Program Description


Situated in the context of a 21st-century art school, the MA in Critical Studies examines overlaps and tensions between critical theory and visual studies and investigates the role critical theory and artistic production can play in transforming institutions and ideologies. The program is designed to help students develop modes of research, thinking, and writing that cross disciplinary boundaries.

The two-year required course sequence builds from identifying issues and ideas in critical theory and cultural studies to providing students with the methodological, research, writing, and professional skills they need to ask significant questions and to investigate those areas of inquiry in a thesis project of their own design.

The thesis research occurs during the first year; the thesis writing occurs during the second year, resulting in both an academic research paper finished in the third semester and a work of publishable writing or piece of public scholarship based on the student’s professional interest in the fourth semester.

Allotting two years to complete the 45-credit MA program provides time for students to take electives that support their research interests, to work at jobs that sustain their professional and financial needs, and to complete thesis projects in a timely manner. The two-year program also allows students to have the summer off for independent research, work, fellowships, travel, or internships.

We make a range of scholarship and funding opportunities available to all accepted applicants.

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MA/MFA Option

MA/MFA option through which MA students can add a third year in any of PNCA’s MFA programs to graduate with a dual MA/MFA degree. Learn more about the Dual Degree MA/MFA.

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Many forms of financial assistance are available to our students.

Merit scholarships are assessed based on the student’s personal history of scholastic achievement, as well as their contributions to culture and community. Consideration will also be given to traditionally underrepresented students and those who demonstrate financial need. No separate application is required for merit scholarships.

MA students can apply for Teaching Assistantships which afford students the opportunity to work in the classroom and gain pedagogical experience pending completion of a Critical Pedagogy class. TAs are compensated per semester once they are placed in a class.

Students are encouraged to apply for external scholarships. These can be found by searching online databases including the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool, and sites such as Fastweb,, and Scholarshipsportal.


Travel Awards support students presenting at academic conferences.

Other Opportunities

BridgeLab Career Services can connect students with opportunities for paid work including on-campus positions and off-campus internships. Some of these opportunities are available to international students.

Program Highlights

Visiting Scholars

Conversations are enlivened by visiting writers and scholars throughout the year. These visiting scholars and writers include Maggie Nelson, Sarah Schulman, Walidah Imarisha, C. Riley Snorton, Z. Nicolazzo, Allan de Souza, and Cheryl Strayed.


Art Discourse

Art Discourse is a platform for writing that explores the aesthetic, political, and social dimensions of art and design. It is published by the MA in Critical Studies program in collaboration with the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA.

Art Discourse


Schedule a visit

Get in touch with MA in Critical Studies Chair, Shawna Lipton: to schedule a campus visit or to learn about the program today.

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