History of Art + Visual Culture


  • Liberal Arts Concentrations

    In addition to declaring a studio major and completing the required 42 Liberal Arts credits needed to graduate, all RISD students have the option of choosing a concentration in one of three Liberal Arts departments: History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC); History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences (HPSS); or Literary Arts and Studies (LAS).

  • Undergraduate HAVC Concentration

    The 27-credit undergraduate concentration in the History of Art and Visual Culture is designed for students who wish to complement a studio major with in-depth studies in art history, theory, criticism and museum studies. The undergraduate HAVC concentration can be completed as part of a typical 4- or 5-year degree program. All RISD BFA candidates may opt to add this concentration to their program of study.

  • Learning Outcomes

    Through written and spoken communication, concentrators are able to demonstrate:

    • knowledge of the world visual traditions from prehistory, classical, modern and contemporary eras

    • understanding of influences in global art history, such as religion, landscape, environment, interiors, body, ornament, technology and identity

    • the ability to identify and use art historians’ methodologies for interpreting works of art from various times and places 

    • the agility to translate insights from art historical studies to one’s own creative work

    • the use of analytical tools needed for interpreting and navigating the complexities of our world, as engaged through images and visual literacy

    • the capability to generate written art/design criticism and history at a level sufficiently high to engage the interest of an accomplished art historian

    • familiarity with and use of research methods appropriate for entering an MA or PhD program

  • Mary Bergstein | professor + concentration coordinator

  • Undergraduate Concentration Requirements (27 credits)

    1. History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC-H101) (1 course / 3 credits)
      History of Art and Visual Culture 2 (HAVC-H102) (1 course / 3 credits)
    2. Methodology/Historiography/Theory (choose 1 HAVC course in this topic area) (1 course / 3 credits)
    3. HAVC Seminars (2 courses / 6 credits)
    4. HAVC Electives (4 courses / 12 credits)

  • Graduate HAVC Concentration

    The 36-credit graduate concentration in the History of Art and Visual Culture offers master's degree candidates an opportunity to augment studio work with an in-depth liberal arts focus. HAVC has designed this concentration to address the fact that artists and designers at this level are increasingly expected to graduate with an understanding of the histories and theories of art and visual culture. In fact, many master's degree recipients enter teaching careers in which they are expected to teach history and theory as well as studio classes. The concentration offers a structured curriculum in the history, theory and criticism of Western art, as well as that of cultures throughout the world. These studies are enriched by ready access to the collections and rich curatorial expertise available at the RISD Museum of Art. Through the concentration, students may choose to focus on the history and theory of a specific studio discipline.


    All master's degree candidates may opt to add an HAVC concentration to their program of study, but completion of the graduate concentration requires the addition of a semester and a Wintersession beyond the duration of the standard graduate degree program.

  • Graduate Concentration Requirements (36 credits)

    1. Methodology/ Art Historiography/ Aesthetics/Anthropology of Art (2 courses / 6 credits):
      • Open Seminar in History of Art and Visual Culture
      • a second course in this category
    2. Specialization (8 courses / 24 credits)
      • to be selected based on an individualized study plan developed with the HAVC Concentration Coordinator
    3. Thesis (6 credits)
      • A concentration thesis on an art historical topic to be discussed with the HAVC Concentration Coordinator and developed under the supervision of an HAVC faculty advisor

  • Museum Fellows Program

    Under the adept leadership of Professor Mary Bergstein, RISD’s HAVC Concentration is a popular complement to studio majors, enabling students to gain a broader and deeper perspective on global cultural developments, genres and eras throughout history. And for many undergraduates, these studies serve as a springboard to further graduate study.

    In conjunction with the RISD Museum of Art, HAVC allows selected concentrators to participate in the Museum Fellows program, which offers a firsthand look at the profession of museum curatorship, along with a rare level of access to the museum’s diverse collections.

    Museum Fellows complete a semester-long apprenticeship with a specific curatorial department at the RISD Museum. The positions carry course credit, require significant time commitments and involve serious engagement in the real work of curators and conservators.

    The Museum Fellows program enables both undergraduate and graduate students to experience the behind-the-scenes workings of a significant art museum while also learning the finer points of handling sensitive and valuable art objects.