Carnegie Mellon University: School of Art

School of ArtHere is a simple truth: The more you do something the better you become at doing it.

A college drawing professor of mine taught this principle well. His homework assignments required drawing, drawing, and then some more drawing. Friends of mine who weren’t art majors would walk down the dorm hallway many nights with comments of “man, you have a lot of work.” (Yes, but let’s save that for another conversation.)

500 drawings - 2Andrew Johnson, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) School of Art knows this to be true as well. He challenges the school’s freshmen to create 500 drawings over one weekend in the fall. He even provides the pizza. My hand is cramping just thinking about drawing that intensely, but what an outstanding way to strengthen your skill set while developing your craft.

The School of Art (SOA) is an interdisciplinary program. Students study across four concentrated areas and are not required to focus on just one.

  • Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, and Photography
  • Electronic and Time-Based Media
  • Sculpture, Installation and Site Installation
  • Contextual Practice

It’s that interconnectivity – within the arts – and with non-studio academic courses as well that separates this program from others. BFA graduates earn a comprehensive education and a broader understanding of what it’s like to be working artists.

Study consists of conceptual studios and media-based courses. Foundation classes are spread out during the first three semesters on campus and are media focused, providing students the chance to independently immerse themselves into clay, wood, painting, animation, etc. Advanced studios begin during the spring of sophomore year.

Upperclassmen studio space

Upperclassmen studio space

Senior year focuses on independent studio work. Four faculty members team-teach and students are free to choose the concepts and media they wish to explore. The primary goal is to develop a body of work across both semesters.

Like its sister program, gaining acceptance into SOA is competitive. 50% of acceptance decisions are portfolio driven. Mark Cato, SOA Assistant Head, told me that the ideal student “should consider art and art history in society, work should be conceptually based, and they should be open to a broad exposure of different media types.”

For those interested in tapping into even more of the best of CMU, I’d suggest considering the university’s BXA Interdisciplinary Degree. Here’s the chance to combine a humanities, science, or social science degree with an arts degree. Students must be accepted into both schools independently. But the reward is the chance to explore and develop your own approach to interdisciplinary studies.

Is design more your style? Learn about CMU’s School of Design.

Carnegie Mellon University: School of Design

Touring Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in autumn is a great idea. I was fortunate to visit last week when the trees were starting to sparkle in all their autumn glory.

This private university’s persona is larger than life, but its undergraduate student body is a very manageable 6200. I’ve toured the campus before, so got to focus on the College of Fine Arts this time around, meeting with representatives from the School of Design and the School of Art.

School of Design

School of Design

The School of Design (SOD) has a stellar reputation. I often recommend taking rankings with a grain of salt, but these you should consider. LinkedIn named the school Best for Designers (October 2014) and Design Intelligence named it among America’s Best Architecture and Design Schools (2015).

Steve Stadelmeier, SOD Associate Head, defines designers as those who build things for the greater good; things that help individuals and companies tell their personal stories. Whether it’s the car you drive, the Netflix shows you watch, the graphics of your favorite app, or the layout at your favorite clothing store – they’re all influenced and guided by designers, and they all help you tell your own, individual story.

sophomore communications students

sophomore communications students

At CMU students gain that knowledge through a unique and interactive structure that mirrors real life. Freshmen begin studying across three concurrent areas: Communication Design (graphics), Product Design (industrial design), and Environments (virtual and physical). Sophomores continue in two of the three, juniors narrow it down to one, and senior year unites the entire cohort as they apply what they’ve learned to services and social innovation. Here, the application of design moves from focusing on one item to a grand and global scale. A junior explained it this way: “If you design a lawnmower as a sophomore, then junior year you’ll address the yard and lawn chemicals. Senior year you’ll question, “How can we change the system?” (Ex: how can we water lawns more efficiently to improve water usage?)

junior product models

junior product models

This is a rigorous program; with class time divided approximately 60/40 between design classes and general studies courses. That ratio is typically found at small art and design schools across the country, not large universities. Also similar to art and design schools, SOD teaches a number of design-related general education classes. Examples include design and economics or design and anthropology.

Applications – through the Common App – are directed to the SOD itself, not the university. Portfolios are a required part of the process. Images can be uploaded through SlideRoom as well as delivered in person. Personal interviews aren’t required but are highly encouraged.

Accepted students are the lucky ones. Approximately 650 applied to the program last year, with 35 matriculating. Graduates earn a Bachelor of Design (BDes), and according to Mr. Stadelmeier, all graduate with a job.

Want to learn more about the SOD? Drop me a note or contact the school directly. Have a preference for the School of Art? Stick around. I’ll share what I’ve learned next week.