Visual and Environmental Studies

Professor Ruth Lingford, Director of Undergraduate Studies

The concentration in Visual and Environmental Studies cultivates skills in both the practice and the critical study of the visual arts. Its components include photography, filmmaking, animation, video art, painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture, as well as film and visual studies, critical theory, and the study of the built environment. The department has a strong commitment to fostering dialogue among makers, critics, and theorists. The modes of teaching combine the intensity of conservatory programs with the broad intellectual aims of a liberal arts college.

Within VES, there are three different areas of focus—1) studio arts, 2) film/video making, and 3) film and visual studies—and each have slightly different requirements. In studio arts and film/video, concentrators work toward comprehensive accomplishment in a chosen area of artistic production while simultaneously exploring a variety of other practices. In film and visual studies, concentrators pursue interdisciplinary approaches to the theory and history of images, space, art, and media. In all areas, VES concentrators work closely with faculty, predominantly in studios and small seminars, to gain understanding through both study and practice.

Upon graduation, concentrators in VES enter a wide variety of fields. Some pursue careers as artists or filmmakers while others go into media and communications. Among the graduate schools to which VES concentrators are admitted are schools of architecture, animation, art, film, and photography, as well graduate schools of arts and sciences, medicine, and business.

12 courses (48 credits)

Required courses (vary by track):


  1. Introductory Studios: At least two courses should be completed by the end of the sophomore year related to the student's area of focus.
  2. Intermediate Studios: At least two courses should be completed by the end of the junior year related to the student's area of focus.
    Note: A film/video thesis will be allowed only if it represents the 5th and 6th courses in the medium of the thesis.
  3. Historical and Theoretical Courses: At least two courses are required. These are seminar and lecture courses offered in VES that explore the history and theory of the moving image, contemporary art, the built environment, and critical studies. Appropriate courses offered in other departments can count toward the history and theory requirements with prior VES department approval.
  4. VES 97: Sophomore Tutorial: Required of all VES concentrators during their first full term in the concentration, ordinarily sophomore spring
  5. Electives within the concentration: Five additional courses in VES, two of which may be VES 99, the senior thesis or senior project tutorial. VES 99 is considered an elective and is not a required course.


  1. Introductory Courses: Two courses comprising Visual and Environmental Studies 70, “The Art of Film” and one other double-digit seminar or lecture course in film and visual studies offered within the department. VES 100: Critical Studies—the Artist and VES 181: Film Theory, Visual Thinking may also be counted toward the second introductory course.
  2. VES 97: Sophomore Tutorial: Required of all VES concentrators during their first full term in the concentration, ordinarily sophomore spring
  3. Advanced Film and Visual Studies Seminars: At least three advanced, three-digit seminars in film and visual studies.
  4. Electives: Four courses directly related to film and visual studies, including a VES film production or studio course of the student’s choosing. Offerings under this heading will include both film and visual studies classes offered in VES by regular and visiting faculty as well as pertinent film studies classes offered in departments outside of VES with prior departmental approval.
  5. Senior Thesis or Senior Project: Students who write a thesis or senior project essay will enroll in VES 99, which constitutes two courses. Students are strongly encouraged to write a thesis or senior project essay, though it is not required. Students who choose not to write a thesis will instead take two additional advanced film and visual studies courses (these choices are subject to the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies). VES 99 is considered an elective and is not a required course.
  6. *Note: Students should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Manager of Academic Programs to discuss which courses in other departments may count toward VES film and visual studies requirements.


  1. Tutorials and Supervised Study:
    1. VES 97: Sophomore Tutorial: Required of all VES concentrators during their first full term in the concentration, ordinarily sophomore spring
    2. VES 99: Tutorial-Senior Year. Senior Projects/Theses. VES 99 is presumed to be a year-long 8-credit course, but may be divided if necessary. A thesis or senior project is not required. (For further information please see item 3, below). 
    3. VES 91r: Special Projects: In very rare instances, open to advanced students who wish to carry out a special project under supervision. Professional specialization is not the aim of this course. It is intended for specially qualified students who wish to extend work begun in a regular department course. Students wishing to enroll in VES 91r must find a member of the faculty to advise the project and submit an application to the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
      Note: All tutorials and special projects courses in VES are letter-graded only. Application forms for all VES tutorials are available in the department office or from the department's website.
    4. Thesis: Qualified students may only undertake a thesis upon approval by the VES Honors Board. A filmmaking thesis must represent the third year of work in film production. A thesis in video must represent the third year of work in film and/or video production. All theses should be preceded by a related critical or historical course. Students who want to do a thesis should plan their sophomore and junior year courses accordingly. No concentrator in Visual and Environmental Studies is required to do a thesis or senior project to be recommended for honors.
      It is also possible to enroll in a VES 99 tutorial without doing a thesis. Like a thesis, these senior projects are undertaken with a tutorial adviser but do not undergo some of the rigors associated with the thesis (including thesis reviews, reader evaluations, and the requirement of a finished body of work). A final body of work may or may not result from a VES 99 senior project. For further information on the differences between a VES 99 tutorial with thesis and a VES 99 tutorial without thesis, please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the department’s website.
  2. General Examination: None.
  3. Other Information:
    1. Related courses for concentration credit: Ordinarily, no more than two courses taken outside Visual and Environmental Studies or History of Art and Architecture may be so counted. It is strongly recommended that studio concentrators with little background in the history of art take introductory courses in history of art and architecture as soon as possible.
      Concentrators in all areas of the department who wish to receive concentration credit for any non-VES course (in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, at another of Harvard’s graduate schools, at MIT, in the Harvard Summer School, or while studying out of residence) must submit a course requirement substitution form, available on the VES website, even if the course is cross-listed. If the course is not cross-listed, a syllabus must accompany the petition. Syllabi are not required to accompany cross-listed course petitions.
      Courses in history of art and architecture, theater design, and some courses in the field of cultural studies may be counted for concentration credit, subject to the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies when the Plan of Study is filed.
    2. Pass/Fail: Courses counting for concentration credit may not be taken Pass/Fail or SAT/UNS, except that one Freshman Seminar may be counted for elective concentration credit if taught by a department faculty member and consistent with VES department offerings, and the student has received a positive evaluation.
    3. Work done out of residence: A student wishing to count work done out of residence toward concentration requirements must have the plan for such work approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the Office of International Education prior to undertaking it. No credit will be given for work done out of residence until this work, when completed, is evaluated by the faculty of the department. Ordinarily not more than three courses taken out of residence will be counted for concentration credit. For information on programs recommended by the faculty of the department, please visit the Office of International Education website.
    4. Honors: Ordinarily, no student whose overall grade point average in the concentration falls below B will be recommended for honors. No concentrator in Visual and Environmental Studies is required to do a thesis to be eligible for an honors recommendation from the department.


Departmental academic advising is provided by the Director of Undergraduate Studies who meets individually with concentrators to discuss course selection. Information and advice is also available throughout the year in the Carpenter Center from Paula Soares, Manager of Academic Programs, who is available on a walk-in basis during most regular office hours. Each new concentrator is assigned a faculty adviser and is required to meet with the adviser at least once at the start of each term to review the Plan of Study. Students are reminded that they are each ultimately responsible for the fulfillment of concentration requirements, and should check regularly on the current status of their progress.

For up-to-date information on advising in Visual and Environmental Studies, please see the Advising Programs Office website.


Aside from providing the space in which the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies holds many of its classes, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, designed by world-renowned architect Le Corbusier, is an important landmark in the recent history of architecture and is the setting in which Harvard evidences its concern for contemporary expression in the visual arts. During the academic year exhibitions, performances, events, film screenings, and lectures are offered. In addition, the Harvard Film Archive, housed in the Carpenter Center, mounts an ongoing program of film screenings.

The Carpenter Center contains studio classrooms for the practice of the studio arts. The department also holds classes in Sever Hall, where most of the film, video, and animation studio courses are conducted. Studios at 6–8 Linden Street are used by practicing artists and photographers, including members of the faculty and senior concentrators doing thesis work, when applicable.

Visual and Environmental Studies concentrators benefit from the unusually rich University collections of Harvard’s museums: The Harvard Art Museum, Natural History, Semitic, and Peabody museums containing Western, Asian, and ethnographic art. Harvard’s library holdings in art and archaeology include more than 250,000 books and more than 1,500,000 photographs and slides.

The Museum of Fine Arts is one of Boston’s great cultural resources. Other resources are the ICA Boston, the MIT List Visual Arts Center, and the commercial and non-profit galleries of the greater Boston area.


Further information about the concentration may be obtained from the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Ruth Lingford ( or the Manager of Academic Programs, Paula Soares (, 617-496-4469). The department has an extensive website, providing a range of information on the faculty, courses, the Carpenter Center lecture series as well as exhibition schedule.

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Visual and Environmental Studies 80 83 69 65 59 52 37 54 56 59
Visual and Environmental Studies + another field 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 1 8 5
Another field + Visual and Environmental Studies 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 4 7