The Art department comprises studio art and art history, complementary and interrelated disciplines with a shared interest in the art object and its historical and theoretical contexts. The four art historians teach courses in western and non western art ranging from ancient to contemporary, and the three artists teach courses in drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, digital media and artists' books. The two branches of the department are united both philosophically and, to an extent rare among liberal arts institutions, in actual practice. Art historians and artists participate on each junior qualifying and senior thesis exam, and students writing a thesis in studio art or art history are required to take at least four courses in the other discipline. The near balance of course requirements enables some majors to cross disciplines when going on to graduate study or professional work.
Two lectureships, the Stephen E. Ostrow Visitors Program and the Robert L. Lehman Fund, enable the department to bring distinguished individuals in the arts to the college for periods of up to a week. These visitors give public lectures and seminars with students, and Ostrow artist visitors often coincide with a show of their work in the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery. Robert Morris, Michael Fried, Leo Steinberg, Linda Nochlin, Al Held, Dennis Oppenheim, Adrian Piper and Judy Pfaff are among past Ostrow visitors.
In number of thesis students, 15-20 seniors a year, the Art department ranks above the college average. Each senior thesis student works closely with a faculty adviser, usually meeting for a weekly conference throughout the year.
Except for classes with space constraints (photography and digital media), enrollments for studio art classes are rarely capped and are open to non- majors even through the 300 level. Many non-majors take studio classes throughout their Reed careers, and continue making art after graduation.
Art alumni are spread out across the country as art historians, artists (painters, sculptors, photographers, video and film makers, printmakers, ceramists, fine woodworkers, tattooists, comic book artists, calligraphers, book and graphic designers), teachers, gallery and museum directors and curators, art conservators, architects, NASA designers, etc. The 2002 and 2003 commencement speakers, both distinguished alumni, were art majors.