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Art and Visual Culture (MA)

Course Description

This multidisciplinary, visual theory-based course is established around the belief that visual literacy and the impact of visual forms of thinking and working now play significant roles in society. The course introduces you to a range of historical and contemporary debates that inform the theories and practice of visual culture, and enables you to develop a conceptual framework within which to evaluate the role of the visual arts, and other forms of visual production, in contemporary society and culture.

You will acquire creative and professional research skills, such as the ability to work from exhibitions, art works and institutional archives, to be able to operate within different artistic and conceptual frameworks.

Course content

This Masters balances historical and theoretical debates in the field of visual culture studies with a rigorous interrogation of cultural practices across a range of topics, including: activism and popular politics; contemporary visual arts, capitalism and culture; globalisation and new media technologies; institutions and their archives; and the material culture of the city. The course also draws upon the cultural institutions and intellectual resources of central London, and has established contacts with other galleries and organisations for work placements.

Core modules

- Dissertation
This extended piece of research work is an opportunity for you to pursue a topic of individual interest, and is conducted through individual study and directed supervision. The module also includes preparation of a detailed research proposal.

- Research Methods: Knowledge, Cultural Memory, Archives and Research
This introduction to research methods engages with the critical implications of knowledge in the humanities, through interdisciplinary approaches to literature, visual, material, and spatial cultures, as they are understood, interpreted, and mobilised. Highlighting questions raised by discourse on epistemology, memory, archives, and research itself, the module concentrates on the complex links between: organic and technical forms of memory; public and private cultural institutions of knowledge, memory and identity; and information-gathering, retrieval, and analysis.

- Theoretical and Critical Perspectives
This module introduces you to the theoretical debates that have contributed to the field of visual culture studies, including consideration of the politics of representation, the reproduction of images, audience reception, the male and female gaze, and the discourse of the 'other'. You will also focus on an examination of the ways that theories and objects constitute each other.

- Visual Culture: Production Display and Discourse
This module provides an introduction to the history and theory of visual culture. Philosophical and theoretical perspectives are used to explore vision as a social and cultural process, investigating the ways in which the meanings of the 'seen' are explored, constructed and contested in construction, display and discourse.

Option modules

Choose four from:
- Capitalism and Culture
Beginning with Marx's famous account of the commodity in the first chapter of Capital, this module explores a range of theoretical accounts of capitalism and examines their significance to the analysis of different cultural forms, including film, literature, and the contemporary visual arts. In doing so, you will consider changing conceptions of 'culture' itself, and its varying relations to ideas of art, modernity, production, the mass, autonomy, spectacle, and the culture industry. Key theorists you will study include Theodor Adorno, Jean Baudrillard, Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Fredric Jameson, and Antonio Negri.

- Creative Digital Technology
Taught by a leading internet artist, this module examines how digital technology is shaping new possibilities for the arts and for culture. In particular it addresses how new creative concerns and forms have emerged, how the old spaces of culture are being challenged and new spaces are arising, and how digital technology offers new ways of working with communities, audiences and participants. You will explore the critical discourse that has developed around digital technology and culture, and consider the changing role of digital technology within cultural institutions and the different forms of outputs that cultural institutions work with (eg gallery exhibitions, electronic publications, internet works).

- Interpreting Space
This module studies the ways in which various forms of space are used how they are represented visually. It considers the impact of range of different types of spaces such as architectural and urban spaces, public and private spaces, non-spaces and virtual spaces. The module examines relationship between space and place, in order to think both how visual forms are located in space and how space functions as visually.

- Representing World Cultures
This module examines changing visual representations of world cultures in a range of contexts, specifically, leading London Museums and galleries, and their associated websites, programmes and publications. You will look at the role of curators, designers, educators and other workers, and their contributions to the way that cultures are represented. You will also consider postcolonialism and the issues surrounding the representation of non-western cultures in contemporary western institutions. Key issues explored include: artists' interventions in museums and galleries; collecting the contemporary world; presenting religions; representations of Africa and Asia in London collections; the physical museum space as a cultural document; and visitors as citizens and consumers.

- Urban Cultures
Using a range of theoretical, historical, literary, cinematic, visual and other cultural texts, you will explore the idea of urban culture as it has developed since the mid-19th century. The module considers a variety of different representations of the city, and the ways in which they understand the specificity of urban experience itself. You will also explore the changing global forms and interrelations of 'western' and 'non-western' urban forms. Key authors, artists and theorists studied include Walter Benjamin, Rem Koolhaas, Fritz Lang, Henri Lefebvre, Georg Simmel, Iain Sinclair, the Surrealists and Dziga Vertov.

- Work Placement in Cultural Institution
This module aims to enable students to gain first hand experience of working within a context relevant to their career objectives; to enhance the opportunities for translating theoretical and practical knowledge into professional skills and to encourage students to make beneficial connections within a professional context.

Associated careers

Graduates will be equipped for roles in the creative industries, including museum and gallery work, education, arts administration and marketing, or could pursue further study to PhD level. The course is also suitable for practising artists wishing to further their research.

Because the MA provides students with sophisticated critical skills and a widely applicable knowledge base that can be adapted to numerous settings, graduates go on to establish a broad range of careers in museums, galleries, and cultural organisations as curators, programmers, cultural consultants, events and communications managers, and media arts project managers. They have also gone on the begin PhDs in the UK, mainland Europe, and internationally.

Visit the Art and Visual Culture (MA) page on the University of Westminster website for more details!

(Student Profile)

Marija Katalinić

Being a part of the Visual Culture MA programme at Westminster stimulated my ambition and interest in various interdisciplinary approaches to creative thinking, and has also opened doors into an innovative community of visual theorists and cultural practices. With the benefits of new knowledge and inspiration, I hope to pursue PhD research at the Humboldt University in Berlin and thus become an active member in the wider creative local and global community.

(Student Profile)

Elisa Adami

My experience on the engaging Visual Culture MA was very positive. The interdisciplinary nature of the course opens up a vast and fascinating landscape where humanities and art, theory and practice are deeply interrelated. In this suggestive landscape, I was free to find my own way, to carve out my own pathway, developing and exploring my interests. Despite such a subjective approach, this was not a lonely journey. In the friendly and international environment of the University of Westminster I have established solid and inspiring relationships with both students and professors coming from all over the world. I am now motivated to continue on this research road, and will carry on my studies at PhD level.


Entry Requirements

You should have a good first degree in a relevant area, such as history of art, cultural studies, fine art or design, English, history, media and communications, architecture and business studies. You may be invited for interview, or to submit previous written work. If your first language is not English, you will need an IELTS score of 6.5 with 7.0 in writing (or Equivalent), and will be asked to provide exampled of previous written work. The University offers pre-sessional summer programmes if you need to improve your English before starting your course.

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