The MA in Visual Arts and Culture at Durham is a distinctive interdisciplinary programme that invites students to develop their knowledge and understanding of the visual arts and of visual culture. 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.
The course consists of one core module, two optional modules and a dissertation. The core module sets out the intellectual framework for the programme, offering a broad overview of key conceptual debates in the field of Visual Culture, together with training in analysis of visual objects of different kinds, an advanced introduction to understanding museum practice, and key research skills in visual arts and culture. The optional modules provide further specialised areas of study in related topics of interest to individual students, and the 12,000-15,000 word dissertation involves detailed study of a particular aspect of a topic related to the broad area of visual culture.
Previously, optional modules have included:
The Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC) brings together scholars from across and beyond Durham University in order to provide a dynamic setting for wide-ranging interdisciplinary research and debates about visual culture, a field that entails the study of vision and perception, the analysis of the social significance of images and ways of seeing, and the attentive interpretation of a range of visual objects, from artworks to scientific images.
The Centre brings together scholars from across and beyond Durham University in order to provide a vibrant and dynamic setting for wide-ranging interdisciplinary research and debates about visual culture. The Centre provides a focus for cutting-edge research on visual arts and cultures: it aspires to train new generations of scholars through innovative postgraduate programmes, it fosters informed debate both nationally and internationally, and it offers an engaging, open environment for researchers at all levels.
CVAC takes a generous view of what constitutes visual culture and it is broad in both geographical and chronological scope, encouraging debate about the range of approaches, methods and theories that are most generative for research on visual phenomena. Durham’s current visual culture research includes the study of word and image, art and religion, medicine and visual representation, film, the history of photography, architecture, urban culture, heritage and philosophical aesthetics. It also includes the development of pioneering visual research methods and the study of vision.
Durham’s location itself provides a rich and inspiring environment for this field of research. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that also includes Durham Cathedral; its acclaimed Oriental Museum is a significant asset which houses three Designated Collections, recognised by the Arts Council as nationally and internationally pre-eminent; alongside an outstanding collection of twentieth-century and contemporary art. CVAC has many established relationships with major national and international cultural organisations, and aims to develop further its links with museums, galleries and heritage sites.
For further information on the Centre see http://www.durham.ac.uk/cvac
interdisciplinary opportunities we offer create an engaging professional experience investigating the practice and discourse of fine art. You can choose areas of specialism in drawing from the archive, art in space and place and curating art, alongside your own studio work.
Full-time students use our purpose-built studio space. You have access to a wide range of workshops and technical expertise from all areas of media and fabrication. These include • sculpture • painting • live art • drawing • computer programming • metalwork • video editing • dark rooms • sound studios • film production equipment • printmaking.
Our teaching staff are experts in fine art and art education who not only exhibit their work but also contribute to conferences, journals and publications at national and international levels.
Vibrant and supportive learning environment
The course offers a supportive community to foster your practice and your ambitions as a fine art professional. It is particularly suitable if you are • open-minded • ambitious • keen to experience new personal challenges that expand your creative development • interested in understanding all areas of the fine art discipline.
You are encouraged to create experimental and innovative works and to engage with the critical context of art in our time. Dialogue with peers, practicing artists and structured teaching throughout the course enables you to identify your practice within the wider field of fine art to achieve new goals, develop networks and find new inspirations to enrich your creative ambitions.
Excellent creative resources
We have a comprehensive range of technical resources and an excellent programme of high profile guest artists from across the visual arts spectrum to stimulate debates on issues of art and culture. If you are doing your work placement in another European country there may be funding available through the Erasmus programme.
Dynamic and creative art community
Fine art students work and exhibit in the heart of Sheffield's Cultural Industries Quarter. The course has links with • Sheffield Contemporary Arts Forum • studio groups such as S1 and Bloc • Yorkshire Art Space Society • the Showroom Cinema • Site Gallery.
Sheffield has a dynamic and vibrant creative community. We work collaboratively with artists and curators, as well as researchers and students in other areas. You have access to a network of public galleries, art organisations and artist-run spaces. Opportunities for exhibiting and publishing take place throughout the year.
MA and MFA study
MA and MFA students complete the same modules during the course except that MFA students complete an extra project module. The MFA project encourages you to develop professional skills that help you to identify, instigate, and deliver projects with external partners, such as communities, galleries or businesses. You find a project partner, agree a brief and then deliver the project to a professional standard.
This course is part of the Sheffield Institute of Arts (SIA), an amazing, diverse community of makers – where staff, students and partners work as equals to deliver real innovation and creativity. SIA opened in 1843 and is one of the UK's oldest Art and Design Schools. We have recently moved into the Head Post Office, a redesigned Grade II listed building. It includes state-of-the-art workshops which provide you with a unique studio-based learning environment in the heart of the creative community.
In this module you extend your knowledge of the range of approaches to research that have been used in art, and those that derive from other disciplines. You are introduced to an advanced range of contemporary critical theories, and examine key texts embodying these theories. Principles of research planning and the theory and practice of information searching ensure you are ready to effectively carry out your own research and critical practice.
During this studio-based module, you produce a body artwork in preparation for an exhibition. Your work may manifest itself across a range of contemporary art practices arising from individual intellectual and creative concerns. You have access to specialist workshop surgeries where you can seek individual support and advice to further your practical work.
On this module you produce a body of work in any chosen media form. It draws together strategies of research, professional practice and critical thinking to form an advanced, mature, informed and professional practice. The module holds together these key aspects to reflect, and enable transition into, the wider contemporary art world.
You select from options that are led by research active staff who will introduce you to their own professional interests including • art writing • curating art • art in space and place • drawing from the archive • gallery – public realm: making art inside and out
MFA core module – MFA students only
You reflect on and consider methodologies of fine art to develop an individual method of making.
Your work on this final MFA project involves public presentation of your work supported by a mentor who guides you as you make the leap into the professional world.
Self-negotiated models of examination enable students to present agreed bodies of work for self and peer group assessment as well as evaluation by tutors.
We provide a learning environment that supports your individual needs while developing your involvement in the wider art world.
You are regularly involved in a range of exhibition, curatorial, performance, screening and publishing projects at regional, national and international levels.
You gain confidence to exploit opportunities for practicing artists and work in associated fine art-related culture. You can also register for further study at MPhil/PhD level within our Art and Design Research Centre.
Graduate successes include