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Aesthetics and Art Theory MA

Mode Duration Attendance Start date
Full time 1 year Two modules per week September 2016
Part time 2 years One module per week September 2016

Choose Kingston's Aesthetics and Art Theory MA

This MA is widely recognised as one of the most significant and innovative courses in its field. Unlike most courses on art theory, this programme grounds its problems and concepts in the appropriate philosophical context. It will prepare you for a wide range of careers in the arts, education and public policy – it is particularly highly regarded in the arts. It also provides an ideal preparation for doctoral research across the humanities and social sciences.

Key features

  • You will benefit from high levels of staff-student contact, including individual tutorials, from versatile and internationally recognised teaching staff with a range of interests, projects and publications.
  • You will be part of a large, supportive community, studying with committed and engaged peers.
  • The course is based at the UK's leading Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University, which organises conferences, workshops and regular research seminars.

What will you study?

This programme combines a grounding in philosophical aesthetics in the modern European tradition with study of contemporary art theory and the philosophy of art history. Canonical authors studied include Adorno, Derrida, de Duve, Duchamp, Greenberg, Heidegger, Kant and Merleau-Ponty. You will engage with some of the most influential texts in modern and contemporary art theory - from Kant and Schiller via Greenberg and Adorno to Rancière and Deleuze - framed in terms of fundamental conceptual problems inherited from the German Idealists. You will also gain a clear overview of philosophical approaches to modern art, distinguishing between ‘aesthetic', ‘Romantic' and ‘Modernist' problematics. You may also choose from a range of option modules from the Modern European Philosophy and Philosophy & Contemporary Critical Theory MA courses.


Coursework (including short exercises), essays and a 15,000-word dissertation.

Research areas

This course is taught by internationally recognised specialists at the dynamic Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy.

Since its inception in 1994, the CRMEP has developed a national and international reputation for teaching and research in the field of post-Kantian European philosophy, characterised by a strong emphasis on broad cultural and intellectual contexts and a distinctive sense of social and political engagement. In each of the last two research assessment exercises, RAE 2008 and REF2014, 65% of the research activities of the CRMEP were judged 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent', with 25% of its ouputs for REF2014 judged 'word-leading'.

Find out more...

Course structure

Please note that this is an indicative list of modules and is not intended as a definitive list.

Core modules

  • This module provides an introduction to the tradition of philosophical aesthetics through a detailed study of its founding text, Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgement.

  • This module provides students with an opportunity for intensive and detailed research-based study of their chosen topic under the guidance of an appropriate MA dissertation supervisor.


Optional modules

  • Based on a study of artists’ texts, art criticism, art history and philosophical writings on art, this module comprises a critical examination of the legacy and possibilities of modernist and avant-garde criticism in contemporary art theory. As well as introducing students to some of the major texts and ideas in these traditions of art theory and art criticism, the modules aims to enable students to reflect critically on works of contemporary art in the light of their study.

  • This module involves the guided study of major works of contemporary European philosophy, with a focus on themes of time and temporality, broadly understood. The texts will be drawn from the last couple of decades. The module will analyse texts that explore the tension between historical and political time and experiential temporality. The module will focus on concepts such as epochality, the event, historical time, kairos, messianism, memory, anticipation, and revolution. Authors studied may include thinkers like Agamben, Badiou, Cixous, Derrida, Habermas, Negri, Stiegler and Sloterdijk. The module will study texts in the original language (French, German and Italian) and in English translations where available (and French translations for the German and Italian texts). An adequate reading knowledge of French will be a requirement for registration on the course.

  • A historical and philosophical introduction to the two main 20th-century traditions of Critical Theory: the Frankfurt School and French anti-humanism. After several works devoted to Kant's conception of freedom and practical philosophy, the module focuses on competing conceptions of critique, practice and empowerment, in, for example, Marx, Lukács, Adorno and Horkheimer, Althusser, Foucault, and one or two more recent thinkers (e.g. Badiou or Rancière).

  • This module involves guided study of two or three major works of twentieth-century German critical theory or philosophy, focusing each year on the work of two or more related thinkers, such as Benjamin, Adorno, Horkheimer, Habermas, Sloterdijk. Indicative topics include: critique of enlightenment, philosophy of history, the non-identical, dialectics, materialism, reification, freedom, communicative reason and the philosophical response to the Shoah.

  • Through our reading of the Phenomenology of Spirit, we will focus on the issue of understanding, more specifically of philosophical understanding. In the Preface, Hegel states that “philosophical writings” “have to be read over and over before they can be understood” (§63). Which specific mental, cognitive and affective operations does such a rereading imply? According to Hegel, our understanding (Verstand) is not, as a faculty, able to give us access to the “concept” (Begriff). What is it that our understanding does not understand? Through despair, doubt, skepticism and pain produced by the resistance of the philosophical statement, something appears — spirit. “Spirit that appears”, such is the meaning of the title Phenomenology of Spirit, such is also the name of the proper philosophical understanding: revelation.

  • This module provides students with a grounding in Kant's philosophy, through detailed study of the Critique of Pure Reason and its competing interpretations. The module presents Kant's critical project as an historical and conceptual basis for the understanding of subsequent European philosophy as a whole.

  • This module offers students an opportunity to study major works by Nietzsche and Heidegger. In particular it considers the relationship between Nietzsche's critique of metaphysics as the manifestation of an ascetic 'will to truth' and Heidegger's project of 'dismantling' and 'overcoming' metaphysics in light of a renewal of the question of being.

  • Each year this module focusses on a study of a different selection of Freud's major and minor works, mining them for their philosophical significance and reflecting on the implications of psychoanalysis for philosophy, particularly in relation to the philosophical notion of the subject. Where appropriate the module will discuss the critical development of this theoretical framework by psychoanalysts such as Jacques Lacan and Jean Laplanche, its reception and deployment in the tradition of Freudo-Marxist critical theory, and the theoretical transformation and political critique of Freudian theory in feminist and queer theory.

  • This module focuses on the question ‘what is involved in a philosophical thinking of the history of art?’ This question devolves into two main parts. The first concerns the temporality proper to art’s history; the second concerns the way in which the individual work of art presents history and the operation of time. The module will concentrate on three figures central to a philosophical thinking of the work of art: Walter Benjamin, Alois Riegel and Aby Warburg. To conclude, we will examine, in detail, three works of contemporary art, traversing painting, sculpture and photography.

  • This module involves guided study of two or three major works of twentieth-century French philosophy, focusing each year on the work of two related thinkers. Possible topics include: Sartre or de Beauvoir's existentialism, Levinasian ethics, Merleau-Ponty's theory of embodied perception, Foucault's theory of power, Derrida's practice of deconstruction, Deleuze's conception of difference, Badiou's concepts of the subject and truth.

  • Each year this module involves guided study of major works from the tradition of Modern European Philosophy, focussing either on a single text or on a range of texts in relation to a theme. The module offers students the opportunity to undertake intensive study under the guidance of a Professor – Étienne Balibar – who is himself a major thinker in the Modern European Tradition. Past topics have included Althusser, the dispute over humanism and the idea of a philosophical anthropology and the reception of Das Kapital in the Western Marxist Tradition. For 2014–15 the module will focus on a study of Spinoza’s Ethics, providing a general introduction to the structure and key ideas of the text, and proposing commentaries for 10 strategic propositions (or groups of propositions) chosen across the five ‘parts’ of the work.


You will have the opportunity to study a foreign language, free of charge, during your time at the University as part of the Kingston Language Scheme. Options currently include: Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

For further information

Postgraduate admissions administrator
Tel: +44 (0)20 8417 2361
Email us


This course is taught at Penrhyn Road and Knights Park

View Penrhyn Road and Knights Park on our Google Maps

For further information

Postgraduate admissions administrator
Tel: +44 (0)20 8417 2361
Email us


This course is taught at Penrhyn Road and Knights Park

View Penrhyn Road and Knights Park on our Google Maps
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