I graduated with a BA in art history last year. I took a break and am now feeling lost about how to continue my education. The art history program at my school was incredibly small and in retrospect I feel as though my undergrad education ended up being an incomplete due to apathetic professors/advisers and a limited range of courses. I don't feel intellectually prepared for grad school but I still want to continue studying art history. Do you have any advice for the next step I should take?
Thanks for writing! I’m so sorry to hear that you feel as though your undergraduate education was not as whole as it should have been. Course selection can make or break educational experience in many fields, especially art history, where courses often build off each other. To fill in any gaps in knowledge you feel you have, and prepare for graduate-level coursework in the process, the best advice I can offer is to read books and journal articles in those areas. The History of Art Series published by Oxford University Press is a good place to start book-wise, and JSTOR’s free Register & Read program is a godsend for journal articles.
If you have the time, another option to continue studying art history before enrolling in graduate school is taking online art history courses offered through websites like Coursera, MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenLearn (courses offered by Open University), or MoMA. TED-Ed also offers brief video lessons on a variety of art historical and visual culture topics. Some of these classes will be more academically rigorous and stimulating than others; hopefully you will find some that are relevant.
It could be useful to explore the Getty Research Portal for digitized art history publications, rare books, and related literature. For free e-books about architectural history, take a look at this list compiled by Arch20. Finally, you can search Academia.edu for scholarly papers on topics that you’re interested in.
I’m not sure if your college gave you a solid foundation in art history theory and methodology, but if this isn’t something you are familiar with, I recommend studying this in your spare time before entering graduate school. The University of Illinois library has an online subject guide containing a fantastic list of books on theory.
Did your coursework give you a sense of what you might want to specialize in in graduate school? If so, in addition to studying and reading about aspects of art history that your college didn’t familiarize you with, you should also read as much as you can about your area of focus. Get familiar with the cornerstones of scholarship in your field now, if you aren’t already, so you can draw from it from Day 1 in your graduate program.
On a related note, do you have reading knowledge of at least 1 language other than English (preferably related to your specialty, if you have one)? If not, this is another area to work on, as knowing at least one more language allows you to understand more scholarship, and, in some cases, primary sources, inscriptions in/on artworks, archives, curatorial files, and the like.
Lastly, you might find my guide ‘Applying to Graduate School in Art History’ to be helpful. I discuss how to decide whether or not graduate school is the right choice, how to evaluate and select programs to apply to, and what elements comprise a typical application. There are also printable worksheets that you can use to guide you through the decision and application process.
In your personal statement, you might want to describe your experiences as an undergraduate, highlighting your academic strengths, and describing the ways that you have worked to increase your knowledge and skillset after graduation.
I hope this helps!