Becoming Expert

Module code: MU7003

Module co-ordinator: Dr Isobel Whitelegg

The focus of this module is on you and how you become an art specialist. The module begins by reflecting on the knowledge we each bring to our professional lives: art historical knowledge, practical art experience, marketing skills, scientific knowledge, archaeological experience, educational training, and so on. As art professionals we need to actively build upon this knowledge, and this module begins this process.

You will look at the artwork as a physical object (even if digital or a performance). You will consider its materials and technologies of production, as well as its associated contexts and histories. You will examine the processes of collecting and disposal that give it a privileged place in society. 

The artwork exists in the museum or contemporary art institution because people have exercised their expertise and taste. But artworks also find their way into these institutions through less scrupulous means, and may reflect ethnic and gender bias, acts of censorship and exclusion. It important, therefore, that we engage critically with art histories so as to challenge the biases of the past. As part of this process we need to develop critical research skills so that we can interrogate the art institution, artistic production and the wider art world. We will also need to look at how professional ethics, artists interventions and institutional critique can create a more open and engaged institution.

Our aim with this module is to realise the creative potential of knowledge: by becoming expert you will be able to act within and challenge the institutional world introduced in Locating the Art Institution.

Topics covered

  • Developing expertise
  • Knowing the art object
  • Critical art histories: social critique, feminism, post-colonialism, post-nationalism.
  • Collecting, disposal, repatriation
  • Codes of ethics and censorship
  • Socially engaged practice, institutional critique and artists’ interventions
  • Research methods: reading exhibitions, institutional histories, studio visits


  • 18 hours of lectures
  • 6 hours of seminars
  • 18 hours of practicals and workshops
  • 8 hours of study visits


  • 2000 word, or equivalent, assignment. The style of assignment is different for each module and includes essays, critical reviews, art journalism, reports, portfolios, oral examinations and so on.