Art History, Theory, and Criticism: Art History MA Programs, BA & BFA

The Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago offers a wide range of courses on modern and contemporary art that span the globe. It is committed to innovation in research and teaching a diverse curriculum.

Classes address art of all media, design and architecture, visual and material cultures, and contemporary theories of art and culture. The international networks for contemporary art are an important part of the course offerings. We offer a wide range of classes in Asian, African, Latin American, European, and North American Art.

Students in SAIC’s Art History MA programs and undergraduate programs pursue research in a prestigious art school connected with a major museum. They work with a large department of full-time faculty specializing in modern and contemporary art and design with a global focus and challenge, debate, and interpret the field.

Undergraduate Programs

Art History is a central part of all students’ education at SAIC. The Bachelor of Arts in Art History degree program draws on the depth and diversity of offerings that only a major art school connected with a world-class museum can provide. Substantial coursework in art history, supported by additional coursework in liberal arts and in studio departments, define the SAIC Art History course of study.

The Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism newly offers BFA students the option to supplement their studio curriculum with an Art History thesis.

Learn more about SAIC’s undergraduate degree program requirements and art history curriculum.

Master's In Art History Programs

SAIC has long been distinguished by its innovative and extensive curriculum in modern and contemporary topics.

Our Art History MA programs draw on the institution's Chicago setting with its historic architecture, public sculpture, museums, libraries, cultural facilities, and lively gallery scene. Graduate students have gone on to be curators, professors, writers, critics, publishers, gallerists, arts administrators, and activists.

Graduate students can pursue a Master of Arts in Modern and Contemporary Art History or a graduate Dual Degree option in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory, and Criticism and Arts Administration and Policy. Learn more about SAIC’s master’s degree in art history programs.

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Art History, Theory, and Criticism Faculty

Full-time faculty members are scholars with global reputations. Their research is on the cutting edge of present trends in the field with specialties covering Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Europe, and North America. Their teaching engages with interdisciplinary perspectives such as race, gender and performance studies, decolonization and the transnational, experimental media, and design history.

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Graduate Thesis Projects

The thesis project is a central component of our MA program and involves in-depth, original research on a topic of the student’s choosing. Visit the SAIC Thesis Repository to browse thesis projects and abstracts submitted since November 2013. 

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Meet Our Alums

Alivé Piliado (MA 2023)

Alivé Piliado (MA 2023) is a Mexican art historian with a dual master's degree in Arts Administration and Policy and Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory, and Criticism. Before arriving in Chicago, Alivé served as a curator at the National Museum of Art (MUNAL) and the National Museum of San Carlos, both in Mexico City. She is interested in providing research and exhibition spaces for Latin American women artists and championing the importance of Mexican art in the history of global modern art. Alivé advocates for inclusive discourses and promotes diversity both within arts organizations and in terms of audiences and community outreach.
A picture of the modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Margarita Lizcano Hernandez (BAAH 2018)

Margarita Lizcano Hernandez is a curator and scholar based in New York focusing on Latin American art and global artist networks. She is currently a curatorial assistant at the ​Museum of Modern Art. In her previous role at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, she ​was part of the core team working on the forthcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum. There, she focused on collection management, protocol building, collection strategy research, and proposing works for acquisition.
A sculpture on a pedestal in a gallery surrounded by colorful paintings

Works by Michael Casey, Josiah Ellner, and Deo Rai

Advanced Curatorial Practice

This professional curating practicum examines today’s complexities in making exhibitions in museums and carrying out projects in public spaces. It gives special attention to the interests and needs of artists and the potential for their voices to affect the cultural climate we live in. This course is supplemented by field trips around Chicago and visits with other working curators at varying levels of experience, institutional integration, and methodologies.

A group of students standing in front of some archways.

Study Trips

Faculty-led study trips take place during winter and summer holidays and provide students with dynamic opportunities to experience international travel and build intercultural competency. Students can earn credits towards their degree completion and the off-campus study credit requirement.

Commitment to Anti-Racism

Our department is committed to the ongoing efforts to combat white supremacy and police violence as led by Black youth in this country and joined by thousands. We are committed to racial justice and see our work as scholars and critics as deeply intertwined with ongoing struggles for liberation. In an effort to use our institutional status as a platform, we have compiled an immediate and incomplete list of resources. We offer this list as a tiny gesture of solidarity with our students, faculty, staff, and everyone in the streets.

  • In light of the recent murders of Asian women in Georgia and systemic violence against Asians in America, we offer these resources in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

  • We, as a department, acknowledge that the academic field of Art History is not separate from social and historical events or dynamics. As such, Art History as a field reflects the paradigms of structural racism in the United States and the larger world amid colonialism and neo-colonialism—projects of domination and white supremacy that continue today.

    In the last 15 years, our department has made efforts to counter racist dynamics in the field and at SAIC by expanding course offerings and hiring full-time specialists in fields such as African, African-American, Latin American and Asian art history. While these efforts have, on the curricular level, contributed to a decentering of the North Atlantic canon, they have, quite simply, not been enough. The department presently does not have a single Black full-time faculty member. Students have repeatedly expressed concerns about how BIPOC art histories are taught; about microaggressions in the classroom; about a need for more sensitivity in how knowledge related to Black and Brown people is introduced to our students—particularly when faculty introduce material that is not directly linked to their own backgrounds.

    We have to do better and are committed to doing better. We hereby pledge following the action items:

    • We renew our commitment to robust offerings on histories of art, design and activism related to BIPOC, non-Western and racialized minority communities every semester, regardless of administrative commitments of the specialists who normally teach them.
    • Our system of labeling courses and diversifying their content must and will be improved so that those classes—including introductory surveys (ARTHI 1001 - 1002)—with substantial emphases on Black and Brown art and design history are clearly available to students. 
    • That said, we affirm as a department that Black and Brown art and design history, as well as the legacy of systemic racism, is relevant material in all of our course offerings-- and that we need to do more to address these histories as teachers. 
    • We will continue the overhaul of our introductory surveys that began with ARTHI 1001, which now has a guidebook that outlines significant expectations in terms of broad cultural coverage. Our focus will next shift to ARTHI 1002, which covers Modern and Contemporary Art. The department’s Curriculum Committee will look to address such changes in terms of course content.
    • To these ends, we will establish student chairs at both the BA and MA level on our Curriculum Committee, to assure that feedback from the student body directly affects ongoing curricular changes.
    • The Department additionally looks forward to workshops related to critical race pedagogy for our faculty, mediated by Dio Aldridge at SAIC’s Diversity Action Group. Opportunities will be presented for students to directly address faculty about specific moments in the classroom that need to be reconsidered. This is self-reflective work that all of our faculty can and desire to take on for themselves to improve as teachers and allies against white supremacy on our campus.
    • We further recognize the adjacency of decolonial and antiracist pedagogies as they pertain to the School’s international community.
    • Recognizing the financial strains of the current moment, we pledge to prioritize diverse hiring practices. We also support the demands of Black Faculty at SAIC to raise the position of Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to a VP position and expand the office's staff and purview in order to assist with departmental concerns along with the larger institutional priorities. 

    This statement has been drafted and reviewed by full-time faculty in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, and has the ethical weight of a contract. By signing, we collectively commit to it.

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Contact Us

Art History, Theory, and Criticism Office

MacLean Center
112 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 605


Daniel Quiles

Graduate Program Director

Bess Williamson

Undergraduate Program Director

Jennifer Dorothy Lee