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The MFA in Art 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

In addition to the required coures that follow, first-year art writing students must register for a minimum of two elective courses per semester.

ACG-5050  Bases of Criticism I (fall)
ACG-5080  Writing I (fall)
Electives (2, fall)

ACG-5055  Bases of Criticism II (spring)
ACG-5085  Writing II (spring)
Electives (2, spring)



Second-Year Requirements

In addition to the required courses that follow, second-year art writing students must register for a minimum of three elective courses in the fall semester.

ACG-6030  Writing III (fall)
Electives (3, fall)

ACG-6050  Thesis Seminar (spring) 
ACG-6060  Thesis (spring) 

General Course Listing


ACG-5050 / ACG-5055
Bases of Criticism I and II
Two semesters semester: 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. The 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
Two semesters semester: 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.

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.

In the Process: Thinking about How Art is Made
One semester: 4 credits
Through reading essays by artists, critics and historians about the process of making art, this course will consider the importance of close attention to a work’s material as well as conceptual qualities. Subjects will range from traditional studio practices resulting in discrete paintings and sculptures to the development of work that is based in ideas and realized as ephemera or in time-based media. The goal of the course is to gain a broader understanding of how process can shape not only physical outcome, but also meaning. We will begin with two texts on Alberto Giacometti (A Giacometti Portrait and Looking at Giacometti). Further readings will include texts by artists Donald Judd, Robert Smithson, Robert Morris, Eva Hesse, Yvonne Rainer, Rackstraw Downes, Carroll Dunham, David Humphrey, Andrea Fraser and Frances Stark, as well as writers Robert Storr, Richard Sennett, David Levi Strauss and Patricia Phillips.

Time and a Half
One semester: 4 credits
This course is a study in paying attention. On field trips throughout the neighborhood, the island of Manhattan and beyond the city, we will use the class as a lab to practice slowing things down—listening and looking closely—as the foundation for [future] critical thinking and writing. Direct observation is the focus of the course work. It will be supplemented by readings, films, and encounters with planned guests and with strangers, discussions, food and drink.

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.

The Charismatic Image
One semester: 4 credits
What is charisma and how is it embedded in an image? In this course we will investigate the modalities of charisma, its power of attraction and repulsion, and its presumed necessity for aesthetic experience. We will try to define the role of charisma in different contexts of art and politics (from revolutionary activity to totalitarianism). In light of this, we will address themes of captivation, becoming, inspiration, violence, vision, prophecy, charm, temperament and mediation. Examples through which we will explore these concepts come from the visual arts, philosophy and the everyday. Assignments will consist of writing about one particular “charismatic image” chosen from any artistic medium (installation, painting, photography and performance, among others).

On the Line: Drawings, Diagrams and Writing
One semester: 4 credits
There are all kinds of lines: linear, broken, zigzagging; there are those that connect, initiate or deviate; there are lines (threads) that bond and lines that escape (into flight). Indeed, lines are the first aesthetic gesture found in prehistory. They are also the foundation of contemporary artistic production, from drawing to installation, from performance to architecture. Philosopher Baruch Spinoza even went so far as to say that human actions and desires should be considered as if they were lines and planes. In short, lines are at the core of things. In this course we will unravel fascination with lines and their power for creating contours of reality. To this end we will study artists such as Gego, Kandinsky, Horwitz, Dürer, Anastasi, Boetti and Klee, coupled with insights from composers Xenakis, Cage and Busotti; philosophers Nancy, Groys, Flusser and Deleuze; and anthropologists Ingold, Taussig and Bateson. Finally, we will try to determine, by doing it, what kind of line is writing itself, both in its critical explanations and in its enigmatic fragmentations.




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.

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