Critical and Visual Studies

Critical and Visual Studies is a Bachelor of Arts program for the curious and imaginative student who wants to pursue studies in the liberal arts and sciences while immersed in Pratt’s unique environment of creative openness and intellectual experimentation.

We believe that the liberal arts and sciences bring vitality, creativity, and practical application to intellectual practice. At the core of the program is the understanding that the integration of theory, method, and experience is crucial to learning. Here, every aspect of social life—from street art to political systems, from international media to the global economy—is a potential subject of your studies. The program provides an unique interdisciplinary framework within which our students explore the liberal arts through the study of the artistic, social, and political meanings of cultural and aesthetic production.

The Liberal Arts and Sciences Context at Pratt: Education, Not Schooling

Our program features a core curriculum that builds a foundation in many classic and innovative texts of philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities, and in the writings of contemporary thinkers who are of special importance to critical theory and visual studies. Students choose from a generous selection of electives and concentrations from within the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and across the Institute in architecture, art history, art and design, and planning.

The fundamental goal of the faculty in the department’s program in Critical and Visual Studies is to provide our students with an education that helps them become critical, articulate, widely read, intellectually flexible, and culturally savvy.

Your studies in the program will give you:

  • A critical understanding of culture that is grounded in philosophy, history, the social sciences, and humanities.

  • Competency in social theory, analytical structures, techniques of communication, and familiarity with a range of research methods and perspectives.

  • The ability to develop and critically integrate written, oral, visual, and spatial expression.

  • The flexibility to pursue both in-depth studies as well as opportunities to make links between academic work and the working world through internships in cultural institutions, especially non-profit arts and public service agencies.

  • A faculty whose scholarship and teaching is on the cutting edge of cultural criticism and analysis.

Because of our unique context, our students benefit from a stimulating atmosphere of intellectual and artistic innovation. The Critical and Visual Studies curriculum allows students the opportunity to take electives in the traditional studio arts and in new media. Students can work in a variety of media, developing their writing skills and working experimentally to integrate the verbal and visual, creating new combinations of word and image.

The faculty in Critical and Visual Studies is committed to a wide range of intellectual endeavors and public engagement. We are creating a new approach to the liberal arts and sciences that emphasizes education and not simply “schooling” or training. We emphasize education and learning in order to provide our graduates with a foundation for life-long learning. The faculty’s love of learning and teaching is deeply connected to our wish that our students be prepared to thrive in a future economy where they will need critical and analytical skills to move seamlessly between changing economic sectors and evolving career paths.

Our faculty’s diverse teaching and research interests include philosophy, sociology, ethnography, cultural studies, media studies, globalization, imperialism, colonialism and post-colonialism, critical theory, psychology, gender and sexuality, world history, history and historiography, cinema and documentary film, literature and creative writing, theater and performance studies, landscape and space, environmental studies, sustainability, and the sociology of science and technology. The faculty’s area specialties include the Americas, Africa, the Mediterranean, Central Asia, Middle East, the Pacific Rim and Indian Oceans.

Pratt's location in New York City allows students and faculty to be enthusiastic participants in a dynamic array of cultural events and institutions. Our students immerse themselves in the intellectual life of New York City, and have many opportunities to participate in a wide array of public programming organized by the faculty or organizations with which they are affiliated.

Our events underscore the program's emphasis on the critical understanding of culture and the social world of art and social life. The nature and format of our events are open to the range of student and faculty interests. Some long running events and series include:

Lectures, Forums and Speaker Series as well as the department’s regular Scholar-In-Residence appointment bring renowned scholars and intellectuals to the Institute and give our students the opportunity to meet and interact with many distinguished thinkers and academics.

Recent speakers have included:

  • Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and blogger of Informed Comment
  • Tom McCarthy, artist and novelist (Men in Space, C)
  • Laura Mulvey, Professor of Film and Media Studies at Birkbeck, University of London
  • Stanley Aronowitz, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Urban Education and Director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Technology and Work at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
  • Madeleine Olnek, Filmmaker (Co-Dependent Lesbian Sex Alien Seeks Same)
  • Peter Knegt, Film journalist at Indiewire
  • David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
  • Harris Eisenstadt, Adjunct Professor at CUNY-Maritime College and jazz
  • Christopher Robbins, Public artist
  • Christopher Allen, Director of Union Docs
  • Robin Blackburn, Professor of Sociology and Leverhulme Research Fellow at Essex University and former editor of New Left Review

Past speakers have included: Susan Buck-Morss, Patricia Clough, Alain Badiou, Stanley Aronowitz, Susan Meiselas, Gyan Prakash, Randy Martin, Martha Rosler, Nora Alter, Vicente Rafael, Gina Dent, Saidiya Hartmam, Wendy Woon, Sukhdev Sandhu, Anna Grimshaw, Timothy Hall, Robin Blackburn, Tom McCarthy, Juan Cole, Tina Campt, and Jim Czarnecki.

Film Screenings are designed to be provocative forums for current issues and timely debates. Filmmakers accompany their film screenings and address interested students after the screenings, making for lively discussions that extend beyond the classroom. Students and faculty are also active in the Pratt Film Society and Pratt Radio (WPIR), with plans to expand that participation.

The Wallabout Film Festival is a student film festival produced and curated by an interdisciplinary team of students from Pratt Institute. Showcasing films by innovative student filmmakers from around the world, Wallabout is a platform for students to screen their work to a diverse community of peers, artists and industry professionals, initiating conversation and collaboration. It has become an important platform for supporting student filmmaking and for adding to the vibrant creative culture of Brooklyn.

Field trips organized by faculty of the Critical and Visual Studies program, provide opportunities to see current museum and gallery exhibitions; to network with artists, architects, designers, critics and curators; and to engage with the city at large.

Senior Thesis Readings are public presentations by seniors of their thesis research. These presentations and discussions are a chance for students to get to know the work of peers and to gain perspective on their own intellectual development.

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