MFA Art Writing
Situated in the heart of New York City and at the intersection of words and images, the MFA Art Writing program offers writers the opportunity to bring their language into a complex meeting with the visual arts and the ideas that inform it.
Like the nature of the work we hope to help students produce, this program itself is a work in progress, and is continuously refined as a function of the experience of all its participants.
This program is not involved in “discourse production” or the prevarications of curatorial rhetoric, but rather in the practice of criticism writ large, aspiring to literature.
For us, criticism is a way to ask bigger and better questions
We want students with wide-ranging curiosity about contemporary culture
Emphasis on the history and current transformations of the image
The MFA in Art Writing is one of the only graduate writing programs in the country that focuses specifically on criticism. We honor Walter Benjamin’s desire to “create criticism as a genre,” unto itself, and that means opening the program to a wide variety of approaches and inquiries. For us, criticism is an open proposition—a way to ask bigger and better questions.
We live in an age when images have inordinate power over us—the power to influence public opinion, to create and direct desire, to comfort and inflame. The critics of tomorrow must study images, in all of their manifestations, in order to better understand how we are subject to them.
The practice of criticism involves making finer and finer distinctions among like things, but it is also a way of asking fundamental questions about art and life. Writing good criticism requires a grounding in art history and aesthetics, and also a prodigious curiosity and knowledge of contemporary culture. Critics cannot afford to be specialists, so our curriculum is both finely focused and wide-ranging. In addition to the foundation seminars Bases of Criticism, three levels of writing practicum, and the thesis seminar, we offer a broad array of continually changing electives, dealing with everything from the idealist tradition to artists’ writings. We concentrate on the essay as form, as well as on shorter forms of review, and learn criticism by doing it. Students’ writing and reviews are published regularly in our online magazine Degree Critical, and art magazine editors are involved in the program in various capacities. The thesis that students write at the end of their course of study is intended to be a substantial work of criticism. We want students to come out of this program able to write in the world.
From its inception, this program has also had a special emphasis on the history and current transformations of the image. In addition to our exceptional core faculty, we invite many artists, writers, critics, editors, art historians and philosophers each year to give lectures and meet with our students individually or in small groups. This will always be a small program, with a good deal of opportunity for one-on-one interaction.
We think it makes sense for a program like this to be situated within a major art college like the School of Visual Arts, since good things happen when artists and writers get together. It is also obviously a big advantage to have such a program located in the heart of New York City, amidst the greatest concentration of artists and art activity in the world. We will look at a lot of art here, and try to account for our experience of it in writing. And in all we do, we will be guided by the advice Henry James gave to writers when he said, “Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.”