What is Art Conservation? Why should we preserve?

About Art Conservation

Why preserve?  Each of us has experienced something important that others should be able to experience. A great deal of heritage is preserved and lost through inertia. Art conservation provides us a chance to cheat time, investigate art,  and in a modest way, help shape the future of culture. 

Why does Art Conservation touch so many disciplines?   Art Conservation is ultimately about cultural sustainability. 

What do art conservators and preservationists work on?  Mostly art collections, architecture, archives, and archaeology. They also work on historic cities, landscapes, and increasingly on intangible heritage, such as cuisine, dance, oral history, and digital heritage. 

Art Conservation is about about values, ethics and triage:  Who decides? How do we decide?

Art Conservation is about about science and technology, policy and practice:  How do we sustain heritage?

What is Heritage Science?  Science and technology for art collections, architecture, archives, and archaeology. 

Every profession is an answer to a question:  What do we do with permanence in a change-driven world? Our collective inheritance is the foundation of our culture now. That foundation is evolving through inertia and action, to form the foundation for the next century. What will make it into that foundation, how, and why?

Broadly speaking, Art Conservation deals with the history, documentation, evaluation, significance, protection, stability and future of our legacy in art, architecture, archives and archaeology (managing change, as it were). Cultural heritage is threatened by a range of factors, including rapid economic change and homogenization, pollution, tourism, climate disruption, vandalism, deferred maintenance, and natural geologic hazards, all resulting in complex impacts to our sense of place, aesthetic integrity, material culture, and identity. 

Given this complex context, there are often interdisciplinary excursions to related fields, such as:

Technical Art HistoryHistoric PreservationConservation Science

Heritage Science ArchaeometryArt Forensics Art Theft & Forgery

Cultural Heritage Management & TourismWorld Heritage Protection

Archival & Digital PreservationArt ValuationDisaster Mitigation

The popularity of Art Conservation appears to be part of a larger trend of interest an interdisciplinary field with a hands-on component, especially in fields that combine the arts and the sciences in the context of the environment, globalization, and sustainability. The various Environmental Studies and Environmental Analysis majors are similar in this respect.


Art Conservation courses can help prepare students to get into highly selective graduate programs in the above topics. In addition, they can introduce them to leading art conservators and materials scientists, who help them decide on their area of interest or track, such as research; cultural resource management; and hands-on conservation (including preventive and object conservation). Fundamentally, learning about art conservation and cultural heritage preservation makes the inside of your head a more interesting place to spend the rest of your life. It gives you a vocabulary to talk about values, and significance, and change; about what we inherit, and about what we leave behind as a culture.

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