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A piece of contemporary art in a gallery - a set of stairs that have been decorated in vertical stripes in various colours including green, orange, blue and yellow Courtesy of the Fruitmarket Gallery. Photography by Ruth Clark.


Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curating and Criticism - MSc



1 year


Are you interested in developing an in-depth understanding of art and its contexts of interpretation and mediation from the late 19th to the 21st centuries? Then this programme is ideal for you.   

The two core courses of the programme are Research: Theories and Methods and Politics and Cultures of Display. A range of electives cover developments from the historical avant-gardes to performance, digital art, the theories and politics shaping the contemporary art field, the social engagement of art, lens-based practices, cultural policy and the arts of a specific period or place – all exploring the changing role of art and art institutions in society. The dissertation will help you develop your own ideas, preparing you for being a confident, independent researcher engaged in art-history writing, criticism, curating and related professional activities, or progressing to a PhD.  

The programme places a strong emphasis on theoretical and philosophical debates. Some aspects of the programme will help you acquire knowledge about how things work in art institutions and related contexts - including the annual Fellowship in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating that allows you to learn directly from a practitioner or theorist beyond the expertise offered by staff members. You can also choose from a selection of optional internships in the cultural sector (offered on a competitive basis). Extracurricular Research Seminars and related activities will introduce you to external scholars and curators. Offered at one of the top universities in the world, with a long tradition in the humanities, this programme demands intellectual commitment and an interest in current developments in the arts sector and the humanities.  

Your future

In completing the programme, you will have gained knowledge in current and often challenging approaches to modern and contemporary art that will enhance your understanding of how art is produced, encountered and mediated in its diverse contexts. You will also deepen your understanding of how art history is written and how it is connected to developments in the modern world. You can then carry on as a researcher (for example, to a PhD) if you are interested in an academic career, or seek employment in the art world and the exciting, global opportunities associated with that, including: curating and programming, public engagement, employment in private or state-funded galleries, art development agencies, education and interpretation, art publishing.   

Who is this programme for?

We welcome students from backgrounds in the humanities, the arts or curating and related fields. The programme demands an interest in, and engagement with, art theory and current developments in the arts sector and the humanities. We encourage our students to be ambitious, intellectually curious, questioning, and to pay attention to international trends.   

What makes us special?


Our optional internships are a popular feature of our programme. These are limited and offered on a competitive basis as available placements in the sector vary annually. The primary aim is to introduce students to a working environment related to art and/or art history, or culture more broadly. Placements are arranged in appropriate host institutions, often in or near Edinburgh. During the internship, students are covered by their host's liability insurance. Preparations for the internship normally take place in Semester 1 while the Internship is normally carried out in Semester 2 as an option course. Internship tasks may include cataloguing, indexing, helping to prepare and install an exhibition, drawing up a publicity or education leaflet, or researching conservation case histories. NB: While the Covid-19 pandemic lasts internships may be subject to changing health and safety guidelines.  

Fellowship in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating

For over ten years, our programme has been supported by the Fellowship in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating, where a leading expert is appointed annually to work with students normally for two to three weeks each year, in the context of the core course Cultures and Politics of Display. Appointed Fellows may offer lectures or seminars or engage students in other activities, as appropriate.   

Past Fellows include: 2010-11 Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt (focus: Economy and the Art World); 2011-12 Sarah Cook (focus: Curating and the Digital World); 2012-13 Katrina Brown (focus: Curating and Art Biennials); 2013-14 Kirsten Lloyd (focus: Social Reproduction and Contemporary Art); 2014-15 Arika - duo Barry Esson and Bryony McIntyre (focus: Curating beyond Exhibition Formats); 2015-16 Kirstie Skinner (focus: Collecting Contemporary Art); 2017-18: Nizan Shaked (focus: Art museums, philanthropy, finance capital & art and social movements). 2018-19: Charles Esche, Director Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, professor of contemporary art and curating at Central Saint Martins, UAL, London, and co-director of Afterall Journal and Books (focus: Decolonial curatorial practices). 2019-20: Laura Guy, writer and curator working in contemporary art and photography and feminist, queer and Marxist approaches to art historiography (focus: Curating archives between labour and capital). 2020-21 Iliana Fokianaki, curator and theorist, Netherlands/Greece, Director State of Concept (focus: What makes an independent art space successful & the impact of Covid-19 on art); 2021-22 Jenny Richards, curator Sweden/UK (focus: labour, curating and the art institution); 2022-23 Kim McAleese, Director Edinburgh Art Festival (focus: curating and team work); 2023-24 Sophia Yadong Hao, curator, writer, educator, Director Cooper Gallery (focus: creative pedagogies and rhizomatic curatorial methodology).

Programme format

What will you study?

The programme is underpinned by two compulsory core courses over the academic year. These are the team-taught courses Research: Theories and Methods and Cultures and Politics of Display. In addition, you will take a total of four option courses (electives) - that is, two in each semester - on subjects ranging from the art of the late 19th century to the evolving paradigms of the 21st century. Option courses are taught normally by one tutor, in small cohorts. Option modules can be chosen from within History of Art (designed specifically for the Masters) and, in some cases, from other Schools in Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) or related fields such as Film. Option modules are subject to change from year to year depending on staff research leave and/or updating the material. The list of option modules for the year is normally made available to our students in early September, following enrolment.  

Staff expertise

The general expertise of staff teaching the MSc is in the areas of the historical avant-gardes and neo-avant-gardes from the 19th to the 21st centuries; art, culture and globalisation; lens-based media (photography, film, video) and digital culture; art in relation to labour and ecology; performance, activist and socially engaged art; art institutions; theory and politics of curating; sexual politics and feminist theory; Marxism and critical theory; regional and national art scenes, cultural identity and transnationalism; contemporary art theory; painting and calligraphy.  Staff teaching the MSc, including as dissertation supervisors, are active researchers. Some of them are affiliated to ECA research groups such as Dada & Surrealism and The Global Contemporary and/or lead or contribute to international research projects while others are active as curators collaborating with a range of institutions nationally and internationally.  

How to apply and entry requirements

If you'd like to study on a postgraduate programme at Edinburgh College of Art, you must apply through EUCLID, our online application system. You can find out how to do this on the University of Edinburgh website, where you'll also be able to:

  • see detailed entrance requirements for each programme on the Degree Finder
  • get information on what to expect after you apply
  • find out about study modes, start dates and fees
  • find out if, and how, you need to submit a portfolio, showreel or research proposal
  • find out where to go for further advice and guidance.

Get in touch

Edinburgh College of Art Postgraduate Admissions
+44 (0)131 650 4086

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