Visual Arts MFA Courses and Elements

The Visual Arts Program offers students many opportunities to expand the depth and complexity of their studio practice as well as their ability to think critically in the context of contemporary art theory. To that end, students have regular studio visits by full and adjunct faculty members, who offer critical insight into the form of, and underlying ideas behind, their work.
Students are also encouraged to take electives outside of the Visual Arts Program: in the Writing, Theatre Arts, and Film programs of the School of the Arts; and in art history, architecture, philosophy and other areas of study throughout Columbia University. These electives ensure that students develop a broad base of art history and theory upon which they can build a solid and provocative studio practice.

Course Descriptions

Graduate Studio
Every Monday evening students have one 40-minute studio visit with full time faculty or other special graduate adjunct faculty. Students usually see each faculty member twice per semester.

Visiting Critic
Each semester the program invites 10-12 visiting artists and critics to do studio visits. Students submit requests for visits, and will see 2 or 3 visiting artists and critics over the semester.

Visiting Artist Lecture Series (VALS)
VALS is organized by a small team of second year MFA students. The VALS coordinators are responsible for soliciting a wish-list of visiting artists from students in the program. The coordinators then arrange a full program of artists’ lectures for Tuesday evenings. Recent presenters include Marina Abramovic, Ayreen Anastas, Lothar Baumgarten, Zoe Beloff, Jonathon Berger, Daniel Bozhkov, Kerstin Bratsch, Connie Butler, David Byrne, Paul Chan, Cora Cohen, Trisha Donnelly, Okwui Enwezor, Omer Fast, Rene Gabri, Lia Gangitano, Andrea Geyer, Paul Graham, Amy Granat, Nicolas Guagnini, Fritz Haeg, Sharon Hayes, Nancy Holt, Alex Hubbard, Anthony Huberman, Pierre Huyghe, Tim Hyde, Arthur Jafa, Michelle Kuo, Elad Lassry, Jose Lerma, Sam Lewitt, Justin Lieberman, Glenn Ligon, Kalup Linzy, Sharon Lockhart, Charles Long, Keith Mayerson, Josiah McElheny, Shana Moulton, Laura Mulvey, Molly Nesbit, Bob Nickas, Yoko Ono, Gabriel Orozco, Trevor Paglen, Mai-Thu Perret, Lari Pittman, Genesis P-Orridge, Yvonne Rainer, Scott Rothkopf, Mika Rottenberg, Tom Sachs, Pieter Schoolwerth, Taryn Simon, Alexandre Singh, Michael Smith, Mika Tajima, Cheyney Thompson, Wolfgang Tillmans, Nicola Tyson, Philippe Vergne, Charline Von Heyl, Antek Walczak, and Kelley Walker.

Critical Issues
Critical Issues is intended as a stimulus to art-making and helps to form the critical and conceptual foundation for students to bring to their studio practice. In the fall, Critical Issues is a lecture series where professors from across the University present on their specialization. In the spring, Critical Issues is a seminar with weekly readings and other required assignments.  Recent lecturers include Alex Alberro, Arnold Aronson, Carol Becker, David Carrier, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jonathan Crary, Wade Davis, Aaron Fox, Jane Gaines, Elizabeth Grosz, Siri Hustvedt, Tom Kalin, Laura Kurgan, Reinhold Martin, John Pemberton, Dr Oliver Sacks, Mira Schor, Kaja Silverman, Jovana Stokic, Michael Taussig, Mark Taylor, and Lance Weiler.

Group Critique
Students meet in small groups of 6-8 students with an instructor for three consecutive Wednesdays. Over the three week sequence each student has a critique with the group.


Students may choose courses from anywhere in the University, subject to the course’s registration requirements. Students are required to take four elective courses total, or one elective each semester.

Mentor Program
Each student is assigned to two mentor groups which meet every semester. Groups are usually 10-12 students. Mentors schedule individual studio visits, group visits, lectures, field trips, workshops, etc. for one full week of the semester.  Current mentors include Gregg Bordowitz, Ann Craven, Rineke Dijkstra, Mark Dion, Michael Joo, Josiah McElheny, Matthew Ritchie, Aki Sasamoto and Dana Schutz.

The Herman and Eve Gelman Studio Visit Series
In this ongoing program supported by a generous grant, celebrated New York artists open their studios to a small group of graduate students to observe and discuss works-in-progress. Past participants have included Dave Arnold, Huma Bhabha, Elinor Carucci, Paul Chan, Luis Gispert, Barbara Hammer, David Hoey, Jacqueline Humphries, James Hyde, Robert Lazzarini, An-My Le, Robert Longo, Vera Lutter, Gilles Peress, Cai Quoqiang, Patricia Sharon Chang, Michael Spano, Stanley Whitney, and Sasha Wolf

Public Exhibitions

First-Year Exhibition
The first year of study culminates in an exhibition that is curated by an outside curator and is mounted in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Gallery in Schermerhorn Hall. This exhibition begins to prepare the MFA candidates for the experience of the MFA Thesis Exhibition in the following year.

Open Studios

At the end of each fall semester, the second-year MFA candidates open their studios to the public and invited guests from the art community. Each student is present to discuss his or her work in an informal setting.
Thesis Project
The Thesis Project begins in the second year with a written proposal that delineates the student's artistic practice and outlines what he or she aims to accomplish for the Thesis Exhibition. A Thesis Committee, composed of full-time and adjunct faculty, is chosen by the student. The Thesis Exhibition opens in May and is curated by an outside curator.
Other Events

In addition to the events and programs described above, the Visual Arts Program offers other special one-time and recurring events designed to enhance the quality of the two-year experience for artists in the program. "Friday Sessions," organized as a tutorial/workshop, bring both technical information and other discussion topics to students in a casual setting.


Graduate studios are located at Watson Hall, 612 West 115th Street, and Prentis Hall, 632 West 125th Street. Each graduate student is assigned a studio with 24-hour access. Watson Hall also houses a wood shop, a Digital Media Center, a large format printer and a seminar room. Prentis Hall has classrooms, a ceramics room, wood and metal shops and a Digital Media Center.  Black-and-white photography and printmaking facilities are in Dodge Hall.
Visual Arts Program
310 Dodge Hall
Mail Code 1806
2960 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
Phone: (212) 854-4065
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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.