New B.F.A. Curriculum Prepares Students to be Artistic and Intellectual Leaders

people in a gallery with images projected onto their bodies

William Staffeld / AAP

November 10, 2017

Beginning in the fall of 2018, undergraduate students in the Department of Art will bring the university into the studio and into their individual practices with a new B.F.A. curriculum that distributes credits almost equally between traditional in-department studios and seminars, and electives across Cornell.

"Instead of a prescribed list of rigid, distributed out-of-college electives, students will choose strategic academic classes that complement and incorporate knowledge into advanced art classes and individual practice-based research studios," says Visiting Associate Professor Renate Ferro, director of undergraduate studies. Students will also benefit from advising that balances both the surprise of discovery and the rigors of immersion.

The curriculum was developed over a three-year period with input from students and a committee of art faculty. "Early on," says associate professor and department chair Michael Ashkin, "our committee came up with a working descriptor — the 'Artist/Scholar Program.' This remains the driving idea."

Students are given primary responsibility for selecting their classes in the new program, with the aim of developing an art practice that is both self-defined and highly informed. While retaining introductory studios in drawing, sculpture, painting, photography, print media, and digital media, and advanced studios and seminars in contemporary arts concepts, the individualized curriculum provides the opportunity for undergraduate art students to develop a mature artistic practice at the earliest possible stage, and, ultimately, aims to produce a community of artists who participate in the world as artistic and intellectual leaders.

"The goal is to provide the art student with the ability to form a transdisciplinary perspective driven by the needs of each student's own work," Ashkin explains.

According to Ferro, the "Artist/Scholar" curriculum change reflects interdisciplinary changes in the art world. "The practice of contemporary art is an emerging cross-disciplinary venture that is reactive to global culture and technology," says Ferro. "Fields of interest beyond the scope of art — such as those in language and the humanities, science, and others — are integrated into art practices by contemporary artists today." She adds, "The faculty in the art department have developed curriculum and advising strategies whose mission is to aid and enable incoming students to assimilate a strong foundation in art, art history, and criticism, with a plethora of academic areas."

Ashkin and Ferro note that many students entering the B.F.A. program are already prepared with a broad understanding of science and math. "In considering the curriculum change," says Ferro, "some of us in the department asked, 'Why not encourage them to think about bringing other studies into their practice?'"

The option to take the semester-long programs at both AAP's New York City and Rome campuses continues for second- or third-year B.F.A. students, while the final three semesters on the Ithaca campus focus on studios and seminar work that are based on strengthening self-directed practice while preparing for a thesis project.

"The educational philosophy is that art is a holistic practice," Ashkin says. "It is impossible to separate material studio practice from the surrounding world. We trust our students to take agency in designing a well-rounded education that is meaningful to them."

By Patti Witten

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