SFAI’s Sculpture/Ceramics Department hinges on the interplay of the material and the conceptual.
Our facilities support work in ceramics, wood, metal, plaster, fabric, and electronics, and students learn traditional, alternative, and cutting-edge construction techniques. At the same time, courses emphasize research, problem-solving, and critical thinking, asking students to unite concepts and methodology. The curriculum also fosters interdisciplinary experimentation, and many students combine sculpture with digital media, performance, site-specific strategies, and environmentally- and socially-conscious investigations.
With a rich classical history and an exhilarating range of contemporary possibilities, sculpture is not confined to a pedestal. SFAI’s department comprises three varied areas of emphasis, along with a ceramics program, inviting individual or hybrid practice:
- 3D Media/Practice. Students engage formally and conceptually with classical materials, figuration, and narrative structures through techniques such as casting, modeling, and assemblage.
- Kinetics. Borrowing from diverse disciplines such as animation, robotics, virtual reality, sound, theater, and puppetry, students construct performative/interactive/responsive objects and installations, as well as the low- or high-tech control of these works.
- Systems and Environments. Research-driven, laboratory-like courses examine strategies for public and environmental inquiry and practice, informed by fields such as environmental studies, urban studies, science, ecology, sustainability, architecture, public art, and activism.
The Bay Area is a perfect setting to survey sculpture in its many forms, with venues such as SFMOMA, Headlands Center for the Arts, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the de Young Museum, the Asian Art Museum, and the di Rosa Preserve.
The Ceramics Program at SFAI appreciates ceramics as a unique medium of contemporary art practice and theory. Since the 1960s, SFAI has been home to internationally known ceramic artists such as Richard Shaw, Karen Breschi, Ron Nagle, and Jim Melchert. The current curriculum combines traditional methodologies with conceptual experiments, framed within interdisciplinary and global contexts.
The history of ceramics extends across many cultures, including: Chinese funerary statues, Greek pottery, Nok terracotta figures, California Mission architecture, Japanese glazed tile roofs, English Victorian brickwork, Dogon villages, the sewers of Paris, and numerous traditions of fine art and craft-based ceramics. Against this backdrop, students investigate contemporary strategies such as installation, claymation, objects, architecture, design, and public interventions. Central issues of research and engagement include form and surface, materiality, function versus non-function, craft versus art, the social and the personal, complexities of gender, and the relation of ceramics to science and the environment. With a varied but synergistic curriculum, the program allows for a challenging exploration of an ancient yet ever-evolving discipline.
Sculpture/Ceramics facilities are organized into shops and labs of common material, process, or emphasis. The fully-equipped work areas include ceramics, wood shop, metal shop, walk-in spray booth, electronics lab, sewing mezzanine, plaster and flexible mold area, an installation gallery, and mixed classroom-fabrication spaces. Through adjacent departments, students have access to a wide range of alternative media including video, photography, film, and digital technology.