What is History of Art and Visual Studies?

History of Art and Visual Studies makes an important contribution towards developing insight into the visual arts as emerging from and reflecting different historical and geographic contexts. It gives students a deeper understanding of the complex, shifting relationships between cultural expression and socio-political dynamics. History of Art and Visual Studies aims to develop faculties such as critical thinking, research skills, openness to alternative standpoints and well-founded judgement competencies concerning the world of visual art and culture. Students benefit from the study of visual images and cultural heritage across a broad spectrum because this stimulates and enriches the creative imagination. History of Art and Visual Studies is further aimed at developing visual and academic literacy. These skills will enable students to read and analyse visual images critically and in a self-reflective manner, to understand them in broader socio-political contexts, and to express these insights in an academically sound manner.

The History of Art and Visual Studies qualification does not currently include an undergraduate degree programme, but the subject can be taken as a major, elective or extra module as part of the BA Humanities offerings. Students who study in the following fields will benefit from History of Art and Visual Studies  as a major or an elective module: languages, history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, creative writing, political studies, communication and related fields. This module is offered in Potchefstroom. There are no prerequisites for taking History of Art and Visual Studies as a first-year subject, and no previous knowledge of art or visual culture is necessary.

Career Possibilities

An art historian or visual studies scholar can work at a university, at a gallery, at an artist’s studio or a similar place of creative production, as a curator and/or consultant for a corporation’s art collection, or in various other positions and places. Art historians and visual studies experts often travel a great deal – it has been said that seeing the world’s art and material culture is the best excuse for leaving home. With training as an art historian, you are flexible, adaptable, and able to work in many different contexts. Examples of careers emanating from the study of the history of art and visual studies include becoming an art critic, art journalist, gallery owner, curator, art consultant, art dealer, manager of artists’ careers, educator, tourism specialist, researcher, art blogger, arts festival officer, publisher, web-content generator, art collector, studio manager and gallerist.

Post-Graduate Programmes For History Of Art And Visual Studies

Undergraduate courses in History of Art and Visual Studies are part of the foundational study towards postgraduate degrees in this field. Our postgraduate research programmes are part of the research niche Visual Narratives and Creative Outputs through Interdisciplinary and Practice-Led Research (ViNCO). The research niche ViNCO contributes to the current discourse on South African and African visual narratives and the histories and visions that shape them.

  • Honours degree in History of Art and Visual Studies (PC only):

After completing a bachelor’s degree, and having taken three years of History of Art and Visual Studies modules, a student may apply for admission to an honours degree offered at Potchefstroom. To be considered for the honours-degree programme, a student will have had to complete certain undergraduate modules in History of Art and Visual Studies and have attained an average of more than 60% for their third-year modules.

The honours degree in History of Art and Visual Studies consists of different subjects. Students must complete two compulsory modules: Art and Society (KSGS684, Research report module), Philosophy, Theory and Methodology of Art (KSGS685), and three of the following elective modules: Film Studies (KSGS676), Themes in Contemporary Visual Culture (KSGS682); Art and Visual Culture: Theory and Practice (KSGS683), and Visual and Popular Culture Theory (KSGS686). Students can also substitute one of these modules for a capita selecta module from certain humanities honours-degree programmes. Such a module must be an honours-degree module of a subject that the student has passed as a major at third-year level, and permission must be given by the subject leader of the particular honours-degree module and by the programme leader of the honours degree in History of Art and Visual Studies.

  • Master of Arts in History of Art and Visual Studies (offered remotely):

The Master of Arts in History of Art and Visual Studies is a two- to three-year part- or full-time programme culminating in the submission, assessment and acceptance of a dissertation. Students are offered the opportunity to undertake independent research in a particular subject area under the guidance of a supervisor. The theme of the dissertation is based on individual interest in the field of History of Art and Visual Studies and on supervisor expertise. In addition, the subject of the dissertation is founded on a keen interest to contribute to the vision and research objectives of the research niche ViNCO.

To gain admission to this master’s degree, apart from the requirements set out in General Rule A.5.2 of the University, the following admission requirements apply: a student must have obtained an honours degree in the relevant field of study with a minimum average of 65%. Alternatively, applicants must have the status of such a qualification granted on request by the Senate by attaining a level of competence which, in the opinion of Senate, on the recommendation of the faculty, is adequate for admission as a candidate for the degree. An applicant for registration must give evidence of their attainments and education and complete such preliminary work as the Senate may require, and must satisfy the Senate as to the suitability of their subject of choice. An evaluation certificate as issued by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) must be submitted if a previous qualification was obtained in a foreign country.

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Visual and Performing Arts with History of Art and Visual Studies (offered remotely).

The PhD in Visual and Performing Arts with History of Art and Visual Studies strives to provide training for an academic career in the field of visual and performing arts. It requires a candidate to conduct research at the most advanced academic levels, culminating in the submission, assessment and acceptance of a thesis. A candidate may also present peer-reviewed academic articles and papers in partial fulfilment of the research requirements. Through the Doctor of Philosophy in Visual and Performing Arts with History of Art and Visual Studies, candidates will be provided with the opportunity to undertake independent research and advanced study that is encouraged by the vision and objectives of the research niche ViNCO. Under the guidance of a supervisor in a particular subject area, the thesis must constitute a substantial contribution to the national and international advancement of knowledge and understanding in the field of the visual and performing arts through original research.​

Apart from the requirements set out in General Rule A.5.2 of the University, the following admission requirements apply: a candidate must have a master’s degree in History of Art and Visual Studies or an equivalent qualification obtained with an average mark of 65%. Acceptance of candidates for the PhD is subject to (i) the availability of expertise in the field, and (ii) the capacity of staff to guide the study. The postgraduate committee may, if necessary, request the candidate to write an academic essay to ensure admission.

Admission requirements

Please contact the History of Art and Visual Studies team for any questions relating to the undergraduate and honours-degree programmes. For postgraduate matters, please do not hesitate to send an email to vinco@nwu.ac.za or visit the research niche ViNCO.