Graduate Commons courses

To enhance the department-specific curriculum in each degree program, graduate students take Grad Commons courses and other studios and seminars designed to support exploration of issues and practices of interest to advanced-level students in all disciplines.

Study options and opportunities

Grad Commons courses

Graduate Commons is a shared curricular space within graduate studies with courses that allow students to collaborate across departments, engage in advanced inquiries into a range of topics and methods, and further investigate and promote the outcomes of their own work. As a place of shared graduate learning, the Commons courses also offer unique opportunities for graduate students to engage in RISD’s institutional resources such as Co-Works, the Nature Lab, the Center for Arts & Language and the RISD Museum. Additionally, these courses are well suited to respond to special topics or timely events and allow for exciting visitors to the school and experimental course structures.

In addition to Graduate Commons and your program-required courses, some programs also offer courses that open to non-major students. See the "Studio electives" section below for more information.

For details go to Student Planning

Spring 2021

Digital information technologies and new media are radically changing the way we learn, research, and engage with one another. This course surveys how technologies, such as artificial intelligence, neuroscience, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and AR/VR, are driving new forms of art practice and pose new challenges of producing, curating, and exhibiting multidisciplinary research. Throughout the semester, we will explore the transformative impact of emerging technologies on visual research, collaboration across disciplines, knowledge acquisition, and project dissemination.

This course is about exchanging ideas and how those ideas travel and permeate a multiplicity of audiences and media in meaningful ways. We will capture the complex and often messy journey of artistic research, finding ways to deliver this adaptive process through experimentation and analysis. We will generate strategies for synthesizing, documenting, and disseminating the process of visual production throughout various media channels, from physical and digital prototyping, to printed matter and virtual exhibition and presentation spaces. Ultimately, we will work to transform conservative frames of knowledge production and distribution into shared, open sources of knowledge.

No technical experience with programming or machine learning is required, nor will projects assume a technical skill set: those new to AR/VR and AI are encouraged to enroll.
Open to graduate students only.
Graduate elective – studio

GRAD-078G FULL SCALE (3 Credits)
This course will focus on the graduate level inquiry of wood-based construction designs and commensurate skills. Lighting and upholstery techniques, as well as outside vendor protocols, may also be employed pursuant to the graduate student's design needs. Graduate students will develop a multi-lateral skill set applicable to their area of study. Thesis concepts are often explored within this class. Students concentrate, in sequence, six weeks of Studio Based Learning of techniques and skills followed by six weeks of dedicated, full scale, designed and executed piece. Located in the Center for Integrated Technologies, CIT Bldg, the Graduate Studies Wood Studio will focus on contemporary and traditional: joinery, shaping, and vacuum lamination construction techniques. In addition, metal (cold working) techniques and manipulation are also covered. Surface treatments and finishing methods for metal and wood will be covered throughout this class.
Graduate elective – studio

The purpose of this seminar is to unearth a direction - an origin point - for your graduate thesis and to jump-start the writing process for the Master's written document. Organized as a series of writing intensive workshops, this forum will enable you to explore relevant ideas, themes, core values, and to conduct research in support of the inquiry process. The process involves seeking out and scrutinizing various angles of your perspective as an artist / designer. You will write from these angles to discover the emerging aspects of solutions that matter. Each class will suggest a specific theme or principle of inflection to precipitate what is needed for the work's progress. Included will be several forms of writing: profile, review, narrative essay, poem, report, extended caption, as well as several levels of research: archival, bibliographic, fieldwork, and interview. Emphasis will also be on maps of meaning that will be used as a way to further processes of ideation and understanding. At the conclusion of the seminar you will have a conceptual focus for your thesis that is clearly formulated visually and verbally. With this is place, the summer months can then be used productively to further the breadth and depth of this initial idea through open-ended exploration and self-generated work.
Open to first-year graduate students only.
Graduate elective – seminar

Gender, like other social constructs, is designed. This seminar offers students the opportunity to critically engage with the physical and sociopolitical structures in the United States that intersect to create, institutionalize, and reproduce gender. In turn they will imagine the next iterations of gendered meaning. We will use discussion, assigned reading, research, and surveys of art, design and media to better understand the ways in which physical manifestations and cultural expectations both challenge and perpetuate mechanisms of power along the axis of gender, and in some cases, biological sex. A particular focus is paid to the current climate of expansive, yet heavily policed gendered expression of youth experiencing marginalization on the basis of race, resource availability, and disability.
Graduate elective – seminar

Few practices are more central to art school education than critique. Yet in recent years, critique itself has become the target of a growing critique. Critique, its detractors argue, aims only to discredit, to reveal what others fail to see, to prove its adversaries wrong. Yet is this really what defines critique? Has critique, in Bruno Latour's famous phrase, indeed run out of steam? Is our present moment "postcritical"? Foregrounding these questions, this seminar will examine both the changing landscape of twentieth-century critique (Frankfurt School critical theory, anticolonial critique, poststructuralism, feminist and queer theoretical critique) and twenty-first-century challenges to and reinventions of critique (postcritique, critical race theory, post-Autonomist Marxism). As we proceed, we will consider these developments in relation to different aesthetic practices - visual art, film, new media, architecture - with the aim both of reconceptualizing critique and of understanding its role in culture and cultural production today.
Graduate elective – seminar

This class serves as an interface between the new technologies of digital and the old technologies of optics. New digital technologies are given alternative possibilities with the addition of specific projection apparatus (in terms of both, projection optics and projection surfaces), plays with reflection (such as the construction of anamorphic cylinders, zoetropes, and other optical devices), and in the fabrication of project specific lenses. Given the hands-on nature of the glass department, the actual making and/or subversion of traditional optics is possible. The class encourages collaborative work between students of varying experience levels and fosters the incorporation and dialogue between students of the two differing areas of expertise.
Graduate elective – studio

Graduate students from all disciplines will develop their work by finding partners from other fields. We will look at examples of contemporary artists who have developed content by collaborating with scientists, engineers, writers, artists. and other professionals. We will discuss the range of collaborative and cooperative approaches and strategies. The group will talk to teams who have worked together. By the end of the term, each student will be expected to have made a connection with someone from another field with whom they can work and who can contribute in some way to the student's thesis work. Connections to possible collaborators will be developed through the course. There will be readings, videos, and guest visits.
Graduate elective – studio

Seminar and studio electives (open to non-majors)

The following courses are open to graduate, non-major students. See the 2020-2021 course announcement for more information.



Seminar: Source Presentation
3 credits

Topics in Ceramics Material Science
3 credits


Sonic Practices
3 credits

Research Studio: Technological Landscapes
3 credits


Grad Critical Issues Seminar
3 credits

Making Meaning
3 credits


Open Graduate Seminar
3 credits


Plant Materials
3 credits

Theory I
3 credits

Representation I
3 credits

Technology and Materials II: Site Engineering
3 credits

History of Landscape Architecture
3 credits

Technology and Materials I: Material and Grading
3 credits


Theories of Natureculture
3 credits

Inventive Political Ecologies
3 credits


Three Critics
3 credits


Collegiate Teaching: Preparation and Reflection
3 credits

Design Education Workshop II

3 credits

Interdisciplinary experimentation at Co-Works

To support interdisciplinary research and learning, the Co-Works Research Lab offers a shared space for pursuing projects that require especially advanced tools and technology. Students in all disciplines make use of a wide range of advanced equipment for 3D printing, 3D scanning, CNC routing, laser cutting, vacuum forming, machine embroidery and knitting, and more. This state-of-the-art fabrication lab also hosts seminars, studio courses and special research projects undertaken by faculty and graduate students.

Liberal Arts

RISD stands out among art schools for its emphasis on liberal arts study, led by doctorate-level faculty in archaeology, anthropology, biology, cognitive science, creative writing, literature, history, art history, performance studies, philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology and more.

The Liberal Arts division is comprised of four departments: History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences; Literary Arts and Studies; Teaching and Learning in Art and Design; and Theory and History of Art and Design. Additionally, RISD also offers two Master of Arts programs in the interdisciplinary fields of Global Arts and Cultures and Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies.

Certificate in Collegiate Teaching

Through exploration, practice and research, the Certificate in Collegiate Teaching in Art and Design offers graduate students from all disciplines an opportunity for focused study in the area of collegiate-level studio pedagogy. Benefitting from access to the vitality and pedagogical practices of RISD faculty, students participating in the six-credit program learn models of teaching that aid them in creating a personal teaching philosophy and acquiring important skills for their development as future faculty in art and design and related disciplines.

For graduate students interested in pursuing teaching opportunities in higher education, the certificate provides an endorsement of their pedagogical skills—and a meaningful edge as they enter a competitive academic job market. In addition, students who also serve as instructors or co-instructors of Wintersession courses earn certificates that officially acknowledge the classroom experience they acquire here.

We invite anyone interested to learn more about certificate tracks and curricula.

Brown University courses

Given the collaborative spirit between RISD and Brown, graduate students often consider the campus up the hill as an extension of RISD’s own. Students with a RISD ID are granted full privileges at Brown’s extensive research libraries, which include “the Rock” (the huge, main Rockefeller Library), the historic John Hay Library and the Orwig Music Library, among others.

Graduate students may enroll in courses at Brown at no extra cost and often do research alongside Brown students through jointly sponsored projects. Brown also hosts many lectures, symposia and cultural activities that provide opportunities to expand learning.

More information and instructions about electing courses at Brown is available from the Registrar's office.

Travel courses

RISD students are encouraged to engage in travel courses that enhance research and creative practices through multidisciplinary exploration of various cultures. Five-week travel/study courses are available during Wintersession.