Humanities Research: Critical Studies in Art and Culture

Visual Art / Architecture / Design / Media
Programme of
Humanities (Research)
TitleMA Critical Studies in Art and Culture

The Research Master's programme Critical Studies in Art and Culture (formerly known as VAMA), specialization of the Humanities Research Master, focuses on the study of current developments in visual arts, architecture, design and media, from a theoretical and historical perspective. In a globalizing cultural world in which art, architecture, design and media are ever more closely integrated and packaged as “creative industries,” disciplinary boundaries need questioning and challenging, yet a thorough grounding in older and newer disciplines such as art history, architectural history, design culture, and media studies is a prerequisite for doing so.

In your studies, you will focus on the analysis of “visual objects”: of artifacts in various media that function (primarily or in part) as images. This ranges from landscapes, cities and buildings to artworks in various media, as well as film, television, design and games. Notions such as inter-, cross- and transmediality play an important role in the program. Since artifacts, media and forms of intermediality can only exist in specific social, institutional, economical and ideological frameworks and networks, Critical Studies in Art and Culture will equip you with the analytical and critical tools necessary for analysing these. Each of the four main disciplines that inform the specialization brings specific theories and methods to the table, and the programme seeks to highlight their interconnectedness, with reference to their specific potential as well as possible limitations.

If you are interested in pursuing a PhD after your MA, but also if you generally cherish critical attitude and original lines of questioning based on a profound knowledge of your research subject, and wish to develop your research skills, this programme will be a perfect choice.

The study programme of 120 ECTS (60 ECTS per year) consists of mandatory and elective parts.  
The mandatory package consists of

a) Two core courses of 2 x 9 ECTS (=18 ECTS):

  • Imagining the Image
    In this course various theoretical and methodological approaches to the image are traced in close connection with historical and contemporary developments in visual culture. Key texts by modern and contemporary authors on visual culture are critically read and discussed, and applied to cases that are relevant to the students’ budding research agendas. The choice of literature and theoretical focus, meanwhile, is set by the teacher on the basis of his or her current research interests.
  • Critical Issues in the Cultural Industries
    This course focuses on the role and influence of present-day popular culture, or what in the mid-20th century the philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer referred to as the ‘culture industry’. At the dawn of the 21st century, does the culture of the masses still present a threat to High Art, as Adorno and Horkheimer then feared? Or can we redefine the role of the arts and media in this age of globalization and commercialization in a more nuanced fashion? Since this course is taught by different professors, the issues addressed alternate along with the teacher. Currently the focus lies on issues of space, place, and mobility in different cultural practices. Along with the increasing mobility of goods, money, and people and the interconnectedness of cultures through digital media – known as globalization – issues of space and place have been back on the agenda in various disciplines and cultural practices

b) Three Humanities core modules of 3 x 6 ECTS (=18 ECTS)

  • Methodologies
  • Humanities Research Career Preparation
  • Interdisciplinary Research in Humanities

c) Two research seminars of 2 x 9 ECTS (=18 ECTS)  (Students choose two out of four seminars)

  • Reading Concepts of Intermediality
  • Methods of Design Analysis
  • Seminar Architecture (annually changing topic on the basis of staff members' research)
  • Seminar Visual Art (annually changing topic on the basis of staff members' research)

Within the research programme, a total of 42 ECTS can be attributed to courses, electives, research seminars and tutorials of your choice (10 ECTS have to be followed with the national research schools). These courses are subject to the programme coordinator's approval, but allow you to co-build your own curriculum and to pursue research projects within one (or several) of the research areas of faculty members. These areas include: 

  • Intermediality, new media, media theory, and (post) digital art
  • Contemporary architecture and urbanism in relation to mobility and globalization
  • Contemporary art, between criticality and creative industries
  • Design theory and criticism

The Master’s thesis (30 ECTS) that concludes the programme is a substantial study based on independent academic research, in relation to topical research areas and projects of staff members. 

Detailed course information
VU Amsterdam's online study guide: Humanities Research (2019-2020).

The Humanities Research Master’s degree programme will enable you to work as an independent researcher. In the academic world, both at home and abroad, it is seen as a possible step towards a doctoral study. Actually, in the last years, a great number of alumni of our programme has been awarded PhD grants in the Netherlands and abroad. Yet, you could also find a position in:

  • art and media management
  • journalism and publishing
  • art and architecture centers
  • research agencies
  • museum institutions
  • film or design festivals
  • art and media archives
  • teaching
  • government institutions

You can find a list of our alumni on the VAMA blog.

Unique in the Netherlands
The Humanities Research Master’s programme Critical Studies in Art and Culture is unique in the Netherlands. The interdisciplinary programme combines art history, media studies, design studies and architectural history. With special emphasis on methodological and theoretical issues, the two-year research master programme allows you to acquire knowledge, analytical skills and a capacity to problematize and critically reflect on historical and contemporary developments in the cultural industries.  

Preparation for a career in research or management position in the cultural sector 
Critical Studies in Art and Culture aims to equip you with skills and critical insight to conduct research at an academic level, preparing you for a PhD position or other positions for which substantial knowledge and research skills in the field of visual art, design, media and/or architecture are required.  

Top-quality researchers as your teachers and individual mentors 
The faculty members associated with the Department of Arts and Culture are top-quality researchers with a strong national and international profile. They have a background in art history and art theory, in the history of architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture, design studies, and in comparative arts and media studies.  

International network of enthusiast students, alumni, and faculty 
As a student of Critical Studies in Art and Culture, you don’t just aim at collecting your credit points, but join a highly dedicated international group of students, alumni, PhD’s and staff members from various disciplinary backgrounds, who share a strong interest in the cultural sector. Within and beyond the programme, we meet artists and researchers from around the world, exchange about their research in our informal ‘research brunches’, or join to visit exhibitions and cultural events. Many of our students and alumni are active with the VU Amsterdam affiliated journal Kunstlicht.  

Great flexibility in determining your own study programme 
During the study you will determine your own course path, in consultation with researchers and teachers at the VU. While a fixed set of courses is compulsory, you will also have plenty of opportunity to define your own individual path on the basis of supervised personal research (tutorials), elective courses, and your Research Master’s thesis (30 ECTS). Furthermore, both the Graduate School and our Interdisciplinary Research Institutes CLUE+ (Research Institute for Culture, Cognition, History, and Heritage) and the Network Institute offer a broad range of workshops, seminars, lectures and research groups to attend.

Kunstlicht is a journal for the visual arts, visual culture and architecture. This journal is associated with the Department for Art and Culture. Since 1980 it has provided a platform for scholarly articles on art in all its facets. Students as well as established academics publish the results of their research in Kunstlicht.

VamakunstlichtThe editorial board of Kunstlicht consists entirely of students and recent graduates. To keep the threshold for publication as low as possible while still achieving a high level of quality, a member of the editorial staff closely supervises every contributor during the writing process. Students who are interested in publishing an article in Kunstlicht should contact the editorial board. Students in the Department of Art and Culture who are proficient in Dutch may also join the editorial board of Kunstlicht and gain valuable editorial experience.

A subscription to Kunstlicht costs just € 30 for the first year. For more information visit Contact:

Kliché, the student association
Studievereniging KitschSince 1984 student association Kliché organizes activities to widen en deepen students' study experience and strengthen bonds between students, teachers and alumni. On all study-related excursions students are accompanied by experts or teachers of the Arts and Culture department. 

Other Kliché activities are a monthly movie night and a trip abroad in the second semester. In addition to the study related excursions there are more socially activities such as opera, ballet and social drinks.
Another great help for you study is the discount Kliché offers you on your study literature.

More information about Kliché (Dutch)

Student testimonials

"An unprecedented spatial-color-light-music production, that was what the Philips Company had in mind for its pavilion at the 1958 World Fair. Their wish was granted by Le Corbusier, who built an architectural sculpture that housed a visual and aural spectacle (Le Poème Electronique) the likes of which had never been seen before. Images were projected directly on the warped walls of the pavilion while strange sounds were distributed within the curiously shaped building along specific “sound routes.” Although architecture students still learn only of the building and art students only of the Poème Electronique, the interactions between these media were essential to the experience of the Philips Pavilion. Only by interpreting every (medial) aspect of this synthesized artwork in relation to the others – an interpretation to which the concepts of intermediality serve well – was it possible to fully grasp its complexities, even if the building itself no longer exists."

Elise Noyez, student

VAMA4B"The more my study progressed the more enthusiastic I became about carrying out research. Master’s seminars convinced me that I wanted to continue in this direction and, in consultation with my tutor, I decided to switch to the research master’s course. The extra room for study gives me the chance to carry out more in-depth research into the monumental art of Karel Appel, the subject of my thesis. In the seminar research design you work alongside students from other disciplines to fine-tune your research plan, and the tutorials organised in conjunction with the teaching staff provide you with the space to go more deeply into both current research practices and the subject matter. For students who like to show initiative, I would certainly recommend this research master’s course."

Eva van Berne, student 

VAMA - Martijn van Beek"After completing my BA thesis on the seventeenth-century prints of Giovanni Battista Falda, it was perfectly clear to me that the next course I took would be one where I could largely choose aspects that interested me. I wanted to immerse myself as deep as possible in my own field of interest, in order to study the essence of my research project – seventeenth-century Italian architecture. VAMA provides this opportunity and also pays attention to the research methodology: this is particularly good for students with a research mentality. The academic interdisciplinary trend is also incorporated in the curriculum so that the student begins to appreciate the added value of research from different perspectives.

In consultation with my tutor I took the opportunity to pursue a part of my research at the Koninklijk Nederlands Instituut (Royal Dutch Institute) in Rome, where I could not only gaze at the wonderful architecture – but I also made a lot of good friends."

Martijn van Beek, student  

Dutch students

In order to be admitted you must apply via Studielink before June 1st for the research master’s programme. Then you should send in an application to the  Admission Board ( This application must consist of:

  • Transcript of records; acertified list of the academic results obtained to date (qualifications and lists of grades). The transcript of records should show that you received an outstanding grade for your bachelor’s thesis (7.5 or higher), and an average of no less than 7.5 for a relevant selection of you bachelor’s programme (to be decided by the Admission Board.
  • Curriculum vitae     
  • Motivation Letter; a letter explaining your motivation for the application. Please also integrate in this letter your first ideas as to the subject or field you would like to focus your research on (for instance in the context of tutorials and/or your thesis).

The required documents can be sent by email to

The Admission Board of the Faculty of Humanities, in consultation with professors of your chosen discipline, will decide within six weeks whether you may be admitted to the Research Master’s Programme and/or whether additional requirements are necessary or exemptions can be made. Admission may also depend on the results of a personal interview with the Examination Board about your motivation.

You will be informed via Studielink.

Not a student of the Faculty of Humanities at VU Amsterdam?
In addition to the above listed documents, you must also e-mail the following documents to

  • An application form (Dutch)
  • A copy of your bachelor thesis and other papers/essays you have written that might be relevant for the research master’s programme of your choice.

As soon as the Admission Board has issued the notice of admission, you will be informed via Studielink.

For information on courses and the study programme 
Please contact: 

Dr. S. (Sven) Lütticken
VU Amsterdam  
Faculty of Humanities

De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam

Room 11A-76
T: (020) 598 6376

Information days
Meet us at the next Master's Event!

International students

The research Master's is aimed in particular at the talented student who is exceptionally motivated to train in academic methods and critical thinking in the field of art history, architectural history, design studies and media studies. To be admitted to VAMA, the student should have at least a Bachelor’s diploma in one of these fields, and have a good grasp of academic English.

Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application. 

Specific admission requirements for the Research Master’s programme Visual Arts, Media and Architecture: Critical Studies in Arts & Culture
The Research Master's Programme Visual Arts, Media and Architecture (VAMA) concentrates on the study of current developments in visual arts, architecture and media, from a theoretical and historical perspective. In a globalizing cultural world in which art, architecture and media are ever more closely integrated and packaged as “creative industries,” disciplinary boundaries need questioning and challenging, yet a thorough grounding in older and newer disciplines such as art history, architectural history and media studies is a prerequisite for doing so. 

The two-year research master's is aimed in particular at the talented student with an academic bachelor's diploma in architectural or art history, architectural history, design studies or media studies.. VAMA is a good option for students who are interested in pursuing a PhD after their MA, but also more in general for students who cherish critical attitude, arrive at original lines of questioning based on a profound knowledge of their research subject, and wish to develop their research skills.

You must always present official test results proving your proficiency in English. Only students who have completed a full high school/International Baccalaureate in English or bachelor’s degree in Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, or Australia may be exempted. You can already apply online without having the test results. In case you haven’t taken a test yet we advise you to plan a test date as soon as possible. Below you will find the minimum English test scores for the English taught programmes at the Faculty of Humanities:

  • TOEFL score (score 600 paper based with a minimum of 55 in each of the subtests plus 4.0 in TWE, score 250computer based or score 100 internet based with a minimum of 20-23 in each of the subtests).
  • IELTS score of 7.0 overall band score (with none of the separate section scores dropping below a minimum score of 6.5).
  • Cambridge English: Cambridge Proficiency Exam A, B, C, or Cambridge Advanced Exam A, B, C.

Please check the Admission and language requirement page for the general requirements. 

If you have read the admission criteria and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required. 

Step 1: Meet admission criteria

Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online
Please prepare the following documents. You can find an explanation of each document on the application page. All documents should be provided in English. 

  • Copy of your valid passport or ID (ID only for EU residents)
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Motivation Letter
  • Transcript of records
  • Thesis (or another sample of academic writing, at least 5 pages plus a list of used literature)
  • A description of the relevant courses you have taken during your previous higher education and a list of all the main literature

After having prepared the required documents, please follow the online application procedure. After you have completed the application, our international student advisors will contact you via email.

Step 3: Await decision on admission
The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer in busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you gain admission, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. You can start planning your move to Amsterdam!

Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!
Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. Here you will find an explanation what to do after admission. When all conditions are met you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam!

Further information:
Tuition fees

For information on courses and the study programme
Please contact:

Dr. S. (Sven) Lütticken
T: (020) 598 6376 

room 11A-76

VU Amsterdam
Faculty of Humanities
De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam

Information on practical matters (application procedure, scholarships, visas, etc.):

Irena Paap
International Student Advisor
T: +31 (20) 59 85252

VU Amsterdam
International Office
De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam

Information days 

Meet us at hte next Master's Event!

Some international students are happy to tell you about their experiences with living and studying in Amsterdam. These Student Ambassadors come from all over the world and have attended various bachelor's and master's programmes.

Our student ambassadors are listed here on this webpage:

Reach out to them and get their stories about being a student at VU Amsterdam!

Overview Humanities Research: Critical Studies in Art and Culture




2 years


1 June for Dutch and EU-students. 1 April for non-EU-students.


1 September




Art, Culture and History