history and theory of contemporary art

SFAI’s program in History and Theory of Contemporary Art offers students an in-depth, critical understanding of important ideas, institutions, and discourses surrounding global art and culture and how these inform the analysis and exhibition of art today.

The BA degree in the History and Theory of Contemporary Art (HTCA) asks students to develop critical skills in situating visual art both in historical context and in relation to contemporary practices. Students are challenged with complex questions: What is the relationship between art and power? How do we value authorship and appropriation? How have new technologies and globalization changed art? What connections can you make across times, places, and cultures?

To answer such questions, students begin with a strong foundation in global art history, exploring diverse cultural perspectives on the role of art in society and focusing intensively on the conflicted legacy of Western modernity—capitalism, the enlightenment, modernism, colonialism, imperialism, and de-colonization—that continues to produce a dominant point of view through which the history of art has been written. They work with artists and academics from diverse disciplines including anthropology, cultural geography, political science, culture studies and media studies, as well as art history, to explore how the ongoing elaboration of theoretical approaches from formalism to semiotics and deconstruction, social history, feminist critique, gender studies and psychoanalysis has helped to question dominant narratives. The distinguished roster of visiting artists and scholars that SFAI hosts each semester provides further opportunities for critical and theoretical engagement.

Art history is continually re-examined through new research, new methodologies, and new interpretations, equipping students to think deeply and broadly about cultural production in contemporary society.  HTCA students cap their studies with a thesis that investigates an original topic or argument and emphasizes effective writing and rhetorical skills.