Best MFA Painting Programs

Apr 25, 2019

This article provides an overview of five of the best Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs in painting across the country by covering program structure, details about curriculum, and what applicants must do in order to be successfully admitted.

Students who would like to pursue a graduate degree in painting may be interested in learning about the best available MFA degrees in this field. Below, we cover five different schools that offer highly ranked graduate programs in painting and provide prospective students with details regarding curriculum requirements, admission standards, and any unique program attributes.

Overview of the Best MFA in Painting Programs

Yale University

One option for students is the MFA in Painting and Printmaking program offered by Yale University, and students can either concentrate in one of these areas or both. This program requires the completion of a minimum of 60 credit hours, 42 of which are completed within the chosen concentration area. The remaining 18 credit hours can be completed through elective courses, six of which must be taken from a department outside of the art school. According to the 2016 U.S. News and World Report graduate rankings of the best fine arts schools, Yale's program ranked first for painting and drawing, making it one of the best programs in the country.

Rhode Island School of Design

The Rhode Island School of Design offers a 2-year MFA program in painting that students may be interested in. This program combines a required core curriculum and with open elective courses that students can choose according to their interests. During the final semester of the program, students are expected to complete a portfolio that will serve as their culminating thesis and will be displayed in the Rhode Island Convention Center. Students in the program can work on their painting in both private and semi-private studios and they also have access to other art school facilities, like critique spaces and a computer center. Upon being accepted to this program, students also become teaching assistants, which includes the possibility of teaching an entire undergraduate course independently. This program was tied for second in the nation by the 2016 U.S. News and World Report rankings of best fine arts schools for painting and drawing.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Another option for students is the MFA in Painting and Drawing offered by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The program emphasizes exploration of both traditional and creative painting methods, as students can also incorporate other artistic mediums in their studies and projects. This program requires the completion of 60 credit hours, 39 of which must be completed through studio courses, 12 of which are completed through art history courses, and nine of which are completed through elective courses. It is also required that students participate in four graduate critiques, which are week-long periods during both the fall and spring semesters during which either the entire department or the entire art school faculty provides feedback of student work. As of 2016, this program was tied for second in the U.S. News and World Report rankings.

Maryland Institute College of Art

Students who are currently working may be interested in the low-residency MFA in Studio Arts program offered at the Maryland Institute College of Art, which allows students to focus on painting. In this program, which is ranked fourth in the nation by the U.S. News and World Report 2016 rankings, students attend a six-week summer residency during each of the three years that it takes to complete the program. They then complete the rest of the program components independently from home until briefly returning to campus during the winter. During the time they spend on campus, students have access to private studio spaces and they are expected to develop their own space during the rest of the year that they spend off campus. In total, students must complete 60 credit hours to earn this degree.

Columbia University

Another option for students is the MFA in Visual Arts program at Columbia University. This program, which is interdisciplinary in nature, enables students to pursue an artistic medium of their choice, like painting. This program's curriculum consists of studio courses, critiques, a lecture series featuring visiting artists, a critical issues in art course, and electives. Students can complete the program in two years and are required to exhibit their work at the end of the first year in preparation for the presentation of their thesis at the end of the second year. Students will have 24-hour access to their own private studios and can also make use of the other art facilities. This program was ranked fifth in the nation by the 2016 U.S. News and World Report ratings of best painting and drawing programs in fine arts graduate schools.

Admissions Standards for MFA Programs in Painting

When applying for an MFA degree program in painting, students need to submit an application file to each school they are interested in. In this file, they generally must include an application form, letters of recommendation, past academic transcripts, and a personal statement. An important component of these applications is the student's artistic portfolio that provides evidence of their past work in painting or other mediums. Each school will likely provide applicants with details regarding what must be included in this portfolio, like how many images it must contain, and how it can be submitted.

To summarize, students have a number of options if they would like to enroll in one of the best MFA in painting programs. While rankings may play a role in their decision, these programs also differ in terms of their structure and curriculum, so students are advised to research which program fits best with their goals and needs.

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