(For some reason I couldn’t reblog this directly from llamacorns so I’ve made it a text post.)
I go to school feeling like I have a strong idea of what i want in life and where I’m going with it. But after that talk with the art history advisor all I feel like doing is…
This advisor is way off base! BUT! Perhaps some information concerning different curatorial tracks would help! The job of the curator is in a state of flux right now, where the curator once was tasked primarily with collecting, preserving, and exhibiting art, now they are tasked primarily with exhibiting art in interesting and exciting ways, and the museum is not necessarily their primary setting. There is no longer one way to prepare for curatorial work, and any preparations you try to make may need to be tailored to your specific interests.
If you are mainly interested in the classic role of the curator, you have a specific field you are interested in, and you want to be in a larger museum with departments tied to specific fields (something like Roman sculpture, or Asian Art before 1950) then your long term plan should definitely include a BA in Art History, and then you should probably plan on trying to get your PhD. Try to work in a museum in the mean time, and by all means, take those Museum Studies courses. You will need to know both the museum and its structure, as well as your field inside and out.
If your interests lie in contemporary art, you could get your BA in lots of things, in my Exhibition and Museum Studies Masters program there are people who have Bachelors in literature, fine arts, art history, sociology and modern history. Any humanities degree with an emphasis on cultural studies and critical theory will give you a strong background in the things you need to know. You should also know that many curators of contemporary art don’t have cushy museum jobs. There are many independent curators these days who work with museums, galleries, and biennials, working with whoever will fund their visions. At the same time, many museums (especially modern art museums) are starting to contract these independent curators to work on shows, instead of their own staff. If this is the kind of thing you see yourself doing, I still strongly recommend taking museum studies courses, and getting to know as much as you can. You might even want to start looking into masters programs that are either in Museum Studies with an emphasis on modern and contemporary art and theory, or Curatorial programs.
One of my favorite things to do is to get on Museum websites and find their staff listings, then look up the directors and curators on linkedin. You will find that in a Modern Art Museum there are people with backgrounds in all kinds of different things. Somehow they all ended up in the museum, whether or not they started out with that intention.
What your advisor might have been fearing is the current climate of the sort of celebrity curator, everyone wants to be one, but we can’t all be stars. For this reason more than any other it is important to both take classes in museum studies, and try to get real museum experience. There are way more jobs in the museum than just curator. There are directors, who work with curators, there are educational positions who work closely with curators, there are publication departments, who work creatively to translate an exhibition into a catalog. There are tons of creative positions in the museum besides the curator. At the same time, every curator and aspiring curator I know, works tirelessly to get to that point. Its what you have to do in the very competitive art world.
Finally, remember that all museum studies programs are not the same. At all. The school I did my undergrad at offered a museum studies masters, as well as some undergraduate courses, but they were geared towards people who wanted to work in History, Anthropology, or Science museums. I still took the undergraduate courses, and I still learned a ton, I also learned that I definitely did not want to do a graduate degree in that program. It could be that the Museum Studies minor at your school is not geared towards art museums either.
I hope this helps, and good luck!