The Complex Pleasures of Graduate Study

We live at a time when the process of making is in radical transition – especially at RISD. While the spaces and places where students experiment and explore remain relatively stable, the activities and behaviors that surface in studios across campus are thrillingly unsettled. Graduate education here embraces the uneven character and complex pleasures of art, labor and experimentation, along with the distinct risk of failure – all of which stimulate, sustain and advance adaptive practices.

RISD naturally supports the creative and intellectual journeys of graduate students from around the world by offering resources and facilities to accommodate an ambitious range of studies and practices, a pedagogical environment that encourages independent and critical thinking, and a committed community of faculty members, visiting artists, and other intellectuals able to challenge, encourage, question and advise. 

As dean of Graduate Studies, I marvel at the energy and commitment of our graduate students, observing with joy the ineffable and idiosyncratic, spontaneous and premeditated ways they think through materials, making ideas come to life. Through their intrepid work ethic, intellectual independence, limitless creativity and attentiveness to one another, RISD’s graduate students are deeply engaged in liberating transposition – a tenacious way of questioning that has far-reaching implications for the future.

At RISD we value both individual, independent research and collaborative projects designed to wrestle with real-world challenges. We look to our graduate students to push beyond the bounds of the known and ask provocative questions of themselves and their work, to experiment with new materials and to surface as many new questions as answers.

We understand that artists and designers have the potential to be both insightful practitioners and influential thought leaders capable of applying their open yet deep and probing process of inquiry and production to broader contexts. In our studios, we are persistently and insistently engaged in looking – back, ahead, across, around, up, under and through. We constantly consider – at times in an indirect and unacknowledged way – how it is we see, what something looks like and why.

That, in the broadest sense, is what graduate education in art and design is all about. More specifically, graduate study at RISD is shaped by a combination of centripetal and centrifugal forces. Our challenging education encourages students to pursue their work – both independent and collaborative, articulated and speculative – with great focus and intensity, in an environment rich in disciplinary breadth and grounded in intellectual depth.

Arguably, graduate programs in art and design exist to challenge, support and help students make better work. But equally important is the goal we share at RISD – of helping students work better. Thriving in a culture of critical thinking and making, RISD’s graduate programs cultivate laboratories of practice where students’ commitment to and passion for concentrated and connective intellectual and creative work can develop, deepen and ripen into ambitious ideas about the future. Imagining the many ways our graduates will go on to shape that future is both provocative and invigorating.

Patricia C. Phillips
Dean of Graduate Studies


Patricia Phillips 
Patricia Phillips
Dean of Graduate Studies and Research

Amy Patenaude
Administrative Coordinator
401 454-6131

Grad Studies Foreground Image 2
Installations such as this cascading pile of tortillas share gallery space with multimedia works in the grad show.