Courses

The Art and Museum Studies core course and electives are designed to stimulate discussion and to provide first-hand experience in museum specializations. Students may emphasize academic study of art and museums or an area of professional museum work such as education or curatorship, but all members of the program will have some experience in both kinds of study. Most courses meet frequently at area museums. The sample courses listed here are for general information only; seminar topics vary from year to year.

Courses Offered

Museum Studies Practicum Courses

Museum Studies Foundations is the core course for the MA Program in Art and Museum Studies. The course will provide an overview of museum theory and practice by examining the history of museums and their collections, their functions and professional standards, and current debates about museum ethics, the role and authority of museums, audience, mission, and management. Our focus will be on art museums, but selected topics in historic and ethnographic museums will also be considered. This is a required course and taken in the Fall.

Schedule determined by student and museum supervisor; 15–20 hours/wk. Museum internships provide concentrated practical experience within selected museum departments as well as an overview of the operations of a museum. Some of our internships include a staff-directed seminar; most involve a linked research project as well as an internship journal. Expectations and placement will be discussed during the orientation session. This is a required course and taken in the Fall.

Students will be active participants in learning about museum education theories and practice.  This course situates the functions of museum education and interpretation within the broader context of a changing paradigm in museums.  During site visits to area art museums, educators will discuss aspects of interpretation, programming, and research that are unique to their museum.  Class discussion will include such topics as how visitors learn in an art museum, new approaches to interpretation, education programming for varied audiences, building audiences and community, and the relationship of mission to education and interpretation. This course is offered every Fall.

The course focuses on general museum concepts and procedures as they relate to collections (objects and their documentation) and their management (e.g., preparation, preventive maintenance & conservation, housing, problem solving) as a whole.  The course objectives are to introduce the participants to basic care and preservation of collections as well as a basic understanding of the history and current status of the governance of cultural materials.  

By the end of the course, participants should understand the definition and role of collections within a museum context; understand the philosophy of cultural preservation and the meaning of cultural patrimony; understand the importance of collection ethics and the role of collections within museum accountability and accreditation programs; be familiar with museum policy development and the relationship between a collecting plan, a collections management policy, and a collections management plan; understand the importance of a collections management policy, its development, content, and application; and how such a policy governs the daily activities within a museum’s collections. This course is offered every Fall.

Curators are at the heart of the art world yet their role is a notoriously fluid one. This course will encourage participants to think critically about the discipline as it exists today, and will provide an extensive inquiry into curatorial practice. The class will address such issues as working with living artists, curating permanent collections, the place of biennials and art fairs, and strategies for engaging the public. Through readings and site visits to art museums around the city, students will have the opportunity to learn directly from practitioners in the field and gain an understanding of the ideas and practical concerns that shape how art is presented. Class projects will involve in-depth analyses of current exhibitions well as developing proposals for museum projects. This course is offered every Fall.

Offered each spring.

Offered spring 2022.

Offered in rotation every three years.

Offered in rotation every three years.

Art History Seminars

The course provides an in-depth analysis of Latin America through the art of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, Maria Izquierdo, Xul Solar, Antonio Berni, Wilfredo Lam, and Fernando Botero among others. By analyzing a wide variety of artistic production that includes painting, sculpture, performance, prints, manifestos, music, film and ephemera, the course considers the diversity of Latin America cultural and artistic production, emphasizing artists’ relationship to religion, tradition, race, gender, and politics. While considering Latin America’s enduring legacies and dynamic processes of change, it addresses several important art movements, such as modernism, surrealism, indigenism, social realism, muralism, and magical realism. Moreover, the course introduces students to the major artistic theoretical issues with an eye on the regional and global changes that defined, challenged, or helped shape Latin American art and culture. This course is offered most Fall semesters.


The seminar is an introduction to the art of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and some of the vast range of interpretations it has attracted. One of the many appeals of Dürer for modern observers is the depth of his engagement with a wide array of historical and intellectual spheres. We will, for example, consider his images with regard to religion (new devotional currents, the fledgling Reformation, iconoclasm); local culture (German identity, gender relations, witchcraft, humanism); international travel and ‘publicity’ (mainly in Italy and the Netherlands); and radical reformulation of the very idea of the artist as a unique individual (via self-portraiture and the distribution of monogrammed prints). Our main focus will be on the works themselves and will include time spent with prints, drawings, and paintings in the National Gallery of Art. While basic familiarity with Renaissance art (e.g. through a survey such as ARTH 102-Renaissance to Modern Art) is recommended, no advanced knowledge of Dürer or Northern Renaissance art more generally will be required or assumed.

This course provides an introduction to critical theory as it applies to art, visual culture, and museum studies. This seminar will begin with the early roots of art criticism and aesthetics in the late-18th century and work forward through a range of theoretical tools used by critics and historians of art—semiotics, modernist formalism, postmodernism, feminism, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, and so on. Key aspects of art historical methodology will be rehearsed, and many course meetings will be in DC-area museums. While this seminar is not limited to majors/minors and graduate students, it is of particular relevance to them. This course is offered every other Fall.

This seminar examines the relationship between art and poetry. Departing from the Greek poet Horace’s observation, “Ut Pictura Poesis,” the seminar focuses on ways in which poets have attempted to devise verbal equivalents to works of visual art. The class will study the philosophy of this phenomenon of ekphrasis, considering ideas about the relationship between text and image. Secondary literature complements the analysis of selected poems. We will visit the National Gallery of Art Print and Drawing Study Room, as well as the galleries, to study original works of art from this perspective. Students will compose their own poems on works of art of their choice, culminating in a little book that they will design and print. This course is offered most Fall semesters.

Zen Buddhism is one of the major traditions of Buddhism in East Asia and was moreover an instrumental force in shaping modern perceptions of Japan in the west.  Over the course of the semester, we will analyze how the perceived distinctiveness of Zen Buddhism – as marked by concepts such as mind-to-mind transmission, master-disciple lineage, and sudden enlightenment – was constructed through the visual arts and how the arts in turn contributed to monk-patron relations and the cultural lives of monks outside the monastic walls.  Among the weekly topics to be covered are: ink landscape paintings, portraits of Zen masters, the tea ceremony and ceramic tea wares, as well as Beat Zen and the impact of Buddhism upon postwar artists in the United States.  No prior knowledge of Asian art is required or assumed. This course is offered most Fall semesters.

Museum architecture shapes visitors’ art experience and plays an integral role in the life of a city or region. In this course students will think critically about the architecture of the art museum. Questions to be considered include: How does architecture contribute to a museum’s visiting culture? What is architecture’s appropriate role – should buildings be at the forefront of a museum experience or remain as a backdrop? What challenges arise when designing buildings for contemporary art? How have signature buildings impacted an area’s economic standing? The work of designers such as Renzo Piano, Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid and Snøhetta will be explored. Case studies addressing institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Louvre will also be analyzed. Students will gain familiarity with field scholarship, visit multiple area museums and complete writing and presentation assignments. Open to juniors and seniors; seats reserved for graduate students. This course is offered every other Fall.

Sotheby’s Institute of Art Courses

  • Art Business
  • Contemporary Art
  • Asian Art and its Markets
  • Decorative Art and Design
  • Art Logistics