SFAI’s Sculpture/Ceramics Department hinges on the interplay of the material and the conceptual.
Starting from the belief that research is a valid tool along with a hammer, the program emphasizes investigation, critical thinking, and problem solving as central components of artistic development.
SFAI’s department supports work in ceramics, wood, metal, plaster, fabric, and electronics, while also encouraging interdisciplinary experimentation with digital media, performance, installation, kinetics, and site-specific strategies. The program offers a number of courses focused on systems and environments—sculpture as informed by urban studies, sustainability, ecology, architecture, public art, and activism—through which artistic practice becomes a model for social engagement.
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, 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.
Graduate students have access to sculpture facilities on the 800 Chestnut Street campus; additionally, students work in their studios at the Graduate Center, which also has a wood shop. Studios are accessible 24 hours a day, and workshop equipment areas are open daily.
At Chestnut Street, Sculpture/Ceramics facilities are organized into shops and labs of common material, process, or emphasis. The fully-equipped work areas include ceramics, woodshop, metal shop, walk-in spray booth, electronics lab, sewing mezzanine, plaster and flexible mold area, 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.