Launched in 2002, the Art History, Theory, and Criticism Ph.D is housed within one of the nation’s leading centers of art practice and graduate education in studio, media, and—most recently—digital media. The offering of the Ph.D. degree is based on the department’s foundational premise that the production of art and the critical, theoretical, and historical reflection upon it inherently and necessarily participate in a single discursive community. Offering a distinct alternative to existing Ph.D. programs in art history, our program has a unique curriculum that treats the study of art as part of a broader inquiry into the practices, objects, and discourses that constitute the art world.


Areas of Specialization

Within the Art History, Theory, and Criticism Ph.D. program students must declare an area of specialization within their first year of study. A student may also choose, in consultation with his or her individual faculty advisor and the Ph.D. Program Faculty Coordinator, a field of emphasis that cuts across the areas of specialization within the department or one that involves another department. Once the area of specialization or field of emphasis is established, it will be the responsibility of the student and his or her advisor to devise a program of courses, independent studies and outside reading, over and above the required program, that will ensure that the student will attain command of the chosen specialization or field of emphasis.

The program comprises eleven areas of specialization:

Ancient Art

Medieval Art

Renaissance Art

Early Modern Art

Modern Art (19th - 20th century)

Contemporary Art

Meso-American Art

North American Indian Art

Asian Art

Latin American Art

Media Studies


Art Practice Concentration

The Art Practice concentration is the newest feature of the Ph.D program, launched in Fall 2009, it is one of the first doctoral programs in the country for practicing artists. The concentration takes advantage of the Visual Art's Departments long history as a center for experimentation in visual art practice and theory and has rapidly become a magnet for ambitious scholars committed to historical and theoretical research into contemporary art and media. The addition of a concentration in art practice was a natural outgrowth of the reciprocal relationship between history, theory and artistic production as a field of intellectual practice in the Visual Arts Department. Rather than segregating art practice and history in different departments, or even different schools, UC San Diego’s Visual Arts department brings practitioners, theorists and historians together to encourage innovative work at the boundaries of disciplines, discourses, and methodologies. The concentration is designed for artists who wish to pursue their work in an environment geared towards doctoral study, and to produce studio work alongside a written dissertation. It is especially well-suited for artists whose practice employs, critiques or otherwise engages research methodologies and disciplinary protocols from the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

This is a concentration within an existing art history Ph.D. program rather than an independent art practice doctorate. As a result, art practice candidates are required to fulfill the same academic requirements as other Ph.D. students, including two to three years of graduate level course work in art and media history, theory and criticism, language exams, passage of a formal qualifying exam, and submission of a dissertation prospectus. Their dissertations, however, combines a shorter written component with a completed art project (film, video, exhibition, installation, public project, etc.). Applicants should have some academic or professional background in art and media history, theory and criticism as well as an established, research-based art practice.

Specialization in Anthropogeny

Visual arts PhD students with an interest in human origins may, with the approval of their dissertation adviser, enroll in a transdisciplinary graduate specialization in anthropogeny, spanning the social and natural sciences and focusing on one of the oldest questions known to humankind, namely, the origins of humans and humanity. The specialization provides students the opportunity to undertake specialized research and education on explaining the origins of the human phenomenon, broadly construed to include culture as well as biology. It is not a stand-alone program, but aims at providing graduate students who have just embarked on their graduate careers with the opportunity to interact and communicate with peers in radically different disciplines throughout the duration of their PhD projects. Such communication across disciplines from the outset is key to fostering a capacity for interdisciplinary “language” skills and conceptual flexibility. This program is open to all visual arts PhD students in art history, including those with a concentration in art practice.

Admission to the Specialization

The visual arts PhD program will advertise the specialization to those students in our programs who have an interest in human origins. Qualifying applicants will have the opportunity to enroll for the specialization prior to taking their qualifying examination. Students pursuing an Anthropogeny specialization are eligible for fellowships from CARTA (the UC San Diego Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny). Please contact CARTA for further information about the fellowship.

Required Courses 

All first-year Ph.D. students are required to take Re-Thinking Art History, a seminar in art historical methodology, when offered during their first year of study. Students in the Art Practice concentration are required to take the Seminar in Art Practice Research in their first year, and its counterpart or sequel in the second year. Students must also take, at some point, two seminars from the Art Practice specialization. One four-unit apprentice teaching course is also required. Travel required to conduct field research for completion of degree requirements in most cases. In order to ensure that students attain a reasonable measure of historical and cultural breadth, all students are required to take one seminar from at least three of the following areas outside their area of specialization: 1) Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance or Early Modern Art (VIS250N, 251, 252, 253); 2) Meso-American Art or North American Indian Art (VIS 257, 260); 3) Asian Art (VIS 258); 4) Latin American Art (VIS 259); 5) Modern and Contemporary (254, 255); 6) Media Studies (VIS 256). PhD Students in Art Practice may choose one course from an additional area Theory/Practice (VIS 210-219). The courses fulfilling the breadth requirement must be taught by three different members of the PhD faculty or designated visiting PhD faculty.

Please see the UC San Diego General Catalog for more information.