Degrees Offered

The Department of Visual Arts at Western University offers three degrees: Master’s in Art History and Curatorial Studies (MA), Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA), and Doctorate (PhD). Each program provides instruction and supervision in art history, museum & curatorial studies, and studio art with an emphasis in theory and research methods. Students work in small seminar courses to develop their own research.


Master’s in Art History and Curatorial Studies (MA)

The MA in Art History and Curatorial Studies is a one-year program. This is a research-intensive degree offering training in the histories and theories of art and visual culture. It prepares graduates for advanced study in the field, as well as for careers in museums, galleries, and other areas of the arts.

The degree requires full-time study for three terms (fall, winter, summer) and has three streams, a course-based stream, a thesis-based stream, and a project-based (curatorial) stream.

In the course-based stream, students complete a total of six half courses, including one half course in research methods, and a 30-page major research paper (MRP), worth one half course.

In the thesis-based stream, students complete four half courses, including one half course in research methods, and a 60-page thesis.

In the project-based (curatorial) stream, students complete five half courses, including one half course in research methods and one internship, develop an exhibition or other agreed-upon public-facing event, and a 30-page research paper, worth one half course.

For more details, prospective students should consult the MA Regulations:

Master’s in Visual Art (MFA)

The MFA in Visual Art is a two-year program that offers training in contemporary visual art and prepares its graduates for professional careers as artists and curators, as well as for advanced training at the PhD level, and for a range of careers in galleries, museums, and other art world contexts. It combines an emphasis on research methods with instruction in the studio arts. The program offers opportunities for exchange and collaboration with other MFAs, as well as with MA and PhD students. The small seminar courses are an excellent environment for students to develop their research and studio practice.

MFA students in the program have opportunities to travel to art exhibitions and to study collections in local and regional galleries as sources of information and artistic inspiration. In the past, students have connected with professionals from highly respected art institutions, such as the McIntosh Gallery, Museum London and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

For more details, prospective students should consult the MFA Regulations:

Doctorate in Art and Visual Culture (PhD)

The Ethos of the Program

The Ph.D. in Art and Visual Culture is a four-year program focused on research in art history and visual culture and on creative practices in contemporary art and new media. The program accepted its first students in fall 2007. The program prepares its graduates for professional careers in galleries, museums and other art world contexts; for university teaching and research; and for arts administration in the private and public sectors. This unique doctoral program emphasizes the interrelationship between art historical/visual culture scholarship and studio practice by fostering academic and creative research beside and in connection with each other. The Ph.D. in Art and Visual Culture is housed within the John Labatt Visual Arts Centre at Western University, where a vital mix of research and practice in art and visual culture and an enriching program of visiting artists, critics and historians already exist. The Ph.D. program supports students working at an advanced level in Art History, Museum & Curatorial Practice, and Studio. We welcome students whose research crosses areas as well as more traditional researchers and practitioners whose work will benefit from development within a lively research and creation culture. This doctoral program has produced graduates who pursue innovative approaches both to the study of historical and contemporary materials and to creative production within the art and academic worlds.

Rationale for the Program

The growing complexity of the art world and the challenging terrain of visual culture requires professionals with highly developed intellectual abilities and skill levels and those who possess new kinds of interdisciplinary perspectives. Until the recent past, an MA had been the prerequisite for entry into curatorial positions, but today a Ph.D. offers a significant advantage to those applying for upper level positions in the professional art world. Recently a demand has also emerged for doctoral degrees in the studio arts, especially for those engaged in theoretical projects and involved in teaching in post-secondary institutions with graduate programs. These new demands and challenges are likely to grow considerably over the coming years. At the same time, while artists are doing more research in order to support their creative practices, art historians are finding more creative ways of framing and disseminating their research by working in digital media, mounting exhibitions, and presenting their ideas through visual media such as video, film, television, etc. The Ph.D. in Art and Visual Culture aims to fulfill the increasing demands for a doctoral degree both in the studio sector of academe and in the art world, as well as to appeal to traditional art history students and to those who wish to pursue innovative research programs or to integrate curatorial studies, contemporary art and new media into their practice. Students graduating from this program are well qualified for academic positions in both art history and studio art, as well as in visual culture, cultural studies, humanities and media studies programs. They are also prepared for careers as artists, curators and administrators in Canadian and international galleries, artist-run centres and heritage-oriented organizations.

General Program Structure and Requirements

The Ph.D. in Art and Visual Culture has a flexible program structure that accommodates academic research and creative practice while promoting a rigorous engagement with a focused program of work. The program includes two areas of specialization: 1) New Media, Sound and the Moving Image; and, 2) Collecting, Curating, and Museum Histories and Practices, although students undertake a wide range of research projects within the program. In the first two years of study, students must successfully complete their course work and pass their comprehensive exams. By the beginning of the third year, they will submit a research prospectus which, once approved, can follow one of three possible streams: (1) project-based (2) adapted project-based (3) dissertation-based (described below). The innovative structure of the program is modeled on certain professional programs with a view to providing both a rigorous academic training and a head start for graduates entering into the complex job market. The program accommodates a project-based approach in recognition of the advantages of flexibility and practicality as graduates enter the competitive professional world. A traditional thesis will be encouraged for students who wish to pursue more conventional research and publication careers.

a) The Project-based and Adapted Project-based Streams

Projects to be undertaken in fulfillment of the doctoral research program may be articles of publishable quality, exhibitions and performances, or equivalent productions in other media. All of the projects will be reviewed by the student's thesis committee according to a program of assessment that follows the basic guidelines for all program students while responding to the particularities of the individual student's research plan. Students working within the project-based stream will be required to do at least one project in a medium outside that of their main area of interest—i.e. a studio artist will write one article or curate one exhibition as well as produce a minimum of three bodies of creative work; or an art historian will curate one exhibition or produce a video in addition to writing an article. The relationship between and the nature of the projects could be more or less traditional, depending on the trajectory of the student's research program. A student researching art history/visual culture could write a chapter of a proposed book and mount an exhibition on the same subject. A studio-oriented student could explore a particular problematic in a series of different material projects and could write a research article dealing with a related theoretical problem. By implementing a clear set of progressive steps through the program, the project-based structure will allow students to stay on track and to finish the program within four years. Furthermore, the structure will prove highly attractive to professionals already working in the field (such as museum and gallery curators who regularly work on a project basis), who may want to extend their research programs while upgrading their credentials. Both the adapted project-based stream and project-based stream involve a written thesis.

b) The Dissertation Stream

Students wanting to produce a traditional dissertation leading towards the publication of a book or a series of articles will work according to the guidelines for the Dissertation Stream. The thesis itself can take the form of a series of chapters or a set of integrated articles. While the development of their research program will parallel the way work is done in many doctoral programs, these students will operate within a research/creation context within which opportunities for lively interactions with a wide array of researchers/practitioners will foster the opportunity for an enriched discursive practice.

For more details, prospective students should consult the PhD Regulations: