Why study History of Art?

Are you thinking about studying History of Art at university but unsure what you will gain from studying this subject? Watch our short film to hear students James, Hannah, Rozeena and Mathilda explain why they love studying History of Art - and why we think you will too. 

There's so much more to the study of History of Art than admiring the aesthetics of an object. History of Art is a way of unlocking the past through material culture.

The study of art history helps you tease out the social, political and personal narratives of a piece of art - whether this be painting, sculpture, installation, photography or film - so that you can carve out a story of human experience, informed by your own background and interests such as social history, philosophy, anthropology, feminism and religion.

Discover 5 reasons to study History of Art at the University of Birmingham

1) You will work closely with our campus-based gallery

Teaching regularly takes place in our working gallery on campus: The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. This gallery is Grade II listed, and home to some of the highest standards of artwork outside London, including works by famous artists such as; Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Turner and Magritte. Seminars and events regularly take place here, directly in front of works of art, so this deepens understanding of the work being discussed. You will also have the opportunity to explore how the Barber’s different departments work together as part of your degree, and to draw on the gallery staff’s own expertise. This hands-on approach to art history will expand your knowledge of the museum and heritage sector at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

As well as the opportunity to write for our very own departmental blog, The Golovine, we have a History of Art Society which organises events at the Barber and further afield to discuss different artworks, exhibitions and artists.

The building also has a dedicated Fine Art Library, with magnificent floor-to-ceiling bookcases. This facility is supported by a Visual Resources Librarian who offers advice and support for all students during their degree. The VRL runs our database, ImageBank, which is a searchable online catalogue of high-resolution digital images designed as a resource to support you in your learning and research.

2) You will be taught by cutting-edge researchers

Students can choose to study a variety of media, methodologies and debates, as staff have a wide range of specialities; from painting and sculpture in the Renaissance period, to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism to Contemporary and Global Art – there really is something to suit all artistic interests. Research conducted by our staff feeds directly into our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, so our students are involved in research-led enquiry from day one.

Our staff have collaborated with notable institutions such as; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery, the National Gallery of Slovenia, the Ikon Gallery, and the Ben Uri Gallery. The Department also publishes the Journal of Art Historiography, an international peer-reviewed online journal, and Midlands Art Papers, a departmental journal working closely with 11 partner institutions and their curators across the Midlands.

3) You will boost your employability

As the cultural industries remain a key part of our economic future, it is no surprise that a high percentage of our History of Art students are in exciting graduate-level positons just six months after completing their degree.

As a History of Art graduate, you can join the 40% of the University’s former students who stay in Birmingham after their studies. You may also be eligible to apply for one of our gallery internships with the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. There are also plenty more work and internship opportunities in the city and through the College of Arts and Law Careers team, who also host events such as ‘Careers in History of Art’. 

Throughout your degree, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to gaining experience through volunteering and work placements - as you are based in one of Britain’s fastest growing cultural hotspots. 

Art venues in Birmingham include:

  • Birmingham Museum and Arts Gallery (which houses the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite artwork in the world)
  • Ikon Gallery (contemporary and experimental art)
  • Midlands Art Centre (MAC - exhibitions, theatre and cinema)
  • Vivid Projects (which host Digbeth First Fridays, a monthly open house of contemporary art galleries and projects in the Digbeth area)
  • Birmingham Open Media (BOM - exhibitions combining art and the sciences)
  • The Custard Factory (contemporary and experimental art)
  • The Royal Society of Artists Gallery (RBSA - local artists)

Other cultural venues include:

  • Birmingham Repertory Theatre
  • Birmingham Hippodrome
  • Birmingham Town Hall and Symphony Hall (THSH)
  • The Electric Cinema (the oldest working cinema in the UK)
  • The Eastside Project
  • The Jewellery Quarter Museum
  • Birmingham Back to Backs
  • Birmingham Conservation Trust
  • The Old Joint Stock
  • Plus lots of venues to watch live rock, jazz, indie and pop music

Graduates from our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes have gone on to work for so many amazing companies including; Cath Kidston, The Victoria and Albert Museum and the Bodleian Library, and in a multitude of fields from curating, research, and auction houses, to costume, events, and teaching, to name just a few.

4) History of Art at Birmingham will take you places

The University of Birmingham has great transport links to galleries, museums and exhibitions throughout the UK and beyond. We are the only University in the UK to have its own train station, known simply as University Station, and it is only a 7-minute train ride to Birmingham New Street station. Birmingham New Street is one of Britain’s major train stations, with great links to Birmingham International and stations around the UK. 

Gallery study trips are not only organised in the West Midlands (e.g. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the IKON gallery, Grand Union) and London (e.g. National Gallery and Tate Modern), but also further afield during a week-long University-funded trip to a major European centre of artistic importance. Previous destinations have included Paris, Prague and Rome. This is a unique opportunity to examine works of art and architecture in person, and a great way to get to know fellow students and lecturers.

Students can also apply to study abroad for one year or one semester during their degree, taking History of Art-related subjects, which can be taught in English. Our exchange universities include; Melbourne University in Australia, Lund University in Sweden and Leiden University in the Netherlands.

You can find out more information about these opportunities via our History of Art Study Abroad page.

5) Our stunning campus will inspire and surprise you

The University of Birmingham is home to a diverse cultural range, which includes public museums, galleries, archives, libraries and cultural venues such as our Bramall Music BuildingLapworth Museum of Geology and Winterbourne House and Garden.  

This is an exciting time for the University of Birmingham, as the Green Heart, a striking expansion to our central parkland, has recently been opened. An eclectic array of sculptural offerings are also peppered around campus, you can discover them via our sculpture trail.

We are also home to Cultural Collections which includes:

  • Rare books in the Cadbury Research Library
  • West African masks in the Danford Collection of West African Art and Artefacts
  • Important 20th century paintings such as Peter Lanyon’s mural in the Arts Building
  • The Campus Collection of Fine and Decorative Arts
  • The University’s Archaeology Collection

The University also offers a diverse range of cultural events each year such as; lectures and workshops as part of our Artist in Residence scheme, Reel Culture - the University of Birmingham’s Cultural Life on Film, and our annual Arts and Science and Book to the Future festivals.