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Painting at RISD prepares students to engage in an individual search for meaning and cultural representation through the development of strong visual skills, keen critical reasoning abilities and an understanding of broad historical and social contexts. Professors encourage both the freedom and discipline essential to this process by embracing a wide range of aesthetic attitudes and offering flexible programs, along with a place where ideas rooted in the tradition of painting are openly examined and exchanged, challenged and refined.

Degree programs

4-year undergraduate program
2-year graduate program

Throughout the program, the conceptual and expressive aspects of painting remain central as students build on their skills through intense technical training and concentrated hands-on effort.

Arghavan Khosravi | MFA candidate


"I love that there are so few boundaries between Painting and other departments here at RISD. The faculty encourages us to experiment with all sorts of different materials like ceramics or glass, and their feedback is really helpful. My work has changes so much in just a short period of time—the stories I tell through art now are much more personal."

Kevin Zucker | department head

“Passion and respect for the painting tradition and the discourse that informs it are central to our mission in this department. But we also take a more expansive approach, embracing the non-medium-specific, the time-based and other interdisciplinary techniques and methodologies practiced in today’s art world.”

After RISD, Painting alumni go on to pursue a wide range of interests in the art world. Those who establish gallery connections are able to work as studio artists, but the paths people choose often lead to other creative work as curators, critics, performance artists, arts administrators, gallery owners, event planners, set designers, illustrators and much more…

Alumni at work

Nicole Eisenman BFA 87 | fine artist

“I’d like to tap into a universal human experience but know there’s no such thing,” says Brooklyn-based artist Nicole Eisenman. “We all experience the world differently.” Adhering to this belief in her studio practice, the 2015 MacArthur Award winner refuses to limit herself to any one way of making: in the three decades since graduating from RISD, she has created eye-opening figurative paintings, prints and sculpture teeming with social significance. Represented by Anton Kern Gallery in NYC, Eisenman uses allegory, satire and stylistic references to art history to explore issues of equity, justice, gender, sexuality and family dynamics.

Shahzia Sikander MFA 95 | fine artist

Taking traditional forms of making as a conceptual point of departure, Pakistani-born artist Shahzia Sikander works across several mediums to push the possibilities of visual expression. Currently based in NYC, in 2006 she won a MacArthur “genius grant” and, in 2012, she was the inaugural recipient of the US Department of State Medal of Arts. “For me art is not just an impulse to make aesthetically pleasing objects,” says Sikander, whose work is widely exhibited and collected around the world. “It has been from the very beginning an instinct to think and imagine.”

Do Ho Suh BFA 94 | fine artist

When Do Ho Suh first left Korea to study at RISD, he didn’t realize that the experience would inspire an ongoing body of work focused on questions of cultural and personal identity. Now he divides his time between New York, London and Seoul, creating profound site-specific installations that are in high demand throughout the world. Suh’s work is included in almost every major museum collection, from the Whitney, the Guggenheim and MoMA in New York City to the Tate Modern in London to Artsonje Center in Seoul and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.