Graduate Painting


The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in Painting at Boston University promotes the discipline in its varied manifestations as a fundamental form of artistic expression. At its core, the program is studio-driven, with rigorous expectations about each student’s commitment to their own artistic practice. As an art form, painting is more than just an activity; it is a long-term critical engagement with ideas, feelings, and sensibilities. As such, the program supplements this emphasis on the studio with critical dialogue, in the form of studio visits, critiques, weekly seminars, lectures, field trips, and workshops.

Graduate students develop close working relationships with both faculty and peers, forging a tight-knit community that continues beyond graduation. Frequent visits from major figures in the contemporary art world, as well as regular trips within New England, New York City, and beyond, bolster this sense of community and prepare students for a life in painting. Real world experience, critical dialogue, and an intensive studio climate support each student’s journey toward an ever-sharpening artistic vision.

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Program of Study

  • Studio activity is considered the core of the two-year graduate program. All students are expected to demonstrate a deep commitment to their practice by maintaining regular studio habits.
  • The weekly seminar class comprises reading, writing, and discussion, helping students cultivate the language and context that surrounds their work and practice.
  • The Tuesday Night MFA Lecture Series brings guest speakers to the studios on a regular basis. Guests deliver a lecture on their work, visit studios or give a workshop, and are invited to socialize afterwards with the graduate students in a more informal context.
  • The Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series brings established artists per year to campus to deliver lectures on their work and interact with the graduate students.
  • Postwar and Contemporary Art History courses are required to contextualize the graduate students’ ideas and practices.
  • In order to take full advantage of the benefits offered by a large university, graduate students may also take elective courses in programs across the BU community.
Graduate Curriculum Requirements

Curriculum requirements for the MFA Painting program can be found on the Academic Bulletin.

Graduate Faculty

Tuesday Night Lecture Series

The lecture series in the MFA program in Painting that takes place nearly each week in the graduate studios. Visiting artists deliver a lecture on their work, visit studios and/or give a workshop, and are invited to socialize afterwards with the graduate students in a more informal context.

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Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series

The Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series brings several established artists per year to campus to deliver lectures on their work and interact with the graduate students.

Recordings of the School of Visual Arts’ past Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series are also available for access in the school’s Resource Library. Select talks are also available for streaming online at BUniverse.

Facilities and Resources

Studios and Shops
  • Graduate Students have 24-hour access to individual studios on the third floor of the 808 Building, approximately 250-350 square feet each. Most have natural light with views of Boston and Brookline.
  • Graduate students have full access to their own woodshop, printshop, and spray booth.
  • With training, graduate students are also granted access to the Printmaking facilities on the 4th floor of the 808 Building, directly above the graduate studios. Printmaking facilities include etching, lithography, silkscreen, bookmaking, letterpress and digital print studios.
  • Additional facilities available to graduate students include a fully equipped woodshop, welding shop, ceramics facilities, black-and-white darkrooms, digital media studios including vinyl cutters and a Risograph printer.
  • Students frequently utilize the Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC), a 15,000-square-foot, $9 million facility on Commonwealth Avenue, just steps from the School of Visual Arts. This state-of-the-art facility features everything from laser etching to rapid prototyping, allowing designers to collaborate with engineering staff and students to see their projects through all stages of hands-on production.
Collections and Services
  • The Visual Arts Resource Library is a non-circulating collection of books, exhibition catalogues, directories, magazines, and sound and video recordings available for SVA students and faculty. New books are added annually, and acquisition recommendations are always welcome. In addition to housing an over 6,000-volume reference collection, which includes many rare and unique items.
  • The Visual Arts Resource Library’s digital resources include Apple desktop computers fully loaded with the Adobe Creative Cloud, a large-format digital scanner, and a tabletop copy stand for documenting work. A collection of digital equipment, including digital cameras, projectors, audio recording equipment, lighting kits, and more, are available for short terms loans to SVA students and faculty. Visit the SVA equipment page to learn more.
  • The Karl Fortress Audio Archive is a resource developed by Karl Eugene Fortess (1907–1993), a painter and printmaker who headed the School of Visual Arts printmaking department from 1956 to 1973. Beginning in the early sixties, he undertook a major artist interview project, creating 269 recordings with prominent American artists. These interviews are available for students to borrow from the library on mp3 players. The list of interviews in the library’s collection includes many prominent American artists of the twentieth century, among them Romare Bearden, Thomas Hart Benton, Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Philip Guston, Alex Katz, Jacob Lawrence, Jack Levine, Robert Motherwell, and Alice Neel.

Galleries and Exhibitions

  • The galleries at the School of Visual Arts comprise both professional and student-run exhibition spaces. Regular exhibitions compliment graduate education. The Boston University Art Galleries present professionally organized exhibitions by contemporary artists in all disciplines.
  • Second year graduate students each have a weeklong solo exhibition of their work in the public space of the Commonwealth Gallery.
  • In the spring semester of their second year, every MFA Painting and Sculpture graduate student exhibits their work in a thesis exhibition in the professional quality exhibition spaces of Boston University Art Galleries.
  • Following the thesis exhibition, graduated students often debut their work in New York City in a group exhibition organized by the program in partnership with Manhattan galleries.
  • The graduate program takes regular trips to New York City to visit artists’ studios and tour exhibitions.

Awards and Opportunities

  • The MFA Painting and Sculpture Alumni Award in Honor of John Walker is awarded each year at the close of the spring semester. Recipients are selected by a group of MFA program alumni. The award was created by alumni to recognize the achievements of MFA students and to honor Professor Emeritus John Walker.
  • The Joseph Ablow Memorial Painting Prize is awarded to a promising rising second year MFA Painting major. Joseph Ablow was a Painting faculty member at the School of Visual Arts for more than four decades. He served in the roles of Professor and Director, and was a Professor Emeritus prior to his passing away in 2012. He studied painting at Harvard University, Bennington College, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He pursued additional study with the renowned artists, Oskar Kokoschka and Ben Shahn. His personal attention to and care for his students are remembered by all who were fortunate to have known and studied with him. This memorial prize, supported by Joseph Ablow’s family and friends, will continue to bestow honor on his memory.
  • MFA Painting students are typically awarded teaching fellowships or graduate assistantships in the Boston University Galleries, providing valuable studio teaching and gallery experience before graduation.


Visit the Graduate Admissions page for more information on how to apply to the program.


Boston University
School of Visual Arts
855 Commonwealth Avenue
Room 552
Boston, MA 02215
Phone: 617-353-3371

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Graduate Curriculum Requirements

Curriculum requirements for the MFA Painting program can be found on the Academic Bulletin.