Course information


1 year full-time or 2 years part-time

Course overview

Goldsmiths' operating principles for 2022-23 have not yet been finalised but should changes be required to teaching in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we will publish these as early as possible for prospective students wishing to start their programme in September 2022.

The MA Contemporary Art Theory is for those with a special interest in contemporary art, and an aptitude for 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.

Hero image credit: Ayesha Hameed, I sing of the sea I am mermaid of the trees 2021, photo credit K MacBride.

Contact the department

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

What you'll study


The programme comprises a non-assessed introductory module, the Core Course (comprising four blocks that thematically vary from year to year and of which students choose two), 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 module 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. 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.

Students may opt to take thematically divergent modules or shape their own consistent thematic pathway through the MA.

Full-time students attend on two or three days per week (determined by the choice of special subject plus the Public Programme events on Thursdays); part-time students attend on one or two days each week in the first year and second year.

Module title Credits
Common Compulsory Module 0 credits

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.

Special subjects currently include:

Module title Credits
Curating and Ethics 45 credits
From Art Writing to Theory-Fiction 45 credits
Transforming Critical Practices 45 credits
Reading the Performative 45 credits
Sex, Gender, Species 45 credits
Transcultural Memory 45 credits
Spatial Biopolitics 45 Credits
The Ocean as Archive 30 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 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, and symposia.

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.

For 2021-22 and 2020–21, we have made some changes to how the teaching and assessment of certain programmes are delivered. To check what changes affect this programme, please visit the programme changes page.

What our students say

Louise O'Kelly

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

Nicole'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 Nicole 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.

Zi Jiao

The thing I appreciate the most about Goldsmiths is its subtle yet precise, elegant yet hard-hitting fluidity and radicality.

Zi Jiao's time at Goldsmiths

I think the thing I appreciate the most about Goldsmiths is its subtle yet precise, elegant yet hard-hitting fluidity and radicality. The well-curated modules in my degree programme (MA Contemporary Art Theory) cover a vast range of theoretical fields/clusters, which can be selected/customised to suit our particular research directions and needs. Moreover, the materials being examined and discussed in each module are also quite diverse and heterogeneous (coming from a variety of cultures and disciplines), which have helped me a great deal in calibrating, perspectivising, and structuring my own research project.

The classmates from miscellaneous backgrounds always bring in refreshing ideas and recommendations and strike up stimulating discussions. I felt more driven, inspired, and cogitative each time after a seminar session.

Our academic year coincided almost entirely with the lockdown period, which was rather taxing, challenging, and kind of dreary (to say at least) for both the students and the professors. However, I would say that a sizeable amount of my ‘pandemic blue’ and ‘coursework stress’ was offset by the support and encouragement I received from the responsive and attentive professors.

I’ve benefited immensely from private tutorials and project feedback, and feel utterly grateful for the vibrant and convivial atmosphere they’ve cultivated for our online seminars and symposia.

Life after graduating

I’m currently liaising and collaborating with some environmental justice and human rights organisations to develop the subject I explored in my MA thesis, with a particular interest in investigating and theorising the inextricable/co-constitutive environmental and racialised violence in South-South relations. I’m working on maturing this project to an MPhil/PhD study; and being in an agile and research-intensive institution like Goldsmiths has definitely reinforced my determination to pursue a research career.

Advice for future students

To the students coming to this programme and Goldsmiths at large, I would say just be completely open, be insatiable of information and knowledge from all areas and disciplines; immerse, drench yourself in the incessant flows, exchanges, even collisions of thoughts and ideas. Within your learning capacity, audit as many modules as you can (something I wish I did). If possible, get in touch/involved with the College’s many innovative research centres, units, and hubs.

Living in South East London

In terms of studying/living in SE London, I relished the memory of catching up with classmates in the Rose Pub (a local pub near the campus), and taking long walks around the campus, exchanging ideas and sharing life stories with friends in Fordham and Greenwich Park. There are also plenty of vibrant arts/performances/music venues in the area hosting iridescent cultural events. All you have to do is be eager to engage, experience and explore.

Miranda Johnson

I wanted to study the MA in Contemporary Art Theory because the lecturers all came from diverse research backgrounds.

I had a wonderful time at Goldsmiths. I wanted to study the MA in Contemporary Art Theory because the lecturers all came from diverse research backgrounds, whilst other MA degrees in Art Theory mostly came from Art History backgrounds only. I was not disappointed - and felt that the course options were all incredibly rich and varied, and able to be tailored to students' specific research interests whilst also demonstrating the broad range of research approaches from the lecturers.

I met some life-long friends whilst studying as the courses were also small enough for students to get to know each other and the teaching styles encouraged students to collaborate and discuss the course materials and their own interests with one another, both in the classes and out.

One of my favourite things about the Department of Visual Cultures was the public programming lecture series that was held every week during teaching. It was open to the public or students from other departments, and allowed me to experience a wide range of lectures, performances and talks from academics, artists, and other speakers from outside Goldsmiths.

I loved the green spaces nearby - especially reading my book in Telegraph Hill or wandering through Nunhead Cemetery.

I am currently partway through a 3-year Curatorial Fellowship at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, in Boorloo (Perth), on Whadjuk Noongar land, also known as Perth, Australia. In my role I work with the Curator researching and curating exhibitions and supporting artist residencies. My particular focus is the Hatched: National Graduate Show, an annual exhibition of leading artists who have recently graduated from art schools across Australia. I curate the exhibition and support the artists in this important professional development experience, often their first experience working with an arts institution. My experience at Goldsmiths is incredibly valuable to this as I have formed ongoing connections with lecturers and other academics from these art schools to coordinate the exhibition, which requires a good understanding of current concerns and/or priorities within the academy. I also have the opportunity to speak with and host classes for undergraduate students in fine art and curating within the gallery, which is something I particularly enjoy. It's also important to me to remember what it felt like to be an art student venturing into the unknown world of art galleries, particularly institutions, and how intimidating this could be. In my work I always try to approach curating and working with artists, particularly those at the beginning of their careers, with care and genuine support.

Since returning to Perth after my Goldsmiths degree I also started an artist-run space with a group of peers, named Cool Change Contemporary, and am the current Chairperson. Over the past two years we have received funding from the Australia Council for the Arts to offer free exhibition spaces for artists, and have recently collaborated with Perth Festival for an exhibition in their 2021 program.

When my Fellowship ends I hope to continue working as a curator, although I would like to spend some time working independently, outside institutions.

I hope to be able to travel outside Western Australia again, as currently our government has banned travel beyond our state borders with no set date for opening up. In the meantime I am spending time bushwalking, swimming in the ocean, and contemplating how lucky I am to live on this country, which always was and always will be Aboriginal land.

I would advise current students to make the most of everything that's on offer for you. Public programs, auditing classes, social events, and so on. There is so much to studying beyond simply attending your own classes.

Speak with your peers about your research. Go to the pub or a cafe and discuss what you're reading, ideas you might have, or things you don't understand.

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.

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 2022/2023 academic year.

  • Home - full-time: £9260
  • Home - part-time: £4630
  • International - full-time: £17460

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 if you require a Student Visa, however this is currently being reviewed and will be confirmed in the new year. Please read our visa guidance in the interim for more information. 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.

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 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


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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