Art History and Theory


Certificate in Arts
Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Arts with Honours
Graduate Diploma in Arts 
Postgraduate Certificate in Arts
Postgraduate Diploma in Arts
Postgraduate Diploma in Art Curatorship
Master of Arts 
Doctor of Philosophy

Bachelor of Commerce (minor only)

Art exhibition


‌We are constantly surrounded by objects and images: things that have meanings, and which have an effect on our experiences. Art History helps you to find messages encoded within the visual world, including, but not exclusively, ‘fine art’ objects – in other words, to become visually literate. This is an extremely useful skill – highly applicable to many other subjects of study, and to a range of different career paths.

Art History also provides windows onto histories and cultures. Artworks, buildings, and objects hold important clues and offer unique insights into the societies, places, and ideas from which they came, as well as telling us about the people who have interacted with them since they were made. Studying Art History therefore offers students the chance to develop expertise in how to look at things in detail, and to get the most out of what can be seen.

Why study Art History and Theory at UC?

Our courses look at a wide range of types of art and material culture, including painting, drawing, architecture, sculpture, photography, prints, ceramics, gardens, furniture, weaving, 'craft', and even everyday things. We also consider the mechanics of the art world, as practices such as collecting, display, patronage, art education, art criticism, and community engagement all affect how we understand art and objects.

Courses reflect the lecturers' specialisations, which include contemporary art, East Asian art, and European art and material culture. All our lecturers also cultivate research interests which extend beyond Art History and connect it to other disciplines, and ideas from literature, cultural studies, aesthetics, and even the history and philosophy of science are woven into a number of the courses. The Department of Art History and Theory, in conjunction with the School of Fine Arts, publishes its own peer-reviewed annual journal, Oculus.

Our first-year students come from a variety of backgrounds. Although it is an advantage to have studied history of art at high school in Years 12 and 13, this is not a core requirement. More important is your interest, commitment and enthusiasm for the subject – these will serve you well.


See a list of all Art History and Theory courses

100-level courses

Students intending to major in Art History and Theory require at least 30 points at 100-level. Many of our students have benefited from majoring in other subjects alongside Art History and Theory, such as Law and Psychology, and the subject is also required as part of the Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Good companion subjects to take with Art History and Theory are Māori and Indigenous StudiesClassicsHistory and English.

Students who are planning to advance to postgraduate study in Art History and Art Theory should consider including language courses appropriate to their intended area of study in their degree.

200-level and beyond

Several areas of specialisation are available beyond first year. Possible pathways include modern and contemporary art, East Asian art, Western art, architecture and art theory. 

For those interested in postgraduate study or advanced research in the field, this subject is available in the honours, postgraduate certificate/diploma, master's and PhD programmes.

The Postgraduate Diploma in Art Curatorship provides opportunities for students with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Art History and Theory and related disciplines to specialise in a mix of theoretical and applied courses designed to prepare students to work in the art gallery and museum field.

Career opportunities

While some graduates work directly in the art world, career possibilities are diverse. Many Art History and Theory graduates enter careers which offer ample opportunity to use their understanding of art history, highly developed aesthetic sense, attention to visual details, analytical and research skills as well as verbal, written and thinking skills.

Art History and Theory graduates are employed in such work places as museums, galleries, auction houses, educational institutions and libraries and in industries such as information services, publishing, journalism, marketing, heritage conservation, and tourism.

Find out more about what you can do with a degree in Art History and Art Theory.

More information

School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Phone +64 3 364 2176

Art History and Theory programme
5th Floor, Karl Popper Building

Postal address
University of Canterbury
Private Bag 4800
New Zealand
Rata Holtslag

Rata Holtslag

'The opportunity to work within the arts field was incredibly valuable...'

Mereana Wi-Kaitaia

Mereana Wi-Kaitaia

'I get a kick out of investigating our past, asking questions about it, and evaluating any improvements we have made today...''