Conservation is an interdisciplinary profession and conservators have backgrounds in fine arts, sciences (including chemistry, biology and materials technology) and closely related disciplines such as art history, archaeology and anthropology. They also have design, fabrication, artistic and other specialist skills necessary for the practical application of that knowledge.
Conservators usually specialise in a particular material or group of objects such as paintings, art on paper, textiles, archives, books, photographs, sculpture, decorative arts, architecture, archaeology, natural sciences or ethnographic materials. They may also contribute to the field as educators and preservation administrators. Due to rapid changes in each conservation speciality, practicing conservators must keep abreast of advances in technology and methodology.
Contemporary ideas about the conservation and restoration of objects extend far beyond choice of different technical solutions. All conservation work carried out in the museum, must follow existing national and international conservation principles outlined in the Venice Charter of 1964, including the further elaboration of this charter to the present day (World Heritage Centre, UNESCO).
The conservator must be able to assess and evaluate individual objects and collections in their historic context, identify and date historical and contemporary materials and techniques, consider ethical issues and work co-operatively with historians, archaeologists and other specialists. They need to work alongside collection managers to plan and manage issues of storage, make preventive conservation decisions and be able to conduct relevant research.
The process of conserving an object begins with the identification of the objectives for the treatment. This stage often requires difficult critical, aesthetic and organisational evaluations. It involves planning and consultation with a range of specialists as well as the community where the object resides. In-depth scientific, historical and cultural research is then carried out before a conservation method is selected. Good sense becomes necessary as the complexity of the choices increase.
Generally, the complexity of the conservation treatment is related to the diverse range of materials used, the functions they perform and the aesthetic values they represent. For example textile conservation can include clothing, upholstery, tapestries, carpets, embroidery, and lace. It involves balancing the particular implications of scientific and historic analysis for each of these materials.
Often the debate in this field - animated by scholars, curators and conservators – is stimulating even for those outside the sector. All stages of a conservation treatment are made as transparent as possible by reporting, recording (in data bases) and discussing proposed treatments as well as their outcomes.
Links associated to ethics in conservation: