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Centre for Visual Arts and Culture

MA in Visual Arts and Culture

Taught Masters Programme in Visual Arts and Culture

The MA in Visual Arts and Culture at Durham is a distinctive interdisciplinary programme that invites students to develop their knowledge of the visual arts and of visual culture, situating that knowledge in relation to working practices in cultural institutions, including museums, galleries and other heritage organisations. It will be of interest to students from a wide range of humanities and social science disciplines, as well as to visual arts and visual culture professionals who wish to reflect upon their practice in historical or theoretical contexts.

What is the study of visual arts and culture?

In part, to study visual arts and culture is a way of paying attention to phenomena that are literally everywhere. The concept of ‘visual culture’ acknowledges the pervasive nature of visual phenomena, and signals openness towards both the breadth of objects and images, and the range of theoretical and methodological perspectives needed to understand them adequately. Drawing upon research strengths across the departments that contribute to the programme, the MA in Visual Arts and Culture encourages you to take a broad view of geographical and chronological scope, while allowing you to engage with a wide range of visual phenomena, including fine art, film, photography, architecture, and scientific and medical imaging practices.

The importance of critical visual literacy in the contemporary world cannot be exaggerated. ‘The illiterate of the future’, wrote the Bauhaus artist and theoretician László Moholy-Nagy, ‘will be the person ignorant of the camera as well as of the pen’. This observation was made in the 1920s, when photography was first used in the periodical press and in political propaganda. The rich visual world of the early twentieth century pales in comparison with the visual saturation that now characterises everyday experience throughout the developed societies and much of the developing world. But the study of visual culture is by no means limited to the twentieth century. Turning our attention to past cultures with a particular eye to the significance of visual objects of all kinds yields new forms of knowledge and understanding.

Our programme facilitates the development of critical visual literacy in three main ways. First, it attends to the specificity of visual objects, images and events, encouraging you to develop approaches that are sensitive to the individual works they encounter. Second, it investigates the nature of perception, asking how it is that we make meaning out of that which we see. Finally, it investigates how our relationships with other people, and with things, are bound up in the act of looking.

Why study visual culture in Durham?

Durham University has recently made a considerable investment in Visual Culture, with two new strategic appointments at professorial level, who have been instrumental in establishing a new Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures. The Centre builds on considerable and long-standing strengths in visual culture at Durham, such as the well-regarded Centre for Advanced Photography Studies. Durham University is well placed to facilitate the productive interdisciplinary encounters that are a marker of the Centre and its activities. The University possesses considerable resources for the study of visual culture in the holdings and expertise of Durham University Museums, such as the Oriental Museum, and of Palace Green Library. The Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures has established close working relations with these institutions, as well as with the World Heritage Site of Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral, and with a range of partner institutions across the North East, including Auckland Castle and the Bowes Museum, and beyond.

The major strength of the MA in Visual Arts and Culture at Durham lies in its flexibility, which encourages interdisciplinary work and allows each student to pursue his or her own research interests in consultation with relevant subject specialists, and to benefit from the considerable opportunities afforded to students to engage with cultural organizations.

What can you do with a postgraduate degree in Visual Arts and Culture?

This programme has been designed to provide preparation for students who intend to proceed to a PhD in Visual Culture with a view either to pursue a research career in academia or to seek a position in other cultural organizations. The MA in Visual Arts and Cultures, however, also offers a qualification in its own right, which will qualify students to embark upon a range of careers in the cultural sector.

Is there any funding available?

Durham University offers a number of scholarships for taught masters programmes.

‘The illiterate of the future’, wrote the Bauhaus artist and theoretician László Moholy-Nagy, ‘will be the person ignorant of the camera as well as of the pen’.