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 Irit Rogoff

Modules & structure


The programme comprises a non-assessed introductory module, the Core Module (comprising 4 blocks that thematically vary from year to year and of which students choose 2), and four assessed components: two Special Subjects, the MA Symposium and the MA Dissertation. Students also attend the Visual Cultures Public Programme of lectures and other events. 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.

Thematic pathways through the MA will be offered on a yearly basis. These will connect the annually changing themes of the core courses with the annual roster of special subjects. In any specific year three themes will be operative. They may include Global Arts; Sound; Politics and Aesthetics; Performance and Live Art; Critical Thought.

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
  The Common Core Module: DEL: Readings/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
  Curating and Ethics 45 credits
  Reading the Performative 45 credits
  Sex, Gender, Species 45 credits
  Geopoetics 45 credits
  Judgement and Creation 45 credits
  Transforming Critical Practices 45 credits
  Dissonant Images: Questions of Evidence 45 credits
  Postcapitalist Desire 45 credits
  Spatial Biopolitics 45 Credits

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).


Visual Cultures assessment are 100% coursework. Normally this consists of essays, sometimes accompanied by creative projects, group projects, multi-media projects, presentations, symposia, reviews, and studio work.

Download the programme specification. If you would like an earlier version of the programme specification, please contact the Quality Office.

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.

Student profiles

Alison Hugill

"I think the mix of teaching and student diversity helped me to apply the more abstract ideas I was learning to actual art-making processes"

As managing editor of Berlin Art Link Magazine, an online, independent contemporary art magazine, I commission, edit and publish regular content, including critical reviews, studio visits, interviews and announcements about contemporary art in Berlin and internationally.

I am also an independent curator and freelance writer. I am Contributing Editor of Momus magazine, and contribute to Sleek Magazine, AQNB, uncube, Rhizome, Archinect and Artsy. I have also curated a 5-year project in Bergen, Norway, looking at site-specific and public space art interventions supplemented with a theory workshop.

Before attending the MA program at Goldsmiths I studied Philosophy. It was really helpful for me to be in an environment where many students were engaged in art practice and curation, while still having the opportunity to work with a professor (Alexander Garcia) who valued critical thinking and the philosophical / political importance of
aesthetics. I think the mix of teaching and student diversity helped me to apply the more abstract ideas I was learning to actual art-making processes.

I co-host a feminist talk radio show on Berlin Community Radio called Hystereo and I am part of an art collective, working at the crossroads of theory and design, called Antiforum.


"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. 


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

"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."

See more profiles for this programme

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 6.5 with a 6.5 in writing

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

           Please see our guidance on writing a postgraduate statement

  • 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 & scholarships

Find out more about tuition fees.

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.

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