Contemporary Art Theory

Plastique Fantastique, Mars Year Zero, Southwark Park Gallery, London

Why study MA Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths

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

  • This Masters explores a range of theoretical perspectives that shape art and visual culture, and attitudes towards them in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
  • You’ll be encouraged to conceptually and creatively explore the ways in which contemporary artistic practice and urgent theoretical and political matters intersect.
  • You’ll expand your knowledge of contemporary artistic developments and deepen your understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of academic discourses on visual culture.
  • The degree draws on the shifting fields of performance studies, art history, continental philosophy, ecology, feminist theory, queer theory, postcolonial/decolonial studies, and cultural studies in addressing the critical challenges posed by artistic practice, and you’ll be able to focus on an aspect that particularly interests you.
  • You’ll take part in an assessed symposium, which provides you with a chance to present your dissertation topic at an early stage in order to define and progress your final project.
  • Teaching is research-led and you will be taught by tutors who are leaders in their field.

Contact the department

If you have specific questions about the degree, contact Professor Simon O'Sullivan.


1 year full-time or 2 years part-time


Home - full-time: £10350
Home - part-time: £5175
International - full-time: £19520


Visual Cultures

What you'll study

The programme comprises an assessed introductory core module (made up of four blocks that thematically vary from year to year and of which students choose two), followed by two Special Subjects and the MA Dissertation.

Students also attend the Visual Cultures Public Programme of lectures and other events.

Module title Credits
MA Contemporary Art Theory Core Module 60 credits
Special Subject 1 (MA Contemporary Art Theory) 30 credits
Special Subject 2 (MA Contemporary Art Theory) 30 credits
MA Contemporary Art Theory Dissertation 60 credits

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 while, at the same time, enabling you to identify and prepare the area of independent research you will carry out in your dissertation project.

While about 10 members of staff from the department directly teach into the taught components of the MA, almost all staff are available for dissertation supervision.

Special subjects

Special subjects are in-depth taught modules that draw 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.

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.

How you'll be assessed

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

What our students say


Eunha Chang

I have continued to develop my curatorial and academic interests, and have realised several curatorial projects.

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Maria Markiewicz

I loved everything about my degree at Goldsmiths and cannot imagine a better programme. If I could dream up a course, this would be it.

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Louise O'Kelly

The course fundamentally influenced how I think and research, and exposed me to developing critical thinking.

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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, the environmental humanities and literature.

Careers obtained by recent graduates include:

  • Artists
  • Curators at mainstream galleries/museums
  • Curators at independent organisations
  • Editors in major publishing houses
  • Lecturers
  • Researchers
  • Roles in TV and film production


The skills you'll develop throughout the Masters include:

  • Critical and analytical skills
  • Research and evaluation skills
  • The ability to think creatively about developments in contemporary art practice in relation to art criticism, curating, art history, visual culture, performance studies, cultural studies and philosophy
  • Written and oral communication skills
  • Collaboration and teamwork

Transcultural Memory

Students on the MA Special Subject on Transcultural Memory are asked to submit a creative project as part of their final assessment. In recent years, the students have opted to organise exhibitions of their works which imaginatively engaged with the encounter of different memories and histories between and across cultures. The shows took place on campus or in galleries around London, were organised by the students themselves, and were accompanied by publications and well-attended events. Read more about Transcultural Memory projects.

Contakt Collective

The 2020 Spatial Biopolitics collective group project researched the spatial politics of contact, networking, and distancing in the time of Coronavirus. The group's research was published in their Contakt Collective journal (PDF) and shared on their Instagram account. Read more about the project.

Transforming (Critical) Practices

Drawing on individual case studies and research files, the Transforming Critical Practices module concludes with a collectively organised public event. Pursuing both individual research and collaborative group work, students have explored a range of investigative formats – from docu-fiction to public symposia and from complex mapping projects to online wikis – to address the changing ways in which contemporary critical practices are engaged in transforming the logics of economic investment, social organisation and cultural meaning-making. Read more about Transforming (Critical) Practices projects.

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.

Students with little or no formal training in art history/theory or a related humanities discipline often choose to take our Graduate Diploma in Contemporary Art History first. Then they apply to us with a strong foundation. Passing the Graduate Diploma with a grade of 2.1 or higher guarantees a place on our MA.

International qualifications

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

If English isn’t your first language, you will need an IELTS score (or equivalent English language qualification) of 6.5 with a 6.5 in writing and no element lower than 6.0 to study this programme. If you need assistance with your English language, we offer a range of courses that can help prepare you for postgraduate study.

Fees and funding

Annual tuition fees

These are the PG fees for students starting their programme in the 2024/2025 academic year.

  • Home - full-time: £10350
  • Home - part-time: £5175
  • International - full-time: £19520

If your fees are not listed here, please check our postgraduate fees guidance or contact the Fees Office, who can also advise you about how to pay your fees.

It’s not currently possible for international students to study part-time under a student visa. If you think you might be eligible to study part-time while being on another visa type, please contact our Admissions Team for more information.

If you are looking to pay your fees please see our guide to making a payment.

Funding opportunities

Explore the Goldsmiths scholarships finder to find out what funding you may be eligible for.

If you are a UK student you may be eligible for a postgraduate loan.

Meanwhile our Careers Service can also offer advice on finding work during your studies.

Paying your fees

Find out about paying your tuition fees.

Additional costs

In addition to your tuition fees, you'll be responsible for any additional costs associated with your course, such as buying stationery and paying for photocopying. You can find out more about what you need to budget for on our study costs page.

There may also be specific additional costs associated with your programme. This can include things like paying for field trips or specialist materials for your assignments. Please check the programme specification for more information.

How to apply

You apply directly to Goldsmiths using our online application system.

To complete your application, you will need to have:

  • Details of your academic qualifications
  • The email address of your referee who we can request a reference from, or alternatively a copy of your academic reference
  • Copies of your educational transcripts or certificates
  • A personal statement

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 from students wanting to start the following September. There is no application deadline, but we encourage you to apply sooner rather than later while there are still places on the course, and to allow time for student visa applications if applicable.

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.

Further guidance

Read our guide to applying for a postgraduate degree at Goldsmiths.

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