Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies
It is widely recognized that the developing field of visual and critical studies functions as one of the most challenging and sophisticated sites for suturing complex cross-disciplinary experimentation and scholarly research. The key objective of this program will be to enable students to critically unpack visual information and meaningfully situate research within a broader epistemological horizon. Students will engage in a theory-driven, integrative, experimental course of study exploring the strategic points at which cultural context, material conditions, critical theory and the visual intersect. Students in KCAD’s Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies program will learn to write about visual culture in a scholarly manner suitable for publishing in peer-reviewed journals, synthesize and apply multiple qualitative research methods and concepts to the study of visual culture, and gain mastery in critical theory and analysis.
This program is appropriate for those students who may be interested in pursuing a PhD in visual studies, critical studies, museum studies, or as a dual degree option earned concurrently or consecutively with the MFA. The program also provides students with an opportunity to gain mastery in an additional focus area. It is widely accepted that we currently must negotiate an increasingly complex world of visual information. Students from the fields of fine art, design, library or information science, anthropology, sociology, political science, cultural studies, etc. may find the addition of a certificate or Master of Arts degree in Visual and Critical Studies advantageous to advancing the development of their research, practice and career.
In the Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies program, you’ll explore the influence of visual images on everyday life through a theory-driven, integrative, and experimental course of study. By focusing on the strategic points of cultural context, material conditions, and critical theory, you’ll learn to investigate visual culture through a synthesis of multiple qualitative research methods and concepts and to communicate your analysis through scholarly writing suitable for peer-reviewed journals.
As you move through the Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies program, you’ll develop the ability to critically unpack visual information and meaningfully situate research within a broader epistemological horizon. You’ll build versatile critical thinking and critical reading skills that will empower you to effectively analyze theoretical texts.
You’ll elevate your writing and public speaking skills in order to publish scholarship in peer-reviewed journals as well as communicate your findings through engaging and informative oral presentations. All of these skills will be informed by your awareness of how images shape our attitudes and actions, allowing you to more effectively navigate the ever-shifting landscape of the modern world.
Housed in an institution with a rich history of innovative art and design education, the Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies program is attentive to the concerns of practicing artists and designers, which means that you have more freedom to dive deep and experiment than in similar programs situated in a traditional liberal arts setting. You even have the opportunity to take classes alongside other graduate students in the Master of Fine Arts and the Master of Arts in Design programs at KCAD.
There’s also the matter of flexibility: you can choose to pursue either an 18 credit-hour certificate or the full 30 credit-hour degree program that includes a thesis requirement. Whatever path you take, you’ll receive intensive and personalized instruction from the program’s diverse, faculty, who possess interdisciplinary expertise in visual art, digital media, art history, visual culture, and literary studies in addition to critical theory and analysis.
The skills and knowledge you’ll develop in the Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies program are invaluable in today’s highly visual world, as the growing need for critical analysis and cultural synthesis demands a new kind of interdisciplinary scholar who is invested in a more experimental mode of research and scholarship. As society negotiates an increasingly complex landscape of visual information, the ability to understand the visual world becomes paramount.
You’ll emerge from the program equipped with the tools and framework to be an individual researcher who can suture together knowledge in new ways, fostering experimentation and discovery through published peer-reviewed scholarship. The degree will also act as a springboard for you to pursue a PhD in fields such as visual and critical studies, art history, fine arts, design, museum or curatorial studies, and library or information science.
If you’re entering the program with an undergraduate degree in fine art, design, library or information science, anthropology, sociology, political science, or cultural studies, obtaining a certificate or MA in Visual and Critical Studies will aid you in advancing the development of your research, practice, and career. If you’re entering the program with an MFA, you develop enhanced theoretical knowledge and writing skills that will enable you to achieve more in your professional artistic practice.
The capstone of the Master of Arts in Visual and Critical studies program is a year-long thesis project* in which you’ll propose, research, compose, and present an original work of intensive scholarship on a specific topic, either historical or contemporary in nature, related to visual culture. You’ll first work with your faculty advisor to determine a suitable topic and theoretical direction. Then, in the semester-long Research and Methods course, you’ll develop a framework of research that will eventually become your thesis proposal. Finally, you’ll spend your final semester in the program completing your thesis in the Writing Practicum course.
Both the Research and Methods course and the Writing Practicum will help you develop very specific skills: critical reading and evaluation of scholarly literature, understanding the different ways to analyze images based on disciplinary and theoretical concerns, planning and execution of a large writing project that indicates discipline and self-motivation, and finally, honing your writing and self-editing skills necessary to communicate complex ideas.
*The completion of a graduate-level thesis is required for all students who wish to obtain the M.A. The thesis is not required for students pursuing the certificate.
In addition to the support of the faculty in the Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies program, you’ll have access to the KCAD Library, which provides access to millions of books through the MeLCat shared library catalog as well as access to specialized research databases and subscriptions to scholarly journals; and KCAD’s Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), an innovative cultural institution hosting exhibitions of such contemporary artists and designers as Nick Cave, Kehinde Wiley, Kara Walker, Nari Ward, Carrie Mae Weems, and Judi Werthein.
Karen Carter Ph.D.
Susanna Engbers Ph.D.
Richard Yarhouse M.F.A.
Diane Zeeuw M.F.A.
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