The Art History BA Program | BA Academic Requirements | Student Learning Outcomes | Minor in Art History | The Art History MA Program | MA Academic Requirements | Undergraduate Courses | Graduate Courses | Faculty

The Art History MA Program: Graduate Courses

Required courses
Electives and special offerings

Please note that art history graduate courses are limited to art history MA students (and MFA students in the School of Art+Design who have been accepted in both programs). With the exception of permission of instructor, where noted, there are no course prerequisites.

Required Courses

Proseminar: Method and Theory in Art History
ARH 5101
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
The major theoretical orientations and methodologies associated with art historical study are discussed and critiqued. Methods reviewed range from connoisseurship to the iconographic and social-historical. Theories surveyed include formalist, Marxist, literary, feminist, psychoanalytic, and new-historicist concerns that dominated 20th-century interpretative practice. Required for MA students.

Master’s Colloquium I: History and Theory of Modern Art
ARH 5325
/ 4 credits / Fall
A seminar that considers topics and theoretical models that inform students’ understanding of modern and contemporary art. Within this framework, critics, art historians, and artists are invited to give lectures and lead seminars on their particular research interests. Required for MA students.

Master’s Colloquium II: Critical Issues in Contemporary Art
ARH 5326
/ 4 credits / Spring
A directed investigation of a specific set of issues in contemporary art and culture. The focus, which changes from year to year, introduces students to critical and theoretical models central to contemporary cultural analysis. Invited artists, art historians, and critics participate through individual lectures, seminars, or directed collaborations with students. Required for MA students.

Master’s Thesis I and II
ARH 5990
and 5991 / 4 credits (per semester) / Every semester
Supervision of research and writing of the master’s thesis. ARH 5990 and 5991 must be taken in consecutive semesters.


Writing Art Criticism
ARH 5000
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Students focus on developing competence in both critical style and content. Focusing on visual art, the course explores different kinds of critical voices, from belle-lettristic to theoretical. Readings and discussions analyze examples by leading critics. Writing assignments aim for students to develop an engaging argument, and the importance of revision, clear thinking, and descriptive ability is stressed.

Ana Mendieta
ARH 5005
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
A seminar examining the artistic and political performativity of the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta, who redefined what it means to be an “American” artist through her practice and activism. Mendieta’s formal innovation, autobiographical and political narratives, and efforts toward forging a new sense of “Third World” collectivity are among the topics explored.

The Avant-Gardes
ARH 5010
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Since the 1800s, the avant-gardes have tried to resist the delimited role of fine art in Western culture. In this course, students examine the strategies that avant-garde artists have used to reconnect their art practice with the more contentious areas of social and political life.

Contemporary Art and the Sublime
ARH 5015
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Examines the resurgence, or persistence, in recent art of the sublime: an experience of overwhelming grandeur. Why have contemporary artists (Matthew Barney, Edward Burtynsky, Tacita Dean, Olafur Eliasson, Andreas Gursky, Bill Viola, and others) turned to an 18th-century aesthetic theory in order to address the pressing issues of our time: climate change, the expansion of technology, and economic globalization?

Exhibitions Seminar
ARH 5030
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
In this seminar, students and the instructor co-curate an exhibition for the Neuberger Museum of Art. The class works on all aspects of the exhibition with the instructor and museum staff. Students learn about the various functions of departments, including curatorial, education, exhibition design, development, and public relations, putting exhibition theory into practice. Exhibition topics vary.
Prerequisite: Permission of instructor

Obscenity and Censorship in Contemporary Art
ARH 5040
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Considers the validity of obscene imagery—eroticism, violence, scatology, racism, and hate speech—in recent artistic practice. Students investigate the struggle to define the terms “art” and “obscenity” and the efforts to censor such art. What are the artistic, critical, and political effects of engaging with obscenity? What are the motivations and effects of attempting to censor it?

History of the Art Market
ARH 5060
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Since the 1990s, the art market has become integral to an understanding of contemporary art practices. This course introduces the economic foundation of the art market and the practices of participants. The focus is on the history of the primary market, where new works of art produced “on spec” are introduced to the public in a retail setting.

Aesthetics and Politics
ARH 5105
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
The relationship between artistic practice and the social realm is addressed, with emphasis on the development of the avant-garde in the 19th and 20th centuries, the role of artists in contemporary political discourse, and the theoretical discourse that constitutes the larger debate on these issues.

The Invisible Seventies
ARH 5120
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
The 1970s are often thought about in frivolous terms, as the decade of disco and bell-bottoms. In art, this period is often overshadowed by the radical avant-gardes of the 1960s and new developments in art during the 1980s. This seminar reconsiders the art and culture of the ’70s in the context of social and political currents of the period.

ARH 5125
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Drawing on both contemporary artists’ and critics’ writings and recent historical accounts, students consider minimalist art of the 1960s as a well-defined movement comprising a specific group of artists, versus “minimalism” as a diffuse tendency appearing in sculpture, painting, film, music, and dance. The relationship of minimalism to subsequent practices—postminimalism, process and land art, and conceptualism—is also explored.

Contemporary African-American Art: East Coast-West Coast
ARH 5130
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
African-American artistic trends since 1968 are examined by using the binary of East Coast-West Coast as appropriated from hip-hop culture, particularly in Los Angeles, Oakland, and New York. Both the limits of hip-hop aesthetics in the visual arts and the limits of thinking about “black aesthetics” as a stable or quantifiable style are tested.

Dada and the Readymade
ARH 5135
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
This seminar focuses on the inception of the “readymade” and the abandonment of traditional forms of painting in the work of Marcel Duchamp, as well as the later development of readymade practices in the context of New York and Paris Dada. The history of the readymade as an artistic strategy is traced.

Collections Research/Neuberger Museum
ARH 5145
/ 3 credits / Fall
A graduate-level independent study based on objects in the Neuberger Museum of Art. Students undertake independent research projects on works in the museum’s collection, investigating issues of documentation, provenance, condition, and interpretation.

Craft Revivals
ARH 5150
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Examines the relationship between the traditional crafts and the upheavals of modernity. Beginning with the Arts and Crafts movement in the 19th century and continuing to the present day, students explore how craft is framed as protest against industrialization, as utopian model of labor and exchange, and as aesthetic transformation.

Paranoid Modernism
ARH 5160
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Examines the relationship between madness and modernism, focusing on the psychological extremes associated with paranoia and overinterpretation as they impinged upon the avant-garde art movements of the 20th century.

American Art to 1913
ARH 5161
/ 4 credits / Spring
Surveys American painting, sculpture, decorative arts, and architecture until the opening of the Armory Show in 1913. The course explores the distinctiveness of the American art tradition.

Design Criticism
ARH 5170
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
An investigation of design, from automotive bodies to print advertising and Internet design, as a subject open to the traditional and nontraditional methods used in critical thinking and writing. Approaches toward analyzing and thinking about design include semiotic, gender, and postcolonial studies, as well as formal and psychoanalytic analysis.

African-American Art
ARH 5171
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
A study of African-American painting, sculpture, architecture, prints, drawings, photography, film, and vernacular and popular art. The course begins with the Afro-Atlantic era and covers images made by Southern artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as artists associated with the “New Negro” movement, the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, and postmodernism.

Contemporary African Art
ARH 5177
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
A study of artists and exhibitions from and about Africa, spanning a wide variety of traditional and new media. Important exhibitions like The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994 (2001) and Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora (2004) are analyzed. Themes include framing “Africa,” African identities, memory and place, and popular culture.

Women Artists in the 20th Century
ARH 5187
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Focuses on women artists and their place within the art-historical narrative of the 20th century. Students examine both the diverse practices of women artists and the reception of their work by critics, dealers, and collectors.

History of Photography
ARH 5190
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
An introduction to a wide range of photographic practices, from the medium’s conception in the 19th century to the ubiquitous online photo-sharing of today. Lectures have a special focus on the major artistic developments of photography. Topics include the significance of vernacular practices and their historical contexts in different parts of the world.

20th-Century Photography
ARH 5193
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
A seminar examining the history of photography within both the historical and the neo-avant-gardes. Special attention is given to photographic activities of the Weimar Republic, the Soviet avant-garde, surrealism, and American pictorialism, modernism, and FSA documentary work, as well as the postwar formations of the New York School, conceptual art, and photographic postmodernism.

Introduction to Museum Studies
ARH 5200
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Topics range from the history of art museums to current theories and methodologies of display and museum administration. In addition to class discussion, students meet with staff members at the Neuberger Museum of Art and other institutions to learn the basics of museum operations, including curatorial work, exhibition design, registration, educational and public programming, marketing and public relations, and finance. On- and off-campus museum visits required.

Photography: The First Century
ARH 5215
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Examines the photographic medium from its earliest forms through the 1920s and 1930s. Topics include technical innovations, manipulations and interventions, function and reception, the relationship to the fine arts, and debates about photography’s claims of realism.

Theories of Painting
ARH 5225
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Painting has long been accompanied by theories describing its abilities to attract, deceive, and even harm. This course looks at key theories and debates in the history of the medium (e.g., Rubenistes vs. Poussinistes, painting’s role among pluralistic practices) to better understand how both making and seeing a painting are colored by a history of ideas.

The Russian Avant-Garde
ARH 5250
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Despite a growing interest in the work of the Russian avant-garde, there is still relatively little known about the artists of the late Russian Empire and the early Soviet Union. This course addresses the broad scope and multidisciplinary practice of Russian modernism, from the shocking primitivism of The Rite of Spring to the cold pragmatism of constructivism.

Design and Culture
ARH 5285
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Design is both a noun and a verb. This course deals with the idea of design as a cultural phenomenon and a creative practice. Contemporary design and its making are situated within a broad methodological framework, drawing from existing and emerging theories in anthropology, art history, film studies, criticism, the history of technology, and architecture.

Theorizing Design
ARH 5300
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Why design? Why consume? What is desire? Are you what you make? Are you what you consume? How does design communicate? Design is a complex activity that touches on fields as diverse as psychoanalysis and anthropology. This course provides a theoretical understanding of design practice, production, and use (consumption). Topics include graphic and digital design, furniture, architecture, and industrial design.

Latin American Art in the Age of Globalization
ARH 5335
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Focuses on contemporary Latin American artists working in and out of Latin America: Gabriel Orozco, Guillermo Gomez Peña, Adriana Varejao, Teresa Margolles, Carlos Garaicoa, Betsabeé Romero, Javier Tellez, Nadín Ospina, Tania Bruguera, and Nicolás de Jesus. Students analyze the way these artists address such questions as urban violence, social inequality, pollution, emigration, and national identity.

American Art and Architecture in the Age of the Machine
ARH 5340
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Focuses on objects and movements influenced by industrialization and mechanization in the U.S. between 1900 and 1940. Topics include the rise of the skyscraper in American architecture and its effect on painters and printmakers, the advent of the automobile and the assembly line’s replacement of the factory worker, and Dada’s expression of the havoc wreaked during World War I by new machine-age technology.

Origins of Modernity
ARH 5345
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Explores elements of modernity in art, architecture, and visual culture, with particular emphasis on new methodologies. Topics include public/private sphere issues, high and low culture, notions of self and identity, sexual difference and gender.

Land Art
ARH 5395
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Considers the art movement referred to as land art (or, alternatively, as environmental art) that developed in the late 1960s out of the sculptural and process arts phenomena. Artists central and peripheral to the discourse on this movement are discussed. The time frame explored extends from the 1960s to the global contemporary and DIY sustainability art movements.

Modern Architecture
ARH 5400
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Explores the interplay between technological innovations and stylistic trends in European and American architecture (1800–1980s). Special emphasis is placed on the contributions of such major architects as Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Design History and Theory: 1750–Today
ARH 5405
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Examines the history of design as it parallels the history of technology and industrialization. Covering a variety of design disciplines, including architecture and urban planning, graphic design, fashion, and industrial design, this course focuses less on aesthetics than on the cultural programs that have shaped buildings, objects, and communication systems for more than two centuries.

Seminar: Rauschenberg
ARH 5445
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
The work of Robert Rauschenberg is examined in the context of postwar neo-avant-garde activities in the U.S. and in relation to the work of contemporaries like Jasper Johns and John Cage. Students also review recent theoretical debates about the meaning and significance of the artist’s work.

Field Trips to New York Museums and Galleries
ARH 5460
/ 4 credits / Spring
A practical course in art criticism, which meets regularly in New York. Contemporary works of art form the basis for lectures, discussions, and written essays.

The Fictional Visual Arts
ARH 5507
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Examines a selection of poetry, short stories, novels, and films from different historical periods that foreground the visual arts through various means, including the character of the artist, the practices of art, the nature of creativity, and the critical reception of art.

19th-Century Art
ARH 5510
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
European art from the French Revolution to 1900, with movements in France, Germany, and England receiving particular attention. Major artists studied include David, Gericault, Delacroix, Ingres, Frederich, Constable, Turner, the Pre-Raphaelites, Daumier, Manet, Degas, Monet, and Gauguin.

Art and/as Performance
ARH 5526
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Examines the development of performance and body-oriented work as a major mainstream in contemporary art practice, beginning with the work of Fluxus and happenings and continuing to the present.

New Media and Contemporary Art
ARH 5530
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
An examination of contemporary art outside of the traditional media of painting, sculpture, and architecture. Looking at painting-based performances of the 1950s, feminist body art, guerrilla television, and current political interventions based in digital media, students identify the strategies artists used to create new forms, and assess their success in modifying our understanding of the world.

African Photography
ARH 5560
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Examines photography as a medium used by European colonizers and its subsequent use by Africans for self-definition and liberation. Topics include early studio photography, photographs in cultural outlets like the Nigerian edition of Drum magazine, photography during the apartheid era, and contemporary work. The political and stylistic aspects of portrait, documentary, ethnographic, pop, and abstract images are considered.

Creativity, Genius, and the Renaissance Artist and Architect
ARH 5570
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
A critical examination of the concepts of creativity and the artist genius in the era of Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, and Gentileschi. Artist biographies are compared with art historical evidence, including painting, sculpture, architecture and other media, to explore the historical contexts of Renaissance art creation. Topics include self-portraiture, women artists, workshop practices, and the artist’s and architect’s differing connections to fabrication.

Pre-Columbian Aesthetics in Modern Latin American Art
ARH 5590
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Since the late 1800s, pre-Columbian art and history have inspired Latin American artists. This course investigates that phenomenon through an in-depth study of the work of individual artists, including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, as well as more contemporary figures. Students are also introduced to pre-Columbian art and architecture.

Abstract Expressionism
ARH 5600
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Focuses on the leading American avant-garde painters who emerged in the 1940s, including Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still. The course relates their art to cultural, intellectual, social, and political developments of the period, with special attention to recent revisionist approaches to Abstract Expressionism.

Madness and Modernism
ARH 5604
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
A variety of intersections between extreme mental conditions and the production of works of art during the modern period are investigated. Topics include connections between creativity and mental instability, artists with a history of mental disorder, and theories about stylistic or formal affinities between madness and art.

Abstraction in Modern Art
ARH 5610
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
A graduate-level investigation of the stages involved in the pursuit of abstraction and the nonrepresentational in modern art, with special attention given to Kandinsky and Mondrian.

Van Gogh in Context
ARH 5620
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Although Vincent van Gogh is one of the world’s best-known and most beloved artists, his work is often reduced to simplistic notions of madness and genius. This course expands students’ understanding of the artist by exploring his connection to the contemporary contexts of mechanical reproduction, national identity, and urban culture.

20th-Century Sculpture
ARH 5650
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Conceptions of what sculpture can be were radically transformed over the course of the 20th century. This course presents a survey of 20th-century sculpture, with emphasis on innovative materials and techniques, the changing relationship between viewer and object, and new modes of exhibition. The work of Duchamp, Bourgeois, Calder, Judd, Hesse, and Smithson, among others, is discussed.

Utopian Architecture
ARH 5660
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
Emerging from a longstanding literary tradition, examples of utopian architecture give insight into the ideals and fears of the cultures that produced them. This course explores both utopian and dystopian architectural visions, beginning with the Enlightenment works of Ledoux and Boullée and ending with the paper projects of such 1960s groups as Archigram and Superstudio.

Postwar Art in Europe
ARH 5670
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
If the postwar period famously represented the ascendency of American art, what art forms emerged simultaneously in traditional European centers? This course examines seemingly antithetical practices in France, Italy, Germany, and elsewhere: Art Informel, nouveau réalisme (new realism), Arte Povera, neoexpressionist painting, body art, conceptualism, Young British Art, etc. How has the changing European political landscape affected art and its institutions?

Exoticism in Modern Art
ARH 5700
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Explores reciprocal influences of Western and non-Western art in the modern period. Topics include such diverse artistic movements as “Orientalism,” “Japonisme,” and “Primitivism.” The class also examines the impact of non-Western art on specific artists, including Delacroix, Manet, Whistler, Picasso, and Pollock.

Artists on Art
ARH 5711
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
An examination of critical and theoretical writing by artists about art. The course considers texts from various eras, but focuses primarily on 20th-century and contemporary material. Artists’ writings are analyzed in the context of art criticism as a whole, and students also have the opportunity try their hand at criticism.

Pop Art
ARH 5750
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
Pop art, initially regarded with suspicion and considered frivolous, has proved to be a significant and influential movement. Today, it is perceived as an art form that expresses serious social and political concerns. This course focuses on the emergence of Pop art in England, the influence of American Pop art on European artists, and the way in which Pop art energizes conceptual art today. Artists covered include Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Gerhard Richter, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst.

Pop Art and Mass Culture
ARH 5755
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
In this historical approach to Pop art, the evolving relationship between mass culture and the visual arts is surveyed, from the development of “modern life” painting in France in the late 19th century to the development of Pop in Britain and the U.S. in the mid-20th century. The legacy of Pop is examined in politically oriented practices of the 1970s and in post-Pop tendencies in contemporary art.

African Art and Film
ARH 5770
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
African art and visual culture are considered in the context of African film. African youth, who make up most of the continent’s population, have had a marked effect on many sociopolitical phenomena. The films screened address African youth culture and such issues as the new independence (1960s), post-apartheid South Africa, youth rebels, religious fundamentalism, HIV, hip-hop and digital culture, and global emigration.

Performance Art in the West African Diaspora
ARH 5775
/ 4 credits / Alternate years
An analysis of the roots and reinvigorations of West African performance art featuring the artist’s body, with emphasis on manifestations in Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and especially Afro-Brazil. Topics include griot styles; contemporary African fashions and pop culture; and musical call and response as adapted for dance, sculpture, painting, film, fashion, and photography.

Mexican Art From the Revolution to the NAFTA Era
ARH 5815
/ 4 credits / Special topic (offered irregularly)
A broad look at modern and contemporary Mexican art, using an interdisciplinary and comparative approach. Special emphasis is on the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) and its aftermath throughout the 20th century. Students analyze links between the visual arts (including mural painting, prints, and photography) and the literature, the popular scene and the mainstream, the street art and the gallery art.

Updated Mar. 15, 2016

Arrow up icon 

Please direct updates for this page to the managing editor in the Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs. To add a course, please refer first to the Faculty Handbook.

For course schedules:
course search