Our guide to art theory classes


Taking up art doesn't necessarily mean brandishing a paintbrush and pencil and letting rip on a blank canvas. If you'd prefer to study and research the critical and historical element of the art world, rather than take a hands-on approach, then why not look at enrolling on an art theory course? You might be fascinated by the use of colour and stroke by a particular artist or have a burning desire to study the themes and theories behind a body of contemporary work. Why, for instance, is Damien Hirst's shark suspended in formaldehyde considered a great work of art, whereas a dead fish washed up on the shore, not? An art theory course is unavoidably challenging and inspiring and will get you questioning and analysing like never before!


Short courses

Art theory courses are all about reading, writing, researching and challenging pre-conceived ideas and notions. If this sounds like the perfect past-time for you or you simply want to immerse yourself in the stimulating world of art and discussion, then an art theory course might be the perfect place to ignite (or reignite) your passion for learning. You could start with a short course looking at critical theory in contemporary art practice (even the title will impress your friends!) where you will study political, social and cultural influences on the art world. Discover other short courses entitled 'The Artist as Theorist' or 'Art and Design Theory' where you will get the opportunity to partake in lively class discussion and slide lectures as well as visits to exhibitions and permanent collections. There are no entry requirements for such introductory classes, although an enquiring mind and thirst for knowledge will definitely help.


Or career courses?

If you are interested in working in the art world or in any field where visual, written and analytical skills are essential, then a postgraduate course might be the next step on your chosen career path. You will already possess an honours degree (or an equivalent academic qualification) while some courses might ask you to submit a portfolio and study proposal outlining your interest in the subject. These are intensive, full time, one year courses that may be combined with another subject, such as art history or philosophy, and provide a brilliant stepping stone towards further research and a career as an academic.

Gaining a place on such an art theory course can prove highly competitive and the work load can involve long hours of study, intensive research and a 20,000-word dissertation at the end of it. But if art theory, criticism and history are your passion, these courses will definitely offer a brilliant, thought-provoking and challenging chapter in your educational ladder.


Working in the art world

An art theory course might lead you into a range of academic and research posts but an art gallery curator or an art critic might be other options to consider:

Art gallery curators manage collections of objects and paintings which are of national, local or global artistic and historic interest. Work could include researching, identifying and cataloguing art, storing artwork in the correct conditions, organising displays and exhibitions, answering visitors' questions and giving talks to groups or school parties. As well as front-of-house duties and the practical aspect of displaying and storing art, curators might also need to find ways of attracting visitors to the gallery, secure funding and negotiate the loan of paintings and other objects. Supervising staff and overseeing security and insurance are other job requirements in some cases. A curator in a larger gallery or museum might be responsible for a specific area of how the place runs, while a small gallery would offer a broader, all-encompassing experience.

If you are in awe of the modern day art critic and their powers of persuasion, then perhaps you could be the next Brian Sewell or Andrew Graham-Dixon? Art critics specialise in evaluating art and their written reviews are published in newspapers, magazines, books and the internet while their verbal opinions are expressed via television or radio either on specialist programmes or during an art slot on a general news broadcast. Art critics are no modern day phenomenon either, and a critic such as John Ruskin was a leading voice in the Victorian era. All professional art critics have a keen eye for art and an extensive and thorough knowledge of art history, to ensure their opinions are as informed as possible. These are powerful positions to hold in the art world and one critic's opinion or critique can quickly stir up public debate and persuade viewpoint right across the world.


By Lara Sargent

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