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Study the art of the present

Arts & Culture: Contemporary Art History

Contemporary Art History focuses on visual, process-based, and digital art from the 1960s until today. This specialization trains you as an art historian who is equipped to tackle this complex but fascinating field.

Not only will you develop thorough knowledge of contemporary art, but you will also develop the skills to research, present and write about it. You will be well-equipped for a career in the cultural sector (museums, festivals, art galleries, archives), as an art critic or as a freelance cultural entrepreneur.

Today’s art includes installation art and site-specific projects, digital or new media art (interactive installations, locative media works, software art, networked art, electronic art and video art), artistic research, performative and activist projects.

What unites these art forms is that they directly address the complexity of today’s society, in which information technologies, globalization, and ecological challenges play an ever-increasing role, leading to networked forms of artistic practice that transgress national and cultural borders. 

At the same time, artists are very aware of the heritage they build upon, deconstructing, commenting on, or appropriating art history. This had led to various attempts to describe contemporary art with terms such as post-modern, post-conceptual, post-medium, and more recently even post-internet and post-digital – and post-contemporary. In this program, we engage with but also go beyond such terms, exploring the variety of artistic strategies that lie at the core of contemporary artistic production.

Study Programme

The Contemporary Art History programme is built around five core courses (30EC), a study trip (6EC), a masters’ thesis (18 EC), and one elective course of your choice (6EC).

You kick off your first semester by following a class on ‘Methods and Theories of Art History’. In parallel, you follow a research seminar dedicated to a specific topic within contemporary art, to immediately get started in developing your knowledge of the field and to improve your research and writing skills. In the second period, you will delve into the depth of digital and process-based art while following a class specifically dedicated to new media art.

While the major part of the second semester will be dedicated to supporting you in writing your MA thesis, in period four you will follow a class on art criticism to further develop your skills in writing and in critically assessing contemporary art, and go on a field trip, to prove and further develop your analytical skills onsite. You’ll also follow our Arts & Culture Trending Topics course.

Below you will find the compulsory courses. Take a look at the other courses in the Study Guide.

Anna - Student Contemporary Art History

Anna - Student Contemporary Art History

"The programme has allowed me to expand on my Bachelor’s degree in art history with a completely different teaching structure. Teachers have always been generous with their time and feedback. I have appreciated the opportunities that were presented to me, for example being put forward to be part of the curatorial team in an exhibition and becoming an editor for the art journal Kunstlicht."

Electives

In this program, you have plenty of possibilities to build your individual portfolio. Not only will you develop your own research project for your MA thesis – in most courses, you can also select the topic of your research paper, or suggest topics yourself. Furthermore, you can customize your program by selecting two courses from a broad range of electives from other Arts & Culture specializations.

Elective options include:

  • CAMS: Key Concepts
  • Crossmedial Exhibitions
  • Transmedia Storytelling
  • Media Aesthetics
  • Kunst, Markt, en Connaisseurschap (in Dutch)
  • Design, Culture, and Society
  • Environmental Humanities
  • Knowing by Sensing

You can also choose to take electives from other master’s programs, such as Philosophy or Literary Studies.

Master’s thesis

The programme culminates in the writing of your master’s thesis, which gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your research skills, your competence as a critic, and your ability to systematically gather, select and interpret information. You will also show that you can argue a case in an independent, objective and responsible manner. You will suggest a thesis topic to your supervisor, who will individually support you throughout the writing process. Next to this, you’ll be in exchange with your fellow students during the various meetings of the thesis colloquium, which include progress presentations.

Examples of theses written by students of this program:

  • Resistance, subversion and contradictions: Feminist practice at play in the work of Lily van der Stokker
  • Retracing Colonial Pasts. Migration, Memory, and the Archive in Heba Y. Amin’s The Earth is an Imperfect Ellipsoid (2016) and Lydia Ourahmane’s In the Absence of Our Mothers (2018)
  • Dissensus in Venice? The aesthetic possibilities afforded by Karla Black’s sculptures

Change your future! Take the Master’s in Arts & Culture: Contemporary Art History

Change your future! Take the Master’s in Arts & Culture: Contemporary Art History

On completing this Master’s programme, you are prepared for a career in the cultural sector, art festivals, exhibitions and galleries, art journalism, or the creative industries. The program prepares you for a position in which substantial knowledge and research skills in the field of contemporary and digital art are required.

Explore your future prospects
 Woman sits on the floor in front of a work of art in a museum and makes notes in her sketch book.

Questions about the programme?

Please contact the programme coordinator

Send an e-mail to Dr Katja Kwastek, professor of modern and contemporary art history: k.kwastek@vu.nl.