MA Art History part 1

This module will build on your existing knowledge of art history and develop your analytical and research skills. It explores 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
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

What you will study

This module is divided into four blocks, each providing 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 artworks, 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 to prepare you to undertake independent research on a topic you'll devise (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.

Course work includes

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Future availability

MA Art History part 1 starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2025.


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

You must hold a UK honours degree (or equivalent), preferably with at least a 2:1 classification. Although your degree does not need to be in Art History or a closely related subject, you will need some knowledge of the subject and an understanding of relevant critical approaches, as this module assumes all candidates have the knowledge and skills usually acquired by pursuing the subject at undergraduate level.

If your degree or background is not in history or a closely related subject, you are strongly recommended to undertake the preparatory work indicated below prior to studying this module. If you’re in any doubt about the suitability of your qualifications or previous experience, please contact us before you enrol.

Preparatory work

If your degree or background is not in art history or a related subject, you could study one of our undergraduate art history modules first, Exploring art history and culture (A226) or Art and its global histories (A344), which provide an introduction to critical debates in art history. Alternatively, we strongly recommend that you familiarise yourself with the current themes and issues in the discipline by reading up on the subject in advance. You'll find suggestions for preparatory reading on the MA in Art History website.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £2480.00

Registration closes 12/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2025.

Future availability

MA Art History part 1 starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2025.

Additional costs

Study costs

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

Ways to pay for this module

We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

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 a very good public library.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Hatt, M. & 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 can 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 should 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.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.

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