Course of Study

IDSVA in Mexico City. Photo by Christopher Andrew

The Course of Study

The IDSVA Course of Study comprises three interrelated academic programs: Seminars, Topological Studies, and Independent Studies. Each of these programs focuses on the historical relation between art and ideas. Over the three-year course of study, the programs overlap and intersect.

Seminars serve as the backbone of IDSVA’s course of study through a shared language centered on the critique of Western Metaphysics. Seminars occur during the Fall and Spring Semesters and are held in synchronous online sessions led by world-renowned faculty.

Topological Studies bring together a global understanding of the trans-historical relations between art and ideas and the places in which they intersect. Residency intensives are held in Rome, Spannocchia Castle (Tuscany), Venice, Paris, Athens, Madrid, Mexico City, New York City, and Marrakech.

Independent Studies are conducted under the direction of an expert in the given field of inquiry. Topics range from questions in Western philosophy to contemporary Chinese art, African tribal philosophy, and Caribbean Shamanism. Independent Studies open the seminar and topological studies programs to unlimited diversity and position IDSVA students to develop ideas toward the dissertation.

Anthropology Museum, Mexico city

PhD Degree

The Course of Study comprises 60 credits over three years. At the end of the third year, candidates are required to pass oral and written qualifying exams before starting the dissertation. The dissertation is typically submitted within two years following completion of the Course of Study. The PhD degree is granted upon successful defense of the dissertation. Dissertations are research-based scholarly manuscripts comprising 80,000-100,000 words. They are theoretical and interpretative works based on a chosen topic approved during the qualifying exams, supervised by individual dissertation directors. Total time to complete the degree, including the course of study period, is about five years.

Note on studio practice: Around half of IDSVA students are artists with an ongoing studio practice. Even though that practice cannot directly be included in the dissertation manuscript, students usually choose research topics which intimately inform what they do in the studio.    

Acropolis Museum, Athens

The Artist-Philosopher

Western Metaphysics has long been recognized as the dominant mode of modern human consciousness. More recently, a growing number of artist-philosophers from around the world have come to realize that the age-old issues concerning hierarchy and inequality will continue to persist as long as Western Metaphysics dominates human consciousness.

This is why the IDSVA curriculum focuses on Western Metaphysics. If we are going to overcome Western Metaphysics, we must know it for what it is.

As for exploring “other thinking” as it exists in Western and non-Western art practices, histories, and philosophies, IDSVA independent studies and dissertations remain a continually expanding source of the possibilities for a new mode of thought, a New Philosophy or New Philosophies. These explorations are brought before the IDSVA community by way of independent study and dissertation presentations, special symposia, visiting faculty lectures, and worldwide residencies.

Course Descriptions

IDSVA Topological Studies is grounded in three fundamental ideas. First, the present is shot through with the past, and the past is permeated with the present; each not only informs but indeed constitutes the other. Secondly, past and present can be grasped only insofar as we bring into view the art and ideas that make up past and present. And third, to understand a given moment in a particular place, to configure past and present, we have to put ourselves in situ, in place. What’s more, to understand a given moment in a given place, we have to see that moment and place in light of other, interrelated places and moments. To know, to experience, to grasp these relations is to envision the future of ideas, the future of art, the future of history and cultural consciousness. And it is to ask, “what is my responsibility for that future?” Residency sites include: Rome, Spannocchia Castle, Florence, Siena, and Venice (in Venice Biennale years).
Seminar I, Part 2 introduces students to the major conceptual and practical issues that confronted artists, theorists, critics, philosophers, and aestheticians in the twentieth century. Through the readings, culled from Art in Theory 1900-2000, seminar discussions, presentations, and debates, as well as written assignments, students are also expected to familiarize themselves with the language of theory, aesthetics, and philosophy as it is developed over the course of the century, in order to understand art as a dynamic, ever-changing mode of cultural and historical discourse. This seminar takes place in residence at Spannocchia Castle in Tuscany, Italy, over a period of two weeks in May-June. Seminar I introduces new IDSVA students to the IDSVA Program in Critical and Scholarly Writing.
Readings in Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud prepare the groundwork for Art in Theory Revisited. In Kant, we see the critique of art as form; in Hegel, the critique of art as history. Marx and Engels extend the Hegelian project to the possibility of a social criticism of art as ideological discourse. In a similar vein, Nietzsche upends the logical schemes of Western metaphysics. Finally, Freud presents the possibility of a psychoanalytic critique of art.
Seminar II, Part 2 revisits Art in Theory 1900-2000 in order to more fully grasp the ways in which Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud inform the artists and thinkers whose work appears in the anthology. Key words and concepts will be traced back to the five foundational thinkers and situated in the passage between modernism and postmodernism. Seminar discussions will be given over to intertextual analysis along the lines indicated above.

703.1 Seminar III, Part 1: New York or Mexico City Intensive

Madrid and Marrakech/ Mexico City Residency
Seminar III begins with a six-day intensive residency in either New York City or Mexico City (alternating years). In the morning, students give seminar presentations on fall quasi-Independent Studies (i.e., research papers written for 702), intending to link those studies to questions raised during the residency talks, lectures, and museum visits. These presentations are conceived as formal conference-style lectures and are also meant to prepare students to be effective speakers and presenters in professional academic environments. Afternoons are devoted to museum work. Museums visits in New York consist of Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, PS1, and the Whitney Museum, among others. In Mexico City, students will visit the Anthropology Museum, the Frida Kahlo House, the ancient site of Teotihuacán, Templo Mayor, and the Museum of Modern Art, among others. Lectures by distinguished scholars and artists as well as guided tours offered by curators and museum educators supplement the weekly activities.
Seminar III, Part 2 combines a critique of Western Philosophy from the ancient Greeks to the post-modern period with a quasi-Independent Study course, leading to a 15-page self-directed paper at the end of the semester. Coursework focuses on the close reading of one text, Reiner Schürmann’s Broken Hegemonies, led by Professor Howard Caygill. In parallel, students also read Solomon and Higgins’ A Short History of Philosophy, a broader introduction to the various schools of thought not limited to Western philosophy. The final paper is meant to hone students’ critical thinking and writing skills and broaden their engagement with the history of ideas and artworks.
Seminar IV focuses on subject/object relations as constituted and/or represented in philosophy and art in the last two centuries. Students learn to approach theoretical critique from the standpoint of close reading and intertextual analysis. After tracing the relation between subject and object in Kant and Hegel (via Jaspers and Kojève, respectively), we examine Bakthin’s theory of dialogical consciousness, Bergson’s notion of subjective time, Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of psychoanalysis, Virginia Woolf’s emerging feminist aesthetic, Jacqueline Rose’s reading of Lacan, and a different notion of the gaze in Levinas, ending with Amelia Jones’ important discussions of visual culture, art, and the relation between feminism and postmodernism more broadly.
In this intensive residency seminar students reengage Kant & Hegel with a reading of Kant’s Third Critique, a good close reading of Hegel’s Preface, Introduction, and Chapter IV to the Phenomenology of Mind, readings from Hegel’s Aesthetics, Vol. I, and texts by Heidegger, Heraclitus, Plato, and Nietzsche. Consistent with the Topological Studies approach, students engage with these texts while immersing themselves in the art and architecture of cities like Berlin (Late Neoclassical/Early Industrial paradigm), Paris (Bourgeois/Modernist), Venice (Baroque/Global commerce) and Athens (East/West Transhistorical). Other readings reflect the contributions of Visiting Faculty, such as Howard Caygill (Kafka: In Light of the Accident), Santiago Zabala (Why Only Art can Save Us), and Jean-Luc Nancy (The Sense of the World), among others.
Seminar V, Part 2 traces the Kant/Hegel divide into German Idealism and Romanticism, and then from Marx into Nietzsche and Freud. From here we turn to Heidegger’s ontological critique of Western thought, especially as he intensifies Nietzsche’s phenomenological deconstruction of Platonic truth and proposes art as the clearing in which truth appears. This proposition “slips” into French itineraries, such as Luce Irigaray’s feminist reorientation of psychoanalytic theory and Jacques Derrida’s project of deconstruction. Then, in response to Merleau-Ponty’s assertion that “all the great philosophical ideas of the last century…had their beginnings in Hegel,” we trace Hegel’s ideas through 20th-century French post-humanists, ultimately arriving at Lyotard and Foucault.

802 Independent Study I

Online Seminar
The IDSVA Independent Study program is designed to help students develop particular scholarly interests and to integrate those interests within the IDSVA curriculum. It is also meant to encourage exploration and extended research toward a dissertation topic; and to broaden the scope of the core curriculum by applying the methodologies acquired in the seminars to issues that are germane to each student’s field of interest. Possible independent study topics are explored within the context of seminar readings and in light of guest lectures and museum visits, and discussed with IDSVA academic advisors. Examples include a research paper on psychoanalytic critique and Latin American cinema; maternal aesthetics and representation of otherness in art; phenomenology and Afro-Futurism; a comparison between Buddhist philosophy and Twentieth-century continental philosophy; as well as studies in the fields of craft, sexuality, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, identity, etc.
Seminar VI, Part 2, will re-ask the questions: “what is art?” and “what is art’s responsibility?” This conceptual move will allow us to consider the philosophical relation of ethics to aesthetics and vice versa as implicit in the term “representation.” This in turn becomes the signal ethico-aesthetic question in the work of Fanon, Arendt, Nietzsche, Nancy, Deleuze, Sloterdijk, Junger, Berardi, Foucault, Baudrillard, Lotringer, Heidegger, and Agamben. The course is divided into four themes of inquiry: “Liberation,” “Metaphors of the End,” “Ends of Man,” and “Art & Politics.” Final outcomes include two exam papers based on the readings.

804 Independent Study II

Online Seminar
Following Independent Study I, Independent Study II further develops each student’s research, consisting of a long paper on a topic of their choice. Students complete their IS by working one-on-one with an Independent Study director — a faculty member whose scholarship may be particularly suitable to a proposed project. Independent Study papers must be of publishable level; students are asked to submit their papers to academic conferences or peer-reviewed journals for publication. Often times Independent Studies provide the groundwork for the dissertation proposal to be developed in the Third Year.
The pre-dissertation seminar takes place in the summer as students enter their third year. In the online seminar, core faculty lead discussions about the unfolding tensions and overlaps between formalism, phenomenology, and hermeneutics, in relation to theories of knowledge, subjectivity, form, and the way ‘meaning’ happens in the work of art. The pre-dissertation seminar also introduces a discussion on methodologies and approaches to thinking, looking at, and writing about art. These studies together prepare the ground for a more extended discussion on methodologies in the fall semester.
This seminar continues the conversation that started at Dissertation Seminar I, Part 1 in the summer. This seminar’s goal is twofold: on the one hand, it is intended to help students develop a comprehensive, in-depth understanding of the conceptual and methodological debates that have defined contemporary aesthetic theory (formalism, phenomenology, hermeneutics; Marxist, psychoanalytic and feminist theory; postcolonial critique; structuralism, post-structuralism and post-modernism). On the other hand, it aims to help students start the process of developing their independent researches into a roadmap for the dissertation, to be completed by the end of the spring semester next year in the form of a ‘Written Exam’ and corollary documents to be presented at the Qualifying Exams.
Seminar VII, The Artist-Philosopher: Aeschylus to Kristeva, situates the artist-philosopher as a figure who transgresses the boundaries between art and philosophy that were originally established by Western Metaphysics. Sometimes this figure finds itself at the heart of the central philosophical issues; at other times it rises in the poetic and artistic gestures that swirl around these central issues. In this course, then, we look at main concepts in Western philosophy through the lens of the artist-philosopher, so as to renew, or even undo, their trajectory. As we travel through the chronology of philosophical thought, we will ask, what might constitute New Philosophy? And what tools does the artist-philosopher have at its disposal, and which ones does she have to envision herself?
While Seminar VII addressed the figure of the artist-philosopher and its particular ways of doing “contemporary” philosophy, Seminar VIII expands this philosophical journey into a wider realm of thought, where a philosophical figure turns into a philosophical climate, where art turns into poetics and essences into ecosystems. Texts that provided us with foundations for thinking now connect us to an entire ecosystem of being where conceptual, environmental, decolonial, and futural concerns are envisioned. Artist-philosopher here stands on a geo-ontological ground where continental glissement includes not only two European countries dominating one continent, but all continents that exert their visible and invisible influence on thought that is yet to come – including the ‘archipelago’ as a new spatial paradigm.

903.1 Seminar VIII: Part 1: Topological Studies Madrid and Marrakech

Madrid and Marrakech/ Mexico City Residency
Dissertation Seminar II addresses how to plan for a long-term research project (the 80k-100K word dissertation), helping students to create reasonable deadlines, conduct efficient research, and balance the simultaneous advancement of writing and scholarship. Over this semester, students complete an introduction or first chapter of their dissertation projects started in the Fall semester. An annotated bibliography is also completed in this semester, in preparation for the Qualifying Oral Examination (scheduled in the summer). During one-on-one calls and conference calls faculty and students discuss techniques for efficient and sustainable research, and offer feedback on each student’s chapter-in-progress, focusing in particular on the development of an argument supported by adequate evidence grounded in existing scholarship and theoretical underpinning.

905 Qualifying Exams

Online Seminar
The Qualifying Examination includes two components, a Written and an Oral. The Written Exam must be completed prior to sitting for the Oral examination, and it consists of the paper and attending documents written in the Dissertation Preparation seminars I and II. Students take their Oral Exams in the summer at the end of their Third Year; after passing the Qualifying Exams, they obtain Permission to Proceed with the dissertation.
PhD candidates enroll in Dissertation Preparation at the start of their dissertation project, after passing the Qualifying Exams, and for each following fall and spring semesters until the completion of the dissertation. The main goal of the Dissertation Preparation course is to guide the process of writing the dissertation, and to help the PhD candidate produce a document that fulfills the following criteria: 1) To form a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality by the discovery of new facts and/or by the exercise of independent critical power, interpretation, and argumentation; 2) To give a critical assessment of the relevant literature, and in so doing, 3) To demonstrate a deep and synoptic understanding of the field of study, objectivity, and the capacity for judgment in complex situations and autonomous work in that field.

"IDSVA's course of study is striking, as is the program's immense attention to detail and sensitivity in the teaching of theory."

Howard Caygill
Author and IDSVA Professor of Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Visual Culture
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