M.A. MA in East Asian Art

Sotheby´s Institute of Art London

Application deadline: July 31; Non EU: May 31; Scholarships: April 30
Tuition fee:
  • € 27,850 / Year (EEA)
  • € 27,850 / Year (Non-EEA)
Start date: September  2014
Duration full-time: 14 months
  • English
Delivery mode: On Campus
Educational variant: Full-time

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For over forty years Sotheby´s Institute of Art has been preparing students for careers in the international art world. Our vision is to be universally acknowledged as the premier provider of advanced object-based art education, whose graduates combine passion for the visual arts with scholarship, connoisseurship and market sophistication in order to flourish as leaders in the global art market.

The art history of China, Japan and Korea from the Neolithic to the present day is the focus of this unique programme, designed for those who wish to become Asian art specialists. The course offers an art historical training in key features and concepts, encouraging students to make cross-cultural links in the art history of East Asia.

Teaching focuses on an object-based approach and is organised into three strands: ritual and religious art, decorative art and pictorial art. Another unique aspect to this programme is the additional knowledge of auction house, art market, museum and gallery practices which equip students for professional careers within the Asian art field. Graduates go on to pursue a variety of careers within the academic, museum and auction house world as well as opening their own specialist galleries.

Handling sessions and study visits include visits to major collections in London and Germany as well as a longer study trip to East Asia.

Students with no prior background in Asian art may consider our summer courses in Asian art and our 15-week Semester course, Styles in Asian Art.


The programme begins with two weeks of introductory lectures and seminars, which address the methodology of the programme and allow assessment of the students' abilities and interests. Course material is structured into three strands comprising theoretical and general lectures, and case studies. The teaching in each strand is backed up by seminars and visits. The first strand considers ritual and religious art; the second painting and graphic art; and the third decorative art of East Asia. Each student contributes to two seminars in each of the strands.


1. Ritual and Religious Art of East Asia

This strand first considers ritual objects from the early civilisations in China, Korea and Japan. The art, technology and social organisation of the early cultures are examined through archaeological evidence, in particular through surviving burial goods made from ceramic, bronze and jade. Hereafter, study of the religious art of East Asia will include the history of the introduction of Buddhism to China, Korea and Japan, and the doctrinal and iconographic principles of the art associated with Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and other religions in East Asia. Emphasis will be given to the eastward transmission of styles of Buddhist art along the Silk Route in the art of cave-shrines, and the sculpture and architecture of the oasis settlements of Chinese Central Asia dating from the fourth to the eleventh centuries. Aspects of later religious art in wall-paintings and in paintings on paper and silk will be examined, together with the large and small sculptural art in stone, bronze and clay.

2. Painting and Graphic Art of East Asia

The programme introduces the aesthetic principles and critical terminology for examining East Asian painting and calligraphy and the related art of pictorial printing. Aspects of this material are chosen for comparative analysis in discussing the transmission of style between China, Korea and Japan, and other East Asian cultures and, more recently, the West. Within this area subjects are chosen from a range of representational themes, including landscape, figure, and bird and flower subjects. Collecting and connoisseurship, patronage, amateur and professional status, artistic practice, revival and reinterpretation, and innovation and modernity are discussed. Contemporary theoretical and philosophical texts are examined in the interpretation of the work of individual artists and artistic movements. Certain works are chosen for detailed discussion from the point of view of composition, technique and the interpretation of inscriptions using translations.

3. Decorative Art of East Asia

This strand examines issues relating to the history of the decorative art of China, Korea, Japan and South East Asia. This encompasses the production of objects made in a variety of materials including lacquer, ivory, jade, glass, bronze, gold, silver, and ceramics. Topics discussed include the evolution of style, the question of taste and the impact of Western trade and culture. Details of technique and manufacture will also be considered.


The programme consists of three fifteen-week sessions with a one-month vacation between the first and second, and a two-month vacation between the second and third, thus allowing students opportunities for travel and research. The first two sessions each include a reading week and conclude with an assessment week.

The dominant feature of Semester I is the historical progression of the core lectures following the three strands supported by visits, seminars and written work. In Semester I each student will complete an essay, thus developing the ability to structure an argument in clear English

Seminars take different forms: object-based, text-based or research methodology. Object-based seminars centre upon research or tasks allocated by tutors and are designed to acquaint students with art objects, usually in a museum or gallery. Text-based seminars act as a forum for the discussion of a selection of key texts by archaeologists, anthropologists, social historians, art historians and theorists. They are intended to help students understand the links between writing and art in the relevant period; to allow them to understand and manipulate the particular languages of art criticism, and to encourage the development of the students as informed, confident individuals. Research methodology seminars prepare students for their end of semester project and research in their subsequent dissertation. Attention is paid to writing and research skills and these seminars are especially geared to students who have been out of education for some while or who are not used English academic writing.

Visits are a major component of the programme and are designed to expose the students to the practical, 'hands-on' approach, and to develop their critical interpretation of the art object and its context. Visits also help students improve their visual and critical acuity. Study visits abroad in Semesters I and II allow students to build up a series of reference points and to examine art objects not available in Britain.

Contact is fostered between students and professionals in the art world by visits to the auction house for previews of sales led by departmental experts. Guest lecturers include art consultants, exhibition organisers, auction house experts and dealers. All students are offered personal tutorials. Marked, assessed work with comments is handed back to students in individual tutorials for discussion. Object reports develop out of the object-based seminars described. Students learn to develop their original analysis of an object placing it in its historical, social and philosophical context. Full bibliographical references and comparative examples are required. Oral presentations occur throughout the first two semesters and train futureprofessionals to present ideas clearly, concisely and persuasively.

Written Assignments

Semester I

There are two Image Identification and Analysis Tests during Semester I, requiring students to identify and analyse images of a range of work seen and discussed in lectures and visits. Slides are chosen to test students' visual acuity and their ability to contextualise and apply comparative methods in their analysis. A Comparative Object Report is a major element of the first semester and underlines the overall academic approach developed during this period. Students are presented with three unidentified images and are expected to identify materials and techniques, and apply specialist terminology in describing the object. They are given two weeks in which to work together to identify images through oral and written presentations using archaeological, documentary or stylistic evidence. Essay topics are given early in the semester to give the students time to bring together aspects from two or more of the strands and to relate theory to practice. This helps to develop the ability to structure an argument, write clear English and to research and synthesise material. Students must achieve an average mark of at least 40% in Semester I to progress to Semester II.

Semester II

As lectures form the core of Semester I, seminars do in Semester II. They become more discursive in nature and the programme is increasingly geared to group discussion and to developing individual research. Lectures continue in the first half of the semester, completing the three lecture strands. Students embark upon a specialist option choosing from subjects including Trade Art, Contemporary Art in Asia, and the Art Markets, present a seminar and write a research essay. This semester ends with an exam and the presentation of dissertation research proposals. Object seminars continue in this semester, but allow increasing latitude in the choice of objects chosen for discussion. Students select a topic for the final seminar, which may relate to any of the three stands or to the option the student undertook. The student researches material and presents it to the seminar group. After discussion and feedback it is written up as the Extended Research Essay. Visits continue throughout Semester I, increasing students' knowledge and understanding of East Asian art and their skill in analysing and discussing it. In Dissertation Seminars students present their proposed subjects for discussion and an opportunity is given to hear about fellow students' research. Tutorials provide an opportunity to discuss potential seminar topics, research venues and bibliographic material, methodological approaches and modes of presentation. Career plans, criticism of the programme and pastoral matters are also discussed. The final version of the Extended Research Essay is written, in which students are expected to demonstrate that they have learned to refine ideas from the oral presentations. The final examination forms a summation of all three strands, as well as referring back to visits. In order to proceed to Semester III, MA students must submit a short Research Proposal for their final dissertation for approval, and achieve an average grade of 50%. Those who are not continuing to the dissertation stage will be awarded a Postgraduate Diploma after writing an essay combining theoretical, historical and practical work. Semester IIIThe primary teaching mode in Semester III is the tutorial, leaving students free to pursue their research. In these tutorial sessions students must demonstrate that they have gained the necessary skills in theory and methodology to write the Dissertation. The Dissertation will be a synthesis of all the preceding work including the practical, historical and theoretical aspects of the course, and their application to the chosen subject.


The fieldtrips give the students the opportunity to see relevant collections in museums outside London and to visit special exhibitions which are relevant to the content of the course. In semester I there is a three-day trip to Europe, including stays in one or two European cities, where the students will have the opportunity to visit museums with important collections of East Asian art. In Semester II, students will go to China for at ten-day trip to see some of the major museums, archaeological and art historical sites which may include the Shanghai Museum, museums in Zhengzhou, the Buddhist cave-shrines at Longmen, and the kiln-sites at Jingdezhen.


All postgraduate programmes (Master´s Degrees and Postgraduate Diplomas) require the completion of a BA degree or equivalent, with a major or minor in Art History. Exceptions to the undergraduate art history requirement can be made, based upon an applicant's experience in the visual arts or the relevance of other areas of study.


Transcripts are required for entry onto one of our Master´s Degrees or Postgraduate Diplomas. Please forward your official transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate-level programmes attended directly to the Institute from your college or university.

Letters of RecommendationYou will need to designate 2 referees to support your application. These can be both academic references or, in case you have working experience, one can be a professional reference.

Sample of Written WorkYou will be required to include in your application a marked paper (from your BA course) or a newly-written 1000-word review of an art exhibition or artist that you like

InterviewsAll full-time applicants for postgraduate programmes will be invited to schedule an interview with a member of the Institute's staff after receipt of all required application materials. Interviews will be scheduled by the Admissions Manager. You will be contacted at the appropriate time to make such arrangements. The interviewer will assess the candidate's aptitude for the programme, level of English skill and commitment to study. Interviews are held in London throughout the year and can also be conducted by telephone.

UK Visa ApplicationsIn line with the new UK Border Agency rules all non-EU students must now apply for a Tier 4 Points Based System General Adult student visa, details of which can be found at:
Students from non EU countries are strongly recommended to submit their application as early as possible. Please note that new visa requirements mean that after a student is enrolled the visa process may take up to 10 weeks. Visas must be applied for in your home country and NOT once you have arrived in the UK.

English Language Requirements

IELTS band: 7
TOEFL iBT® test: 100

IMPORTANT NOTE: Since April 2014 the ETS tests (including TOEFL and TOEIC) are no longer accepted for Tier 4 visa applications to the United Kingdom. The university might still accept these tests to admit you to the university, but if you require a Tier 4 visa to enter the UK and begin your degree programme, these tests will not be sufficient to obtain your Visa.

The IELTS test is most widely accepted by universities and is also accepted for Tier 4 visas to the UK- learn more.


Sotheby´s Institute of Art offers a range of financial assistance through both needs-based (financial assistance) and merit-based (Scholarship) awards across all postgraduate-level programmes. All candidates may apply for financial assistance on a rolling basis. Scholarship awards are highly competitive and have a deadline for submission. For more information visit:
For information about other sources of funding:



Our degrees are awarded by the University of Manchester in the UK and combine professional training with academic study.

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