Ann Chamberlain, Untitled Installation, 2006. Courtesy of Gallery Paule Anglim.

first year program

First-year students enroll in a full complement of 100-level studio and academic courses that lay the foundation for advanced study in the major and minor programs available to them at the San Francisco Art Institute.

At SFAI, we immediately embrace the first-year students as artists and thinkers, and invite them into the creative and intellectual community of the school and the broader artistic and cultural resources of the Bay Area. Simultaneously, we challenge them to move beyond their assumptions about what art is and can be within an expanded field of cultural production. Throughout their first year at SFAI we encourage students to consider:

  • How do artists translate raw experience into expressive form?
  • How does imagination connect with analysis to deepen meaning?
  • What historical narratives support creative work?
  • How can an artist engage with society beyond the borders of art’s conventional spaces of exhibition in the studio, gallery, and museum?
  • What are the many ways to address audience and what does the audience bring to art?

The First Year Program Curriculum

Global Art History 3
English Composition A            (Investigation and Writing) 3
Contemporary Practice 3
100-level elective course 3
100-level elective course 3
Modernity and Modernism 3
English Composition B                 (Nonfiction Writing) 3
100-level elective course 3
100-level elective course 3
100-level elective course 3

Contemporary Practice: Fall – 3 units

In Contemporary Practice students will begin to identify and strengthen their creative voices through collaboration and critique as practiced throughout the SFAI community. Active engagement in Contemporary Practice ensures students will have significant experience in establishing a creative dialogue through personal projects and collaboration with their peers. The course emphasizes hands-on experience within a culture of research, creativity, and communication and deepens the first-year students’ relationships with and understanding of the multiple and diverse strategies of investigation that produce knowledge and culture.

Facilitating and supporting the first-year students’ ongoing engagement with the SFAI community and Bay Area cultural resources are the co-curricular activities embedded into the course, including workshops, public lectures and openings, visits to local museums and galleries, and excursions to local artists’ studios.

History and Theory of Contemporary of Art

  • Global Art History: Fall – 3 units

The course surveys global art and architecture from the beginnings of art production in the prehistoric period through the end of the Middle Ages. The material is organized in rough chronology, focusing week-to-week thematically within specific geographical regions and historical periods including the ancient cultures of Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Rome, China, India, Africa, and the Islamic world, among others. Major topics include the origins and development of systems of writing in relation to the visual arts; the multiple and foundational definitions of “art” in various contexts; art’s relation to power and propaganda in the defining of empires and nations states as they develop; and the role of art in relation to myth, religion and ritual. The course also focuses on developing a critical vocabulary and set of concepts for understanding and articulating global visual art in both historical context and in relation to contemporary practices.

  • Modernity and Modernism: Spring – 3 units

The course provides a framework within which to examine and articulate pivotal topics in world art and architecture and to consider their relevance to contemporary practice. The material is organized in rough chronology spanning the historical period from 1500 to 1950. The question sustained across the sessions is what constitutes the many ways of defining the modern and the related terms modernism and modernity. The course poses possible answers through the lenses of humanist discourse and its problematization in the ages of imperialism and colonialism; changing patronage for art in an emerging system of commodity relations; the rise of urban centers; new ways of articulating intersubjectivity (psychoanalysis, “primitivism,” etc.); visual technologies and their theorization; and the consolidation of modernist formalism that culminates with the writings of Clement Greenberg. Using Marilyn Stokstad’s Art History, Volume II and local museums as primary resources, this course covers art and architectural practice from a broad range of cultural contexts (including Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania).

English Composition

The Writing Program at SFAI is designed to develop skills in critical reading and analysis, with an emphasis on recognizing and crafting persuasive arguments. The small seminar format of the classes in the Writing Program allows for close contact with faculty and substantial feedback of writing in progress. All incoming students are required to take the Writing Placement Exam before registering. Some students may be required to register for Seeing and Writing before Investigation and Writing.

  • Investigation and Writing (English Composition A): Fall – 3 units

A foundational course to develop critical reading and writing skills necessary for analyzing literary and visual works.

  • Nonfiction Writing (English Composition B): Spring – 3 units

The second course in the writing sequence focuses on continuing development in writing, with emphasis on analysis, honing essay-writing skills, and preparing students for more advanced academic course work.

100-Level Electives – 15 units

First-year students are encouraged to range widely among the introductory courses in each department and program, building skills and widening their vision of the creative possibilities of art-making in an interdisciplinary context. Students will choose five 100-level courses across the major departments and programs, including liberal arts and transdisciplinary electives.

Breadth Requirements

Two of these five elective courses must fulfill the Breadth Requirements for Drawing and Media. Students will investigate these foundational areas of contemporary art practice, developing a familiarity with materials and processes and a historical and conceptual understanding of the trajectories that span the pre-history of cave painting to the postmodern conditions of new media and beyond.

  • Drawing – 3 units: One 100-level course chosen across but not limited to Painting, Drawing, Printmaking, and Sculpture that foregrounds the expressive and representational power of line as a mode of making meaning, from the sketch to the schematic, from immediate gesture to attentive rendering, from the scribble on paper to the notational resolution of line into writing on a page.
  • Media – 3 units: One 100-level course chosen across but not limited to Design and Technology, Film, New Genres, and Photography that addresses the conditions of reproduction, spectatorship, participation and user interface, social media, performance, and documentation that inform our contemporary relation to technology.