Course information

Length

1 year full-time or 2 years part-time

Scholarship information

Funding available

Course overview

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

Why study MA Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths

  • This degree 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 programme 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.

Hero image credit: Plastique Fantastique, Mars Year Zero, Southwark Park Gallery, London 2019

Contact the department

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

What you'll study

Overview

The programme comprises an assessed introductory module, the Core Course (comprising 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.

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. While about ten 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.

 

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

Assessment

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

Download the programme specification.

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

What our students say

Eunha Chang

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

Enriching and rewarding

It was an incredibly enriching experience to study at Goldsmiths. The faculty was supportive and always available to help and guide me towards a more successful outcome. During my studies, I was fortunate to be supervised by Dr Lynn Turner. Despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 situation, her guidance and support helped me greatly in the completion of my dissertation.

Through this process, I was able to further develop my curatorial and academic interests in a more professional manner. Building upon my dissertation, I have continued to develop my curatorial and academic interests, and have realised several curatorial projects across Europe and Asia. This has been a rewarding experience.

Supportive and friendly

Additionally, Astrid Schmetterling provided me with opportunities to engage with other scholars in my field. After presenting my research paper, she invited Ifor Duncan to give a lecture and explore how my academic interests could intersect and evolve with those of other scholars. This was a valuable learning experience as we discussed a wide range of interesting themes and artworks.

Finally, I was also fortunate to have Astrid as my personal tutor. She was always friendly and supportive, not just in regard to academic matters but also in my personal life. As many students can attest, it can be a challenging experience to keep up with the fast-paced art scene and the academic readings in just one year. However, with Astrid's help, I was able to balance these demands and make the most of my time at Goldsmiths.

My favourite place on campus was the Library, where I had access to a wealth of resources, and the Goldsmiths CCA, where they host exciting and amazing exhibitions. Both of these places have greatly contributed to my academic and personal growth, and I am grateful for the opportunities they provide.

Curations and collaborations

I am currently working as an independent curator, following the completion of my MA programme. As an extension of my MA dissertation, I curated an exhibition titled 'Invasive Species Behind the Notoriety: Multi-directional Narratives for Abundant Futures' at the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, South Korea. The project involved collaboration with artists and scholars, and it was a great opportunity to put into practice what I learned during my studies.

Since then, I have continued to curate various projects. Currently, I am also involved in a large-scale curatorial project, 'Five Inclusion Tactics for Seven Curators: empowering, supportive, cooperative, open, and fair,' in collaboration with other international curators based in South Korea and The Netherlands. In addition, I am working for the Seoul Museum of Art.

Personal practice

My work revolves around the idea of transcultural memory and the memory of species as a means of interpreting written and authored history. My curiosity in this area stems from my desire to shed light on the true nature of such memories.

I believe that literature, as a critical archive in the fourth phase of memory studies, has the potential to articulate a marginalised history and provide a glimpse of its existence prior to its erasure by the mainstream. My artistic practices explore this idea through re-editing and re-interpreting literary works, such as my recent video work, 'We Cannot be a Maxwell's Demon'.

This work employs the narrative of a preserving machine created by Doctor Labyrinth, which transforms musical scores into various animals. Through this metaphor, I question how memory can survive from the perspective of non-human beings. I believe that memory must undergo metamorphosis in order to stay alive and have impact, and my work reflects this idea.

I created this work using artificial intelligence, and while I had control over certain elements, the results generated by AI cannot be fully manipulated. This reflects the idea of the "entelechial equality of all" human and non-human beings, and the possibility of shared vitality.

In conclusion, my work seeks to shed light on the nature of memory and its importance in shaping our understanding of the world.

Advice for prospective students

For incoming students, I would like to offer advice to take advantage of the various resources available at Goldsmiths, including scholarships, career services, extracurricular opportunities, access to research facilities, libraries, and more.

Pursuing a Masters degree at university can be a challenging but rewarding experience, and having the right support can make all the difference. It is a significant step towards becoming a professional, and it's important to have the necessary resources to navigate any difficulties that may arise. In addition to academic advisors, tutors, and mental health services, there are ample resources available to help you overcome challenges and achieve success.

I encourage you to make the most of these resources, as they can help you succeed in your studies and beyond. By seeking out and utilising the available resources, you can make the most of your time at Goldsmiths and set yourself up for success.

Maria Markiewicz

I loved everything about my degree at Goldsmiths (I studied MA Contemporary Art Theory) and cannot imagine a better programme. If I could dream up a course, this would be it

MA Contemporary Art Theory was my dream course

I loved everything about my degree at Goldsmiths (I studied MA Contemporary Art Theory) and cannot imagine a better programme. If I could dream up a course, this would be it: MA CAT introduced me to some of the academics I admire the most (Preciado, Pettman, Halberstam) and was truly a formative experience – I wouldn't be where I am now without it. It only ensured me that an academic career is what I want for my future and jumpstarted it: my research into post-sexuality started as an MA dissertation and soon it will be published as a book chapter by Routledge.

It all truly started at Goldsmiths...

I am currently working as a Curator London's Tavistock Institute (a not-for-profit multi-disciplinary social science organisation established in the 1940s), a job that was advertised through my programme, and as a writer – I publish both art and academic writing and I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship earlier this year. The scholarship will allow me to continue my studies in New York (MA Liberal Studies at The New School for Social Research). There, I will be working with Professor Dominic Pettman on further developing my post-sexuality theory – I owe this connection to Dr Lynn Turner, who introduced me to Pettman during my dissertation research. It all truly started at Goldsmiths!

After completing the MA in New York, I plan to do a PhD and hopefully settle down in London, pursuing an academic career. Who knows, maybe I will be back at Goldsmiths one day? And maybe even in a different capacity: not to learn, but to teach (though the two go hand in hand). This is another big dream of mine – to inspire and be inspired, to learn with and from others

Networking, work experience, university advice, and enjoyment

Enjoy it while it lasts: those years usually tend to go by very fast! Use every possible opportunity that comes your way and never underestimate the power of networking: your university friends, tutors, and colleagues can truly change your life. Also: it may sound scary, but remember that there is life after university. Start building your portfolio, making connections, and get some work experience whenever you can. It will make your life after graduation so much easier (and way less stressful). To put it differently – think about the future, sure, but also enjoy the present: be as radical as you want, experiment, try out new ideas. There is no better place to do it than Goldsmiths. They're here to help make your magic (be it art, writing, or anything else really!) happen.

Areas around Goldsmiths boast some of the most exciting areas of London

I really love South East London – I moved there to be closer to university and stayed there long after Graduation. Peckham, Deptford, and Greenwich are for me some of the most exciting areas of London. If you're interested in the arts, Peckham and Deptford have a very rich and exciting art scene (and some really good food places). Brockley (20 mins walk from Goldsmiths) has wonderful cafes and one of my favourite London bookshops – Crofton Books. + Goldsmiths library and the CCA are also within walking distance. What more could you ask for?...

Louise O'Kelly

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

Louise's time at Goldsmiths

I loved how each of the tutors had a specialism, which meant you were exposed to so many new ideas, each being an expert in their field of research.

The course fundamentally influenced how I think, how I research and exposed me to developing critical thinking skills. The meeting point between two different specialisms on the course led me to the topic of my thesis and it further development into a festival.

What is Louise doing since graduating from Goldsmiths

I am currently working as an independent curator and Director of Block Universe, London's leading international performance festival and commissioning body, alongside my role as representative for Artforum Magazine. I am still connected with colleagues of mine that I studied with.

Advice for current and upcoming students

It's what you make of it, so take up any optional opportunities, spend time in the library, and talk with your peers. Your network will be one of the most important assets from your time at Goldsmiths and will stand you in good stead over the course of your career.

Favourite part about studing in South-East London

It's a very diverse area, with a lot of energy.

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.

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 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-level study.

Fees, funding & scholarships

Annual tuition fees

These are the 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.

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.

Funding opportunities

Find out more about postgraduate fees and explore funding opportunities. If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline.

Scholarships

For 2024-25, the Department of Visual Cultures is offering both a full-time Home student MA Contemporary Art Theory scholarship (tuition fees only) and a part-time year one Home student MA Contemporary Art Theory scholarship (tuition fees only). Please note your interest in either of these scholarships in your application.

Deadline: 22 March 2024

 

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 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
  • 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

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.

Find out more about applying.

Student work

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, 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, and roles in TV and film production.

Find out more about employability at Goldsmiths.

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