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MA Art History part 1

The purpose of this module is to build on your existing knowledge of art history and develop your analytical and research skills. It explores both the foundational concepts that have shaped art history and recent developments in the discipline, with reference to subject areas ranging from Renaissance Italy to the contemporary Caribbean. Studying it will prepare you for the dissertation module MA Art History part 2 where you will have the opportunity to plan, research and write an extended piece of work based on your own art-historical interests.

Vocational relevance

This module will be of particular relevance if you wish to pursue a career in art history, academic institutions, museums, galleries, heritage and the wider arts sector.


A843 is a compulsory module in our:

A843 is an optional module in our:


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
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Module cost
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Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

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What you will study

This module is divided into four blocks, each of which provides a theoretical and methodological introduction to a key area of investigation and debate within art history. They also include two case studies exploring related themes and issues, the first with reference to an early modern topic and the second with reference to a modern or contemporary topic. In each block you're required to engage with a range of art works, textual sources and modern scholarship in order to develop your analytical and critical skills. You'll also be required to use online and other resources to identify and locate additional study materials in order to prepare you to undertake independent research on a topic devised by yourself (in consultation with your tutor) in the dissertation module.

Block 1. Artists and Authorship
Individual artists have been the traditional focus of art history, but just how to evaluate the figure of the artist is now one of the most contested issues in the field. You'll explore past and current approaches to the artist in terms of authorship, identity, and subjectivity, considering issues such as the relationship between the artist's life and work, the enduring notion of 'genius', and the artist as a source of meaning. You'll examine artistic biography and its evolution from the early modern era to the present, reviewing Marxist, structuralist, and feminist approaches. The two case studies explore the life of Raphael through sixteenth-century sources and issues of artistic copyright and intellectual property in the modern period.

Block 2. Style and History
This block explores the different ways in which art historians have grouped and ordered works of art in order to construct historical narratives of artistic development. You'll examine the key role played by the concept of the period style in the formation of art history as a scholarly discipline and considers the critique of style-based approaches in more recent times. You'll also address formalist and contextual approaches to the history of art. The two case studies explore the type of stylistic analysis known as connoisseurship, with reference to Byzantine art, and how concepts of style and form have been used to construct histories of modern art.

Block 3. Interpretation and Reception 
This block explores the relationship between the art object and its viewers and interpreters. You'll consider the art historian’s attempt to find meaning in the artwork through methods developed since the early twentieth century for purposes of interpretation (from iconography to the ‘pictorial turn’). You'll also explore issues of spectatorship and reception more generally, with reference to the concept of the gaze and the display of art. The two cases studies focus on the experience of architectural space in eighteenth-century England and the viewing of contemporary art, especially installation art and the idea of ‘the everyday’.

Block 4. Institutions and Geographies
This block follows the pattern of previous ones in this module by considering a coupling of terms: Institutions and Geographies. It explores institutional practices, whether in museums of art and ethnography, or in a broader sense in the interactions between people and material things, as well as the geographical dimension of such interactions on a more global scale. The two case studies address the role and the changing status of institutions through a focus on the collecting of objects and the emergence of The Studiolo in 15th-century Italy, and the circulation of artists and artworks in the Atlantic, linking Britain with the modern and contemporary English-speaking Caribbean.

Normally you’ll need to have completed this module in order to progress to MA Art History part 2 (A844).

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. The module will be taught by means of online forums.  

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Course work includes

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.

Future availability

MA Art History part 1 starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2021.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Entry requirements

    To take this module, you must declare the MA in Art History (F33) (or another qualification towards which this module can count) as your qualification intention. You should have an undergraduate honours degree, and although a degree in art history is not a compulsory requirement, you stand a far greater chance of success if your existing qualifications are in art history or a closely related subject.

    MA Art History part 1 assumes that as a candidate for a masters degree you will already have the knowledge and skills usually acquired by pursuing the subject at undergraduate level. In addition, you should be aware that a good degree (at least a 2.1 or equivalent) will greatly increase your chances of successfully completing the MA. Please see the MA in Art History website for more advice on entry requirements.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

    Preparatory work

    If you have no recent experience of studying art history at university level, you are advised to familiarize yourself with the current themes and issues in the discipline by reading up on the subject in advance. You will find suggestions for preparatory reading on the MA in Art History website. In addition, you are advised to try to locate any research libraries, museums and galleries in your area.


    Start End England fee Register
    05 Oct 2019 Jun 2020 £2100.00

    Registration closes 19/09/19 (places subject to availability)

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2021.

    Future availability

    MA Art History part 1 starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2021.

    Additional costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    Study materials

    What's included

    All the necessary teaching is included in the study material, which is delivered online. Links to appropriate online journals and research databases are also provided.

    You will need

    You will need access to a research library, whether a university library or very good public library.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    Materials to buy

    Set books

    • Hatt, M. and Klonk, C. Art History: A Critical Introduction to its Methods Manchester University Press £15.99 - ISBN 9780719069598

    If you have a disability

    One of the learning outcomes for this module is for you to develop the ability to exercise powers of visual discrimination by direct engagement with works of art. If you are blind or severely partially sighted, you will experience difficulty in achieving this learning outcome. However, if you have a background in art history gained whilst usefully sighted you will be able to draw upon this experience.

    Reproductions of works of art will be available in electronic format. You will be able to magnify these reproductions within the limits of standard computer applications, but no textual descriptions or alternative formats of reproductions will be available and the use of a sighted assistant to interpret the works of art would conflict with the required learning outcome. If you are blind or partially sighted you are encouraged to contact us for advice before registering for this module.

    You will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer and the internet. Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.