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MA Art History and Theory

Why we're great

  • We're 6th in the UK for our art history research, which covers everything from the Renaissance to body art
  • Gain experience working with the Royal Academy of Arts, the V&A Museum, and Firstsite Gallery
  • Our campus is home to the most important collection of contemporary Latin American art in Europe

Course options2017-18

Duration: 1 year
Start month: October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Philosophy and Art History (School of)
Fee (Home/EU): £6,125
Fee (International): £15,450
Fees will increase for each academic year of study.
PGT fees information

Duration: 2 years
Start month: October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Philosophy and Art History (School of)
Fee (Home/EU): £3,065
Fee (International): £7,725
Fees will increase for each academic year of study.
PGT fees information

Course enquiries

Telephone 01206 872719
Email pgadmit@essex.ac.uk

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About the course

Our MA Art History and Theory is ideal if you are interested in working in academia, the art world or any other field in which visual, written and analytical skills are essential.

At Essex, you have the freedom to study what most interests you. Some of the topics you may choose to explore include Early Modern art and architecture; the history of photography; modern and contemporary art; curatorial practice and exhibition design; as well as more vernacular forms of visual culture, such as body art and activist placards.

Regardless of the topics you pursue, we are committed to research-based teaching, with a particular emphasis on bringing the approaches of art history into contact with other disciplines and discourses. In so doing, we seek to facilitate a critical engagement with artworks and forms of visual culture, both within and beyond the traditional canons of art history.

To supplement what you learn in the classroom, frequent staff-led visits to London museums and galleries will expose you to the some of the world’s best museums and galleries, and you will be strongly encouraged to apply for a placement in order to gain experience in the museum and gallery world. On campus, the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA), Europe’s largest collection of contemporary art from Latin American, will provide an invaluable resource for studying art and curatorial practice first-hand.

One of the major reasons for choosing Essex is the quality of the education you will receive. Our Art History programme is 6th in the UK for research excellence, with 89% of our work rated “world-leading” or “internationally excellent” (REF 2014). We also achieved an exceptional 95% student satisfaction in the 2016 National Student Survey.

This course is available on either a full-time or part-time basis.

Our expert staff

Essex Art History features a dynamic group of art historians who investigate the production and reception of images and built environments, across cultures and media from the early modern period to the present. Our staff are experts on topics as diverse as activist art, 19th-century medical photography, the art of Latin America, urbanism, exhibition design and body art.

We also have significant experience in curation and public engagement. Recent projects include:

  • Dr Gavin Grindon curated a section of Banksy’s Dismaland show and co-curated the Disobedient Objects exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which was one of the most well attended shows in the museum’s history.
  • Dr Matt Lodder has acted as contributor for various television shows on body art and body modification, including the Today programme, the Jeremy Vine Show, Sky News, BBC Breakfast News, ‘Coast’, and National Geographic’s ‘Taboo’.
  • Dr Natasha Ruiz Gómez co-organised a major conference on Collect, Exchange, Display: Artistic Practice and the Medical Museum at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, London.

Specialist facilities

At Essex, you have the best of both worlds: on the one hand, you are part of a tight-knit, campus community with close ties to several small but excellent museums in the nearby town of Colchester; on the other hand, you can travel from campus to London in an hour, which puts the world’s best museums and galleries at your fingertips.

Our facilities enable you to gain curatorial experience and engage in object-based learning, a cornerstone of our approach when teaching the history of art and its modes of display:

  • Our Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA) is the most comprehensive Latin American art research resource in the UK and has a state-of-the-art teaching and research space. Many of our students gain work and research experience through our collection
  • Our onsite gallery Art Exchange runs an on-going programme of contemporary art exhibitions, talks and workshops by curators and artists, as well as exhibitions organised by our postgraduate curatorial students
  • Colchester’s iconic Firstsite gallery features an exciting programme of contemporary art exhibitions, film screenings and talks, and exhibitions organised by our students

Your future

The visual arts and culture industries have become an increasingly significant part of the national and international economy, and art history graduates leave Essex with the skills to take advantage of this growing opportunity.

Graduates from our programmes are ideally prepared for roles in the media, in advertising, in museums and galleries, in education (in schools, universities, and cultural institutions), as conservators, as auctioneers, dealers and antiques specialists, in charities, in publishing, as specialist arts lawyers, as PR agents, in fashion, or to run their own galleries.

Our recent graduates have gone on to work in a wide range of roles including:

  • A member of the valuation team at Sotheby’s (New York)
  • Head of Learning at firstsite (a contemporary arts centre in Colchester)
  • Visual Merchandising Manager at John Lewis (Oxford Street, London)

We also offer research supervision for students who wish to continue their studies with a PhD or an MPhil. We cover the major areas of European art, architecture and visual culture from 1300 to the present, as well as the art and architecture of Latin America.

We work with our university’s Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.

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Example structure

Postgraduate study is the chance to take your education to the next level. The combination of compulsory and optional modules means our courses help you develop extensive knowledge in your chosen discipline, whilst providing plenty of freedom to pursue your own interests. Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore to ensure your course is as relevant and up-to-date as possible your core module structure may be subject to change.

For many of our courses you’ll have a wide range of optional modules to choose from – those listed in this example structure are, in many instances, just a selection of those available. Our Programme Specification gives more detail about the structure available to our current postgraduate students, including details of all optional modules.

Year 1

Choose an area of research with help from your supervisor, and write a dissertation of between 15,000 and 20,000 words.

Prepare yourself for your dissertation and beyond with this module, composed of lectures and bespoke workshops. Learn how to tackle the challenges of research work and the techniques for planning it, and cover everything from ethics approval procedures, to CV writing and career development.

The disciplines of art, science, and knowledge have always been intimately linked, but details of their entanglement have often been ignored – and even occluded. Explore how they have mutually reinforced, reacted to, and/or been in tension with each other, by taking a look at the most significant makers, theorists and scientists during a particular period in history. Expect to cover topics such as ‘Contemporary Art and the Sciences’ and ‘The Medical Gaze in the Long Nineteenth Century’.

Get valuable real-life experience from inside the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America’s new teaching museum space. As well as discussing and analysing artworks from the collection, take on the exciting challenge of proposing a new acquisition for ESCALA. Whilst the task is hypothetical, if the committee decides to pursue the acquisition, you could be credited for your contribution.

Want to do more than hang pretty pictures on a pleasantly coloured wall? Then take this module to learn how curators and designers from the 1920s onward have turned exhibition spaces into site of social and political critique -- a practice now often subsumed under the concept of ‘critical curating’. Organised chronologically, the module gives you the chance to hone your understanding of the complex relationship between critique and curating, generally by situating major exhibitions and paradigmatic curatorial concepts in relation to key texts of critical theory.

Inside out: what does it mean? Reversal? Separation? Exclusion? Use the notion of inside out as a conceptual framework to investigate how different forms of reversal, separation, and exclusion have shaped curatorial practices.

Take the exciting opportunity to develop and produce an exhibition at Art Exchange, our on-campus gallery. Work in small groups to manage the project, undertaking everything from fundraising to marketing, loaning artworks to publishing a catalogue, and delivering education and access initiatives to monitoring and evaluating your success. A diverse range of subjects have been explored in previous years, ranging from social history to historical fine art and contemporary art.

Dancing bodies; protesting bodies; falling bodies: the relationship between moving bodies and images is a recurring subject for artists, philosophers, and art historians alike. This seminar shifts away from the iconography of the moving body to focus on the ‘moving image’. Images that investigate bodily movement through new visual technologies suggest the close relationship between representation, embodiment, and the act of beholding. From seventeenth-century fresco painting to twentieth-century performance art and film, students will read and discuss recent literature in philosophy and art history in relation to images of moving bodies that span early modern and modern art.

Cover some of the key subjects in art history between the Renaissance and the present day, with topics, carefully selected to benefit from the research-led, cutting edge discussions of important themes and authors. Topics in this broad module could include ‘Popular, Mass, and Lowbrow Arts: Histories, Theories and Approaches’ and ‘Sex and the City: Prostitution in Eighteenth Century London’.

In 2013, both Jeff Koons and Zaha Hadid designed yachts for obscenely wealthy collectors. At the same time, members of the activist art group, Pussy Riot languished in a Russian prison, charged with hooliganism over the artistic protests against the authoritarianism of the Putin government. How can we make sense of this moment in contemporary culture, where artistic means are directed to such diverse aesthetic, political, ethical, and social ends? Probe the relationship between art, politics and money in this series of weekly lectures.

This seminar explores the role of visual culture within popular religion in the cities of late Medieval and Renaissance Italy. We will challenge definitions of “art” and “popular religion”, especially the ways in which art history, as a discipline, has often interpreted popular religious art from this period through an artificial binary between “high culture” (e.g. altarpieces, sculptures and fresco cycles by well-known artists) and “low culture” (e.g. anonymous panel paintings, reliquaries, prints).

Teaching

  • Gain practical experience in curating, such as handling and installing artworks
  • Prepare a portfolio of exhibition proposals
  • Frequent visits to museums and galleries
  • Two hour seminars with discussion based on a programme of reading
  • We run a number of mini-courses, research seminars and conferences that our postgraduates are encouraged to attend

Assessment

  • Assessment for our courses is normally on the basis of coursework and your supervised dissertation

Dissertation

  • The dissertation is a great opportunity to hone your research skills for those thinking of a PhD

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Qualifications

UK entry requirements

A degree with an overall high 2:2.

International and EU entry requirements

We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries. Email pgadmit@essex.ac.uk for further details about the qualifications we accept. Include information in your email about the undergraduate qualification you have already completed or are currently taking.

IELTS entry requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall with a minimum component score of 5.5 except for 6.0 in writing

If you do not meet our IELTS requirements then you may be able to complete a pre-sessional English pathway that enables you to start your course without retaking IELTS.

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Applying

You can apply for our postgraduate courses online. You’ll need to provide us with your academic qualifications, as well as supporting documents such as transcripts, English language qualifications and certificates. You can find a list of necessary documents online, but please note we won’t be able to process your application until we have everything we need.

There is no application deadline but we recommend that you apply before 1 July for our taught courses starting in October. We aim to respond to applications within two weeks. If we are able to offer you a place, you will be contacted via email.

Visit us

Open days

We hold postgraduate events in February/March and November, and open days for all our applicants throughout the year. Our Colchester Campus events are a great way to find out more about studying at Essex, and give you the chance to:

  • tour our campus and accommodation
  • find out answers to your questions about our courses, student finance, graduate employability, student support and more
  • meet our students and staff

If the dates of our organised events aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing tours@essex.ac.uk and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.

Virtual tours

If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Colchester Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.

Exhibitions

Our staff travel the world to speak to people about the courses on offer at Essex. Take a look at our list of exhibition dates to see if we’ll be near you in the future.

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