Course Brief

Contextual Studies provides an historical, cultural and theoretical framework to allow us to make sense of art and design, as well as to consider how they may help us to understand the wider world.

This unit is designed to introduce students to key cultural developments, practices and movements related to the history of art, design, visual and popular culture since 1900. Emphasis will be placed upon developing a broad knowledge of art and design contexts, considering the technological, economic, social and aesthetic causes which have, and continue to, inform our understanding of art and design within the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Topics included in this unit are: semiotics, values and tastes, subcultures, advertising, modernism, postmodernism, hypermodernism, gender politics within art and design, materiality and immateriality.

Students will be introduced to the theoretical methods with which to research and analyse works of art and design, helping them to understand the importance of being able to contextualise their own practice, as well as enhancing their understanding of the wider art and design landscape. On successful completion of this unit students will have developed their contextual knowledge and their conceptual tool kit by undertaking a contextual investigation of their own, linked to their subject specialism.


  • This course is offered in 60 contact hours

By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Discuss the social, historical and cultural context of key art and design movements, theories and practices.
  2. Analyse a specific work of art or design related to own area of specialism.
  3. Use primary and secondary research methods to investigate an area of practice, with consideration of research ethics .
  4. Present research findings, through written work, visually and orally.

Unit type: Core
Unit Level: 4
Credit value: 15

  • BTEC Higher National Diploma (HND) in Art and Design

    Employment Focused. Affordable. Globally Recognized Qualifications in Art and Design.

    Build and validate your interest, knowledge and skill in creative design processes with the Level 5 Higher National Diploma in Art and Design at SBCS. This internationally recognized, practical qualification prepares students for employment in the design sector, in areas such as Web Design, Animation, Marketing, Illustration and Multimedia. Focusing not only on the creative side of art and design, this programme also covers the business aspects of the Corporate and Freelance sector.

    The programme comprises of 14 units where you will learn and practise a variety of techniques to develop a substantial portfolio of work, as well as set the foundation for an exciting career in the creative industries. 

    Graduates of this Level 5 Higher National Diploma are accepted onto to the final year of the BA (Hons) in Graphic Design offered by the University of Sunderland.