MA in Contemporary Art Theory

The MA in Contemporary Art Theory is for those with a special interest in contemporary art, and an aptitude for theoretical work in the subject

About the department
Visual Cultures

1 year full-time or 2 years part-time.
If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline. Find out more about funding opportunities for home/EU applicants, or funding for international applicants.


See our tuition fees.
Contact the department
Contact Dr Lynn Turner
Visit us
Find out about how you can visit Goldsmiths at one of our open days or come on a campus tour.

You don’t necessarily need a formal academic qualification in art history: we welcome applications from prospective students who do not meet the standard entrance requirements but can demonstrate appropriate knowledge and experience from outside academia in the world of work.

The programme offers a challenging and advanced scheme of study, which explores a range of theoretical perspectives that shape attitudes towards visual art in the late 20th/early 21st centuries.

Invigorated by current research, the programme encourages you to explore conceptually and creatively the ways in which contemporary artistic practice and critical theory interrelate. It aims to expand your knowledge of contemporary artistic developments as well as to deepen your understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of academic discourses on visual culture.

The programme draws variously upon the fields of performance studies, art history, philosophy, museology, queer theory, post-colonial studies and cultural studies in addressing the critical challenges posed by artistic practice.

What you study

The programme comprises a non-assessed introductory module, the Common Core Module Readings/Processes, and four assessed components: two Special Subjects, the MA Symposium and the MA Dissertation. Students also attend the guest lecture programme. You have the option of auditing another special subject should you wish to do so, subject to availability and in agreement with the course tutor.

Special Subjects

Special subjects are in-depth taught modules based on the current research interests of staff. They enable you to focus on an aspect of contemporary art, cultural theory or contemporary thought that particularly interests you.

Special subjects currently include:

  • Auditions
  • Conflict and Negotiations as Spatial Practices
  • Dissonant Images and Questions of Evidence
  • Geographies [Explore our online archive of student work from Geographies]
  • Judgement and Creation
  • Reading the Performative
  • Sex, Gender, Species
  • Thinking the Sensuous: Ethics, Aesthetics and the ‘Production of Subjectivity’
  • Transforming Critical Practices (Laboratory module)
  • Transcultural Memory
  • Vocalities

Students also attend the weekly guest lecture/film screening programme and a one-day workshop each term, one of which is a writing workshop.


Full-time students attend on Thursday and one other day each week (determined by the choice of special subject); part-time students attend on one day each week in the first year and on Thursday in the second year.


Having already produced an assessed oral presentation on your topic you work on your dissertation over the summer and submit your completed project for assessment early in September. Assessment: one 12-15,000-word dissertation.

Applying and entrance requirements

You can apply directly to Goldsmiths via the website by clicking the ‘apply now’ button on the main programme page.

Before submitting your application you’ll need to have: 

  • Details of your education history, including the dates of all exams/assessments.
  • The email address details of your referee who we can request a reference from, or alternatively an electronic copy of your academic reference.
  • A personal statement. Because of the advanced theoretical nature of this MA you are asked to provide in your personal statement some indication of your specific theoretical interests and knowledge and/or demonstrate an awareness of the theoretical debates within art practice today.
  • If available, an electronic copy of your educational transcript (this is particularly important if you have studied outside of the UK, but isn’t mandatory).

You'll be able to save your progress at any point and return to your application by logging in using your username/email and password.

When to apply

We accept applications from 1 October to 1 March for students wanting to start the following September. 

We encourage you to complete your application as early as possible, even if you haven't finished your current programme of study. It's very common to be offered a place that is conditional on you achieving a particular qualification. 

If you're applying for funding you may be subject to an application deadline. Find out more about funding opportunities for UK/EU students and international students. 

Late applications will only be considered if there are spaces available.

Selection process

We 'batch' applications for this programme. This means that we'll wait until the closing date and then assess all applications together, to make sure they receive equal consideration. Therefore you should not normally expect to receive a decision until April. We may consider late applications if there are any vacancies.

Entrance requirements

You should normally have, or expect to gain, an undergraduate degree of at least second class standard in art history, fine art, another studio-based practice, arts administration and related activities, or a humanities discipline other than art history which demonstrates your ability to undertake work at Masters level.

If you have little or no formal training in art history or a related humanities discipline, you may need to take a preparatory year of study on the Graduate Diploma in Contemporary Art History. You may also be required to attend an interview.

We also accept a wide range of international equivalent qualifications, which can be found on our country-specific pages. If you'd like more information, please contact the Admissions Office.

English language

If your first language is not English, you normally need a minimum score of 7.0 in IELTS or equivalent. 

Please check our English language requirements for more information.

Find out more about applying 

Contact us 

Get in touch via our online form


+44 (0)20 7919 7766

International (non-EU)

+44 (0)20 7919 7702

Modules and Structure

The programme comprises a non-assessed introductory module, the Common Core Module Readings/Processes, and four assessed components: two Special Subjects, the MA Symposium and the MA Dissertation. Students also attend the guest lecture programme. You have the option of auditing another special subject should you wish to do so, subject to availability and in agreement with the course tutor.

The taught part of the programme runs from the end of September to the end of March, with additional guest lectures or workshops in May and June. It offers a framework to help you focus and develop your own understanding of contemporary art practice and its wider cultural significance. It is designed to develop your understanding of a range of critical and theoretical approaches that inform the heterogeneous field of visual art production whilst, at the same time, enabling you to identify and prepare the area of independent research you will carry out in your dissertation project.

Core modules (weeks 1-5)

Code Module title Credits
tbc The Common Core Module: DEL: Readings/Processes 0 credits

The core module strands introduce you to the problematic that resides at the heart of the MA programme: how to explore the relations between critical theory and contemporary visual arts practices. You choose either A and C or B and D. They present differently articulated contemporary perspectives on ‘art’ and ‘theory’ drawn from a variety of traditions (e.g. The Frankfurt School, Post-structuralism, Performance Studies, Contemporary Continental Philosophy, Phenomenology, Psychoanalysis and Post-Colonial Studies). The core module strands are supported by student-led Reading Groups.

Special subjects (15 weeks)

Code Module title Credits
VC71008A Affiliations: Contemporary African Philosophy & Culture 45 credits

Who are we? How do we affiliate ourselves? How are art, space and time conceived in this respect? By drawing on selected examples of Sub-Saharan African philosophy, art and culture, this module radically challenges dominant western universalist responses to these questions. The choice to focus on work from such a vast and yet limited geographical area also has a further, distinctive aim: to depart from the usual globalising narratives of post-colonial discourses and to invite more personal journeys into selective ideas and practices taken from carefully chosen regions in this subcontinent. Authors studied include Emmanuel Eze, Valentin Mudimbe, Kwasi Wiredu, Paulin Hountondji, Mogobe Ramose, and Patrick Chamoiseau. The material explored on this module also includes films, artworks, and poetry from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Assessment: one 8,000-word essay.

VC71007A Vocalities 45 credits

This module offers readings of contemporary political events via the medium of vocality. Political, social and historical crises will be shown to play themselves
out within a constructed, real or imaginary event of vocality. We investigate how various transformations of the sonority and aurality of environments come about, shifting the scale of inquiry from vocality to phonography to frequency and vibration dealing with the affective dimension of political conflicts. We deal with a number of thinkers including Mladen Dolar, William Burroughs, Michel Chion, Kaja Silverman, Slavoj Zizek.

Assessment: one 8,000-word essay

HT71094A Auditions 45 Credits

Auditions broaches the relationships between the aural and the ‘visual’ and ‘spatial’ dimensions in the fine arts, architecture, film and other areas of cultural production during the period since 1945. This complex of interests confounds media specific discourses, and so the module sets out to identify available formulations of aural-visual and auralspatial objects and their context, to look for the usefulness and insufficiencies of such formulations, and proceeds directly to the perceptive invention of new objects of study, and the establishment of such objects within frameworks of political and cultural conflict, aesthetic intrigues, and historical, technological and social changes. In this sense, the module is always allegorical in its attentions, and you will then be expected to not only make assessments of the objects and theories offered on the module, but to augment this with the objects and theories presented by others, and by yourselves. Specific discographies and filmographies will be supplied where appropriate during the module.

Assessment: one 8,000-word essay.

HT&1064A Geographies 45 Credits

This module engages with an expanded notion of the geographic, specifically the shift from classical post-colonial geography to issues of cartography. Drawing on key theoretical texts and the works of spatial practitioners (contemporary artists, architects, curators, activists and others in the fields of the humanities), it explores such issues as urbanity, globalisation, mobility, conflict, migration and human rights. In addition, it asks how, within the heterogeneous geographic discourses and practices in circulation today, not only knowledge and cultural production but also identities and new forms of subjectivity, are ‘spatialised’.

Assessment: one 4,000-word essay and one collaborative creative project. 

Explore our online archive of student work from Geographies

HT71099A Judgement and Creation 45 credits

This module examines the relationship between judging and creating, in general, and as it relates to art and aesthetics. Strongly philosophical, it starts with a conceptual analysis of this relationship based on readings of Kant’s Critique of Judgement. It then considers how various 20th century thinkers (ie Heidegger, Derrida, Lyotard, Arendt, Adorno, Gasché, Henrich and Deleuze) have interpreted this important text and/or engaged with the issues it raises.

Assessment: one 8,000-word essay

tbc Reading the Performative 45 credits

This module considers the impact of performativity on contemporary art practice since 1960, starting with performance art engaging with the everyday, moving through appropriation practices of the 1980s and ending with projects that use re-enactment and fiction to re-imagine histories and possible futures in contemporary artworks. In doing so, the module will discuss differences between ‘performance’ and ‘performativity’, drawing on theoretical perspectives from post-structural theory, queer and feminist studies, art theory, and philosophy. Throughout the module, performativity will be explored as a way of expressing the psychic and political potential of performance in art: a way of thinking about what art does. The focus will be on artwork drawing on feminist and queer politics. Theorists discussed include Erving Goffman, J L Austin, Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben and Jacques Rancière.

Assessment: one 8,000-word essay

VC71011A Sex, Gender, Species 45 credits

This module asks how animal and sexual differences matter in and through a range of contemporary art, films and literature. Recent years have shown a surge of interest in what Jacques Derrida names ‘the animal question,’ ie the philosophical tendency to divide ‘man’ from ‘animal’ and for this difference to support a ‘non-criminal putting to death’ of the latter. This module investigates the ‘logics’ that create this critical division while also addressing what is a frequent gap in critical animal studies: the interface with gender and sexuality. Thus this module will also interweave study of works by feminist thinkers (Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Donna Haraway, Kelly Oliver) to bring the problematic ways that ‘the feminine’ is figured in relation to both ‘the animal’ and to a supposedly neutral and human ‘subject’ into view. It will also consider how the sexual locates a key intersection with species and may open paths to new ones. Thus the module points towards what some now call the ‘posthumanities’.

Assessment: one 8,000-word essay.

VC71010A Conflict and Negotiations as Spatial Practices 45 credits

The module offers readings of contemporary political issues as relations in space. Political and social conflicts will be shown to play themselves out within a constructed, real or imaginary architecture and through the representation, organisation, transformation, erasure and subversion of space. We discuss social and political conflicts as they register themselves in the transformation of the built urban environment, shifting the scale of our investigation from the architectural to the urban and the territorial, dealing with the spatial dimension of geopolitical conflicts. From the micro scale of architectural details to the macro scale of borders and global flows, space will be analysed as an elastic medium constantly reshaped by political forces.

We will engage with a number of thinkers including Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Achille Mbembe, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Ranciere, Chantal Mouffe, Bruno Latour, Manuel Delanda, and develop spatial conceptions alongside their theoretical and political positions. Key concepts explored include ‘space/event’, flows, bio-politics, crisis, resistance, the figure of the refugee and its emergent geography of extra-territoriality.

Assessment: one 8,000-word essay/project or one 8,000-word combination of essay/portfolio.

HT71104B Transforming Critical Practices (Laboratory module) 45 credits

This module offers an experimental environment to explore different ways of integrating and critically transforming the experience of the MA programme into one’s own practice of research, writing, curating, artistic and cultural work. We work in small groups and develop a variety of projects that allow us to engage with a wider audience and to communicate our concerns in a dialogic process of working with peers. These projects range from spatial interventions and installations, dialogues and debates to performances and publications, archives, films, websites, actions… Each year our investigations focus on a particular set of questions addressing eg the dynamics of networked cultures, shared knowledge production or global resource politics. Rather than understanding resources as fixed or externally given, the module conceives of them as collectively produced and able to mobilise and interrelate diverse areas with one another: geographically, historically, economically, and culturally.

Assessment: one Final Presentation of the group-based research project, supported by group statements and the evaluation of the collaborative work process.

HT71095A Thinking the Sensuous: Ethics, Aesthetics and the 'Production of Subjectivity' 45 credits

How do we come to be who we are? And how do we produce ourselves differently? Indeed, what are we capable of becoming? This module tackles ethical questions such as these with a particular eye to aesthetics and art practice – the latter understood in the widest possible sense. Central to the seminar are the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, separately and in collaboration, and those we might name as their philosophical precursors: Spinoza, Nietzsche and Bergson. The seminar also looks at writings on aesthetics and ethics of Foucault, Lacan and Badiou, amongst others.

Assessment: one 8,000-word essay

VC71012A/B Transcultural Memory 45 credits

This module focuses on the encounter of different memories and histories between and across cultures. Here, memory is no longer regarded as a document of the past, but as an activity performed in the present, contingent on present contexts that are continuously modifying the past. Likewise, the concept of ‘cultural memory’ is used to describe the reciprocal relationship between individual and collective memory and the cultural frameworks in which their mediation takes place. Drawing on a variety of art works, exhibitions, films, literary texts and theoretical models (eg Halbwachs, Levinas, Du Bois, Caruth, Hirsch and Rothberg) the module explores spaces in which memories neither compete with nor erase each other, but interact in productive and unforeseen ways.

Assessment: one 6,000-word essay and one creative project.

Independent Research

From the end of March, you will start independent research on a subject of your own choosing. At the end of the spring term, you will submit your dissertation proposal and be assigned a dissertation tutor who will support your independent dissertation research and writing activities in an advisory capacity.

Code Module title Credits
tbc Two-day MA Symposium (Oral Presentation on Dissertation Topic) 30 credits

The MA Symposium provides you with the opportunity, fairly early on in the research/writing process, to present a worked up and focused investigation of your dissertation topic or some aspect of it. Your presentation will be formally assessed. Presenting on your dissertation research at this stage is invaluable for enabling you to define your project and, through verbal feedback and discussion, to progress your thinking.

Assessment: one oral presentation in early June (20 minutes, plus 10 minute discussion).

tbc MA Dissertation 60 credits

Having already produced an assessed oral presentation on your topic (see above) you work on your dissertation over the summer and submit your completed project for assessment early in September.

Assessment: one 12-15,000-word dissertation.

Programme specification

To find out more about this degree, including details about the ways you'll be assessed and information about our marking criteria, you can download the programme specification.

Student and Graduate profiles


Sifa explains what opportunities studying at Goldsmiths gave her.


Video: Click to play

Marianne, Assistant Curator, Public Programmes, Tate

"My tutors were particularly inspiring and I also met many like-minded and interesting friends"

I curate Public Programme events at Tate Britain and Modern: talks, symposia, film screenings, performances, courses and workshops. Managing the Late at Tate Britain since 2009, I have curated Late at Tate Britain: Diffusions and Late at Tate Britain; Perfoming Architecture and contributed to many other programmes.

I recently completed a two month research secondment, producing and presenting a research paper: How can architecture productively disrupt our experience of the art museum? 

During my time at Goldsmiths I enjoyed the chance to think laterally about contemporary art. I developed research, writing and presentation skills, all of which helped me grow creatively and led to several freelance curating and writing projects. My tutors were particularly inspiring and I also met many like-minded and interesting friends, with whom I collaborated and developed projects. A year after graduating I got my current job at Tate.  

Rachel Lois, Co-Director of Open Dialogues

"The contacts I made there continue to be a valuable resource in my work."

In the BA (Fine Art & History of Art) standards were high and no compromises were made in terms of prior experience and knowledge. I often described it as a boot camp for artists. Stakes were equally high in the MA; the course consisted almost entirely of experienced/mature professionals and those who already had post graduate qualifications in other related areas. The contacts I made there continue to be a valuable resource in my work.

I am now co-director of Open Dialogues, a UK collaboration that produces writing on and as performance. Since 2008 Open Dialogues has pioneered a model of working closely with performance and Live Art artists to critically respond, document and extend the moment of performance. Programme partners include The Live Art Development Agency (UK), Pacitti Company (UK), Trinity Laban (UK), Performa Biennial (US) and Performance Saga (CH) among others.

Stephanie, Junior Visiting Research Fellow at Goldsmiths

"The academics, staff, students and high-profile visitors to Goldsmiths continue to inspire and motivate me."

This fixed term post in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths recognises the independent research that I continued to do after I finished the MA in Contemporary Art Theory. I am very lucky to continue to have use of the Goldsmiths library, a desk and computing facilities and, most importantly, access to an academic community with whom I can share research ideas and from whom I seek advice. I am planning to apply for a PhD programme at Goldsmiths to continue the research I started as part of the MA.

I didn't have a typical arts background like other students when I joined Goldsmiths. I worried that I would struggle to fit in and keep up. During my time at Goldsmiths however I was encouraged to make good use of all my previous skills and education and I found that, in the end, my research 'hook' came precisely from past experience and knowledge. One of the more memorable experiences I had as a student at Goldsmiths was presenting a practical group project to a public audience at Gasworks gallery in London, but these experiences continue and I look forward to many more. The academics, staff, students and high-profile visitors to Goldsmiths continue to inspire and motivate me. 

I recently co-founded a creative research collective called 'The Future State' with Goldsmiths Senior Lecturer Dr Derval Tubridy and other Goldsmiths scholars. The collective explores creative responses to contemporary crises, using Ireland as a paradigm for global conditions. It was born out of an international conference that I co-organised at Goldsmiths titled 'The Future State of Ireland' which took place in November 2012 and which gathered together artists, historians, journalists, social commentators and cultural studies academics to develop discourses around economic crisis, gender issues in austerity, popular resistance, urban geographies and much more. 


MA History of Art (Twentieth Century), graduated 2001

"Studying at Goldsmiths provided me with the tools of critical thinking that have proven fundamental throughout my career."

I'm now an independent scholar, currently working on a book on art and creative practices in Kabul, Afghanistan:

Studying at Goldsmiths provided me with the tools of critical thinking that in time have proven fundamental throughout my career. I also learnt the importance of dialogical education and the value of interdisciplinary studies. 


MA History of Art (Twentieth Century), graduated 2004

"The course I undertook at Goldsmiths provided a strong foundation from which to approach and respond to contemporary art practice and I still find I draw on my research interests in projects I am developing now."

Whilst studying the MA History of Art (Twentieth Century) [the original name for the MA Contemporary Art Theory] at Goldsmiths I focused on phenomenology and wrote my thesis on the embodied encounter with darkness and its implications for experiencing moving image, with specific consideration of Jean Luc Godard and French new wave cinema.

After graduating, I started working with artists within a commercial gallery context, firstly at Emily Tsingou Gallery who at the time represented Jim Shaw, Karen Kilimnik and Georgina Starr, followed by Max Wigram Gallery and lastly as director at Alison Jacques Gallery. I realised during this time that I wanted to develop in a curatorial direction within an institutional context and applied for my current position at Camden Arts Centre in 2009.

My role involves working on all aspects of our exhibitions from their inception, including research, contributing to programming decisions, developing the practical realisation of exhibitions with the artist from fabrication through AV and presentation concerns, writing exhibitions texts, leading tours of the exhibitions and public events, negotiating loans, right through to organising transport, insurance and customs paperwork.

The course I undertook at Goldsmiths provided a strong foundation from which to approach and respond to contemporary art practice and I still find I draw on my research interests in projects I am developing now.

Alongside my position at Camden, I also do some freelance writing and curating and am currently co-curating a residency project called ‘Potlatch’ with Grizedale Arts in the Lake District. The project takes its name from the native American Indian ritual which has been a subject of interest for me since reading Bataille as part of my studies and will be an umbrella theme for a group of Scandinavian artists invited to Cumbria to participate in a programme of performances, events and symposia.


Natalia was awarded a Goldsmiths Banco Santander Scholarship   

"Goldsmiths is an open place for your own ideas."

I'm from Mexico and currently studying an MA in Contemporary Art Theory. This Masters degree is focused on the present debates of art around the world. I have a BA in Humanities and have worked as a curatorial and archive assistant in photography in Mexico, India and France. I chose this course as a pathway for understanding art in my country in terms of the current research and interests, and in order to pursue a career as a curator.

I have found that Goldsmiths is an open place for your own ideas, you are free to pursue your own interests but still gives you the opportunity to get to know topics you never heard or studied before. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed with these new ideas but they enrich your knowledge. In my case this has encouraged me to expand my ideas and to think outside of my comfort zone.

I was granted a Santander Scholarship for Latin American students, and thanks to it I was able to come to study to London and not  to worry about economical matters.

I hope to return to Mexico and open and independent art consulting firm for new talent.

Cleo, Designer, Counterpoint

Graduated in 2008

"Goldsmiths gave me with an unconventional perspective with which to understand the world."

Goldsmiths provided me with great analytical skills and the ability to understand the world with an alternative and unconventional perspective. The projects and texts I was introduced to gave me the confidence to approach tasks with originality, and the quality of people that ran the course gave me great insights into the industry and into visual culture.

I now manage The Bridges Project which intends to reinvigorate European Union policy making through the application of cross disciplinary knowledge. In this role I research potential collaborators and design interactions to foster and harness the diverse knowledge our participants contribute.


"While I was at Goldsmiths I was able to gain the conviction to act on my political ideals, the teaching was top rate, and as such allowed creative thinking and risk taking in my work.

My time at Goldsmiths left me no choice but to take my learning to the streets and practice the theory I had dabbled with. I'm now working as a freelancer covering arts, politics and educational activism. I've co-organised Tent City University at Occupy LSX, organising talks, debate, discussion, and large-scale teach-outs in 'public' spaces. I also co-founded 'Bread and Circuses', an arts collective that squatted and hosted an all day arts event at Anish Kapoor's empty house and involved related interviews and speaking engagements. I've been involved in more activities along the lines of bringing art of spoken word together with the visual senses, with a strong political engagement with current events. Aesthetic activism, if you will, which grows its own direction every day.

My 'job' with no job description is partially a response to the condition of graduating into the current economy, and partially an experiment in the theory I picked up at Goldsmiths. I like to describe this work as my DIY internship."

Mattia, Coordinator for IESA

Goldsmiths gave me a thorough understanding of contemporary art trends and theories, deepening my understanding and above all pushing my independent research.

This is one of the principal aspects of the Goldsmiths approach. Rather then just supplying concepts, it pushes you to get to a deeper level of understanding independently and gives you help and guidance to better frame your questions and research. 

I met people that will always be friends. Some of then stayed in London and I am in constant contact with, some others offer a good excuse for travelling!

Flora, Canada

"Professors are keen on experimenting, and I've benefitted from being given more space to try different approaches to writing."

Goldsmiths was recommended to me by a number of former professors, and I ultimately chose to come here due to the Visual Cultures Department's reputation for being at the forefront of its field. I've been really happy in Visual Cultures so far; professors are keen on experimenting, and I've benefitted from being given more space to try different approaches to writing. I feel like I'm honing the skills I developed in my BA (at McGill University), and learning more about who I want to be as an academic. I've also loved being able to take advantage of public lectures, and am hoping to start volunteering for the Women's Art Library in the near future.  

Skills and Careers

Many of our MA students have gone on to MPhil/PhD study, not only in art history and visual cultures, but also in related fields such as philosophy, cultural studies and literature. Careers obtained by recent graduates include: artist, curator/collections manager, journal editor, lecturers, researcher, and roles in TV and production, public relations, and rights and marketing.

Our graduates


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Stephanie and Ruth are research collective The Future State. They both studied their postgraduate degrees in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths.

Content last modified: 26 Jan 2015

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