What is Art Conservation?

In his Theory of Restoration,  Cesare Brandi, an art critic, historian, and specialist in art conservation/restoration, describes art conservation as "the methodological moment in which the work of art is appreciated in its material form and in its historical and aesthetic duality, with a view to transmitting it to the future".

Art Conservation involves protection and restoration of works of art, using  all of the necessary methods to keeping such an artwork as close to its original condition for as long as possible. Art Conservation is often associated with art collections and museums and involves collection care and management through continuous supervision, examination, documentation, exhibition, and storage, taking all the necessary preventative conservation measures, and performing conservation restoration when required.

The ethics of  Art Conservation of works of art applies simple ethical guidelines:

  • Minimal intervention
  • Appropriate materials and reversible methods
  • Full documentation of all work undertaken

Often there are compromises between preserving appearance, maintaining original design and material properties, and ability to reverse changes. Reversibility is now emphasized so as to reduce problems of compatibility with future treatments when needed.

Art Conservation is an interdisciplinary field in which conservators have backgrounds in the fine arts, and sciences (including chemistry, biology, and materials science), and is closely related to disciplines, such as art history, archaeology, library studies, etc. They also have other special skills necessary for the practical application of the needed techniques.

Today, professional art conservators take part in numerous activities with conservation associations and professional organizations within their area of specialization to maintain and update their knowledge upholding professional standards.

Renée Stein and Kathryn Etre, conservators from the Michael C. Carlos Museum introduce the field of Art Conservation in this video

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