Illustration MFA students progress through the program by taking on increasingly complex projects oriented around critical issues in illustration theory and practice. Required seminars and studios are supported by additional studies in art and design and elective courses across the college, allowing students opportunities for focused, personally meaningful study. 

The experience culminates in a final thesis project that builds on work completed throughout the program. In completing the thesis, degree candidates explore ideas, methods and modes of expression that suit their goals as socially engaged artists and communicators.

    Fall 1

  1. The first core studio in the program is centered on an investigation of the mechanics of articulating meaning in an image. Through a variety of projects, students will investigate the efficacy of various strategies in traditional and new media, and engage in perceptual experiments in order to study the intersection of art and visual psychology. (six credits)

  2. This seminar addresses key critical theories and sociopolitical aspects of illustration practices from a historical perspective. Reading, discussion and other course elements will empower students to meaningfully integrate ideas into studio writing and activity. (three credits)

  3. to be chosen in consultation with the graduate program director (three credits)

  4. Wintersession 1

  5. Students in this seminar will explore the political nature of publishing in historical and contemporary contexts. Facilitated by object-based study and critical writing under the guidance of faculty, Special Collections research librarians and/or Museum Studies faculty, students will develop critical-curatorial projects for display on campus. This course scaffolds social engagement-focused studio and seminar work in Fall 2. (three credits)

  6. Spring 1

  7. This course explores story construction, narrational voice and imagery as elements in the creation of meaning, as articulated in student work made in a range of possible mediums and tailored to various audiences. Students will investigate linear, symbolic, interactive and narrative formats, from handmade artist’s books to digital technology, in shaping narrative content. (six credits)

  8. As a companion to the Narrative Structures studio, this seminar offers a comparative framework for looking at storytelling in contemporary practice. Through readings and discussions of contemporary artist-writers and pioneers in visual narrative, participants will delve into current narrative theory and consider why the narrative format remains so relevant in the age of global information systems and Big Data. (three credits)

  9. In this class students will practice verse as well as short- and longer-form prose in order to discover their personal voice. Students will focus primarily on their own bodies of work, with critical discussions of fiction, memoir, poetry and graphic novels providing an entryway for honing a sensitivity to language. (three credits) 

    *Note: Students may meet this requirement with related courses offered at RISD or Brown, with permission of the graduate program director.

  10. to be chosen in consultation with the graduate program director (three credits)

  11. Fall 2

  12. This studio challenges students to engage in artistic practices that enhance the wellbeing of communities through critical making, social engagement and future-building. In engaging with nonprofits (either through established RISD networks or self-initiated partnerships), students will define their own areas of practical engagement and subject areas centered on social, political or environmental challenges. (nine credits)

  13. In this class students learn to mine their own creative work for the purpose of critical writing. Coursework will aid participants in adopting self-reflective practices within the context of a profession that emphasizes commissioned work, audience reception and participatory culture, and final seminar output will help enhance clarity of each student’s thinking, process and work as they begin to develop their graduate thesis. (three credits)

  14. to be chosen in consultation with the graduate program director (three)

  15. Wintersession 2

  16. * In lieu of an elective, students may apply to teach a five-week Wintersession course as instructor of record; this option requires that students also take a three-credit practicum in preparation for teaching.

    ** to be chosen in consultation with the graduate program director (three credits)

  17. Spring 2

  18. As a culmination of the MFA program, this intensive studio challenges students to design and craft a significant, topically-focused body of work. Although students may choose creative formats and media according to their own interests, they must publish all work they produce in class. Publication through digital platforms (podcasts, websites, apps, etc.) will be coordinated with analog forms when possible and appropriate to the project. (nine credits)

  19. This seminar provides students with a formal class setting for creating critical reflections on and documentation of ongoing studio work. Students will detail their own artmaking in a written thesis that will be formally reviewed by their thesis committee and then submitted to RISD’s library for archival purposes. In addition, discussions of key theorists and artists will aid students in analyzing the creative, political, economic and social landscape in which they will produce and disseminate their illustrations. (three credits)

Sample electives

Exhibiting Research

Environmental Aesthetics

Future Gender

Global Environmental Inequality, Local Environmental Justice

Indigenous Knowledge

Losing Paradise, Inventing the World

Traditions, Trappings, Culture, Kitsch

Visible Cities