This brief account traces a panorama of the initial growth and formation of visual arts postgraduate programs in Brazil. The origin of Brazilian postgraduate programs in the arts was from inheriting the discipline of art history that originally belonged to the history department. In addition, the development of art programs has received substantial input from the various associations of art historians and art researchers. The Brazilian Committee of Art History (Comitê Brasileiro de História da Arte, CBHA) was created in 1972, coincidently the same year the Communication and Arts School from São Paulo University (ECA/USP, in the Southeast Region of Brazil) took over the discipline of Art History, which previously belonged to the History Department. Also, the National Association of Visual Art Researchers (ANPAP), which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017, was created seven years after the beginning of doctoral degrees in visual arts from ECA/USP. Concerning research in visual arts, the dialogue between these two research funding and regulation agencies, CNPq and CAPES, is fundamental for the ongoing and much needed discussion on assessment parameters. The most compelling contribution came from the encouragement of the organization of ANPAP, which is formed of artists/researchers as well as historians, critics, teachers and restorers, who are arranged into different committees (Art History, Theory and Criticism; Art Practices; Education of the Visual Arts, Curatorship; Patrimony; Preservation and Restoration).

It is true that a fostering energy was due to the cosmopolitan urban scene of two of the major cities in South America, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. But equally important in the emergence of the first postgraduate degrees in arts was the 40 years of research and accumulated knowledge since the inauguration of the São Paulo University (USP) and its Art Institute in 1934. The first Master’s Degree in Arts in Brazil was created in ECA/USP in 1974, largely due to the efforts and vision of Walter Zanini. A critic and curator with a PhD obtained in France (in 1961), Walter Zanini was head of department and school director of ECA/USP, and was also elected the first director of the Contemporary Art Museum of São Paulo University. Furthermore, in 1981 and 1983 he curated the 16th and 17th São Paulo Biennial. Due to his support the first Doctoral Degree in Arts in Brazil started in this same department in 1980, which was a landmark and an important reference for postgraduate programs in the field. Later,  in 1985 two new master’s degrees were created: in Art History at the National School of Fine Arts (UFRJ), in Rio de Janeiro, and in Multimedia Studies at the Art Institute from UNICAMP, the same university that would also offer a master’s degree in arts in 1989 (both these universities are in the Southeast region of Brazil). Soon after, postgraduate programs were implemented in different regions of the country, which enabled researchers to continue their academic training within their regions. In the Rio Grande do Sul University (UFRGS, in the Southern Region of Brazil) the Visual Arts Master’s Degree was started in 1991, the same year as the Arts Master’s Degree was created in UNESP, (São Paulo). In 1992, Bahia (in the Northeast Region of Brazil) followed suit and UFBA created its Arts Master’s Degree in Bahia´s Fine Arts School. It is perhaps worth noting that in the 1970´s and 80´s Brazilian artists linked to Brazilian universities or who had an interest in developing research often went abroad with the support from CAPES and CNPq to pursue research degrees, the majority of which obtained their PhDs in France, a country that at the time had initiated research degrees for further training of artist-researchers.

An aspect to be considered in regard to this tendency is the specificity of the research  degrees carried out in the arts, that is, dissertations and theses on visual language which are shaped by artworks made by artists and accompanied by texts about their art practices. We underline the importance of these theses defended by artists, who reflected upon their art practice beyond the framework of a theoretical and critical field for an artworks’ analysis. We cannot forget the many other artists who did their research in departments from related fields, such as Architecture, Communication and Semiotics, Education, and Letters degrees. It was these practices that expanded the methodology of research in the arts.

Attracted by the new area of art and technology, a second generation of new media artists emerged during the 1980s and 90s. These artists had postgraduate degrees in Arts obtained from Brazilian universities, mostly from the Communication and Arts School at the University of São Paulo (ECA/USP) or the Communication and Semiotics Program from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP), as well as from postgraduate degrees abroad, most notably, from the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. The first generation of new media artists was marked by the pioneering experiments of Abraham Palatnik (1922) and Waldemar Cordeiro (1925/1973), who helped create the Art Institute in 1972 at UNICAMP, and whose artistic practices were far beyond the scope of the university. Therefore the prolific participation of theoreticians and artists who had a representative production in art and technology inside the postgraduate programs was fundamental for the formation of a second generation of new media artists. An example is the role of semiotician Lúcia Santaella, who was advisor to many artists and researchers, among them Arlindo Machado (critic) and Júlio Plaza (media artist), all of whom were active agents in publications, in supervising master’s and doctoral degrees students, and being heads of postgraduate degrees.

From the 1990s onwards there was a great institutional growth of postgraduate and art research degrees. Even though many postgraduate schools still encompass three fields (Visual Arts, Theatre and Music)—due to the insufficient number of professors with PhD titles, the creation of specific departments for each area was unfeasible.In order to cover this internal demand, universities organize themselves around the broader field of Linguistics, Letters and Arts, which helps to cater for the prerequisite of doctoral programs with professors that fulfil the requirements of having a PhD.

To cite an example, in 2002 of the 19 Postgraduate Programs recognized by CAPES,  only 10 offered Master’s degrees and only 9 offered both Master’s and Doctoral degrees. Among those, 3 programs were mixed, offering the 3 fields (Visual Arts, Theatre and Music); 5 offered Visual Arts, 3 Theatre, 7 Music and 1 Art Science, which had a course syllabus closer to Visual Arts. The successes and failures of the institutional formation of postgraduate degrees in arts has gained visibility since 2004 with the Forum of Visual Arts Postgraduate Degrees, which has been included in the program of ANPAP and gathers heads of postgraduate programs to discuss the processes and outputs of research. In 2009 there were 37 Postgraduate Programs in Arts connected to the field of Linguistics, Letters and Arts, of which 15 had doctoral degrees. Recently, in 2018, the last survey of CAPES showed that there are 51 Master’s degrees and 24 Master’s and doctoral degrees programs in Arts, which reflects the demand and academic training of a great number of artists/researchers/teachers in the area of the Arts and its related fields.


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