Graduate education at RISD 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. Grad students pursue their work with great focus and intensity in an environment that offers interdisciplinary breadth and intellectual depth. Ultimately, each degree program culminates in a final body of studio work along with a thesis book that illuminates each artist’s process and thinking.

Thesis exhibition opportunities

In May students who are about to earn master’s degrees take part in the annual graduate thesis exhibition, a much-anticipated show open to the public and presented in a high-traffic venue downtown. Each exhibitor is provided ample space to showcase multiple pieces from a final body of thesis work.

The work selected for the show represents the culmination of each student’s unique experience at RISD and is complemented by a web-based gallery of audio, moving and still imagery, along with artists’ statements providing insight into the thought process behind thesis work.

In addition, a selection of work by second-year graduate students is often shown simultaneously at Sol Koffler Graduate Student Gallery and all fine arts departments also sponsor final thesis exhibitions in New York City.

Why write at RISD?

Writing about, around and through work made in the studio is key to graduate education at RISD, with the creation of a written thesis a requirement in most master’s programs.

The approach at RISD is to think of the written thesis as a natural and necessary extension of studio practice. In the process of organizing and articulating thoughts in the form of writing, students often discover the core concepts and basic rationale underlying their work. In fact, as much as the work drives and directs the written content, the act of writing helps further clarify the conceptual thinking behind the work.

Students partner with a thesis advisor and often turn to the RISD Writing Center for additional assistance in thinking through and producing a final document. Thesis review committees typically include selected RISD faculty members along with outside professionals from a wide variety of fields, a group of focused readers that together creates a rich and rewarding environment for critical dialogue.

“The process of writing a RISD thesis is rarely straightforward, efficient or methodological,” notes Anne West, an adjunct faculty member in Graduate Studies and author of Mapping the Intelligence of Artistic Work: An Explorative Guide to Making, Thinking, and Writing. “As we search with words, we find our vision and voice in the intimate tension between sensations and writing, in the insistence of our questions and insights born from experiments, in comments offered during critiques and in the rigor of our research.” The ultimate goal at RISD is less to explain the work than to “write together with it,” as West puts it.


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