The MA Program

The MA Program

About the Program

The MA in Critical Theory and the Arts is a year-long program of study in the arts that has its origins in a recognition shared by most everyone, though rarely explicitly, that art is not simply one more thing that humans happen to make, but the object that potentially and most of all reveals the antagonisms, conflicts and promises of human history and of the moment we inhabit. In this sense, art really does know “us better than we know ourselves.” And once this thought is on one’s mind, the impulse to understand how these considerable realities become coiled up in art, what they genuinely are, no less than wanting to know what it would mean intellectually and socially to do justice to art’s more than important content, may become insistent.

The program in Critical Theory and the Arts engages these questions in a broadly conceived curriculum that focuses on the contemporary situation of the arts: on the problems of making art today, on what art has become and is becoming, and on understanding what is at stake in the relation of these developments in art to contemporary social conflict and reality. This focus is, however, by no means limited to what’s happening “now,” for in understanding art from the perspective of the present, the past—our past—is necessarily illuminated and may even, in a certain sense, come to our aid in what we have to consider.

Much thinking is required here, and this is widely sensed by many. Thinking about art has, in fact, with rare historical precedent, never before been so protean, so inventive and urgently central to the whole of social, philosophical and political reflection. Every major area of thought now turns considerable attention to art in expectation that it will provide the key to solving its central questions. And this intensity in thinking about art is inseparable from what is occurring within art, where it hardly matters whether one is “for” or “against” theory. For reflection on art is no longer separate from its making. On the contrary, today every aspect of art’s reality presents dynamic conflicts and puzzles, and those who are directly involved in the arts can no longer imagine that it is possible to proceed naïvely, mixing passion with thin air. Where artists of earlier generations struggled to disguise the thinking labor that went into their work, today art theory has become part—often an explicit part—of all art-making. To an unprecedented degree, developments in art theory directly transform art. What the arts once were, they soon enough will no longer be; in large measure, they have already been irreversibly transformed. For artists and graduate students from several fields of inquiry, the need collaboratively to understand what has happened, what is happening and what is at stake is salient.

The Academic Year

The intensive year of study begins with two semesters of seminar work in social theory, aesthetics, art history, psychoanalysis, political thought and gender studies focused on the contemporary situation of the arts. These semesters, in which students take five, rather than the usual graduate school curriculum of three classes per term, succeed at condensing into the year what otherwise generally takes two years of graduate level work. Students meet individually with an academic advisor throughout the entire year from admission to the program right up to graduation. Students choose a second advisor to direct their MA thesis work, which is completed with the collaboration of a three-member thesis committee. In the summer semester, students and their advisors work in collaboration preparing the Comprehensive Thesis, which draws on the year’s coursework and student writings. The program as a whole combines to focus our studies on what is going on in art today in a way that involves the entire history of art and society and the most important questions we have about our lives.

Who Are the Students?

The students who join us for the year have a lot on their minds and mean to have a whole lot more on their minds. They have made it clear in their applications that they have a serious developing involvement in the arts and questions of social reality. These students bring an intensity for education to the program at a moment when it is widely recognized that society and a pragmatically narrowed education are largely in retreat from engaging some of the most tense, most difficult problems that have ever confronted humanity—problems that art, at whatever apparent distance from society, cannot help but share.

The students come from various fields of undergraduate education, including art school. A number are active in studio work. Because the curriculum is wide ranging, it necessarily turns out that each student is more prepared in one area of study than in another. Those, for instance, with a more extensive background in art history, philosophy, or sociology may have less direct experience in making art than do art school graduates, who may themselves know less about contemporary society than those who have studied sociology or whose lives have long been engaged in social activism—and so on. We expect this, and the array of strengths, familiarities and backgrounds produces a collaborative atmosphere in which students support and fill each other in. The faculty, fully aware of this situation, themselves have different areas of expertise and make these differences a productive source of reflection in the classes.

Program Size

A small group of students is selected annually by the Committee on Graduate Admissions. Students who, for various reasons—international students, especially—may need to plan far ahead to join the program, may request deferred admission for the following year.

Life After Critical Theory and the Arts

Graduates from this program discover that the MA degree prepares, qualifies and recommends them for many more life possibilities and kinds of work that more narrowly specified craft or career programs, which, though they have their own advantages, do not. Students are able to seek—and have achieved—teaching positions at various levels; work in many areas of the arts, in galleries and museums and work in foundations; students go on to seek advanced degrees, including the PhD, in areas including art history, literature, and philosophy; students may discover an impulse to become public intellectuals; to invent a life for themselves that no one may have thought of yet; and other students return to their engagement as artists with new perceptions and critical insight.

Students come to Critical Theory and the Arts motivated by intensities of inquiry, intellect and an ongoing engagement in problems of social reality and the arts. This is practical: Knowledge engages us in life, and it could not be otherwise.

Financial Aid

Limited departmental scholarship and assistantship funds are awarded by the Committee on Graduate Admissions for Critical Theory and the Arts based on merit and financial need. Interested applicants should mention in the application their desire to be considered for these funds.

SVA participates in all federal financial aid options and requires only one form for those who are eligible to apply: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

MA program candidates who are able and plan to apply for FAFSA should do so as soon as possible. You do not have to wait until your MA application is complete to submit the necessary forms to FAFSA.

Important Links

External Scholarship Resources

External Scholarship Resources

This collection of external scholarship and funding resources is a work in progress. As the department finds resources that interested students may wish to look into, we will post the information here. Visit the granting organization’s website for details on eligibility and steps to apply.

The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation
The objective is to promote, by charitable activities carried on by the Foundation, an appreciation of the traditional expression in painting, drawing, sculpture and the graphic arts, by aiding worthy art students, artists or sculptors who need further training or other assistance during their formative years. The foundation is neither a school nor a gallery. It does not conduct classes or organize exhibitions. Grants are made directly to the beneficiaries–not through other organizations. Each grant is $10,000 (Canadian). To be eligible for a grant, the candidate must: have already started or completed training at an established school of art; and/or demonstrate, through past work and future plans, a commitment to make art a lifetime career. The foundation welcomes applications throughout the year.
No deadline to apply.

Emergency Grant For Artists Of Color, Wheeler Foundation
Grants of at least $250 to aid visual artists of color with urgent financial needs such as housing, medical costs, fire, and flood damage. Applicants must live in the greater NYC area (including certain counties in CT & NJ), and must be actively working artists of at least 21 years of age. For more information on eligibility requirements, deadlines and to receive an application, write to the Foundation.
No deadline to apply.

World Studio AIGA scholarships
Each year, Worldstudio AIGA Scholarships receives hundreds of applications from young people in this very predicament – desperate to influence the world with their amazing talents but without the financial means to do so. Fortunately, with the support of generous individuals, organizations and corporations, Worldstudio AIGA Scholarships allow young people from minority and economically disadvantaged backgrounds not only to realize their artistic dreams, but also to give back to their communities. Applicants must be citizens of the United States or in possession of a Green Card.
All required materials must be submitted or postmarked by March 28.

The John F. And Anna Lee Stacey Scholarship Fund For Art Education
The scholarship, known as “The John F. and Anna Lee Stacey Scholarship Fund,” is open to United States citizens only, both men and women, single or married, irrespective of race, creed or color. The age range is 18 and 35 years. Appointments will normally be for one year, and the amount available for distribution will be approximately $5,000. At the discretion of the committee, this may be awarded in quarterly installments to one or more applicants.
Deadline: All required materials must be submitted or postmarked by February 1.

Pulaski Scholarships For Advanced Studies
The Pulaski Scholarships for Advanced Studies Program, which was initially endowed by the Conrad R. Walas family, is administered solely by the American Council for Polish Culture. Amount of award: $5,000 (Subject to change)
Deadline: All required materials must be submitted or postmarked by March 15.

Roothbert Fund Scholarships
The Fund is a small, nearly all-volunteer scholarship fund based in New York City, which awards yearly grants and works to foster fellowship among grant recipients. Once a year, the Fund accepts applications for grants, which include essays, transcripts and recommendations. From these written applications, the Fund identifies a group of finalists to be invited for a brief personal interview. On the basis of this interview, the Fund typically selects about 20 new scholarship recipients each year. Open to all in the United States regardless of sex, age, color, nationality or religious background. While the Fund does not emphasize any particular form of religious practice or worship, it seeks to provide support to persons motivated by spiritual values. The Fund has awarded grants to persons entering a wide range of careers. However, preference will be given to those who can satisfy high scholastic requirements and are considering careers in education. For information, applicants should read with care the Founders Prologue in the
Deadline: February 1.

The Foundation Center
The Foundation Center is a national nonprofit service organization recognized as the nation’s leading authority on organized philanthropy, connecting nonprofits and the grant-makers supporting them to tools they can use and information they can trust. Its audiences include artists, art students, grant-seekers, grant-makers, researchers, policymakers, the media, and the general public. The Center maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. grant-makers and their grants; issues a wide variety of print, electronic, and online information resources; conducts and publishes research on trends in foundation growth, giving, and practice; and offers an array of free and affordable educational programs. The Center offers free and paid subscription rates that enable you to customize and enhance your scholarship searches. Some of the award opportunities have deadlines range from once a year to various times throughout the year, so you are strongly encouraged to research this resource for potential external grants and scholarships.
For more information, please visit:
International Students, please visit:

Financial Guide for Higher Education in the Americas
The Financial Guide for Higher Education in the Americas is a compilation of data (description, phone number, e-mail, and website), by country, for study abroad. It includes scholarships, fellowships, grants, and loans available for Latin American and Caribbean students.

Artist Residency Support for SVA Students and Graduates
SVA Career Development, with the generous support of the Provost’s office, is now able to fund two SVA students or alumni for each of two prestigious residency programs: Anderson Ranch Art Center and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

All the information on these two awards can be found on the SVA Career Development website, where one can also download the full guidelines for each award.

Both programs are open to students and alumni, U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens. Please refer to each program’s website for further details on eligibility. Visit for full details on these awards and how to apply.