Liberal Arts

Liberal Arts class in Old Library

At RISD the exploration of both studio arts and liberal arts makes for a powerful experience. In fact, RISD stands out among art schools for its emphasis on liberal arts study, led by doctorate-level faculty in archaeology, anthropology, biology, cognitive science, creative writing, literature, history, art history, performance studies, philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology and more.​

Liberal Arts departments

All RISD undergraduate students are required to take a third of their classes in Liberal Arts, a division that includes three departments: History, Philosophy and the Social SciencesLiterary Arts and Studies; and Theory and History of Art and Design. Additional Liberal Arts electives, including Science for Art and Design Education courses, may be used to fulfill liberal arts requirements.

In addition to offering a wide range of courses, each department also offers an undergraduate “concentration”—a more intensive curriculum for students who wish to focus their liberal arts studies within a specific field. Liberal Arts faculty are also open to working with students one-on-one through for-credit Independent Study Projects (ISPs).​

The mission of the Liberal Arts division is threefold: to provide a strong general education, to offer possibilities for focused study, and to foster opportunities for deepening and enriching art and design practice. In Liberal Arts classes students learn to articulate ideas with independence and confidence; think creatively, critically and analytically; and develop a lifelong curiosity about the world.

New opportunities for graduate study

The Liberal Arts division also offers two masters programs for graduate-level scholars interested in conducting advanced research at the intersection of the humanities, social sciences and art and design practices. Building on a transdisciplinary approach, the 1.5-year Master of Arts programs in Global Arts and Cultures and Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies challenge students to extend the boundaries of traditional scholarship while critically considering emerging challenges of 21st-century life.

In Global Arts and Cultures students explore the arts—visual, literary, architectural, performing—in a broad sense to understand how they shape and are shaped by various global and historical forces, and to think about their present and future role in an increasingly connected world. Similarly, students in the Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies graduate program develop dynamic methods for addressing the relationship between urgent environmental issues and current practices in the areas of art and design. In creating an original written thesis, students in these programs become hybrid thinkers prepared to make informed interventions in a range of fields.

For more information

Gail Hughes
Division Coordinator, Operations and Administration
401 454-6572

Karen Montecalvo
Division Assistant, Operations and Administration
401 454-6569

Anna Cimini
Division Coordinator, Academic Programs
401 454-6570

Tina Egnoski
Division Assistant, Academic Programs
401 709-8406