Art History and Visual Culture

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Art History and Visual Culture

Art History & Visual Culture courses introduce students to a diverse range of visual images and objects. However, the primary objective of Art History & Visual Culture is to expose students to the theories and research methods of art history. Students will be expected to participate in a variety of exercises designed to help cultivate these research skills. More importantly, the course pays special attention to improving students reading and writing skills through written essays which the Art History & Visual Culture section has adopted as its principle student assessment method.

Although the focus of the course is history of art, both Western and African, a number of art historical discourses emerging from the Global South and African Diaspora are looked at. The course is also structured in terms of themes, conceptual areas and cultural practices rather than in terms of a traditional historical approach in which students study the history of art as a sequence of periods and styles. In placing the emphasis on thematic modules, the intention is to equip students with critical and conceptual skills that would enable them to research selected areas of art history and visual culture independently.

Art History & Visual Culture courses are offered by the Department of Fine Art to students studying Fine Art Practice as well as those who are not. For those studying Fine Art Practice as a major, Art History & Visual Culture is necessarily the second major in the degree (see Programmes). Students not studying Fine Art Practice may take Art History & Visual Culture as a credit for a year or two, and have the option of taking the course as a major.

There are numerous career opportunities for graduates of Art History & Visual Culture. Art History & Visual Culture also combines well with other subjects offered in the Humanities Faculty. An understanding of the relationship between representation and society can be inestimably useful for students of disciplines such as Journalism, Philosophy, History, Political Studies, Sociology, Psychology, Drama, English Language and Linguistics, English and other languages. Fine Art Practice students, meanwhile, will find in the Art History & Visual Culture courses various concepts, themes, contentions, arguments, discourses and sites for intervention, which they might want to explore at a personal level in their practical work.

Art History & Visual Culture 1

Art History & Visual Culture 1 is diverse, offering lectures on film, clothing, advertising and performance, as well as on museum practices, heritage sites and the politics of display. Through different modules, the course introduced students to visual literacy, different modernisms, contemporary art practices, critical and postcolonial theories – all pertinent to both international and local contexts. Students are thus encouraged to engage with a variety of forms of visual culture and to question the way in which such forms are treated in visual images, written texts, exhibition and certain sites. The course is aimed to develop the ability of students to look beyond the literal façade of visual culture and to interpret it in the light of a critical awareness of the fact that our everyday ‘reality’ is, in fact, shaped by numerous socio-cultural influences and ideological constructs.

Art History & Visual Culture 2

The Art History & Visual Culture 2 course offers a sustained engagement with authorial identity in artistic practice. It examines the various strategies deployed by art practitioners to ‘speak’ through visual language. Various visual languages are looked at, such as performance and video art, collaborative projects, feminist practices and black aesthetics. The course will explore the ways in which speech is complicated by time, space, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Particularly how each of these traits can determine who gets to speak, who is visible, how they are visible, what we see and how we see. Students will be encouraged to consider ‘what difference does it make ‘who’ is speaking?’ and whether it matters or not.

The Art History & Visual Culture 2 course seeks to extend the groundwork done in first year by investigating art in its historical, thematic and critical context. An important focus in the course is on how changes in art help us to think about changes in society and culture, since art represents and helps to constitute socio-cultural trends and currents.

Art History & Visual Culture 3

Art History & Visual Culture 3 is structured around the themes of art, society, representation and power as well as theories and methods in visual art history. Modern and contemporary art, politics and performance of Identity are also studied in the context of global south. Other themes are aesthetics, gender, race, class, femininity and masculinity, which offer diverse perspectives and approaches to equally diverse materials and contexts. The course aims to involve students in the question of how art intersects with society in the process of producing and representing meaning. Thus through its decolonial approach, it also seeks to emphasise the often overlooked connection between art and power in particular the ways in which art is framed and situated, more so when it is politicised to the point of advocating certain social ideals, becomes a vehicle for social control or propaganda.

Art History & Visual Culture 4

In South African education, there has been an agreed-upon canon from which the history of art discipline was taught. This Eurocentric canon was regarded as inclusive of everything about the history of arts, artists, art movements, etc. In recent years, this Eurocentric approach came under scrutiny for discounting other forms of knowledge production that exist beyond this canon. The course interrogates the Western canon while putting it in conversation with decolonial approaches to knowledge production and knowledge dissemination. The course is divided into two areas; course work in the first semester and research section in the second semester. The course work section comprises of weekly seminars that provide academic proposal writing aids, examine research methods and methodologies and introduce theoretical frameworks towards academic research and writing. The course utilises continuous student focussed assessment instead of sat exams, in which students are required to research, critically reflect and develop independent portfolios to show their individual research capacity and learning progress. The AHV4 and Honours Program at Rhodes University Department of Fine Arts is designed to prepare students for their exit into post-graduate studies or the varied fields associated with the course.

Undergraduate assessment

Assessment in all Art History & Visual Culture undergraduate courses is by continuous assessment rather than sat exams.

Postgraduate degrees

The Department of Fine Art offers Honours, Masters and PhD degrees in Art History & Visual Culture. We actively encourage postgraduate study by all students who meet the required criteria for admission to the higher degrees.


The Honours program assessment consists of three seminal papers (two papers in the first semester and one in the second semester), Oral Presentations, SIP and a Long Essay.

Masters and PhD

The Art History Masters and PhD degrees are by thesis.

Teaching Venues

Art History & Visual Culture lectures are conducted either in the main lecture theatre in the Fine Art Sculpture/Painting Building, or in the seminar room in the main Art School building. Tutorials are normally conducted in the seminar room in the Main Art School Building.


Art History & Visual Culture courses are presented chiefly by Stephen Fọlárànmí, Mbali khoza, Songezile Churchill Madikida and Thembinkosi Goniwe



Last Modified: Sun, 07 Mar 2021 18:31:22 SAST