Critical Studies

Critical Studies Program

Critical Studies Program

Unique Academic Program at Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook is a small, graduate-only institution with a unique academic program that complements our 10 studio departments. Both our studios and our Academy-wide programs are free from conventional classes and traditional grades. This allows us to be specialized and flexible — responsive to student and faculty interests. Our academic program is both rigorous and yet approachable. The program takes the form of lectures, discussions, workshops, student-initiated symposia, critiques with visiting curators, dinners with guest thinkers and debates in the studio kitchens. Our Academy-wide academic programs are open to all students at the Academy —regardless of their primary studio department — and are designed to foster inter-departmental exchange.

Our Critical Studies program is the central piece of our academic program. Each semester, we bring a visiting Critical Studies Fellow to be in residence at the Academy. Selected for their perspectives on contemporary theory and culture studies, the visiting Fellows present public lectures, conduct student discussion groups and serve as an active presence in studio critiques and reviews. The visiting fellows are chosen each year to reflect the most current intellectual discourse within contemporary architecture, art, and design.

Flor Widmar (Ceramics '17) with Fall 2016 Critical Studies Fellow Alpesh. Photo by Sarah Blanchette (Photography '17).

Flor Widmar (Ceramics ’17) with Fall 2016 Critical Studies Fellow Alpesh Patel. Photo by Sarah Blanchette (Photography ’17).



John Corso Esquivel is a critic and art historian based in Metro Detroit. His current book project, Feminist Subjectivities in Fiber Art and Craft: Shadows of Affect, looks at eight case studies from the U.S. and Latin America through the lens of affect theory. The book will join the Routledge Research in Gender and Art series.

Corso Esquivel examines political dynamics within a wide range of contemporary art and visual culture. His essays have appeared in the Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Brooklyn Rail, BE Magazine, ART21 Magazine, Mosaic, RACAR: The Canadian Art Review, Art Papers, and numerous exhibition catalogs. He has contributed exhibition and book reviews to Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, Criticism, Art in America, The Huffington Post, Art Papers, and Hyperallergic.

Corso Esquivel is currently the Doris and Paul Travis Associate Professor of Art History at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He sits on the Board of Directors of the Telluride Association, an educational nonprofit with branches at Cornell University and the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. In the fall of 2016, he served as a sabbatical replacement for Beverly Fishman in Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Painting Department, where he is still a regular visitor.

Corso Esquivel received his Ph.D. in the History of Art and Visual Studies from Cornell University in 2009. He earned an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2003), an MA in art history from Tufts (2003), and a BA with honors in art from Williams College (1997). In 2013-14, he participated in the CUE Foundation and the AICA-USA’s Young Art Critic Mentoring Program.

At Cranbrook, Corso Esquivel will offer seminars on Feminist and Queer Theory, as well as Race, Ethnicity, and Textuality. He will leverage his training in Writing in the Disciplines to support critical and professional writing across the Academy.


“Art and Design and the Anthropocene: What Happens When People Stop Being Polite and Start Getting Real About Climate Change”

Our Fall Critical Studies and Humanities Fellow is Heather Davis, a writer and researcher based in Montreal. Her current book project, Plastic: The Afterlife of Oil, under contract with Duke University Press, examines the intimate manifestation of our cultural fixation with and dependency upon oil through the materiality of plastic. Davis has held postdoctoral fellowships and visiting appointments at Duke University, Penn State, UCLA, NYU and the California Institute for the Arts. She is the editor of Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies (Open Humanities Press, 2015) and Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada (MAWA and McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017). She has written widely for art and academic publications including Third Text, Camera Obscura, PhiloSOPHIA, Take On India, Camera Austria and numerous book chapters and exhibition catalogues. She is also the co-curator of Plastic Entanglements: Aesthetics, Materials, Politics which will be on view at Penn State in January 2018 and then will travel to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Smith College Museum of Art and the Chazen Museum of Art.

While at Cranbrook, Davis will focus on the uncomfortable inheritances of living in the Anthropocene, examining the ways in which how we think about the world literally produces the geologic and biologic conditions in which we find ourselves. In particular, she will explore the legacies of plastic and white supremacy in producing what has come to be known as the Anthropocene.