Art Restoration: Complete Guide to an Aesthetic Career

Art enjoys quite a momentous position, in our lives and our hearts. Maybe, it’s because it has stood the testimony of time itself. Marking the earliest-known human civilization, and etching history ever since, art has helped us identify our lineage, understand our religion, and to this day, makes for a critical base for our social system in general and our lives in particular. For enthusiasts, who vividly understand what art is, and yes, it’s not a ‘few strokes of paint on a canvas, art offers unparalleled potential in its many career options. One such glamorous, multifaceted career is that of Art Restoration & Conservation.

Art is a skein running through time; the closest thing we have to a window into the past. Great men and women once stood upon this plane and created masterpieces over hours of painstaking diligence and with the use of immeasurable talent. The evolution of artistic styles over centuries, the solemnity that standing in the presence of a beautifully made sculpture or a painting from the past evokes; these are things that both art connoisseurs and novices share. 

To most artists, creation is the foremost route of expression. However, an increasing number are now finding joy in art restoration and conservation; a process that restores old and fading masterpieces to the zenith of their former glory and preserves them. At some of the best colleges in India for fine arts and around the world, a growing majority of students inclined towards art seem intrigued by art restoration. What does it entail? And how does one go about turning their passion into a career?

What is Art Restoration All About?

With artifacts in museums and outside ranging from centuries to millennia in age, the elements they are exposed to exact a toll on their appearance. While they might look pristine on the surface, paintings often develop cracks and creases over the years, sculptures are prone to having vulnerable points that can snowball into major damage if left unchecked, and manuscripts require delicate handling to protect them from light, humidity, or chemical damage. This is where art conservators come in. Aiming to restore a piece of art or prevent damage to it in the future requires an understanding of the science behind what could potentially degrade the artwork. 

Duties

  • Assess the condition of artwork or other artifacts, to restore and reassemble them, including designing and fabricating any missing parts to bring back their original look.
  • Create detailed records on completed as well as ongoing operations, with information such as the current condition of artifacts, restoration techniques utilized, options offered for treatment, etc.
  • Stay up to date on their knowledge of architecture and art history, to be able to implement the best possible restoration techniques with an aesthetic awareness.
  • Estimate and share the cost of restoring an artwork with clients, as well as the timeline possible. 

Prominent Examples of Art Restoration in India and Abroad

Art Restoration
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At the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, or INTACH as it is commonly known, art restoration occurs across the country on a much larger magnitude than just individual artworks. To give you a sense of scale, their recent projects encompassed the restoration of a defunct boat repair workshop in Cuttack and conversion into a maritime museum reflecting the rituals and trade of the time. They also oversaw the scrubbing of gaudy enamel paints (which were later additions) from a temple in Mandi to reveal the original vision of the makers and unearth previously hidden carvings.

With India being one of the wealthiest countries in the world from a cultural perspective, and possessing art spanning many diverse eras, there is a repository of untouched artworks that need attention. INTACH and other restoration houses across the country face an uphill task to document, restore and protect them from further exposure to contaminants. When it all comes together, art restoration is a magnificent sight to behold.

Art Restoration Programs

To pursue art restoration and conservation professionally, one must have an undergraduate degree (with a decently well overall performance) in archaeology/ medieval history/ ancient history or world history. Some universities offer specialized studies in art restoration. Some of them are:

One should also be able to back academic degrees with deep insights into art ideology, artists, cultural amalgamations, abstracts, and schools of thought.

It is highly recommended that one goes forward with on-ground projects, training, and apprenticeships, to attain great learnings and experience that will help them acquire credibility.

The Opportunities

Much of the art restoration and conservation in the country takes place at National Museum Centers (Lucknow, New Delhi & Kolkata) and at INTACH Art Conservation Centre, which also lends its services to private art collectors and connoisseurs.
Art Restoration & Conservation has always been perceived as an ultra-unconventional career choice, and hence only a handful of youngsters take it up.


However, with the Indian art industry gaining worldwide acclaim, a lot of students have started showing an inclination towards the subjects. There’s also been an increase in the number of art galleries in the country and the demand for art restorers and art conservers. The work profile offers major travel opportunities, in the search and conservation of artifacts.

Day In The Life

You can have a varying workload as an art restorer. On an average day, you can expect to continue working on art restoration projects such as cleaning textiles, pottery, furniture, and other materials using solvents, solutions, and polishes. Some assignments can be restoring precious documents, metals, artwork, books, and paintings. Besides working on the specific artifacts themselves, art restorers work with museums to address the type of preservation techniques required to maximize their lifespan, e.g. controlling humidity and temperature, placing registration numbers on artwork for records, supervising other staff or team members on handling and storing the objects in the rightful place.

Work Schedule

The work schedule of an art restorer depends on the type of job they are involved with. If you gain a full-time role, you can expect to work around 40 hours per week at regular office hours in a comfortable environment. If there is an artwork to be restored at an on-site location, you may occasionally travel to museums, libraries, university campuses, and art institutes as required.

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Art Restoration Career Prospects

Art Restoration
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There are many opportunities to grow in a lucrative career sector like art restoration. If you prefer working with a cultural institution as a professional artist, then you can gain bigger projects over time through the right experience and education. Many experienced art restorers gain the opportunity to be a part of an art institute or museum’s full-time staff, with responsibilities such as taking charge of a collection of art and using the latest technology like X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer to conserve collections of artwork.

With an established reputation, art restorers often take on prized paintings owned by private collectors or work on historically significant murals and mosaics on-site. Other coveted work includes repairing damaged ceramics from different periods and cleaning or restoring paintings at galleries or museums.

Conclusion

“Art is the signature of Civilizations”. The land which has witnessed the Harappan civilization, where the Mughals ruled for over a century, where numerous battles have been fought, won, and lost, the land which has a legacy of its own, calls for someone to uncover a thousand untold stories through its art and architecture.

Now that we are ushering into an era where we identify ourselves proudly with our legacy, the day is not far when art conservation and restoration will become one of our top priorities.

A career in art restoration is an unorthodox but intriguing choice for those interested in artistic pursuits and in stabilizing a relic so that future generations may experience it firsthand. This blog serves as a brief overview of the steps one must take to become an art conservator/restorer.

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