MA in Contemporary Art Theory

  • Length
    1 year full-time or 2 years part-time
  • Department
    Visual Cultures

Course overview

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.

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.

Contact the department

If you have specific questions about the degree, contact Dr Lynn Turner

Modules & 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.

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.

Core module

Module title Credits
  DEL: Reading/Processes 0 credits

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:

Module title Credits
  Affiliations: Contemporary African Philosophy & Culture 45 credits
  Vocalities 45 credits
  Auditions 45 Credits
  Geographies 45 Credits
  Judgement and Creation 45 credits
  Reading the Performative 45 credits
  Sex, Gender, Species 45 credits
  Special Subject: Conflict and Negotiations as Spatial Practices 45 credits
  Transforming Critical Practices 45 credits
  Thinking the Sensuous: Ethics, Aesthetics and the 'Production of Subjectivity' 45 credits
  Transcultural Memory 45 credits

Explore our online archive of student work from the Geographies module.

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

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.

Module title Credits
  MA in Contemporary Art Theory Dissertation 60 credits

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).


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.

Download the programme specification for this degree to find out more about what you'll learn and how you'll be taught and assessed.

Please note that due to staff research commitments not all of these modules may be available every year.


In the Department of Visual Cultures we explore and produce
new forms of art history and theory

Visual Cultures

Study in a department that combines an innovative approach with passionate academics, and makes full use of London's many opportunities to study art history.

Our approach

Our degree programmes deliberately move away from chronological histories: the innovative art of our time arises out of the conflict of ideas. So you’ll explore the subject in the context of pertinent social, cultural and political issues and phenomena.

That means not only investigating artefacts you might see in museums and galleries, but also those making up our everyday visual and technological environment: including urban landscapes, film and video, and popular culture.

Our academics

Our academics are passionate about the subject and are at the sharp end of theoretical developments in everything from architecture to spatial theory. Some are practising artists and curators, which makes our degrees relevant and exciting.

Our location

Our teaching takes advantage of the many galleries, art spaces, museums, cultural facilities and specialist libraries in London.

Find out more about the Department of Visual Cultures.

Skills & 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.

Find out more about employability at Goldsmiths.



"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. 


"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 an independent art consulting firm for new talent.


"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.


"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. 


"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.  

Entry requirements

You should normally have, or expect to gain, an undergraduate degree of at least upper 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.

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.

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.

Equivalent qualifications
We accept a wide range of international qualifications. Find out more about the qualifications we accept from around the world.

English language requirements
If English isn’t your first language, you’ll need to meet our English language requirements to study with us.

For this programme we require:

IELTS 7.0 (including 7.0 in the written test)

If you need assistance with your English language, we offer a range of courses that can help prepare you for postgraduate-level study.

How to apply

You apply directly to Goldsmiths using our online application system. 

Before submitting your application you’ll need to have:

  • Details of your education history, including the dates of all exams/assessments
  • The email address of your referee who we can request a reference from, or alternatively an electronic copy of your academic reference
  • personal statement – this can either be uploaded as a Word Document or PDF, or completed online
  • 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 October 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. 

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

If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an earlier application deadline. 

Selection process

Admission to many programmes is by interview, unless you live outside the UK. Occasionally, we'll make candidates an offer of a place on the basis of their application and qualifications alone.

Find out more about applying.

Fees & funding

Find out more about funding opportunities for home/EU applicants, or funding for international applicants. If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline.

Find out more about tuition fees.

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