Art conservation is a science-based discipline that aims to preserve artwork, documents, artifacts and other cultural heritage. Preservation of the original is key, with improvements to its appearance secondary. Art conservation may entail cleaning, repairing damage, re-shaping, reassembling as well as toning in repairs to blend with the original object. It may involve removing old restorations. Conservators are also trained in maintaining the best environment (light, humidity, pest control, security) for art and artifacts and the proper display and storage materials and techniques for their preservation.
Art conservators typically receive post graduate degrees in the field. To qualify for a conservation program, candidates must complete coursework in chemistry, art history and/or archeology and studio art. Conservators choose a specialty within the conservation field: paintings, works of art on paper, photographs, textiles, furniture or 3-D objects.
Art conservators must abide by the Guidelines and Standards of Practice set forth by the professional organization, AIC (American Institute for the Conservation of Artistic and Historic Works).
These principles guide each and every treatment:
Materials and treatments should be reversible, as far as possible.
Treatment of an artwork must be documented with a written narrative as well as photographs. The conservator must disclose all materials used to treat the object.
The artist’s or maker’s intent should be preserved and the original minimally impacted by treatment.
It is acceptable, and sometimes preferable, that the conservator’s repairs be seen at close range. The repair should be distinct from the original material.
A conservator must only undertake treatment that falls within his or her range of knowledge.
Conservators are encouraged to keep current on advancements in their field.
What is Art Conservation?
Cynthia Lawrence, painting varnish removal during treatment
Mark minor conservation of wooden artifacts
Paulette Reading before and after treatment quilt