Art History & Theory


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.


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Core study

This outline for Art History & Theory in the first year BFA course gives an insight into the foundations of the program.

The Art History & Theory program introduces first year BFA students to a diverse range of visual traditions from ancient times to the early 19th century, exploring art from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Oceania. The tutorial program enables students to discuss and apply the ideas raised in the lectures and set texts, while providing training in the skills and methodologies of art history. Weekly readings are chosen to demonstrate the variety of writing on art, changes in the discipline of art history, and to help students build specific vocabulary and skills of critical reading and interpretation.


The course teaches students to understand, discuss and critique important visual traditions, specific artworks and major historical events connected to the visual arts. Students will be able to analyse how a work of art communicates with its audience through visual or spatial means and interpret an artist’s formal choices in relation to their historical or social context. The course will build students’ visual literacy alongside their critical faculties and enable them to confidently and comprehensively analyse a diverse body of artworks.


First year literacy is focused on written and oral analysis of the visual and material properties of artworks in relation to their historical context. The assessment program will enable students to develop their literacy skills through a series of scaffolded exercises and tasks focused on key modes of expression for those working in the visual arts. Students are also introduced to academic research and writing techniques, and in addition, will develop reading and comprehension skills in a scholarly context.

Short Courses

In addition to full degree study, NAS offers an extensive range of Short Courses suited to all ages and experience levels. The courses are taught by practicing artists and are run on campus and online throughout the year, covering every artistic discipline from ceramics to sculpture to photomedia. NAS also offers an extensive school holiday program for all primary and high school students. Visit the Short Course pages for more information about what’s coming up.


  • Dr Michael Hill

    Head of Art History & Theory

  • Dr Georgina Cole

    Art History & Theory Lecturer

  • Dr Jaime Tsai

    Art History & Theory Lecturer

  • Dr Shane Haseman

    Art History & Theory Lecturer

  • Dr Molly Duggins

    Art History and Theory Lecturer (Sessional)

  • Dr Jessica Priebe

    Art History and Theory Lecturer (Sessional)

  • Dr Priya Vaughan

    Art History & Theory Lecturer (Sessional)

  • Shuxia Chen

    Art History and Theory Lecturer (Sessional)

Dr Michael Hill

Head of Art History & Theory

Michael is Head of Art History at the National Art School, where he has lectured for over twenty years. His research has roamed over diverse areas, including classical architectural theory, the Italian Baroque, modernist art criticism, and Australian sculpture. Michael is also the national artistic advisor to Sculpture by the Sea.

Dr Georgina Cole

Art History & Theory Lecturer

Georgina studied art history at the University of Sydney, receiving the University Medal in her Honours year. She completed her PhD in 2010 with a thesis on doors and architectural space in eighteenth-century genre painting. Since 2006, she has taught art history and theory at the University of Sydney, and in 2011 joined the National Art School’s Art History Theory program.
Georgina was a Visiting Scholar at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Ct, from October to December 2011, and regularly contributes lectures to the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales. Her recent publications include: ‘Rethinking vision in eighteenth-century paintings of the blind’, Art Theory as Visual Epistemology, ed. Harald Klinke (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), Fugitive forms and grand designs: 16th to 19th century drawings from the collection of Justice Roddy Meagher (Sydney: University Art Gallery, 2014) and “Looking back at Zoffany”, Art History 35, no 4 (2012).
She recently curated an exhibition of early modern drawings, Fugitive forms and grand designs: 16th to 19th century drawings from the collection of Justice Roddy Meagher at the University Art Gallery, University of Sydney and has worked as a researcher in photography at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Dr Jaime Tsai

Art History & Theory Lecturer

Jaime is an art historian and independent curator based in Sydney, and a lecturer in modern and contemporary art in the department of Art History and Theory and the National Art School. Her doctoral thesis completed at the University of Sydney (2012) was entitled ‘Impossible Topographies: the Spatial Art of Marcel Duchamp.’ She has a special interest in surrealist legacies and the nexus between the art/architectural object and 20th century philosophies of space. Her current research project is on the subterranean aesthetics of Marcel Duchamp and Georges Bataille.

Dr Shane Haseman

Art History & Theory Lecturer

Shane Haseman is an artist, writer, academic and occasional curator. He has exhibited extensively over a fifteen-year period both nationally and internationally. Selected exhibitions include: 2015 Performa Biennial, New York; 2006 Adelaide Biennial, Art Gallery of South Australia; ‘New 11’, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, Artspace, Sydney; ‘Post-Contemporary Painting’, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane. Shane received his PhD from the University of Sydney, Department of Art History and Theory, with a thesis on the theory and practice of the Situationist International. He has written articles for Australian art journals and institutions, including the MCA and Artspace. Shane is co-director of KNULP Gallery and lecturer in the Department of Art History and Theory at the National Art School.

Dr Molly Duggins

Art History and Theory Lecturer (Sessional)

Dr. Molly Duggins’ interests lie in the visual and material culture of the British Empire.  Current publishing projects include edited volumes on nineteenth-century marine material culture and the Australian object in art history, as well as a monograph on albums and the colonial world.  Research for these projects has been supported through fellowships at the State Library of New South Wales, the Yale Center for British Art (CT, USA), the Strong Museum of Play (NY, USA), and the Winterthur Museum and Library (DE, USA).


Dr Jessica Priebe

Art History and Theory Lecturer (Sessional)

Jessica Priebe is an historian of eighteenth-century European visual and material culture, specialising in artists’ collections. She was recently awarded a Junior Research Fellowship in Enlightenment Studies with the Sydney Intellectual History Network at the University of Sydney. She has published essays on eighteenth-century French art and collecting, most recently in the Journal of the History of Collections. Her book “François Boucher and the Luxury of Art in Paris, 1703-1770: Artist, Collector, and Connoisseur” is forthcoming with Routledge. Prior to receiving her doctorate from the University of Sydney in 2011, she worked as a political adviser and junior speechwriter for Ministers in the NSW and Federal parliament, including the office of the former Deputy Prime Minister

Dr Priya Vaughan

Art History & Theory Lecturer (Sessional)

Dr Priya Vaughan uses visual art and material culture as a frame through which to explore Australian cultures, experiences, ideologies, identities and histories. Her current research focuses on art and mental health.

Shuxia Chen

Art History and Theory Lecturer (Sessional)

Shuxia holds a PhD from the Australian National University, an MA in Art History from the University of Sydney, and an MA in Studio Art (Honours) from Sydney College of the Arts.

Shuxia has worked as a guest lecturer in the University of Sydney’s Master of Arts course – Curating Asian Art and tutored in the Australian National University’s Arts in Contemporary Taiwan Course. Since 2007, Shuxia has also worked as a researcher on Chinese Art and Chinese studies, as a curator for Chinese Art, and an art administrator and communications and event officer for cultural and academic events. Shuxia has curated exhibitions in both China and Sydney and joined the Chau Chak Wing Museum as its inaugural curator for the China Gallery in 2019.

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