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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.


• Successful completion of 60 credits, including all required courses and the thesis project. Documentation of all thesis projects must be on file in the MFA Art Writing Department to be eligible for degree conferral. 

• Students are required to maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.0 (B)
in order to remain in good academic standing. 

• A matriculation of two academic years. Students must complete their degree within four years, unless given an official extension by the provost.

First-Year Requirements

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

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

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

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    
Electives (3)                                             

ACG-6050  Thesis Seminar                     
ACG-6060      Thesis 

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. This course will also assist students in understanding the prominent theoretical positions of art criticism—past and present—and their sources. 

Writing I
Fall semester: 4 credits
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 II
Spring semester: 4 credits
This is the second part of a three-semester course. It will lead to the writing of the thesis in the final year of the program. Students will study examples of critical writing, such as reviews of current exhibitions. As the process advances, students are encouraged to dig deeply into ideas without losing sight of the value of clarity. 

Writing III
Fall 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
Spring 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. 

Day/time: TBA
Spring 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. 

Elective Courses

Narrative as Criticism
Fall semester: 4 credits
Who is a storyteller, and how do writers and artists practice storytelling? Given the complex media environment in which artists and writers realize their work, the notion of storytelling can be used effectively to denote how texts and images relay experience. This course will attempt to expand on that claim, proceeding to consider the histories and methods of interaction between both mediums. The genealogy of such work arguably reaches back to ekphrastic writing, is beholden to the evolution of Western and non-Western literacy, collaborations between visual artists and writers, and the idiosyncratic ways writers use Instagram. Drawing from a range of examples, including novels, essay films and collaborative projects between artists and writers, the discussions and writing prompts will emphasize the tenuous yet illuminating relationship between image and text. We will begin with finding parallels between Walter Benjamin’s The Storyteller and griots of West Africa, and then explore the collaborative work of John Berger and Jean Mohr, novels by W. G. Sebald and Daša Drndić, and essay films by Chris Marker. 

Writings by Filmmakers
Fall semester: 4 credits
This course will provide a historically wide-ranging and international survey of writings by filmmakers. Bringing together criticism, manifestos, poetry, autobiography and theoretical tracts, it will cover the early Soviet cinema (Alexander Dovzhenko, Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov), the first European avant-garde (Germaine Dulac, Hans Richter), documentary and propaganda (John Grierson, Humphrey Jennings, Leni Riefenstahl), American experimental film (Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, Jonas Mekas, Jack Smith), the French New Wave filmmakers associated with Cahiers du Cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer), the Japanese New Wave (Nagisa Oshima), and movements like Cinema Novo (Glauber Rocha), as well as poet-filmmakers (Forough Farrokhzad, Pier Paolo Pasolini), cinema and metaphysics (Robert Bresson, Nathaniel Dorsky), feminist cinema (Laura Mulvey), the essay film (Harun Farocki, Chris Marker), and the filmmaker-as-film-historian (Thom Andersen). Through a series of workshops, students will refine the way they discuss moving-image art, considering how the writings of these auteurs have shaped their filmmaking and vice versa. 

Against Interpretation
Fall semester: 4 credits
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 (or pedagogical practice), 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 the students who enroll. Susan Sontag’s essay will be one starting point; Sol LeWitt’s sentences and paragraphs on conceptual art will be another. 

Aesthetics and the Nature of Image
Spring 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
Spring 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). 

Home Is a Foreign Place: Writing on Art, Conflict and Estrangement
Fall semester: 4 credits
What does it mean to write about art in relation to conflict? This course will grapple with the difficulty, intensity and promise of capturing the work that artists do so in times and places that are deeply troubled, whether by political upheaval, economic collapse, epidemic illness, armed struggle, or outright war. Through case studies, close readings and lively discussions, we will scrutinize the forms of writing—including the dispatch, the daybook and the diary—that document the urgency of art in moments of extreme or slow-burning crisis, in the face of subtle or sensational violence. Drawing on the work of John Berger, Cynthia Carr, Jace Clayton, Joan Didion, Cuauhtémoc Medina, Yasmine El Rashidi and Susan Sontag, among others, we will, in our own writing, experiment with a mix of criticism, narrative and reportage to shake up how we look, what we see and why we write about a thing so fragile (and magical) as art in brutal circumstances. 

Writing Art and Race
Fall semester: 4 credits
This course will explore racial representation and confrontation in contemporary art and the issues it raises for writers and critics. We will consider how writers have responded to the rise of art that overtly challenges white supremacy from the 1960s to the present. We will examine the position of non-white critics who face certain burdens and expectations when they address work that deals with race, and the position of white critics who seek to engage it productively. We will explore how past and recent controversies unfolded over race and representation in artworks, exhibitions and institutions, and their outcomes in public discourse. We will take on work being made or shown to address how art writing can contribute to understanding race in America’s current climate. For focus and clarity, the course will emphasize blackness, the African-American critical tradition and the white gaze, and students are welcome to expand the frame in their projects.

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