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; The Fed Galleries @ KCAD, an exhibition space featuring the work of nationally and internationally-recognized artists; 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.
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This course will introduce students to the writing of key scholars associated with the emergent field of Visual Studies. Additionally, this course will also include material from cognitive science on the mechanics of sight, theories of "mind," and perception.
The course will require students to read and discuss key texts that formulate different approaches to critiquing visual culture in the modern and contemporary periods (c. 1850 to the present). The course will require students to complete critical reviews and research projects.
This course will focus on diverse methodological approaches and research processes that will lead to the development of an appropriate research question for the master's thesis. The course will be organized as a seminar in which students will discuss important texts and peer-review fellow students' writing. Additional time outside class will be devoted to research.
This course will examine the constantly changing and expanding new media and technology and how they influence the way we behave, think, and live. By analyzing new media including social technology, the course will examine critical theory in relation to the moving image, imaging technology, the impact of social media, and the globally instantaneous dissemination of images and ideas.
This course will provide a forum for the writing and completion of the master's thesis, which is comprised of either research of original documents and source material and/or the application of methods learned in the Research and Methods seminar to a topic of visual culture. The course will be organized as a seminar in which students (under the supervision of Visual and Critical Studies faculty) will present and peer review their research. Additional time outside class will be devoted to the completion of the thesis (20,000-40,000 words in length).
This course will focus on an indepth examination of those strategic points at which social practice, theory, and the practice of art intersect. Students will read from key theoretical texts on Post-structuralism and Deconstruction including the writings of such seminal thinkers as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, and others.
Students will be introduced to current theory critically framing our understanding of the representation of others including gender, race, ethnicity, class, criminality and social deviance, sexual orientation and identity, disability and embodiment, Posthumanism and the animal, and notions of radical otherness.
Drawing on historic foundations and contemporary work in metaphysics and philosophy of science, this course will explore the relationships between metaphysics which concerns the nature and description of an Ultimate Reality, and representation of that which lies beyond human sensual knowing.
The course will analyze the centrality of the city of Paris from the 1860s to the 1960s in diverse interpretations of modernity. Course readings will include critical texts by Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, Henri Lefebvre, and Guy Debord.
This course will study the impact of historically shifting technology, media, and effects of biomedical imaging on notions of identity, personhood, illness, etc, including imagery culled from medical texts identifying pathological body function and the indexing of symptoms to more recent narrative medical practices.
This course will explore the global visual and performed culture of performances and masquerade, in which the identity of the performer is concealed through a mask, costume, or makeup. The course will explore masquerade performances as a transformative act that resonates with issues of artistry and socio-political and economic concerns.
This course examines the strategic points at which the philosophical branches of Aesthetics and Ethics intersect. Students will consider a range of problematic cultural artifacts and images as filtered through Platonic, Deontological, Utilitarian, Pragmatic, Care-ethical, and other key philosophical thought projects.
This course will examine the history, theory, and current practices in sequential imaging in media such as comics, painting, animation, interactive technology, games, and film. Students will critically analyze sequential arts' relationship with time, space, and semiotics along with other theories of visual narratives.
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