Declaring A Major

Untitled by Daniel Well 2011 Foundations Exhibition

Untitled by Daniel Well
MICA 2011 Foundations Exhibition

Back in the day when I was a university student (go dawgs!), we didn’t need to declare a major until the end of sophomore year. That gave us plenty of time to try out different interests. For me, art history preceded textile design.

Expectations are different today; and programs vary. Some colleges require students to declare a major as part of the application process, while others offer a semester or two to decide.

I spoke with representatives from four art colleges and found four different approaches to the “when to declare” question. Foundation courses play an integral part of each methodology, providing students with additional exposure to 2-D, 3-D, 4-D and art history courses. Some colleges also engage freshmen in a choice of studio electives.

The College for Creative Studies (CCS) requires that students select a major with their acceptance into the college. Amy Armand, Director of Recruitment Services, explained that for undecided students “a semester of exploring often puts them a semester behind,” requiring scrambling to catch up. The good news here is that CCS readily provides counseling for the “best fit” for a major, based on each student’s portfolio, goals, and current work. That means you can still change majors once you’re on campus.

Pratt applicants also apply into a specific major. However, the college does accept “undecided” students. According to their website about 15 percent of students apply “undecided” each year. Michael Barry, Admissions Counselor and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, explained that some programs are larger than others, causing those who declare their major after starting classes might “get closed out due to space limitations.” An example: the Graphic Design program is larger than the Industrial Design one. If you want to declare ID after you’ve already enrolled, you can do it, but it may cause timing and class sequencing conflicts down the road.

According to Lucy King, Associate Director of Admissions, at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the first semester of freshmen year is pretty intense. It requires hard work in drawing, design and spacial dynamics, giving students experiences to self-discover “what makes sense and comes naturally, what comes as a struggle, and whether or not they enjoy that struggle.” Following that intense semester – in March of their freshmen year – RISD students declare their majors.

MassArt Foundations Class

MassArt Foundations Class

Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) students experience a full year of foundation courses before needing to declare a major. The benefit? “Sometimes students think they know what they want to study, but change their minds,” explained Greg Bartlett, Admissions Assistant and MassArt alum. A year of exposure to multidimensional art and design helps confirm their passions and direction. I didn’t ask Greg, but maybe he knows from his own experience.

There are benefits to each system. By declaring a major at the onset, you’ll be able to jump right in, and immerse yourself at the beginning of your college experience. Conversely, if you’re not 100% sure of your direction, taking a bit of time to decide will expose you to other paths which you might not have previously considered. Also, keep in mind that each institution is unique, and has sound reasons for their curriculum structure. I don’t know that one philosophy is better than another; it’s what works best for you. My suggestion is to add this to your list of decision factors as you research your options.

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Good News From The Motor City

The headline everywhere is the same: Once the fourth largest city in the country, Detroit has now filed for bankruptcy. In 1950 this thriving hub of the auto industry had a population close to 2 million; now it’s truly a shadow of its former self, with just 700,000 calling it home. And worst of all, to pay for its debts the city is considering selling artwork from its beloved art museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts. Nothing like ripping your heart out.

Yet I’m here to tell you there is good news in the Motor City. Midtown and downtown are in the midst of a revival, with 90% occupancy from new start-ups and those who want to restore and refurbish this fabulous metropolis.  And in the heart of it sits the Cultural District with the Motown Museum, Detroit Public Library, Science Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, and of course, the College for Creative Studies, (CCS) a non-profit, accredited, private art college of 1300 students.

Painting Studio (courtesy of CCS)I attended an open house information session at CCS last week, toured the campus, and felt I received an accurate impression of the college that in 2007 Bloomberg Business Week named among the top design schools in the world.

The college is split between two campuses – the Ford campus focuses primarily on fine arts and crafts, while the Taubman Center focuses on design. 12 undergraduate majors are offered, with a wealth of infrastructure to enable a strong basic understanding as well as encourage wide exploration in any discipline. CCS understands that college years are an investment in time and money. They support student and family investments with top-notch facilities and equipment. Tom Madden, Chair and Associate Professor in the Crafts Department, calls them “extraordinary.” I agree.

transportation studio close up 2Walking through the school I felt its mission statement come to life. They’re not teaching just art and design here. They’re teaching a path to a future career, with all the tools necessary to get there. Tools include a new way to communicate; by expressing and portraying ideas through art, whether a beautifully handcrafted wood sculpture or a flashy ad selling the hottest new shoe design. “Art is about language,” explained Robert Schefman, Chair and Associate Professor in the Foundation Department. “Our ideas are written down by drawing.” Those ideas are expressed through the illustration of a graphic novel, the line of a new car, or the interior design of a new restaurant. Additional tools include 42 credits of liberal arts classes, plus business lessons and a comprehensive understanding of how to show and sell your artwork in today’s digital world.

Students have the opportunity to live on or off campus throughout their four years. I climbed the steps to a fifth floor suite in the Art Centre Building on the Ford campus. (Easy to do when you’re young!) The apartment style set-up has two large bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room, large dining room, and a full kitchen. I liked the sunlit spaciousness of it, but felt the carpet could have used an update.

AudioEditing courtesy of CCSPre-College courses are available in numerous formats for those wanting to get a head start on their college education. And once enrolled as an undergraduate, Career Services provides an abundance of internship and networking opportunities. The sticker price for admission is $34,320, but CCS loudly claims that 98% of students receive financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants or loans. The message: don’t let sticker shock let you gloss over this school.

The day’s tour guides all wore bright green t-shirts proudly claiming, “CCS: Art lives in this city.” They’re so right. There is much more to share about this remarkable college – much more than just one post’s worth. For now, my suggestion is simple: go see it for yourself.  You’ll like what you see.

(Top and bottom photos courtesy of CCS)

Function, Meet Design

Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman's concept for an everyday city bike of the future

Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman’s concept for an everyday city bike of the future

I’ve been intrigued by Industrial Design for a long time.  In college, the ID students worked directly below those of us in the textile studio, so I caught numerous peeks into their world.  Very cool: applying your passion for design to everyday products – whether they’re kitchen gadgets, office supplies or automobiles – and making life a bit better in the process.  This is not just art for art’s sake; it’s logical, practical, tangible, and fun!  Integrating art into the creation of a product.

Today, the terms industrial design and product design are often used interchangeably.  Either way, study of the subject provides the opportunity to integrate mechanical and technological interests with art and design to solve real-world problems.

Top notch industrial and product design programs exist at many colleges across the country including Carnegie Melon University, Cleveland Institute of Art, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and College for Creative Studies.  Each focuses on teaching critical thinking skills and learning to solve complex problems through collaboration and the application of interdisciplinary methodologies.   Cultural and economic impacts are included as well, as are the study of ergonomics, marketing and manufacturing.  Through lectures and hands-on projects you’ll learn how things are built, and incorporate functional design into the building process.

You won’t find yourself lacking for career options if ID is in your future. Stetson Hats, Slinky, or Weber Grills are one route, all designed and made in the United States. They’re also all highlighted in the April 22nd cover story article of Time magazine, which claims “Made in the USA is making a comeback.”  The impact that has on product and industrial designers is exponential, growing the marketplace for intelligent, well-designed products.  For other career routes consider furniture design, medical equipment design, shoe design, materials and color consulting, or industrial design education.

A multitude of resources exist for burgeoning and current ID’ers.  My favorite is Core77.  Spend some time there, then pick a school and you may be on your way to creating or improving some cool gadgets for mankind.

And by the way, thanks!

 

I hope that after reading my blog you’ll leave a comment by letting me know what you’re interested in, and what programs you’ve found.

Photo credit: Industrialdesignserved.com