History of Art + Visual Culture

The History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC) 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 expression, and an understanding of the value of artistic expression across cultures and throughout time.

History of Art + Visual Culture Concentration

  • HAVC
  • A focused liberal arts “minor”

Open to both undergraduate and graduate students, HAVC 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. HAVC 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 | HAVC concentrator + Painting senior

“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.”

Susan Ward | professor + department head

“It’s a real pleasure to work with RISD students – both undergraduate and graduate. As studio artists and visual learners, they have an innate passion for the same things faculty in this department have devoted their professional careers to – whether it’s medieval art and narrative, which has long formed the core of my own scholarly research, or any of the many other areas of interest that my colleagues continue to pursue. Everyone at RISD is excited by a particular passion of his or her own, but we’re also inspired to share our interests and insights with each other – and to learn through and while teaching.” [Susan: This is meant to suggest the type of quote we think might make sense here. Please feel free to revise as needed.]

In addition to its strong disciplinary focus, HAVC 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.