What Art & Design Students Need to Know About RIT

I know, I know. An institute of technology is not the most obvious place to find a top arts program. Most likely it’s not even on your radar. Right? Well, it should be!

cias-twitter-logoAfter an in-depth tour of the College of Imaging Arts & Sciences (CIAS) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) last month I came away thoroughly convinced that this is a great school for visual artists.

Despite its name, artistic learning has been part of RIT since it’s founding in the 1820’s. Today, CIAS encompasses roughly 2,000 of the 15,300 undergraduates on campus. That means visual arts students can benefit from the intimacy of a small college and the resources of a large research university.

CIAS boasts high retention rates, and both the university and the college continually receive high rankings. Clearly, they’re doing something right.

Abundance of available photography equipment

Abundance of available photography equipment

The School of Design is the largest school in the college and it provides a wide path of instruction in 2D, 3D, and 4D design. Emphasis is on designing for process over product and using technology to connect to real world experiences.

Photography looms large on campus. That makes sense when you realize this is the land of photography and print pioneers Kodak and Xerox. Students in the School of Photographic Arts & Sciences start with a comprehensive introduction to the field. As Susan Lakin, program chair for Advertising Photography further explained, “RIT has so many facets of photography available. Students discover the field and its broadness, then are able to explore a multitude of options to discover what their interests are.” Those options include everything from fine art and commercial applications to integration with journalism, business, and science. 

Zara Davis, sophomore ceramics major

Zara Davis, sophomore ceramics major

Another distinguishing program on this technology-focused campus is the School of American Crafts. Seriously. As with other majors, students studying artistic craftsmanship are focused and dedicated. The program has a rigorous studio requirement and includes a year of business courses in preparation for a career in the arts.

Engagement with the real world is built into the curriculum here. Co-ops and time abroad are both highly regarded and highly encouraged. Creative Industry Day, an annual event, promotes portfolio reviews and networking with creative industry professionals.

It’s difficult to gain acceptance into CIAS, which is foretelling that you’ll be challenged once you’re in. Over and over during my visit, I heard that dedication, passion, and focus are required for success. But the benefits are clear and enormous. Artistic mastery, a career-focused education, and a job after graduation. I hope you check it out.

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.

Your Artistic Teen Is A High School Freshman: 4 Tips You Need Now!

The beginning of freshman year in high school can feel like a seismic shift for students – and parents. That’s because your child is on the way to adulthood, whether you’re ready for it or not. And, whether your freshman is an artist or designer, decisions made now will affect their future exponentially. Here are four tips to help you guide your creative kid through the next four years:

  1. freshman keep calm 2Pay attention to your teen’s schedule. Academic and artistic grades matter all four years and so do the difficulty of courses taken. Guide your teen wisely. Talk with your guidance counselors and outline a plan. Think about the progression of which classes are prerequisites for the ones your kid really wants to take. The end goals are honors and AP courses. Demanding class schedules demonstrate ambition and maturity, traits that colleges want to see. If your high school has subject tracks make sure to choose the one with the most art and design courses as well as the most challenging classes.
  1. Consider extracurricular activities. Your teen will gain immeasurable value from activities outside of school that relate to future college and career aspirations. After school art classes demonstrate the desire to grow beyond a traditional classroom environment. Volunteering at a local photography studio or working in an interior design office will teach a lot about the practical side of working as a creative. Both show colleges that your teen is an out-of-the-box thinker and is willing to push boundaries to gain better results.

On the warning side of this equation, be aware that extracurriculars can be taken too far. Authentic interest is essential. If a Saturday art class isn’t clicking then don’t push it. And don’t aim for quantity over quality. You might think that dabbling here, there, and everywhere shows broad interest and exploration. Most likely it will come across as trying too hard and a lack of commitment.

  1. LSU fashion photography

    LSU fashion photography

    Start exploring colleges. Did you know that creatives have three types of colleges available to them? Besides state universities and private liberal arts colleges, visual artists should also consider art and design colleges. The latter provide a 24/7 environment where art and design are incorporated into every class, and every student is seeking a creative career.

  1. Breathe! Don’t stress out. Job number one is a happy kid. If high school becomes only about getting into “the right college” then your family will have four years of misery with burnout as the end result. This time should be fun and full of exploration. If it isn’t, then maybe your teen needs to consider a different path.

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Graduation Gifts For The Creative In Your Life

Graduation: It’s finally here! Our kids made it and so did we. Congratulations to all the moms, dads, families, and students who are celebrating this great accomplishment. It’s a time to pause and reflect on the achievement as well as a time to look forward to the next step, whatever it may be.

With college decisions made and grad parties ahead, the next hurdle focuses on what gifts to buy for those accomplished students. Unfortunately, graduation gifts can often become a cause for consternation. What will be useful and fun to receive? Is cash the best gift, or is that too impersonal?

If you haven’t already seen it, make sure you check out this post that helps take a lot of the guesswork out of your searching. It’s not specific to artists and designers, so I’ve added a few of my own for the creative kid. Either way you can’t go wrong. And once again, Congratulations!

Blicks: The go-to art supply resource. Whether the need is brushes, sculpting tools, wood glues, or drawing tables, a gift from Blick’s can’t go wrong.

Photography Equipment: Having great photographs is key for every artist. The tools needed to get there can be expensive. Cameras or gift certificates from a local photography store can get your artist on the right path to documenting their creativity for sale or documentation.

Art Classes? Just because a portfolio was completed for college applications doesn’t mean it’s done. It’ll never be done. A gift card for a summer art class will keep the juices flowing and may introduce your grad to a new medium never tried before. What a great head start before the college school year begins.

Art in the City: Each city has its own wonderfully unique artistic features. Why not treat your teen with a tailor-made adventure in his new college town? A gift membership to the art museum or an architectural tour are two creative ways to explore a new neighborhood. Tickets to the local theatre, musical, and dance performances are just as engaging and enjoyable.

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In A Buckeye State of Mind

Student work - Department of Art 3-D Foundation course

Student work – Department of Art 3-D Foundation course

For many, searching for the right college begins with the question “art college or university?” The two choices lead to very different college experiences. And, true confessions here: I attended a state school and came away with an exceptional education. (Thank you, U Dub!) Unfortunately, I don’t live in Washington anymore, but Ohio offers some outstanding opportunities as well.

The Ohio State University (OSU) is one of the largest land-grant, research universities in the country. I thought they only did “big” in Texas, but OSU proves that theory wrong. Think 49,000+ undergraduate students, ½ million alumni, and 175 majors. Those numbers translate into significant opportunities and support for the Departments of Art, Arts Administration, Design, and Art History.

I’ve had the chance to tour both the Art and Design Departments, and I came away impressed. You won’t need a portfolio to gain acceptance into the university. However, you’ll need one for acceptance into one of the 10 majors these two departments provide. With guidance from professors and your foundation classes you’ll create one during freshman year (Design) and your sophomore year (Art) to compete for acceptance into your major of choice.

Industrial Design class

Industrial Design class

The two departments reside in buildings adjacent to each other, providing plenty of opportunity for cross-pollination. Both are competitive to gain entry. Only 80 students are accepted into the Department of Design’s Pre-Design program, which is narrowed down to 54 after freshman year. That equates to 18 new students each year joining one of three majors; Industrial Design, Interior Design, or Visual Communications. The end result is small classes with highly motivated students who graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Design, and excellent career opportunities.

The Department of Art is slightly larger but no less competitive. Students complete five foundation courses before gaining acceptance into the rigorous and challenging program. Those admitted earn a BFA in Art and Technology, Ceramics, Glass, Painting and Drawing, Photography, Printmaking, or Sculpture in a traditional studio environment. Also available is a Bachelor of Arts in Art, a more general degree for students wanting a career related to the arts.

Internships are highly encouraged, especially following sophomore year when students have more confidence in their skills. Study abroad opportunities are also encouraged, providing the chance to learn from other cultures and gain an international perspective.

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