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.

Some of the organizations CTA alumni are or have been affiliated with since graduating from the program:

Art Institutions

DOOSAN Gallery (Seoul and NYC)
Gladstone Gallery
Greene Naftali
Hammer Galleries
Kurimanzutto (Mexico City)
Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (Mexico City)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Colleges, Universities, Research Institutes

Binghamton University
The College of New Rochelle (Harlem)
Kingston University (London)
The New School for Social Research
Raritan Valley Community College (New Jersey)
Rutgers University
School of Visual Arts
University of Minnesota
University of New Mexico
University of California, Davis


Art Handler (co-founded by CTA graduate)
Art Slant
The Art Newspaper
Cured Quail (co-founded by CTA graduates)
The Platypus Review

Publishers and Bookshops

Codex Books (co-founded by CTA graduate)
Verso Books

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 post them 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.

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. 

Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Foundation
The Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Foundation, Inc. (EAF) provides funds to advance education in fulfillment of its mission: “To promote life-long learning.” This is accomplished by securing charitable funds to award scholarships and grants.

The Foundation is a source of support to graduate students, post freshman students and non-profit organizations serving diverse beneficiaries. Foundation scholarships and grants are awarded without regard to gender, race, creed, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability. The Foundation Awards merit scholarships and financial assistance scholarships, based on need. Awards amounts may vary. Applicants are asked to demonstrate exceptional academic achievement or financial need, as well as leadership, volunteer, civic and academic service.
Deadline: The deadline for all applications is August 15, 2018. Awards will be announced by December 2018.

Blanche E. Colman Trust
Female art students in the New England states may apply for the Blanche E. Colman Trust Scholarship. In addition, the Blanche E. Colman Foundation offers annual grants to New England Artist Women who have completed their formal education and have exhibited considerable talent in the area of painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, mixed media and photography. Deadline: Applications will be accepted beginning November 1st and the deadline is March 1st of each year. For more information regarding these scholarships for women write:
Blanche E. Colman Trust
c/o BNY Mellon, N.A.
P.O. Box 185
Pittsburgh, PA 15230-0185
Phone: (617) 722-3891
No website.

Fulbright Foreign Student Program
A mainstay of America’s public-diplomacy efforts, the Fulbright Foreign Student Program brings citizens of other countries to the United States for Master’s degree or Ph.D. study at U.S. universities or other appropriate institutions. The program has brought some of the world’s finest minds to U.S. campuses and offers program participants insight into U.S. society and values. Many foreign Fulbright grantees are early-career professionals who will return to take leadership positions in their home countries, often working at universities or in government service. More than 1,800 new Foreign Fulbright Fellows enter U.S. academic programs each year. Foreign students apply for Fulbright Fellowships through the Fulbright Commission/Foundation or U.S. Embassy in their home countries. The Institute of International Education (IIE) arranges academic placement for most Fulbright nominees and supervises participants during their stay in the United States. Applicants must be living in the country of nomination at the time application processes have begun, and must have a TOEFL score of 550 or IBT score of 79-80.
Deadline: Refer to Fulbright Foreign Student Program website.

College Art Association Professional Development Fellowship For Artists
CAA initiated the Professional Development Fellowship Program in 1993 to help M.F.A., terminal M.A., and Ph.D. students bridge the gap between graduate study and professional careers. By offering support at this critical juncture in scholars’ and artists’ careers, the CAA hopes to make timely degree completion more viable and employment opportunities more accessible. In turn, by nurturing outstanding scholars and artists at the beginning of their careers, the CAA hopes to strengthen and diversify the profession as a whole. Each fellow receives support over a period of two years. Year One: Degree Completion CAA grants $5,000 to each fellow for use during the final year of his/her MFA or Ph.D. program. CAA does not restrict the use of these funds, nor will CAA prohibit recipients from holding other scholarships, fellowships, or employment during the term of this grant. Year Two: Professional Placement CAA helps each fellow search for employment at a museum, art center, college, or university. Upon securing a position, CAA provides a $10,000 subsidy to the employer as part of the fellow’s salary. Participating organizations must match this grant 2:1. In addition to administrative and/or teaching duties, all fellows’ positions must include a curatorial or public service component. Salary or stipend, position description, and term of employment will vary and will be determined in consultation with individual fellows and their potential employers.
Deadline: All required materials must be submitted or postmarked by October 1.

The Puffin Foundation
Grant awards from the Puffin Foundation, Ltd. can only be awarded to permanent residents and citizens of the United States. U.S. citizens whose projects encompass work in other countries are still eligible to apply. The Puffin Foundation Ltd. continues to make grants that encourage emerging artists in the fields of art, music, theater, dance, photography, and literature whose works due to their genre and/or social philosophy might have difficulty being aired. The Foundation does not have the means to fund large film/documentary proposals, grants for travel, continuing education, or the writing or publishing of books. Average grants are: $1,000.00 – $2,500.00. The Foundation will be accepting requests for applications from September 1st until December 15th. To receive the application packet, please send a SASE (#10 self-addressed stamped envelope) to: Puffin Foundation Ltd. / 20 East Oakdene Avenue / Teaneck, NJ 07666-4111
Deadline: All required materials must be submitted or postmarked by December 27.

Paul And Daisy Soros Fellowship For New Americans
This foundation provides opportunities for continuing generations of able and accomplished New Americans to achieve leadership in their chosen fields. A “New American” is an individual who is a resident alien; has been naturalized as a US citizen; or is the child of two parents who are naturalized citizens. The program is open to individuals who retain loyalty and sense of commitment to their country of origin as well as the US, but is intended to support individuals who will continue to regard the US as their principle residence and focus of national identity. The fellowship supports 30 individuals per year for up to TWO YEARS OF GRADUATE STUDY. Students already in graduate study are eligible, though not past their second year. The fellowship provides a $25,000 maintenance grant and half tuition wherever the Fellow attends.
Deadline: All required materials must be submitted or postmarked by November 8.

Art Scholarship For Mature Women
Women artists or photographers who are at least 35 years of age are invited to submit three color prints of any medium (oil, watercolor, original works on paper, or sculpture) or three color or black-and-white prints of photographic works. Neither applicants nor members of their immediate family may be members of the National League of American Pen Women. The award is $1000. Funds may be used for education.
National League of American Pen Women, Inc. / 1300 17th St., NW / Washington, DC 20036 (202)785-1997
Deadline: All required materials must be submitted or postmarked by October 31

J. Paul Getty Trust
The Getty Foundation supports institutions and individuals committed to advancing the greater understanding and preservation of the visual arts in Los Angeles and throughout the world through grant initiatives that increase access to museum collections, strengthen art history as a global discipline, advance conservation practice, and support current and future leaders in the visual arts. The Getty Foundation carries out their work in collaboration with the other Getty programs—the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, and the Getty Conservation Institute. Since 1984, they have awarded more than 6,500 grants benefiting over 185 countries on all seven continents.
Deadline: All required materials must be submitted or postmarked by November deadline, which will be made available as the application process begins.

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