Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts

Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts

Portland, ME
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The Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts (IDSVA)

The Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts provides doctoral studies in philosophy, aesthetics, and art theory to visual artists, and to architects, curators, and scholars who approach their work as creative practice. IDSVA is the first program of its kind to offer philosophy degrees to visual artists in the United States. The program's pioneering curriculum combines rigorous philosophical study with on-site intensives, which the Institute believes may be a new model for the future of education. Freed from the bricks-and-mortar campus model, the distance-learning approach allows the Institute to transform the entire world into a classroom. This fusion of distance learning with intensive residencies also allows working art professionals to pursue rigorous advanced scholarship without having to interrupt or abandon their teaching careers, art practice, or other professional responsibilities.

Course of Study

The IDSVA course of study is made up of 3 interrelated academic programs: Topological Studies, Seminars, and Independent Studies. Each of these programs focuses on the historical relation between art and ideas. Over the 3-year course of study, the programs overlap and intersect, illuminating from 3 blended perspectives the ever shifting, ever volatile relations between art and ideas. IDSVA students work directly with internationally renowned artists and thinkers. One self-designed independent study and one seminar course per semester comprise the 3-year curriculum. Independent studies are faculty member directed. Seminar courses commence in residency and continue online. Online coursework and independent studies are pursued through fall and spring semester and include regular one-on-one faculty member/student conferences, study group discussion and collaboration, and project research conducted through IDSVA's virtual library.

Residencies take place at Spannocchia Castle in Tuscany, the Venice Biennale, Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, New York City, and Providence, Rhode Island. With completion of the course of study, students take qualifying exams. The dissertation takes on average an additional 2 years to complete. Total time to complete the degree is about 5 years.

The IDSVA Topological Studies Program may be the only one of its kind in the world. Borrowed from mathematics as well as Freud & Lacan, topology as we use the term applies to the structural relations of geographical spaces, especially as these relations inform historical understanding of cultural consciousness and the cultural unconscious.

During first and second year residencies, students travel from one historically designated site to another. Each site's historical designation situates the site within a given period and determines the order in which the site is visited. Residency site visits can last from 1 or 2 days to several weeks. Current sites, historical designations, and the order in which they are visited are as follows:

- Site: Rome. Designation: Ancient.

- Site: Spannocchia Castle. Designation: Feudal/Agrarian.

- Site: Siena. Designation: Medieval/Urban.

- Site: Florence and Milan. Designation: Renaissance.

- Site: Venice. Designation: Baroque

- Site: Berlin. Designation : Late Neoclassical -- Early Industrial

- Site: Paris. Designation: Bourgeois Modern.

- Site: New York. Designation: Post-Industrial.

- Site: Istanbul. Designation: East/West Trans-historical.

The residency site visits are to be experienced as successive historical strata that set up a 3-level (topological) critique: in the first place, each site is considered in terms of its historically designated period vis-a-vis art and ideas; secondly, the sites are considered in topological relation to each other in terms of art and ideas; and thirdly, each site's contemporary situation vis-a-vis art and ideas is looked at as an extended moment in its historical development and in topological relation to each of the other sites.


The IDSVA faculty includes internationally recognized scholars from Europe, the UK, South Africa, South America, Canada, and the USA. Major philosophers, artists, and scholars join students on-site and give lectures and lead seminar discussions about the topological significance of the site in question. Interested students can read more about faculty members at residencies here.

Core faculty members are appointed to teach residency orientations, independent studies, and semester-long seminars on an on-going basis. Core faculty members are senior faculty members and serve on academic committees and as student advisers. Each student works with the same adviser throughout his or her program of study, and meets with his or her adviser during residencies and on an as-need basis.

Visiting faculty members are internationally recognized scholars appointed to conduct residency orientations, teach special seminars, give lecture series, or hold symposia on special topics. Visiting faculty members hold limited appointments for the duration of their assignment and generally do not serve on academic committees.

Dissertation Directors are appointed according to fields of expertise and selected from the core faculty, visiting faculty, and from faculty members worldwide. The chair of the Dissertation Committee oversees selection of dissertation directors and committee members.

Who Should Apply

IDSVA seeks candidates engaged in an established studio practice or similar creative practice (e.g., architecture, curatorial studies, criticism of art and/or visual culture, art history) who wish to develop their critical and scholarly interests through the rigorous study of philosophy, aesthetics, and theory. It is expected that IDSVA candidates anticipate the further development of their creative endeavors through advanced academic study.

Applicants must each hold an M.F.A., M.Arch., or master's level degree in a related field. Criteria for evaluation will include undergraduate and graduate transcripts from accredited institutions of higher learning. The minimum grade point average in both cases is 3.0. A working knowledge of art history, critical theory, and philosophy should be demonstrated in the graduate transcripts. Because of the unique design of this Ph.D. program, credit from previous graduate level work is not transferable and credit is not given for experience. Under current U.S. Federal Law, IDSVA cannot provide Visa support to applicants who are non-U.S. citizens.

For a complete list of the requirements and to apply online, interested students should visit the website here.

Location & Contact

Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts

130 Neal Street
Portland, ME 04102
United States

Molly Davis

Co-Director of Admissions

Phone: 207-771-8887

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