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.

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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Leaving Your Heart In San Francisco

SFAI rooftop gathering

SFAI rooftop gathering

Around the corner from the compact hairpin turns of Lombard Street sits the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), one of the countries renowned art colleges. Tucked into the neighborhood known as Russian Hill, this compact campus has been a beacon of “creativity and critical thinking” since its formation in 1871. The college’s four artistic founders wanted an environment in which they could motivate and stimulate each other’s artistic development. That interactive and open philosophy drives the studies and feel of the college to this day.

 Focused on contemporary fine arts and cross-disciplinary study, you’ll find no commercial design courses here. The idea is to create working artists, engaged with and influenced by the world around them.

Freshmen dive into studio work from day one, taking two studio courses their first semester, and three their second. The Contemporary Practice Class fulfills the typical “foundations” role by exploring multiple mediums and genres, and introducing students to the urban environment around them – the city of San Francisco. Here, they tap into the city’s culture, its organizations and non-profits, and begin engaging with the world.

The college is divided into two schools, but students engage with and take courses in each. The School of Interdisciplinary Studies offers BA’s in Contemporary Art History and Urban Studies. The School of Studio

Photography lab

Photography lab

Practice offers BFA’s in Design and Technology, Film, New Genres, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture. As at other art colleges, liberal arts courses are structured to enhance artistic understanding and exploration. Studio Practice majors can take 11 electives during their four years on campus. They spend 70% of their time engaged in studio coursework, 30% in academic coursework.

With many open-ended assignments, self-motivation is a necessity. Each department has technical staff available for those needing a better understanding – or wanting to push themselves further. Additional campus resources include: free, nightly public lectures given by practicing artists, artistic thinkers, and curators; health insurance; and an almost endless amount of space for displaying your artwork.

Since the curriculum here is explorative in structure and study, it’s not surprising that graduates of the program are entrepreneurial. Many go on to start their own art galleries, or continue their artistic exploration in a residency program. SFAI statistics claim that 95% of alumni maintain a creative practice five years after graduation. That’s a strong number.

Hallway gallery space

Hallway gallery space

Colleen Mulvey, Associate Director of Admissions, was my campus tour guide. As with all SFAI admissions counselors, she holds an MFA from the college. Putting someone who’s walked-the-walk in the position of explaining the school is not always done, and quite frankly is frustratingly missing in some institutions. Not here; throughout the tour she continually brought our conversations back to SFAI’s core: the study and exploration of contemporary art in a truly open and engaging environment. If this philosophy sounds intriguing to you, I hope you’ll check the school out. Admission is based primarily on your GPA and portfolio. Contact the college with any questions. They offer free portfolio reviews as well.

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Good News For Fine Arts Majors

Boston College

Boston College

OK, here’s the truth: moms and dads worry about their children studying fine arts in college. It’s true. Questions surrounding what type of jobs they’ll obtain after graduation intertwine with concerns about future incomes and lifestyles.

But good news is here.

The Wall Street Journal recently touted opportunities for fine artists in “A Fine-Arts Degree May Be a Better Choice Than You Think.” Specifically, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce studied the satisfaction felt by fine arts graduates, noting that they’re not necessarily starving anymore, and are actually quite content with their chosen career paths.

The article goes on to mention the job opportunities available to fine artists, stating “almost 83% worked the majority of their time in some arts occupation, such as art teaching or in a nonprofit arts organization.” I believe the list of opportunities is even broader. The skills acquired while studying art – in time management, communication, collaboration, and problem solving – result in marketable combinations that large and small businesses clamor for, especially when combined with creativity.

Whether your journey after graduation is one of a working artist or along a different path, the skills you’ll gain majoring in fine arts will remain useful and valuable throughout your life.

Good news and a sigh of relief for mom and dad.

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