentally-disabed, to the elderly in senior care centers or assisted living homes.
Combined degrees: It is becoming more popular for top art administrators to get joint degrees–M.A.s and M.B.A.s–so they can be truly well-rounded leaders of cultural and non-profit institutions. The University of Cincinnati and Southern Methodist University, for instance, both offer an M.A./M.B.A. in Arts Administration. For someone interested in being a deputy director or director of an arts institution, this may be the type of degree you want.
There are scores of graduate degrees one can pursue in the arts–these, I would say, are probably the most common and popular. But you can also get a Masters in “Modern Art, Connoisseurship and the History of the Art Market” from Christie’s. My point is that there are other specialized degrees out there, so do the research you need to in order to find the program that best fits your career interests. Good luck!