The MA in Visual Culture at Durham is a distinctive interdisciplinary programme that invites students to develop their knowledge of visual culture, situating that knowledge in relation to working practices in cultural institutions, including museums, galleries and other heritage organisations. It will be of interest to students from a wide range of humanities and social science disciplines, as well as to visual arts and visual culture professionals who wish to reflect upon their practice in historical or theoretical contexts.
‘The illiterate of the future’, wrote the Bauhaus artist and theoretician László Moholy-Nagy in 1920, ‘will be the person ignorant of the camera as well as of the pen’. The importance of critical visual literacy in the contemporary world cannot be exaggerated. But what is visual culture? And how does it saturate societies, both past and present? The concept of ‘visual culture’ acknowledges the pervasive nature of visual phenomena. In part, to study visual arts and culture is a way of paying attention to phenomena that are literally everywhere.
Our programme facilitates the development of critical visual literacy in three main ways. First, it attends to the specificity of visual objects, images and events, encouraging you to develop approaches that are sensitive to the individual works they encounter. Second, it investigates the nature of perception, asking how it is that we make meaning out of that which we see. Finally, it investigates how our relationships with other people, and with things, are bound up in the act of looking.
The MA in Visual Culture benefits from Durham University’s strengths in visual culture. These include the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures, which hosts a wide range of events and brings together researchers across the University’s different departments and faculties. The University possesses considerable resources for the study of visual culture in the holdings and expertise of Durham University Museums, such as the Oriental Museum, and of Palace Green Library.
The MA in Visual Culture encourages interdisciplinary work and allows each student to pursue his or her own research interests in consultation with relevant subject specialists. In addition, students may have the opportunity to work with a range of partner institutions across the North East, including Auckland Castle and the Bowes Museum, and beyond.
This programme has been designed to provide preparation for students who intend to proceed to a PhD in Visual Culture with a view either to pursue a research career in academia or to seek a position in other cultural organizations. The MA in Visual Arts and Cultures, however, also offers a qualification in its own right, which will qualify students to embark upon a range of careers in the cultural sector.
"The MA in Visual Culture has been a hugely enriching experience, one which actively encourages students to pursue their own personal and cultural interests in parallel with their academic development. Testament to this is the engagement with academics with wide-ranging departmental expertise from across the University; from French, German and Russian Studies, to History, Visual Arts, and Education in the first term alone, many of whom curate their own extra-curricular events which supplement in-class discussions. The MA gave me the confidence to think creatively, write ambitiously, and pursue ideas which perhaps seem a little 'out-there' at first. Grateful for the support of the department and the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership, this October 2020 I will begin my PhD in Film-based Media: History, Theory, and Practice in Durham, building on my MA research which investigated representations of motherhood in the cinema of Québec."
Billy Errington (2019/20)
"Studying in Durham is one of the best experiences I have had to date!
"I was not sure what this programme was about when I decided to take it, but I was drawn to it by the variety of courses that I could choose. Since I was not very interested in studying ancient history, I found that this programme involving contemporary art interested me. The first module I took was about modern art history though. However, it was not as tedious as I had imagined. I thought the course would be textbook-based and the content require nothing but memorisation. But I was very engaged in the seminars like everyone else was. Since there were just five students in our class everyone had a chance to express their own opinions. It is not actually learning by rote, but exploring and creating something that you had always longed for. I felt that for the first time someone was listening to my opinions seriously, whereas my ideas were always played down by my tutors when I was in China.”
Yini Wang (2019/20)