Careers

Talking Arts, Culture and Heritage: Association for Art History Careers Day in Oxford

By Tamsin Hong, current MSt student, on the Association for Art History Careers Day held in Oxford in November


It is week five of Michaelmas term and as I approach the Association for Art History Careers Day for Arts, Culture and Heritage, this year held in Oxford, I am considering whether the full day of talks is a good investment of my time when there are essays to write, readings to wrestle with, and a deeply neglected dissertation limping around the back corners of my mind. Having worked in the museum and gallery sector for over 10 years and attended numerous career forums, I find myself somewhat sceptical about how useful this event will be for me.

But the Association for Art History Careers Day may have been one of the best investments I have made since landing in Oxford. Oxford DPhil candidate Emily Knight is to be congratulated for organising the event and carefully choosing eight speakers in disparate and not always well-known arts professions who all addressed the often-thought question for History of Art students: How do I become a successful arts-professional in this ultra-competitive era?

Each speaker clearly articulated how people are entering their profession. Emerging professionals drew from their recent experience of breaking into the field and more senior professionals reflected on what they are looking for when they are hiring. Each gave practical advice and concrete examples on how to obtain your dream job, whilst also providing honest and sometimes brutal realities of working in the sector. This was far from the usual glittery eyed if-you-work-hard-you-can-do-it approach that many similar events provide, but it is precisely this kind of knowledge that anyone entering or attempting to progress in the sector needs.

Helen HillyardSpeaker Helen Hillyard © Tamsin Hong

The morning session addressed some of the more traditional roles in museums and galleries and started with the much-coveted Assistant Curator experience. Helen Hillyard is now working at the Dulwich Picture Gallery after steadily working her way through a variety of voluntary positions and paid internships in the sector. Jo Rice was next and explained what skills and experiences she looks for when employing staff in her role as Head of Education at the Ashmolean Museum. Her colleague Jevon Thistlewood then suggested 10 useful qualities of a good conservator while explaining in detail how his profession operates.

The middle session started with Alice Purkiss from the National Trust and University of Oxford explaining her convoluted but fascinating career path to her unique role as Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate. I am not sure how to explain this position but it is somewhere between digital content organiser, curator, public programmer and knowledge ninja. She was followed by Ros Holmes who finally illuminated to me the mysterious process of life after obtaining a PhD: the post doc. We all know they are difficult to get, but Ros Holmes explained the step-by-step process of gaining such positions and provided some excellent suggestions.

Ros HolmesSpeaker Ros Holmes © Tamsin Hong

The final three speakers spoke on freelancing and the art market. Tarini Malik has worked diligently on a rich assortment of curatorial projects and now works as a freelancing Exhibition Consultant where she is able to channel her enthusiasm for time based art and marginalised culture through her work. The next talk was on an area I have only ever wondered at, which is freelance journalism, and Lily Le Brun revealed her secrets on how she juggles multiple projects while establishing herself as a reputable arts writer. Lastly, Alexis Ashot spoke about selling art with Christie’s and provided anecdotes of this intense part of the sector, including his being tested on table manners at his second interview.

Each speaker had about 10 minutes or so after their presentations to answer some of the many questions we enthusiastic attendees had. I valued the frankness of many of the arts professionals who explained the importance of perseverance through their shared experiences of feeling repeatedly rejected, whether it be experienced when applying for jobs or attempting to publish articles.

Alexis AschotSpeaker Alexis Ashot © Tamsin Hong

My experience at the beginning of my career was similar and after speaking to several other students trying to land their first paid position in the industry, it is perhaps something that we need to be more aware of to prepare ourselves and develop coping strategies when dealing with this unfair side of the arts industry.

The message that all these speakers reiterated was to be resolute in your goals and work towards fleshing out your skills so you can eventually develop a career you are happy with. There were also a few examples of people who had tried a few different positions and eventually ended up in role they thoroughly enjoy even if it was not where they thought they would end up.

Some of the suggestions I will be working on since attending the day include improving my online presence and approaching volunteering for an organisation in a more focused manner. I already knew about the central role networking has in the sector but it was useful to have the speakers show how they have effectively utilised this skill in their careers. I met some attendees with fascinating experiences and aspirations throughout the day and I am looking forward to reconnecting with them at future events organised by the Association for Art History.


Tamsin Hong is currently a student on the Oxford Master’s Degree in the History of Art and Visual Culture, focusing on post-modern and contemporary art.

For more information about the History of Art MSt, please see the Department’s Master’s Degree page

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A Year in the Life of a Research Student

By Emily Knight, Current DPhil student


Each year of my DPhil has been different as my research project has taken shape and my skills as an art historian have developed. Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to take up fellowships, make research trips, speak at conferences and teach, as well as gain work experience within museums and heritage organisations. This post gives a taste of my work as a DPhil student over the last academic year and what I hope to achieve in the next few months before finishing up.

Cumbria© Emily Knight

Research

My research looks at posthumous portraiture in Britain from the mid eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. At the beginning of the year, I went to Cumbria and Lancashire to dig around an archive and get up close to some works of art I’d read about and wanted to study more closely. With the help of a Postgraduate Grant from Trinity College, I went to the Cumbria County Archive to look at the papers of the Wilson family of Dallam Tower. A mother and daughter from the family, Ann and Sibyl respectively, were painted by the portraitist George Romney to commemorate the death of six-year-old Sibyl. I had the opportunity to study the painting last year, thanks to a Visiting Scholar Award at the Yale Center for British Art and it features prominently in my thesis, so I was eager to see if there was any undiscovered correspondence or other kinds of reference to the young girl’s death. Like many archival trips, I didn’t find what I expected to uncover, but came away with new and unexpected research leads that provided the starting point for one of my chapters.

George Romney_Ann WilsonGeorge Romney, Ann Wilson with Her Daughter Sibyl, c.1776, Yale Center for British Art. © Yale Center for British Art

On my way back down south, I stopped at Lancaster to visit the Priory, which has a monument to the young Sibyl Wilson by the Fisher Brothers of York. I was curious to see how the work compared to Romney’s painting, particularly with regards to the neoclassical motifs used in both. As all art historians know, seeing works of art up close can never be adequately recreated and it was fascinating to see the work in situ.

Monument to Sibyl WilsonMonument to Sibyl Wilson, 1773, Lancaster Priory. © Emily Knight

A few milestones

Last year, I gave my first hour-long research paper at the History of Art Department Research Seminar and received some really helpful feedback on work that would ultimately become a chapter. I was also invited to participate in undergraduate admissions. In order to prepare for this, I undertook training through the Oxford Learning Institute, which, combined with the advice and support from members of the History of Art department, gave me the tools to undertake this tricky and important task. In Hilary Term, I completed my Confirmation of status, which involved submitting part of a chapter, providing an outline of my research project and projected timeline, and an interview with a member of the department. I found it an incredibly helpful process because I was required to prepare a chapter with some polish and receive in-depth feedback from both my supervisor and moderator, as well as giving me the opportunity to discuss my project as a whole and think about next steps career wise.

Seminars, conferences and workshops

Alongside my research, I have taken great pleasure in attending and contributing to various seminar series and workshops.  For the past two years, I have co-convened a termly workshop series called ‘Reading Images’ at the Ashmolean with Dr Jim Harris, Andrew W. Mellon Teaching Curator at the museum. The idea behind the series is to encourage those who do not normally work with visual material to think about their research in relation to the Ashmolean’s collections. I also led a session with a researcher from the Experimental Psychology department who works on ‘prolonged grief’. We realised that a huge amount of our work intersected in really interesting ways and it was enlightening to discover a shared language when talking about complex emotional responses to objects.

Reading Images workshop HT 2017Reading Images workshop, Hilary Term 2017

During the first two years of my DPhil, I spoke at various conferences around the country. With a number of these under my belt, I decided to apply to speak at just one conference last year, the Association of Art Historians Annual Conference, held at Loughborough University. I contributed to a session run by the Yale Center for British Art and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, entitled, ‘Sculpture in Motion’. The focus of the session was on both motion (in the broadest possible sense) and animation. I had recently been considering the ways in which artists augmented death masks to make them appear more lifelike and so I thought that this would be an exciting opportunity to try out some new ideas. In preparation for this, I worked with two researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute, Dr Kathryn Eccles and Jamie Cameron, to create 3D images of death masks in the Anatomical Museum in Edinburgh. Hoping to ‘move’ around these images on the projector, the images were sadly not ready in time, but I now have a set of images that I can use in future presentations and perhaps an online journal article.

3D image of the death mask of Sir Walter Scott at the Anatomical Museum, University of Edinburgh. © Emily Knight

Teaching

This year, I tutored three visiting undergraduate students through the Sarah Lawrence Programme at Wadham College (eighteenth-century British art), the Middlebury CMRS Oxford Humanities Programme (seventeenth-century Dutch painting), and the Oxford Study Abroad Programme, Washington International Studies Council (the history of royal collecting). Having already completed the DLT and PLTO training programme at the Oxford Learning Institute, I was interested to receive further training and hear about alternative teaching methods so I signed up to an ‘Art Group Crit’ workshop for Humanities researchers at the Ruskin School of Art with Martina Schmuecker and undertook a weeklong workshop at the Ashmolean Museum called, ‘Eloquent Things: Teaching Using Real Objects’, led by Dr Jim Harris. Both workshops provided me with a variety of creative teaching methods and I look forward to using some of these in the future.

Other projects

Alongside my DPhil, I also joined the AAH Students Members Committee, which has involved judging the Undergraduate Dissertation Prize and organising this year’s careers day that took place in Oxford earlier this month. I’ve also recently been appointed co-convenor of the Paul Mellon Centre’s Doctoral Researchers Network and I’m currently working on a programme of events for doctoral students working on British art.

Trusted Source article©National Trust

Alongside my DPhil, for the past two years I’ve also worked part-time at TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities as a Graduate Project Coordinator. This has involved running the AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund and Student Peer Review College, as well as organising the AHRC-TORCH Public Engagement with Research Summer School. The experience has taught me a huge amount about the role and value of public engagement with research, as well as project and budget management. The job came to a fantastic end when my team, led by Dr John Miles (former Humanities Training Officer), were highly commended for our work at the university’s Public Engagement with Research Awards. I’ve also contributed to various late night events at the Ashmolean and wrote my first article for the Oxford/National Trust project Trusted Source. For the latter, I wrote a short piece on national mourning following the death of Princess Charlotte in 1817. The Trust then asked me to deliver a lecture on the subject this month as part of its events programme to commemorate 200 years since the death of the princess at Claremont, her former home.

At the beginning of the summer, I was offered a five-month position as Postdoctoral Fellow/Curatorial Assistant at Historic Royal Palaces to work on the exhibition ‘Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World’. I’m still writing my thesis as well and in the new year I’ll be heading to the Huntington in California for a Robert R. Wark Fellowship, which will be the perfect way to kick off the final few months of my DPhil.


Emily Knight is a 4th year DPhil student, her research topic is “Art, Death and Memory: Posthumous Portraiture in Late Eighteenth- to Early Nineteenth-Century Britain”.

For more information about the History of Art DPhil, please see the Department’s Research Degrees page.

Dot to Dot: Drawing Your Own Career Path in the Art World

By Ruth Millington, MSt History of Art Graduate 2011


Following the Art History Careers Seminar, held on 25th January 2017, here are some top tips for students interested in pursuing a career in the art world from professionals in the field.

student-in-gallery

© Andy Sedg, via Visualhunt.com 

Tom Ryley, Communications and Digital Officer, Old Royal Naval College

  • Develop your digital skills: Be aware that many arts jobs, including marketing, require excellent digital skills. In his role, Tom uses social media statistics, Google Analytics and Google AdWords to connect with audiences online and increase engagement with the museum’s programme of events and exhibitions.
  • Join student societies: Whilst you are still at university you can lead on projects and campaigns run by societies, which will develop employability skills, such as marketing and communications.

Dina Akhmadeeva, Assistant Curator, Collections International Art at Tate Modern

  • Think internationally: If you are interested in curating, you can apply for curatorial traineeships around the world. Dina took up placements in the USA and the Netherlands before starting to work at Tate Modern.
  • Write: Pitch ideas for articles to editors at magazines and websites to get your writing featured and build up an authentic profile, which employers will take seriously.

Ruth Millington, Arts Internships Officer, University of Birmingham and Freelance Writer

  • Use social media: Many arts organisations post internships and jobs on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. You can also sell yourself and your skills, and engage with employers.
  • Do work experience: Fit work experience around your studies. Within Oxford there are lots of opportunities to volunteer across the seven Oxford University Museums and Collections. In vacations, you can apply for more structured internships schemes, such as placements at auction houses. These experiences allow you to network, develop skills and knowledge, and work out the career you would be best suited to.

Josh Baldwin, Senior Game Designer, Coldwood Interactive

  • Prove your motivation: Research and engage with the industry you’re interested in. This could include blogging, creating visual content, modding (for the games industry) and producing articles. These activities will build up your professional voice and portfolio, and allow you to interact with others in the field.
  • Consider smaller companies: Offer your services (for less than they are worth) to small companies, rather than the big names, as this may give you that first foot in the door. If you are making a speculative application, show real understanding of the work this organisation does and express why you would be the perfect fit for them.
damien-hirst

Limited Edition Print by Damien Hirst, Art Basel Hong Kong 2013 © See-ming Lee, via Visualhunt.com 

Joining the Dots

One important question you can ask yourself, both at the start of and as you progress through your career, is this: what side of the art do you want to be on? Selling? Researching? Making? Finding your place may not be immediate. In fact, each speaker stressed the varied route they had taken after graduation, which often did not make sense until later on. So, if you don’t immediately get a job in an arts organisation after graduating, don’t panic! Employers will value the skills you have developed whilst working in other sectors, and sometimes even prefer this. There is no set career ladder in the art world so be prepared to move around, be creative and play to your strengths.


Ruth Millington, MSt History of Art 2011, www.ruthmillington.co.uk, @ruth_Millington

Dina Akhmadeeva, BA History of Art 2013, MSt History of Art 2014, www.dinaakhmadeeva.com, @DinaAkhmadeeva

Joshua Baldwin, BA Classical Archaeology and Ancient History 2013

Tom Ryley, MSt History of Art 2015