MA History of Art

Painters at Work: Material Reinventions of a Medium, 1945 to Now

Dr Pia Gottschaller

Helen Frankenthaler spreading paint, New York, 1964. Photo: Alexander Liberman © J. Paul Getty Trust. i Helen Frankenthaler spreading paint, New York, 1964. Photo: Alexander Liberman © J. Paul Getty Trust.

Process and experimentation lie at the heart of modern and contemporary painting practice. It has been underpinned by key innovations in paint technology since 1945, leading to an unprecedented explosion of new forms of expression. The materials and techniques of painters inevitably reflect the epoch in which they live, and painting, perhaps more than any other medium, has transformed itself in relation to pressures from developments in other media, including photography, performance, and other time-based art, as well as sociopolitical changes more generally. It is painting’s unique adaptability that is both the basis of its continuous renewal and the focus of this new, worldwide unique MA special option.

In Technical Art History, we view the artwork and its materiality as a starting point for research questions. You will be given the interdisciplinary tools for a holistic study of painting through immersion in individual artists’ œuvres, historical periods, theoretical discourses, as well as introductions to basic material properties and scientific examination methods. London with its world-famous galleries is the ideal European city for us to engage with both established and emerging artistic practices, and you will gain a practical understanding of the objecthood of paintings through hands-on seminars and visits.

In themed seminars we will discuss specific artists’ practices, beginning with the Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock, whose radical decisions to work directly on the floor, with household paint and often without a brush have had a powerful impact on painters ever since. We will also explore how the discrimination against artists because of their gender and/or race, for instance, transformed their own understanding of materiality, such as in the work of Yuko Nasaka, Howardena Pindell, Judit Reigl, and Jack Whitten. Other topics we will consider are “the brushstroke” as a contested site of identity, to what ends artists have manipulated the gravity of paint, and the reasons behind the proliferation of printing techniques and spray-painting since the 1960s.

This course is ideally suited to students with degrees in art history, curation, or museology. No prior scientific knowledge or practical experience is necessary.

Course Leader: Dr Pia Gottschaller

In the event that a course leader is on sabbatical, takes up a fellowship, or otherwise is not able to teach the course, they will be replaced by another experienced course leader either for a semester or, in some cases, the academic year.

Please note: whilst many Special Options will include site visits within the UK and further afield, these are subject to confirmation.

Option Full MA History of Art

Special Options 2024/25

You can either make a general application for the MA, or you may indicate your preferred Special Option(s). Many applicants choose to make a general application for the MA in History of Art at the Courtauld. If you do this we will match your application to a Special Option that matches your interests and has space. Alternatively you may indicate your preference for up to three Special Options, tailoring personal statements in relation to each Special Option.

Our Special Options change from year to year as we seek to refresh and expand our offer.

We aim to confirm these at least twelve months in advance, and will always contact applicants immediately in rare instances where changes have to be made. In 2024/5 we are especially pleased to include new or returning Special Options, including Art and Empire in the Indian Ocean World, c.1800–1900, Architectural Legacies of Empire at Home and Abroad, c.1620- c.1920, Violent Materials: Art and War in the Early Modern World, ca. 1500–1800, Court and Commerce: Arts of Islam and the Great Mongol State, 1206-1368 and The Surrealist Century: Mediums, Madness, Magic and the Manifesto of Surrealism (1924).