Students on the main pathway will study three core modules, three Special Subjects and one optional module before completing your dissertation.
British Art pathway students will study three core modules, two British Art modules and two specialist subjects/optional modules before completing your dissertation.
All students will study two core modules:
Criticism and Methods in the History of Art and Visual Culture
This module looks at the historiography, methods and theoretical underpinning of contemporary practices of artistic and visual analysis. Based on close reading of key scholarly texts, you will engage with traditional art historical methods as well as more recent approaches to the study of art and visual culture. You will be asked to consider the relevance of these methods to a range of examples, including the potential topics of their own developing ideas for your final thesis.
Assessment: 4,000-word written portfolio
Postgraduate Research Training and Methods A & B
This module introduces students at Masters level to a range of research skills needed to write a dissertation on their specific programme, as well as core, generic employability skills. It contains a number of staff-taught sessions on how to write a literature review, use the Internet for research and how to craft a research proposal. The first part of the module (A) will be taught in Semester 1, followed by the second part (B) in Semester 2.
Assessment: Written assignment and presentation
British Art Pathway Modules
Students wishing to follow the British Art Pathway will study both of these modules.
What is British Art?
What exactly is British art, and how does it relate to national identity? This module provides a broad overview of developments in British art from c.1760 to the present. It questions and unpacks this art historical category, by examining the key debates and writings that have shaped our understanding and definition of British art. It engages with the ways in which the boundaries of British art have been increasingly redrawn in recent years, as art historians integrate Britain’s imperial past and postcolonial present into the study of British art.
The module will consider the ways in which British art has been made, exhibited, experienced, conceptualised and contested. It will examine the breadth of British art, notably painting and sculpture, but also photography, the decorative arts, and more recent conceptual approaches. Students will engage directly with artworks through visits to relevant collections.
The module’s broad chronological sweep encompasses a diverse set of ideas related to British art. Topics might include: What is British Art?; art and empire; British ‘isms’ and movements; ‘English’ or ‘British’? Four nations art history; collecting and exhibiting British art; writing British art; the Royal Academy and the creation of the ‘British school’; researching British Art; judging British art; and queering British art.
This module includes mandatory and optional visits to museums and galleries. The cost of these will be covered by the Department. (Read more about this module)
Assessment: 4,000-word assignment
Made in Birmingham: Art and Urban Space
Birmingham provides a centre of gravity for exploring and applying key issues and debates in British art through particular case studies. Birmingham played a pivotal role in the industrial revolution and the British Empire, and the module will consider those industrial and imperial histories, and their continuing legacy in Britain’s second city.
Birmingham, and the Midlands more broadly, hold internationally significant collections of British art, notably the Pre-Raphaelite collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; 20th century collections at Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery and The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery, Coventry; photographic collections at Birmingham Library and the University of Birmingham.
Using these collections, the module will consider the ways in which the arts were made, exhibited, experienced, conceptualised and contested in Birmingham. Topics might include: art and industry; artist’s societies (RBSA); Pre-Raphaelites; Arts and Crafts; Pop Art; Black British art; photography; centre/periphery; local/global; art and empire; art and religion; architecture; and art and urban regeneration.
Assessment: one research portfolio focused on an object produced in the Midlands, comprising a 2,000 word essay, annotated bibliography, and a selection of annotated visual and contextual sources.
Students taking the general route through the programme will then choose three Special Subjects and one optional module. Those taking the British Art pathway will take two optional modules/specialist subjects.
Optional modules typically include:
This module aims to develop your commercial awareness, and provide a framework for undertaking enterprising activity in cultural organisations. The module takes the form of a series of seminars and workshops on how to create a plan for new revenue-generating activity within an arts organisation, or even a business start-up. The module will feature a series of guest speakers who currently engage in commercial activity in cultural organisations. You will work in groups to develop an idea based on a real-world challenge set by a cultural organisation. You will then pitch your idea in a Dragon’s Den for formative feedback, before preparing a business plan. Find out more about this module.
Assessment: 4,000-word business plan
In many ways, exhibitions have been fundamental to art history, perhaps because artists have been influenced by exhibitions or have been ‘periodised’ by exhibitions (for example, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism). Arguably, art history has also been made through exhibitions. Therefore this module explores art history from the perspective of exhibitions. Such a perspective not only offers an intriguing approach that can be applied to any artist or art period, but an exhibition history constitutes part of any exhibition proposal. Therefore, this module supports both curatorial and art-historical studies. It provides an introduction to a variety of theoretical approaches to the role of exhibitions regarding society, culture and institutional critique (Bourdieu, Foucault, Bhabha) and to aspects that are pertinent to exhibitions, including the relevance of place and space for an exhibition, display, the role of curator, artist and audiences, marketing and sponsoring.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay
The centrality of Paris to the development of modern art is well established and Paris itself has taken on something of a mythical status in histories of modernity. This module explores from an interdisciplinary perspective the emergence and development of Paris between 1850 and 1930 as the focus of modernist cultural activity. Looking at the changing fabric, image and concept of the city, this module investigates ways in which Paris was experienced, conceptualised, made and represented by artists, photographers, urban planners, architects, designers and writers from Émile Zola and Édouard Manet to Eugène Atget, Sonia Delaunay and Walter Benjamin. Topics include: the social, artistic and literary impact and legacy of Haussmannisation; fashioning the Parisienne; poster art and commercialised leisure; exhibiting Paris; Surrealists in the city.
Berlin 1890-1939: Symphony of a (great) city
This module explores the cultural topography of Berlin and considers the city – both designed and represented space - as key capital of early twentieth-century modernist debate. Examining a range of works of art, architecture and film, as well as textual sources, this module explores the ways in which some of the defining practices and theories of the ‘Modernist Metropolis’ can be used to understand changing attitudes towards Berlin during Germany’s transition from Empire to Republic to dictatorship 1890-1939. The module will analyse several art historical moments associated with German Modernism, including Neue Sachlichkeit, German Expressionism, German neo-Impressionism. It will explore the work of artists, film makers, designers, photographers and architects such as; Bruno Taut; Grete Schütte-Lihotzky; Ludwig Meidner; Ernst Ludwig Kirchner; Hans Baluschek; Walter Ruttmann; Fritz Lang and August Sander, amongst others.
Women and Artistic Culture in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period
This module draws on the recent growth of scholarship concerned with women’s roles in the making and consumption of art in the late medieval and early modern period. It will first consider how contemporary gender and feminist studies can help us to explore and be critically aware of what studying ‘female’ patrons and artists might mean for modern art historians. It looks at dominant medieval discourses about the female sex that were found in popular literature, scripture, and medical theories, and how these were manifest in works of art and literature of the time. It also considers the different social, political and religious roles that were available to women in this period in order to set up a framework in which women’s involvement with art and artists can be explored in a historically specific way. The module then focuses on a series of case studies of female figures, including queens, regents, mistresses, widows, court painters, and confirmed religious, who used art as a means to wield or influence political power, make statements, seek personal aims, or earn a living.
Sound and Vision: Word, Music, Image, 1860 - now
Painting, music and poetry regularly intertwine in the visual arts, from the poem-paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabrielle Rossetti; to the collaborations between Robert Rauschenberg and composer John Cage; to Keith Haring’s involvement with hip-hop culture in 1980s New York; and more recently, the audio/verbal/image works of contemporary artists like Mona Hatoum and Maud Sulter.
The interrelationship of these different art forms bring to mind the classical notion of ut pictura poesis: ‘as is painting, so is poetry’. This concept is often taken to mean that word and image should be seen as sister arts. But if we accept this proposal, does this mean that these forms of expression share affinities, coexist harmoniously, and are essentially interchangeable? Or, rather, does it pit them in competition, vying for dominion over each other? Taking key examples ranging from 19th century painting to contemporary media art, this module investigates the ways in which the inclusion or association of word and music affect meaning and experience in the visual arts, and whether we should see these various modes of communication as competing or complimentary.
In addition to your taught modules, you will conduct a piece of independent research on a topic of your choice within History of Art with the support of a supervisor, culminating in a 15,000-word dissertation.
Please note that the optional module information listed on the website for this programme is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year. Where a module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.