UndergraduateGraduateContinuing EducationSpecial ProgramsAbout SVAStudent LifeAttend SVASVA Alumni

The MFA Art Criticism and Writing program provides a broad spectrum of courses taught by experts in their respective disciplines. Coursework both informs and guides students toward their personal and professional goals in art criticism and its writing.

Degree candidates must successfully complete 60 credits, including all required courses. A residency of two academic years is required. In the final semester, each student completes a thesis, which must be reviewed and approved by the thesis committee and the department chair in order for the student to be eligible for degree conferral.

First-Year Requirements

ACG-5050 Bases of Criticism I (fall)
ACG-5055 Bases of Criticism II (spring)
ACG-5080 Writing I (fall)
ACG-5085 Writing II (spring)

Second-Year Requirements

ACG-6030 Writing II (fall)
ACG-6050 Thesis Seminar (spring)
ACG-6060 Thesis (spring)

MFA Art Criticism and Writing General Course Listing


ACG-5050 / ACG-5055
Bases of Criticism I and II
Two semesters: 4 credits per semester
Required of all first-year students, these courses will provide background to the history, theory and criticism offered through the elective courses. Foundational texts and other sources will create a base for further studies during the two-year program. These courses will also assist students in understanding the prominent theoretical positions of art criticism—past and present—and their sources.

ACG-5080 / ACG-5085
Writing I and II
Two semesters: 4 credits per semester
Why are you here? What are you values, your ethics, your politics, your agendas, your limitations, your beliefs, your blind spots, your fears, your loves? These are big and changeable areas for investigation—people spend their entire lives tangling and untangling their answers. If these people are writers, they do it on the page. This is what it means to find your voice: to gain a singular authority and point of view. To discover the art of living, and the art through which you will communicate your aliveness to others. You will have weekly writing and reading assignments; the former will be workshopped.

Writing III
One semester: 4 credits
This course will lead to the writing of the thesis in the final semester of the program. Students will read examples from different styles of critical writing. Brief texts, in the nature of reviews of current exhibitions, will be assigned. As the process advances, students are encouraged to dig more deeply into ideas without ever losing sight of the value of clarity. Some students will choose to express themselves poetically and others analytically; the common goal will be clarity of expression.

Thesis Seminar
One semester: 4 credits
Students will begin thesis preparation by formulating the central ideas that will become the thesis, and will consider appropriate strategies for the research, form, presentation and distribution of their ideas. Thesis Seminar will give students the opportunity to meet as a group with a faculty member and discuss issues related to the development of their theses, and read portions of their work in class. Guest lecturers from various fields will discuss what is important about a thesis.

One semester: 8 credits
Each student will meet with his or her thesis advisor and work on a one-to-one basis throughout the semester. Meetings are used for the instructor to respond to drafts of the thesis and discuss its development.


The Language of Color
One semester: 4 credits
What language do we use to write about color in art? This course will explore the descriptive, critical and poetic terms that signify color. Through observation, reading, discussion and writing, we will examine the science and philosophy of color, the historical and literary development of color language, and the cultural and political significance of color in modern and contemporary art. Museum and studio visits, discussions with artists and critics, experiments in color identification and mixing, and regular writing workshops will be included. Readings will range from scientific and philosophical texts (Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Goethe, Michel-Eugène Chevreul, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Josef Albers) to fiction/memoir and poetry (Rainer Maria Rilke, William S. Burroughs, Barbara Guest, Frank O’Hara, William Gass, Maggie Nelson) to contemporary criticism (David Batchelor, Yve-Alain Bois, Esther Leslie, Kathryn Tuma). Students will develop a language of color through descriptive writing, response to critical texts and subjective encounters with color in art.

One semester: 4 credits
“Formless” as defined by Bataille is “not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, [a world] generally requiring that each thing have its form.” Formless, in other words, is not simply a description of objects in the world, but also an operation of critique and of writing. Contemporary art historians Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss revisit Bataille’s theory in their text Formless: A User’s Guide, employing formless as a tool for re-examining modernist avant-garde art practices by specifically targeting formalist readings of art history that privilege vision, instantaneity and formal unity over duration, entropy, fracturing, and the other senses: smell, sound, touch. Working from these two pivotal moments we will attempt to trace the lineage of formless and its relation to the avant-garde, from Dada and surrealism to contemporary art that engages appropriation, installation, new media, performance, and social practice. Formless is both the topic and the tool of this course: written assignments will explore methodologies rooted in the art movements we examine with the intention of developing a formless critique of current art and writing practices.

Criticism and Risk
One semester: 4 credits
For most everyone seriously involved with art, risk is an essential and uneasy word. The best artists, critics, curators, collectors and dealers may approach risk differently, but in order to meet the challenges of art, they all know that risk is required. Without risk, there can be neither knowledge nor transformation. Uncertainty, disturbance, otherness and shock have been part of the fabric of modernity, of which each incarnation of “the contemporary,” no matter how distinct, is itself part. But what a difficult word risk is: Risk what? Risk how? For what? For whom? With what objective? For a critic, the potential for risk is shaped by the publishing outlet. Risk is encouraged or suffocated by strategies of writing—including style. It goes without saying that its energies and stakes are also shaped by personality and history. This course will not fetishize or commodify risk. Through writings by artists, critics, curators, and others, it will consider questions such as: What are risk’s forms? How do we recognize them? How does risk happen within overt and internalized systems of authorization? What role does risk play in the experience of art and writing?

The Work of Art in the Age of Information
One semester: 4 credits
This course will pose the following questions: What is the work (the task) of art in a world given over to the near instantaneous flow of data across all boundaries of self and state? Is it still useful to think of the artist as a singular figure whose work captures a present reality, when history itself seems to be a rapidly shifting, tractionless field? How can we distinguish between subjective and objective reasons for aesthetic judgment (and is it important to do so)? Can critical thinking/writing reinscribe the criteria of meaning into the art experience without disavowing the work of theory or rejecting the ubiquity of information and opinion? Is there a new relation to be found between critical authority and cultural/social resonance? The course includes readings from a range of thinkers, artists and writers, as well as weekly writing assignments.

Motion Capture
One semester: 4 credits
Looking at some of the oldest and newest forms of animation, this course will examine how we represent movement in images, and to what ends. We will track the movement from ancient traditions of animism and the talismanic characteristics of inanimate objects to motion-capture technologies and military surveillance. We’ll read Aby Warburg and Roland Barthes, look at Muybridge and Marey, and move into ideas of montage in Eisenstein and Godard. In an attempt to envision the future of images, we will also discuss the accumulation of images as material, drones and infrared heat-sensor goggles, and speculative motion capture.

Against Interpretation
One semester: 4 credits
Serving as a subjective overview of strategies for resisting criticism, this course will look at the perennial efforts artists have undertaken to resist the authority and the conventional formats of criticism. From Dada, Fluxus and conceptualism to the Bruce High Quality Foundation and other collectives dedicated to rewriting art history’s curriculum, usurping the critical role has been a recurrent motive. Because the subject is so broad, this course will be organized, in part, around examples of particular interest to class participants. Starting points include the essay by Susan Sontag that gives this course its title, and Sol LeWitt’s writings on conceptual art.

Aesthetics and the Nature of Image
One semester: 4 credits
We will read classical and modern texts on aesthetics, tracing the passage from the Platonic notion of the artist as “demiurge” to the contemporary interest in “emergent” art—art whose very nature comes into being in the process of its production. Inquiry into the nature of image readily involves us in the study of the nature of “form.” Is form imposed on inchoate matter? Or does it rather derive therefrom? Are there fixed archetypes—physical, psychological, metaphysical, or mathematical—that dictate its possibilities? Does form flow organically from the material world? Is there an ontology of the image that can be drawn from our reflection on form? These and many other questions will concern us as we entertain texts from Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Goethe, Blake, Ruskin, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Jung, Olson, Duncan, et al. Writing assignments will be tailored to individual interests and guided through personal conferences.

Art Writing Now and for the Future
One semester: 4 credits
This course will engage with the conversations, debates, opinions and theories around contemporary visual art. Along with reading recent key texts in art criticism, we will examine reviews and essays published during the course of the semester. Students will make presentations on this material, as well as write their own short essays and articles to be discussed in class. We will also attend pertinent exhibitions and lectures. The goal of the course is to interact collectively with the most current writing and thinking on visual culture, and to attempt to anticipate future directions they might take.

Artists in the Present
One semester: 4 credits
Instead of concentrating on the conventional modes of interview, which rely on sets of questions that apply to everyone, this course will explore different preparations and methods congenial to a wide variety of practices and approaches that artists have adapted in order to differentiate themselves. Critics need to be able to talk with artists. We’ll prepare interviews that uncover working methods and ideas. The course includes studio visits.

Performance Criticism
One semester: 4 credits
This course is based on the belief that critics learn to write about performance in exactly the same way they learn to write about other forms of art—by looking. Each week we will travel to a different studio, rehearsal space, class or theater, so that students will get firsthand exposure to New York’s vibrant performance world. Weekly reviews/reports of what we have seen are required, and we will workshop a few of these each session. Course work will consist of these writings, participation in class outings and discussions, and workshop sessions.

Read more about the curriculum requirements

The curriculum assists students in the development of both a professional engagement with the visual arts and a professional body of work. These objectives are achieved through training in and exposure to contemporary critical practices, and the simultaneous development of a solid foundation in cultural histories and philosophies, both ancient and modern. The second year concentrates on the refinement of critique and writing skills to enable each student to achieve a personal style of commentary.

Bases of Criticism I and II; Writing I, II and III; Thesis Seminar and Thesis are all required courses. The curriculum is also designed to accommodate specific areas of interest through the elective courses, which relate to major issues in contemporary art criticism. Students work with their academic advisor to create a course schedule that is tailored to their individual academic objectives.

In addition to the core faculty, the program includes visiting lecturers from around the world. These lecturers will both discuss the backgrounds of their traditions as they relate to creative expression and share their perspectives on the relationships between the artistic practices of their cultures and the global significance of these practices.

Blog Feed

School of Visual Arts | 209 East 23 Street, NY, NY 10010-3994 | Tel: 212.592.2000 | Fax: 212.725.3587