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The Department of Visual Arts offers the Ph.D. degree in art history, theory, and criticism with concentrations in any of the areas in which faculty do research (see below). Offering a distinct alternative to existing Ph.D. programs in art history, our program centers on a unique curriculum that treats the study of art past and present--including fine art, new media and mass culture--as part of a broad inquiry into the practices, objects, and discourses that constitute the art world, even as it encourages examination of the larger frameworks—historical, cultural, social, intellectual, and theoretical—within which the category “art” has been contextualized in the most recent developments in the discipline.
This program is also distinctive in that it is housed within a department that has been for many years 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. and M.F.A. degrees 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. This close integration of art history and art practice is reflected in the inclusion of a concentration in art practice within the Ph.D. in art history, theory, and criticism.
The innovative character of this program is most evident in a unique curricular structure that is broadly organized into three groups of seminars. The importance of critical theory to the field today is reflected in the seminars under the Theories/New Visions group, while the study of art in its concrete historical, social, and cultural contexts, across different cultures and media, is emphasized in time, place, and media specific seminars listed under Times/Terrains.
The program builds most distinctively on recent developments in the field in the seminars under the heading Categories/Constructs. These seminars address the core questions about artworks and practices that the department believes every doctoral student in art and media history, whatever his or her area of specialization, should engage. How is the category “art” itself produced, now and in the past, in the urbanized West and in other cultures, in the context of ever-changing technologies? How are artistic identities constructed across distinct epochs and societies, and with reference to categories such as gender and ethnicity? What are the circumstances and contexts (social, intellectual, institutional, and the like) within which art is both produced and disseminated? What are the alternative modes of engaging art objects and practices and what are the histories and theoretical assumptions of the specialized discourses used to describe and analyze them?
Seminars in the Categories/Constructs group are unique in the degree to which they foreground the self-critical turn in recent art and media history by making reflection upon the central concepts, constructs, categories, and languages of art historical inquiry a key programmatic concern. They are also distinctive in that they are designed to cut across traditional categories of history and contemporaneity, art and media (film, video, photography, digital media), history and theory, and to promote cross-cultural inquiry insofar as they center on questions crucial to the study of art of diverse cultures as well as diverse art forms and historical epochs.
The Ph.D. program in Visual Arts accepts only applicants seeking a Ph.D. degree. It is the policy of UCSD to admit new students in the fall quarter only. Prior to matriculation, students must have obtained a bachelor’s or master’s degree in art history, art practice, or another field approved by the departmental committee on graduate studies, such as (but not limited to) history, literature, anthropology, or philosophy.
Applicants must submit their academic transcripts, scores on the Graduate Record Examination, three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose (no more than 750 words), and a sample of written work (e.g., senior honors thesis, M.A. thesis, or other research or critical paper, preferably in art or media history). A GPA of at least 3.00 overall and 3.50 in a student’s undergraduate major are required. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required for international applicants. Applicants must have a good reading knowledge of at least one language other than English at the time they enter the program.
Please note that no application will be processed until all required information has been received. Students should submit applications with the application fee to the Office of Graduate Studies on or before Wednesday, January 9, 2013. The Statement of Purpose and letters of recommendation must be submitted online along with the application. Unofficial transcripts can be submitted electronically via the Office of Graduate Studies Graduate application, but if accepted into our program you will be required to submit official transcripts.
Once you have applied via the Office of Graduate Studies Graduate Application you will be contacted with more information on how to access our Visual Arts department portfolio site. Students are asked to upload their writing samples and images (for art practice concentration) into our online portfolio website. The deadline to upload and submit your portfolio to the department is Wednesday, January 9, 2013. Access to the website is given ONLY once a general UCSD online application has been filed through the Office of Graduate Studies, https://gradapply.ucsd.edu/
DO NOT SEND ANY HARD COPY APPLICATION MATERIALS, TRANSCRIPTS OR PORTFOLIO ITEMS AS THEY WILL NOT BE REVIEWED.
Generous funding packages are possible for highly qualified students. Upon recommendation of the department, several types of financial aid are available: full or partial remission of fees and tuition, fellowships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, and readerships. Graduate students are eligible for one or a combination of the different forms of financial support.
For additional questions on our program and the admissions process, please email:
All students will apply for and be admitted to the Ph.D. Program. An M.A. degree may be awarded to continuing Ph.D. students upon successful completion of the following: (1) at least twelve four-unit courses, including VIS 204, Re-Thinking Art History, and two seminars from the group VIS 210–219; (2) a three-hour written examination in a designated field of emphasis (see “Examinations” below); (3) one language examination; and (4) an M.A. thesis. The M.A. is not automatically awarded; students must apply in advance to the Ph.D. graduate advisor and in accordance with university procedures, no later than the first two weeks of the quarter in which they expect to receive the degree.
Students interested in an M.A. only are not admitted to our program.
Areas of Concentration
During the first year of study, each student must declare an area of major concentration in consultation with his or her individual faculty advisor and with the approval of the Ph.D. Program Faculty Coordinator. The major concentration may be selected from the following: ancient art; medieval art; Renaissance art; early modern art; modern art (nineteenth and twentieth centuries); contemporary art; media studies (film, video, photograph, digital media); Meso-American art; and art practice. 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 concentration within the department (e.g., art or media theory and criticism) or, with appropriate approvals, one that involves another department (e.g., early modern art history and history). Once the 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 study and outside reading, over and above the required program, that will ensure that the student will attain command of the major field of emphasis.
The program also features a concentration in "Art Practice" designed for artists engaged in advanced research who wish to pursue their work in an environment geared to doctoral study, and to produce studio work alongside a written dissertation. The addition of a concentration in art practice was a natural outgrowth of the reciprocal relationship between history, theory and practice in the Visual Arts department. Rather than segregating art practice and history UCSD’s Visual Arts department brings practitioners, theorists and historians together to encourage innovative work at the boundaries of disciplines, discourses, and methodologies. Art practice students fulfill the same requirements as students working in other Ph.D. concentrations, including language exams, qualifying exams and the submission of a dissertation prospectus. Their dissertations, however, combine a shorter written component with a completed art project (film or video, exhibition, public work, etc.). The program is particularly well-suited for established artists with a research-based practice who are seeking the opportunity to reflect on that practice, and to develop new work, in conjunction with a community of ambitious artists, historians and theorists. The admission process for this concentration is the same as the general Ph.D. program; however a portfolio of the applicants work will be required at the time of application.
A normal full-time program consists of twelve units per quarter. Prior to the qualifying examination, students are required to complete eighty-four units, equivalent to twenty-one four-unit courses (normally accomplished in seven to nine quarters). This twenty-one-course requirement will normally be satisfied by a combination of graduate seminars, reading courses, independent studies, and apprentice teaching. No more than three may be apprentice teaching; no more than two may be reading courses; and no more than two may be graduate seminars in art practice or art practice/theory. By reading course, we mean an upper-division undergraduate course that a student takes with additional reading and writing requirements. Full-time study is expected. Graduate seminars in art history, theory, and criticism should comprise the bulk of the student’s twenty-one-course requirement.
All students are required to take VIS 204, Re-Thinking Art History, in their first year of study. For students in the art practice concentration, VIS 206, Seminar in Art Practice Research, must also be taken in their first year of study. Students must also take, at some point, two seminars from the Art Practice/Theory group, VIS 210-VIS 219. One four-unit apprentice teaching course, VIS 500, is also required.
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 four of the following areas: 1) ancient or medieval art; 2) Renaissance or early modern art; 3) modern or contemporary art; 4) media studies; 5) non-Western art.
If a student has completed some graduate work in art history, theory, and criticism before entering UCSD, there may be some appropriate adjustments in course work as approved by petition to the Ph.D. graduate advisor and the department chair.
Foreign Language Requirements
Students will be required to demonstrate reading knowledge of at least two foreign languages commonly used by scholars engaged in the advanced study of art history, theory, and criticism. One should be the language most directly relevant to the student’s area of specialization. The student and his or her individual advisor will jointly determine the examination languages.
Foreign language requirements will normally be satisfied by passing examinations requiring sight translation of texts in art history, theory, and criticism. Students are required to pass their entering language examination in order to be advanced to their second year in the program. The first-year language examination will be offered during the fall quarter of the entering year. The second required language examination will be offered during the fall quarter of the second year in the program. Students must pass both language examinations by the end of their second year to continue in the program.
No later than the first quarter of the third year, all Ph.D. students, in consultation with their individual faculty advisor, will form a committee for the qualifying examination and Ph.D. defense. For students in Art History, Theory and Criticism program, the committee will consist of four tenured faculty members from the visual arts department and one tenured faculty member from a different department. For students in the in the Art Practice program the committee will consist of four tenured faculty from the visual arts department including at least two in two art history, theory, and criticism and at least one in studio or media practice ) as well as one tenured faculty from a different department. This committee will conduct the qualifying examination required by university policy and oversee completion of the dissertation. The membership of the committee must be approved by the Ph.D. program faculty coordinator and ultimately the Dean of Graduate Studies.
Prior to the qualifying examination, the student will submit his or her dissertation prospectus and a qualifying paper to the committee. The committee will then generate a series of questions (two from a general area of study, two from a specific area of study) which will then comprise the written examination. The qualifying examination will consist of a written examination, followed by a two- to three- hour oral examination, in the student's major field. Both examinations will be held no later than the end of Winter Quarter in the third year. Upon successful completion of these examinations, the student will be advanced to candidacy.
A student who fails either the written or the oral examination may petition the committee and Ph.D. graduate advisor to repeat the examination. Any student who fails a second time will not be advanced to candidacy. In some cases, the committee and graduate program director may judge such student eligible to receive a terminal M.A. (see above).
Following successful completion of the qualifying examinations, the student will complete a doctoral dissertation in his or her field of emphasis. Upon selection of the dissertation topic, a colloquium will be held at which the student will present a prospectus that outlines the topic and program of research for discussion by the graduate group and for approval by his or her committee. After the committee has reviewed the finished dissertation, the student will defend his or her thesis orally. Students in the Art Practice concentration will submit a written dissertation that observes the same regulations and conventions, except that its length may be reduced by one quarter. In addition, the student will present the visual component, the nature of which will be decided by the student and his or her committee.
Normative Time from Matriculation to Degree
The student will normally advance to candidacy in two and one-half to three years and must be advanced to candidacy by the end of four years. He or she will normally complete the research for and writing of the dissertation by the end of his or her sixth year of study. Total university support may not exceed seven years, and total registered time at UCSD may not exceed eight years.