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, art and the document, decolonial approaches, the theories and politics shaping the contemporary art field, and the city in relation to creative practice – 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 curating and criticism, or progressing to a PhD.
The programme places a strong emphasis on theoretical and philosophical debates, while the annual Fellowship in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating permits you to look behind the scenes and learn directly from a practitioner or theorist beyond the expertise offered by staff members. You will also have the opportunity to choose from a selection of optional internships in the cultural sector (offered on a competitive basis) that provide relevant experience. 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.
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 presented in its diverse contexts and how art history is written and impacts our understanding of 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, audience development, employment in private or state-funded galleries, art development agencies, education and interpretation, art publishing, and art education.
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 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. 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. Upon completion of the internship, students write and present an Internship Report. NB: In 2020-21, internships will be subject to the health and safety standards required by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fellowship in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating
Our programme is also 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 have included: 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, and finance capital; and art and social movements). 2018-19: Charles Esche, Director of 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). In 2020-21, our Fellow will be Iliana Fokianaki, a curator and theorist based in Athens and Rotterdam. In 2013, she founded State of Concept, a non-profit contemporary art institution situated in the heart of Athens, Greece, where she has featured work by artists such as Forensic Architecture, Keren Cytter, Sanja Ivekovic, Laure Prouvost, Jonas Staal, Hito Steyerl, among others. She is a lecturer at the Dutch Art Institute and has delivered lectures in higher education contexts, including Columbia University, and art institutions, including ICA in London as well as museums and foundations worldwide. She publishes regularly in journals such as e-flux and Frieze. She has upcoming projects in Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, Artspace Aotearoa in Auckland, New Zealand, and Framer Framed in Amsterdam. curatorial practice draws on the re-conceptualisation of curating as instituting in cases of small-scale, independent, and often precarious, art spaces.
What will you study?
The programme is underpinned by two compulsory core courses over the academic year: Research Theories and Methods and Cultures and Politics of Display. In addition, you will take option courses (electives) on subjects ranging from the art of the late 19th century to the evolving paradigms of the 21st century. Option modules can be chosen from within History of Art, other schools in Edinburgh College of Art or, in some cases, related fields such as Film. Option modules are subject to change from year to year depending on staff research leave. The list of option modules available for the year is made available to our students in September, following enrolment.
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 (from 1990 to date); lens-based media (photography, film, video) and digital culture; art and labour; performance, activist and participatory art; the museum and related art institutions including the art market; sexual politics and feminist theory; Marxism and critical theory; regional and national art scenes (China, Latin America, Scotland, Nordic, Eastern and Southern European art); contemporary art theory; painting and calligraphy; cultural identity and transnationalism; art and ecology.
Staff teaching the MSc, including as dissertation supervisors, are active researchers and some of them are affiliated to Edinburgh-based research groups such as Dada & Surrealism and The Global Contemporary. Many are active as curators collaborating with a range of institutions nationally and internationally.