Department of Visual & Critical Studies

The Department of Visual and Critical Studies is concerned with the study of visual media across many different disciplines, as well as the development of hybrid research practices, particularly the overlap between studio and scholarly production. Its programs are part of an evolving paradigm that addresses the complexity of visual and critical practices in the 21st century. 

The Bachelor of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies and Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies programs are designed for students who are committed to working, writing, and creating in an environment of interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and post-disciplinary practices.

SAIC Visual and Critical Studies core courses for undergraduate students combine traditional visual studies with diverse critical methods for exploring the cultural meanings of visual media as it relates to social, economic, and material circumstances. Students may choose from a variety of courses in studio practice, art history, writing, and the liberal arts and sciences, with special attention to topics such as visual and media literacy, cultural history and theory, and global studies. Alumni of this program go on to graduate work in the humanities, museum studies, arts administration, art-related law, or pursue careers in communications, teaching, public service, social activism and social movement, media production, or journalism.

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SAIC's Master of Arts (MA) Visual and Critical Studies program is designed for students interested in the scholarly and creative investigation of the production, dissemination, and impact of visual images, objects, experiences, and practices. With visual art as a starting point, students use multiple methods of critical investigation to study the interactions between visual phenomena and their historical, disciplinary, and social contexts.

Our students arrive with backgrounds in visual arts, social sciences, critical theory and philosophy, performance, social justice, and other fields. Learn more about the Department of Visual and Critical Studies' undergraduate and graduate programs. 

Student Resources & Opportunities for Learning

Visual and Critical Studies students have access to SAIC’s wide-ranging list of studio facilities—and a strong community of artists and critical thinkers in addition to a wealth of resources:

Visual & Critical Studies Department News & Accomplishments

SAIC Visual and Critical Studies graduates engage in innovative and groundbreaking work that has been realized through study and community exchanges facilitated by SAIC’s VCS programs. Read more about the Visual and Critical Studies department’s news and accomplishments and check out upcoming SAIC events such as talks with visiting artists, screenings, and SAIC exhibitions.

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Department of Visual and Critical Studies

MacLean Center

112 S. Michigan Ave., suite 601

Chicago, IL 60603


Phone: 312.345.3685


Shawn Smith

Graduate Program Director

Mechtild Widrich

BAVCS Director

Karen Morris