As a core subject at the National Art School, Art History & Theory (AHT) is studied by all Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) students throughout their degree, and as also offered as part of the postgraduate Master of Fine Art (MFA) degree.
First year AHT introduces students to a diverse range of visual traditions from the ancient world to the early 19th century. Lectures examine selected art forms from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Oceania, making links between artistic practices and the social, spiritual and political contexts of the periods and locations. In addition to the arts of painting, sculpture, printmaking, architecture and ceramics, the unit also considers works of material culture and craft, and modes of display in art museums.
Second year AHT examines Modernism as the imaginative response to the emerging industrial world. Beginning with Courbet’s decisive challenge to academic conventions, the course follows the transformation of art into an increasingly autonomous practice. The course also explores the sense of modernism as a critique of modern society, from the realist concern with contemporary subject matter to the surrealist exploration of the other side of reason. Classes focus on art movements and key artists, critically defining cultural paradigms and seminal art works.
Third year AHT focuses on Contemporary Art, with students introduced to a diverse set of ideas, debates and artistic tendencies that have animated international and Australian art over the past 50 years. Lectures explore themes such as authorship, the body, material culture, identity, locality and environment, along with the broader historical influences of globalisation, information and technology. Underpinning the course is the theoretical role of postmodern, poststructuralist and postcolonial philosophies in contemporary art’s development. The tutorial program provides students with a forum to discuss these themes and make connections between art and society in our time.
AHT’s fourth year core course, undertaken in the MFA program, deepens students’ awareness of key theoretical, philosophical, cultural and aesthetic discourses that underpin our engagement with contemporary art practice. Diverse themes explored include the trans-disciplinary nature of contemporary art, the influence of new technologies and digital production, and the changes in art’s critical and aesthetic function.
In addition to core subjects, AHT offers electives in aesthetics, architecture, Contemporary Australian Indigenous art, cinema, material culture, history of the body, relational practice, Surrealism, and the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras.
Head of Art History & Theory Dr Michael Hill has lectured at NAS for over 20 years. His current teaching addresses the natural and cultural ecology of Sydney. Michael’s research has ranged across Australian sculpture, Italian Baroque, architectural theory, and art historiography. He is presently editing a book on death, disease and mystic eroticism in the early modern era.
The NAS Art History and Theory faculty hold PhDs and are active and accomplished scholars in their fields. The faculty hosts an academic symposium at NAS every two years, gathering scholars, artists, curators and collectors for lectures and discussions around a chosen theme. In addition, AHT lecturers engage with contemporary practice and curation, and incorporate the exhibition of art into the teaching of its history.
The AHT faculty is dedicated to engaging students with lively and enriching classes, instilling the in-depth theoretical and historical knowledge and conceptual understanding essential for a career as a professional visual artist.