Whenever I tell someone I am studying for my Master’s at The Courtauld, I get one of two reactions. “The what?” is the first, spoken by those who aren’t in the art loop. And the second is a response of excitement and praise, spoken by those working in the arts and knowing full well the caliber of the institution. Tucked into the north-west side of Somerset House and facing The Courtauld Gallery, The Courtauld Institute of Art finds itself at the epicenter of art historical education and conservation studies as well as in the heart of London, with a finger on the pulse of the art world.
After realizing that art needed to be central in my life (and that an additional degree was necessary to do so), I asked around about potential programs. The refrain repeated again and again: The Courtauld. With a focused, one-year (well, more like 9-month) MA, The Courtauld seemed to be just the type of academic and artistic immersion I was looking for in taking the next step towards a career in the arts.
Since I’ve started my program in London, I have to say that I’ve been supremely content and fulfilled. “It’s all art, all the time,” I’ve happily told friends and family inquiring into my progress at school. The immersion is total, all revolving around art: reading, viewing, writing, discussing. With The Courtauld Gallery right next door (and The National Gallery down the street), there is plenty of opportunity for direct engagement with art objects themselves. In fact, last November I gave a gallery talk at The Courtauld Gallery on the subject of Cezanne’s Card Players (a show that opens today at the Met). An education at The Courtauld is engaged, focused, and tremendously enriching.
As Students’ Union president Daisy Jones put it, “The Courtauld is the biggest art history faculty in the UK, giving plenty of choice to its students while keeping classrooms small.” In fact in my course, The Male Body in Nineteenth-Century European Art, I am one of only six students. While the first semester was spent largely focusing on theoretical approaches, this semester, condensed into just seven weeks, has been focused on applying those theories and engaging with issues of gender-definition and the idea of masculinity in 19th-century art.
Outside of classes, the immersion continues. The Research Forum at The Courtauld, which MA Director Sarah Wilson underlines as superb and unparalleled, stimulates the dynamic scholarly culture and dialogue at this small independent institution. Every week (and seemingly every day), there are lectures, conferences, seminars and/or workshops, bringing together international professors, curators, and conservators to discuss their current work. It is an incredible meeting of the minds, bringing art historical scholarship to life. Two weeks ago I heard from the MoMA’s Chief Conservator, Jim Coddington, last week David Hockney came to give an address, this past weekend (through the University College London) I attended a feminism conference in honour of Linda Nochlin (who was present), and this week I have the honor of listening to Joseph Kosuth give a talk. Sometimes, it just seems wonderfully unreal. Studying at The Courtauld brings the network of scholarship alive, encouraging an evolution of thought and dialogue.
Other than programs in Art History, The Courtauld also offers a one-year MA in Curating, a three-year postgraduate certificate in Easel Conservation, as well as a three-year MA in Wall Conservation, all of which are well-respected and distinguished.
The study-packed, super-condensed MA program was the reason I had my heart set on The Courtauld. While I am still weighing the option of a PhD in the not-so-distant future, I would consider returning to The Courtauld to enroll in its streamlined 3-4-year PhD program. Regardless of the way my future plans unfold, The Courtauld has, time and time again, proved itself to be the perfect place for me at this moment in time. MA Director Sarah Wilson spoke of The Courtauld’s Master’s program best: “With the professional world changing so fast, the Courtauld MA is the speediest and most focused academic way to emerge into the real [art] world.”
Undoubtedly intense, incredibly immersive, The Courtauld has been (and will continue to be) a rigorous and demanding MA program. With the end of the semester a little over four weeks away, a dissertation looming and a degree scheduled for July conferral, the speed of the program definitely feels unreal. The whole experience has felt unreal, to be honest. I feel incredibly lucky to be amidst this high-caliber academic community. For all the talk I heard about the school from those in the know, I can definitely say that The Courtauld is living up to its praise.
Alright, back to the books…