history and theory of contemporary art
SFAI’s program in History and Theory of Contemporary Art (HTCA) offers students an in-depth and critical understanding of models for the analysis of contemporary art and culture, and the frameworks of its production, presentation, and influence.
With a strong emphasis on research and writing, the program immerses students in the scholarly practice of art history, considering the discipline in relation to art theory, criticism, and practice, and placing special emphasis on the conditions of exhibition and circulation that frame the reception of art in contemporary culture. The curriculum addresses complex issues such as the interrogation of the hierarchies of artistic mediums initiated by the historical avant-gardes, the globalization of culture, the intersection of Western and non-Western experiences of modernity, the role of technology in art making, the politics of art and design, and the question of authorship in the practice of contemporary art. Theoretical approaches include formalism, semiotics, deconstruction, social history, feminist critique, gender studies, psychoanalysis, post-colonial theory, and institutional critique.
Embracing a multidisciplinary approach, students work with artists, historians, theorists, and curators from diverse fields including anthropology, cultural geography, political science, culture studies, and media studies, as well as art history. SFAI enjoys particularly close relationships with regional art institutions from SFMOMA to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to local alternative spaces, and students may benefit from these relationships through classes, internship opportunities, and special projects. HTCA MA students cap their studies with a final written thesis (Thesis I) emphasizing original research and argument; recent topics include socially engaged performance art, the narrative language of video mapping, ecofeminist artwork, and geographic borders as sites of cultural production. Uniting theory and practice, MA students also collaborate on a final project (Thesis II) that can take the form of a publication, website, symposium, exhibition, or event.
Well-prepared to become active participants and leaders in the contemporary art scene, HTCA alumni have gone on to top-ranked PhD programs and to work as curators, publishers, and critics, regionally and internationally.
Also see: Dual Degree MA/MFA program, which pairs an MA in HTCA with an MFA in any discipline within the School of Studio Practice.