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Program Description


Situated in the context of a 21st-century art school, the MA in Critical Studies pays particular attention to images, examining overlaps and tensions between critical theory and visual studies and investigating the role critical theory and art can play in transforming institutions and ideologies. 

The two-year required course sequence builds from identifying key questions and issues in critical theory to providing students with the methodological, research, writing, and professional skills they need to ask good 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 based on the student’s professional interest in the fourth semester.

Accessibility and inclusion are priorities for this program. Thus we make a range of scholarship and funding opportunities available to all accepted applicants. 

choose your path


A highly tailored pathway for each student customized for his or her field(s) of inquiry.

Open curriculum with opportunities for study across disciplines and programs throughout the school.

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.
Dual Degree MA/MFA



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.

The Critical Research Fellowship allows one student the opportunity to gain scholarly research experience and learn about academic publishing by acting as a research assistant to the Program Chair for the academic year. This fellowship provides a 60% tuition remission.

Writing Fellowships are awarded to students with exceptional writing skills who can serve as writing consultants for students at PNCA.

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, and Scholarshipsportal.

Other Opportunities

Paid work is available to students on campus, including positions for international students.

BridgeLab, PNCA’s professional development and career center, will also assist students seeking paid Internship opportunities off-campus.  


Writing Awards Each year a first-year student from the Critical Studies Program will be chosen to receive the Critical Writing Award for the best piece of nonfiction writing composed for a course that year. The Distinguished Thesis Award will be granted to a student who attains an outstanding level of achievement in the written thesis project in their second year.

Travel Awards will support students presenting at academic conferences.

Program Highlights

Visiting Artists

Conversations are enlivened by visiting writers and scholars throughout the year. 2017-18 visitors have included Maggie Nelson, Sarah Schulman, and Walidah Imarisha.

Discursive Impulse

Discursive Impulse 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. 

Discursive Impulse

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.