History + Theory of Contemporary Art | BA

The BA in History + Theory of Contemporary Art curriculum provides students with a thorough understanding of the long, global history of art, which is complemented by advanced, topic-based seminars in contemporary art history and theory, and by public programs designed to directly introduce students to a broad variety of transnational artists and scholars.

SFAI’s History +Theory of Contemporary Art (HTCA) program provides an in-depth critical understanding of the history of the ideas, conditions, institutions, and discourses surrounding contemporary art and culture, and the ways that these factors inform the study, interpretation, analysis, and exhibition of art today. Housed in one of the oldest art schools in the county, the program offers students the unique opportunity to develop these studies while mingling with the ghosts of (post)modernism and working side-by-side with current, practicing artists and scholars.

At the program’s end, students pursue a sustained research project of their own design as the culminating capstone to their degree. Emphasizing research, writing, critical thinking, and methods of analysis that value cultural and social differences, HTCA prepares students to become advanced critics and scholars of art history and theory in a global context.


Summary of Required Credits

Liberal Arts Requirements33
Art History, Theory & Criticism Requirements54
Studio Requirements12
General Electives21

HTCA Studio Requirements

Contemporary Practice3
Electives in any studio discipline9

HTCA Major Requirements

Topics and Foundations in Global Visual Culture3
Topics and Foundations in Contemporary Art3
Dialogues in Contemporary Art3
Art History Electives24
Critical Studies Electives15
Interdisciplinary Research Colloquium3
Thesis Colloquium3

Program Learning Outcomes

  • Students demonstrate a thorough grounding in the liberal arts and an informed acquaintance with quantitative forms of analysis — as assessed by written assignments, class presentations, and projects.
  • Students demonstrate general, global knowledge of the history of art and visual culture and substantial and rigorous, cross-cultural knowledge of contemporary artists, art practices, artworks, and exhibitions, with special attention paid to how these discourses and historical figures intersect with critical conversations concerning the production of space — as assessed by analytical written assignments, class presentations and projects that require students to mobilize appropriate theories and criticisms of art.
  • Students demonstrate the ability to situate the discourses of art history and visual culture vis-à-vis other disciplines within the liberal arts and natural sciences, and across a variety of situated, globalized perspectives—as assessed by written course assignments, class presentations and projects, and the BA Senior Thesis Project.
  • Students demonstrate a thorough grounding in the methodological tools, analytical perspectives, and theoretical frameworks central to the discourses of art history and visual culture — as assessed by written course assignments, class presentations and projects and the successful completion of the Interdisciplinary Research Colloquium and the BA Senior Thesis Project.
  • Students demonstrate functional knowledge of the creative process and of the value of creating synergy between a creative practice and rigorous academic investigation — as assessed by successful completion of 12-Credits of studio art courses.
  • Students demonstrate an increasingly nuanced and principled understanding of the possible roles of art and the artist in the world, including roles as agents of social and cultural change — as assessed by written course assignments, class presentations and projects and the BA Senior Thesis Project.

Past Courses

  • Art Since 1945
  • Dance History: 1960s to Present
  • Global Anxieties: Sculpture’s Disappearances, 1957–1980
  • African Art, Myth, and Religion
  • Dialogues in Contemporary Art: Theory and Practice
  • Queer Visual Politics
  • Revolution in Our Lifetime: A Visual History of 1968 and Beyond
  • Shock Me (If You Can)