MA / MFA Art in the Contemporary World

The programme is now recruiting for a September 2022 start. Details of the curriculum appear below, as well as the Postgraduate Scholarship. Applications are open.

MA/ MFA in Art in the Contemporary World FAQ

Art in the Contemporary World is a taught MA programme (with extended MFA options) that examines contemporary art practices and their contexts. The course offers an opportunity for focused engagement with the varied challenges of today’s most ambitious art, bridging the relationship between theory and practice by creating exciting study options for artists, curators and writers. We welcome graduates from a variety of backgrounds, including: fine art; art history; philosophy; literature; film studies; architecture; communications; or design.

Course content is divided into four thematic strands: (i) ‘Practices’ explores the range of current international art practices and reflects on the varied conditions for the production of art today (ii) ‘Situations’ is comprised of elective options addressing specific themes relevant to contemporary art and connections between art and other fields of contemporary culture (iii) ‘Theories’ is a series of seminars focusing on key theoretical approaches relevant to contemporary art; (iv) ‘Writing’ offers students opportunities to explore different models and strategies for writing on art.

Students on the MA Art in the Contemporary World take two taught semesters and then embark on a period of independent research.

Students taking the MFA Art in the Contemporary World take the same taught courses over two semesters but can develop larger body of independent research in writing, curating or art practice over a second year of study.


Practices is a year long seminar exploring the range and diversity of current international and local art practices. The classes focus on the various ways in which art now responds to, or can be contextualised by, a series of significant shifts in the conditions of contemporary life. These include technological advances that have affected how the world is now seen, or how people communicate and gather information. Such changes have dramatically influenced our understanding of private and public space, and altered our sense of how we express or understand our own individuality. Other changes in contemporary life, with wide social and cultural implications are also explored. The extreme environmental conditions of our times (and new means of reflecting on these) are among relevant areas of discussion. Each of these questions have a significant bearing on the ways in which art seeks to now represent or re-imagine the world.


A range of elective seminar series addressing interdisciplinary subjects relevant to contemporary art theory and practice.  Topics addressed over recent years have included:

Ideas of 'System' in art and society

Connections between literature and Contemporary Art

Decolonising research

Critical infrastructure studies 

Algorithms as culture  

Radical pedagogy 

The archive in contemporary practice 


This strand runs over the year and comprises 4 seminars (two per semester).  Participants will gain an understanding of key methodologies with respect to the study of contemporary art and its cultural and historical contexts. Particular focus will be placed on the visual analysis of materials and mediums. During these seminar series, students will read key texts relating to foundational areas of twentieth century theory and to current critical discourses of contemporary art, focusing on texts by a wide range of influential twenty-first century philosophers and theorists.


This is a student-led seminar, taking place during both taught semesters, in which participants explore and critique different models and strategies for writing on art. Students will also reflect on their own practice as writers and engage in peer review critiques. Topics covered might include: contemporary criticism; contemporary art history; artists’ writings’; writing as art practice.

We are actively interested in recruiting from across a range of disciplines in order to generate a dynamic mix of student research interests.   Graduates from the MA Art in the Contemporary World have gone on to receive international awards and residencies, to take up respected curatorial positions and to publish writings in prominent academic journals and art magazines.

Click here for more information about the practices and interests of the staff and students on the current course. 

Art in the Contemporary World regularly collaborates with key cultural institutions in Ireland, running courses and events with the Irish Museum of Modern Art; Irish Film Institute; Dublin City Gallery; Kerlin Gallery; The Irish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. In recent years, Art in the Contemporary World has had a close relationship with the Goethe Institut Irland, programming events and exhibitions in the Institute's Dublin home. Recent projects undertaken in partnership with the National Gallery of Ireland include an experimental tabloid publication exploring the legacies of George Bernard Shaw and a residency with the public programme in conjunction with the Gallery's Emil Nolde exhibition.

Art in the Contemporary World functions as a forum for debate on contemporary art theory and practice, regularly hosting public events involving course participants. In recent years guests at such events have included: Massimiliano Gioni, curator of the Venice Biennale, 2013, and Director of Exhibitions at the New Museum, New York; Katrina Brown, director of the Glasgow International Festival of Contemporary Art; Frieze magazine senior editor Dan Fox; comedian Stewart Lee; film-maker Kenneth Anger; writer Rebecca Solnit; art critic Irving Sandler; artists Lynda Benglis, Emily Jacir, Susan Philipsz, Walid Raad and Liam Gillick; writers Adrian Duncan and Sue Rainsford; and composer Jennifer Walshe.

Details of current events and activities feature on the programme's website,

Students have access to an rich and wide range of resources. As well as having access to the National Irish Visual Arts Library (housed on site at NCAD) and the NCAD library, the most extensive collection of art and design books and journals in Ireland, students have access to Trinity College Library and all libraries and collections which are part of the ALCID network.

“Taking the MA Art in the Contemporary World was one of the most rewarding life choices that I’ve made. This intense year of conversation, thinking and research set me up with the confidence to pursue and sustain a career in the arts. ACW offers a chance to expand and develop your position within contemporary arts practice. The years work continues to inform my work and ideas.” — Emma Lucy O’Brien, Curator, Visual Centre of Contemporary Art, Carlow, Ireland.
Not only did the MA Art in the Contemporary World teach me how to think and write about contemporary art more clearly, it encouraged me to see visual art as part of a much wider web – of literature, philosophy, history, politics. It was much more than an MA.” —  Imelda Barnard, Apollo Magazine, London

The MA Art in the Contemporary World at NCAD offers an invaluable insight into contemporary art practices — those of the artist, the curator, the writer (and everything in-between). An imaginative and rigorous seminar programme, a high quality visiting lecture series and a commitment to put the participants at the centre of professional practice in Ireland and beyond, makes this a challenging and engaging course that responds to the world around it.” — Miranda Driscoll, director of Sirius Arts Centre, Cork and former co-founder and director of the Joinery, Dublin.

ACW was a good stepping stone for me into the art world. Coming from an English literature background, I really wanted to learn about contemporary art. The course content was great, I got a solid critical understanding of the field and really enjoyed working on assignments. Aside from that, there was a huge amount of networking which really helped embed me into the art world in Dublin and farther afield.”  — Emma Dwyer, Communications Manager, EVA International: Ireland’s Biennale, Limerick. 

The MA Art in the Contemporary World was a challenging and exciting year of study that helped prepare me for professional practice. It is a course I would happily recommend to any graduating student.”— Niamh Dunphy, Editor at Sternberg Press, Berlin.

Graduates from the MA Art in the Contemporary World have gone on to receive international awards and residencies, to take up respected curatorial positions and to publish their writings in prominent academic journals and art magazines.

For alumni news see


The programme is open to graduates with an honours degree award of 2.2 or higher, or an equivalent academic or professional qualification in a relevant discipline. The College also takes into consideration prior learning and experience.
English language: Students who have not been educated through English must show proof of achieving IELTS 6.5 (with a minimum of 6 in the writing section on the Academic Version) or an equivalent score in another accepted test.

View Entry Requirements and Application Procedures


Postgraduate scholarship for MA studies:

Following the successes of the two Master’s programmes offered by the faculty of Visual Culture at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, a scholarship worth full tuition fees will be awarded to a student in both the MA Art in the Contemporary World and the MA Design History and Material Culture. The scholarships will be awarded on academic merit and all applicants are eligible, including EU and non-EU students.

For more information (including application procedures) on these opportunities and the research environment in the Faculty of Visual Culture at NCAD, click here.

Deadline for scholarship applications (September 2022 start) is 30 June 2022.

You may also contact the programme directors:

Declan Long, / Francis Halsall, (Art in the Contemporary World)

Application enquiries:

Programme Leaders

Dr Declan Long
Dr Declan Long lectures on contemporary art theory and practice. He is a contributor to Artforum International, Frieze and Source Photographic Review and is a board member of the Douglas Hyde Gallery, one of Ireland’s leading contemporary art venues. In 2013 he was a member of the judging panel for the Turner Prize. His profile is here and writing can be found here.

Dr Francis Halsall
Francis is co-director of the MA Art in the Contemporary World and a lecturer in modern and contemporary art at NCAD. In the spring of 2014 he held the Critical Studies Fellowship at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. His research practice involves thinking, writing, talking, teaching and organizing public events. This practice is situated between two main areas; the history, theory and practice of modern and contemporary art, and philosophical aesthetics. See his profile here.

Other tutors on the programme include

Dr Rachel O'Dwyer - see here

Dr Sarah Pierce - see here

Guest tutors teaching on the programme include

Dr Nathan O'Donnell, a research fellow at IMMA and editor of Paper Visual Art - see here.

Sue Rainsford, novelst and essayist - see here

Seoidín O'Sullivan, artist - see here

Programme Contacts

Dr Declan Long / Dr Francis Halsall

Visual Culture MA Studies Scholarship