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Ph.D. Art History Program (VA76)

The Department of Visual Arts offers a PhD in art history, theory, and criticism with specializations in cultural areas in which faculty do research (VA76). Offering a distinct alternative to other PhD programs in art history, our program centers on a unique curriculum that treats the study of art past and present—including fine art, media and new media, design and popular 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 PhD and MFA 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 PhD in art history, theory, and criticism.

To Apply:

Application Opens: September 6th, 2023 for the Fall 2024 application cycle

Application Deadline: December 6th, 2023 for the Fall 2024 application cycle

Interdisciplinary Specializations

Students within the PhD program who are interested in the opportunity to undertake specialized research may apply to participate in an interdisciplinary specialization. Students accepted into a specialization program would be expected to complete coursework in addition to those required for their PhD program. The department offers interdisciplinary specializations with the following campus programs.

Application Requirements

All applicants must satisfy the following to be considered for admissions to our department:


Completion of a four-year Bachelors degree or equivalent: 

  • 3.0 GPA minimum or 'B' average
  • Submission of unofficial transcripts required 

English Language Proficiency:

  • Demonstrated English language proficiency is required of all international applicants whose native language is not English. Non-native English language speakers may either display proficiency by meeting the minimum speaking scores listed below or can be exempt from the test scores requirement if they received a degree from an institution which provides instruction solely in English. Please refer to the following link for more information regarding the degree from an institution exemption: English Language Proficiency.
  • The minimum speaking score on each exam:
    • TOEFL iBT speaking scores of 26-30
    • IELTS speaking scores of 8-9
    • PTE speaking scores of 84-90

Letters of Recommendation:

  • Minimum of 3 recommendations required
  • Letters of recommendation should come from individuals, preferably previous professors, who can best explain why you are prepared and would be successful in rigorous academic studies at the graduate level.

Statement of Purpose:

  • 750-1000 word limit, not to exceed 3 pages
  • Focus your Statement of Purpose on the reasons you are interested in attending this graduate program. You can include the research you hope to pursue within our program and give the Admissions Committee a sense of who you are and what you hope to accomplish. The statement should be well organized, concise, and completely free of grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.



  • Writing Sample
  • 2000 word Research Statement

Portfolio Requirements

Writing Sample (4000-8000 words):

Examples include: senior honors thesis, MA thesis, or other research or critical paper, preferably in
art or media history.

Research Statement (2000 words maximum):

The Research Statement should explain the research that you wish to pursue within our program. There may be some overlap between the Research Statement and Statement of Purpose however these should be viewed as two distinct prompts that will give the Admissions Committee a greater sense of who you are and what you would accomplish at UC San Diego.

File Names for Portfolio Items:

Please name your files, with your Last Name, First Initial underscore and the document type. So if my name was Terry Triton, I would have the following File Names:

TritonT_Artist Statement
TritonT_Project title 1
TritonT_Project title 2

Graduate Student Research

Check out our annual Research Colloquium. PhD students who have recently advanced to candidacy present their research to the local community. Please explore the recent work completed within the department, in addition to the Faculty and Graduate Student personal pages. 

2023 Research Colloquium

2022 Research Colloquium

2021 Research Colloquium

2020 Research Colloquium