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The Theory and History of Art and Design (THAD) department offers thought-provoking courses focused on a wide range of media, spanning time periods from ancient to contemporary and embracing diverse critical perspectives. Generally based on reading, close examination of actual works and small group discussions, courses emphasize critical thinking and analysis, clarity of written and verbal communication, and an understanding of the value of artistic expression across cultures and throughout time.

Theory + History of Art + Design Concentration

a focused liberal arts "minor"

In (and out of) the Classroom

Open to both undergraduate and graduate students, THAD courses are rich and varied, taught by faculty scholars with fabulously diverse interests ranging from ethnomusicology to landscape in American film, the role of femme fatales in Western art, contemporary African artists, French surrealism and much more. Behind-the-scenes access to the RISD Museum’s extraordinary collection of 85,000 works of art – from early Egyptian relics to 21st-century experimental light sculptures – provides students and faculty with unparalleled opportunities for in-depth research. THAD faculty work to provide access to actual works of art – both at the RISD Museum and elsewhere – image reproductions of works in books or on screen.

Hannah Antalek | THAD concentrator

"Choosing a concentration on top of my studio major is one of the best moves I've made at RISD. It's been really helpful to draw on movements and works of art I've studied and then take a deeper look at them when working through problems in the studio. As a Museum Fellow, I got to do research for a post-pop exhibition due to open this spring, and the contemporary art curator I work with really looped me into the curatorial process. I'm now looking for museum work after I graduate, even though I originally thought galleries were more the direction I wanted to go in. But I like the pacing of museum work and the rigorous research that goes into curating museum exhibitions."

Leora Maltz-Leca | department head

“Whether we know it or not, history is the medium that all artists and designers must mediate: embrace or refuse, emulate or parody. Courses in THAD treat the medium of history: we ask why we remember some stories and forget others. We ponder the ethics of materials and the gendering of concepts. We consider the politics of medium and the spaces of viewing. And we write. We write essays and criticism and letters to the past; we write footnotes to received history; we speculate on the future; and we mark up maps with shifting lines of discourse.”

In addition to its strong disciplinary focus, THAD offers comparative examinations of the critical dialogue among art historians representing various cultural traditions. Interdisciplinary approaches also invite further exploration of the artistic traditions of the world, critical theory and visual culture, art historiography, aesthetics, object conservation, and the histories of art and design in various media, among other broad topics.