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Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
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B.F.A. in Art

Inspire us. Grow. Create.
Make your art. Make an impact.
Art is essential. A BFA from Penn State is the difference between you knowing that your art matters and the rest of the world knowing it, too. Our internationally exhibiting and award-winning faculty are devoted to helping you grow your abilities, learn new skills, see in new ways, and find your true voice.

Are you ready for your next step? Take it with us.

The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program prepares students to be leaders in the contemporary art world. The degree features an intense, supportive studio culture, and broad access to the unparalleled resources of a Tier 1 university.

Students enrolled in the School of Visual Arts apply to the B.F.A. program between their second and fourth semesters. Entrance is awarded following a successful portfolio review.

Is the B.F.A. in Art right for you?

Penn State’s Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program prepares students to be leaders in the contemporary art world.

You are a visual thinker who works with your hands, heart, and head. Artists earning this degree are creative makers and critical thinkers who shape our awareness about what is possible and, in doing so, change the way we see, experience, and understand our world. Students who earn this degree pursue careers as art directors, educators, and practicing artists.

Darkened silhouettes of Penn State visual arts students crouched around a foundry crucible pouring red-hot molten metal.
SoVA student taking a close up shot of student work in the exhibition Pushing it to the limit.

Concentrations

With specialized resources and faculty, students will pursue a focused degree from the following concentration areas.

Ceramics

Close up of students wheel throwing in studio.

In 2017, U.S News & World Reports ranked Penn State’s Ceramic Art program 12th in the country.

Formed by hand, clay documents the maker’s touch. The eye defines the form and the mind and the heart give the work of art its meaning. The very personal rendering of its elements is what makes a work of art unique. Ceramics at Penn State welcomes both functional potters-and sculptors alike. It provides each student with the tools needed to find and pursue his or her artistic vision in a professional manner.

In order to lay a foundation of technical knowledge we teach traditional ceramics techniques including, clay mixing, hand-building, wheel throwing, mold making, slip casting, glazing, and kiln firing. Building on these basic techniques, the student is gradually encouraged take ownership of where he/she finds indispensable meaning. Readings, discussions, slide presentations, and visiting artists, augment this process. Diverse faculty interests and approaches add to the educational experience by providing a wide swath of reference materials, which include contemporary theory, artists, exhibition practices, and criticism. Attendance and participation in related conferences and symposia is seriously encouraged. Over time, the making process takes on a life of its’ own. Craft and art conventions merge, sometimes leading to investigations outside of those strongly embedded in the traditions of ceramics. The cross disciplinary nature of a diverse art education builds freely upon the foundational knowledge learned at the front end.

At all levels, ceramic history and contemporary art criticism are taught in conjunction with working techniques arid practical studio skills to enable the students to graduate as thinking artists with a notion of their own artistic voice. Many of our alumni have been offered a variety of professional opportunities including graduate school, residencies, apprenticeships, and teaching opportunities. A great percentage continue in their ceramic art making. Ceramics at Penn State has artistic professionalism at its core.

Drawing and Painting

Close up of a student painting in studio.

The Drawing and Painting area is dedicated to an inter-disciplinary, pluralistic, and multimedia approach to art making that embraces painting, drawing, installation, performance, video, and computer-generated image making, as well as web based art and other yet to be determined art forms. The Drawing and Painting area encourages theoretical and personal inquiry into all forms of art, while maintaining the practice of painting as a cultural site from which critical thinking about art can commence. Figurative, non-figurative, abstract, text-based, systems-based ad deconstructive forms of painting and drawing encouraged. Development of a knowledge of the history of art and an understanding of current issues affecting art and society are expected, as well as experimentation in materials and format.

The faculty is comprised of individuals of national and international prominence who are dedicated to full participation in professional art activities as well as to teaching. They provide a variety of points-of-view, engage in regularly scheduled open critiques in which the students have an opportunity to present their work. As a studio area, Drawing and Painting) is highly competitive and has produced students that have gone on to the finest graduate schools in the country. The goal of the painting area is to foster dialogue on the place of art in society as well as to equip the undergraduate student with the means necessary to embark upon a career in the visual arts, and ultimately to help deepen their understanding of their own potential as artists within a challenging and quickly evolving world.

Students participate in periodic reviews and are encouraged to submit work for juried exhibitions as part of their professional preparation. The conceptual and technical aspects of student work are expected to deepen as they progress through the program, resulting in a body of work that demonstrates technical facility, aesthetic intent, and depth of meaning.

New Media

Split-screen art media from the Kitchen Sink exhibit.

The New Media area focuses on the creation, authoring, exhibiting, and critique of multimedia, interactive and computationally driven artworks. Courses in this area enable students to explore and experiment with diverse applications of new media design with an emphasis on integrating digital art processes with current studio practices in two-three-and four-dimensional art and design. By learning creative coding, students design and develop ‘playful’ interactive experiences. In addition to the creation of substantial art projects, students explore a range of data driven quantitative and qualitative research methods to increase their technical skills and critical understanding of media art and design studio practice.

The New Media program represents an interdisciplinary approach to emerging media and technologies in the arts and design disciplines. Students enrolled in the degree are expected to develop an advanced level of competency based on their engagement in a range of digital art and media design classes complemented with other studio electives that during their senior year enables them to prepare a body of work that shows their creative drive and/or interests in digital art and media design. Students are expected to have a strong understanding of digital design tools. They are also expected to have strong critical analysis and research skills that will enable them to keep up with the ongoing changes in digital art and media design practice.

Students develop an advanced level of competency based on their engagement in a range of digital art and media design classes complemented with other studio electives that during their senior year enables them to prepare a body of work that shows their creative drive and/or interests in digital art and media design. Students are able to choose from a range of digital and traditional studio courses to help them consider, explore and refine new media studio practice and discourse while getting considerable time to create and reflect on their own work and creative process.

Students have access to and use of dedicated studio workspace co-located with classroom space, collaboration space, a multitude of digital production equipment, and digital fabrication facilities.

Photography

Close up of a photography student shooting a gallery of student work.

The Photography concentration has a fine arts focus and offers an articulated introduction to the breadth and depth of photography as a medium of creative and critical cultural production. The B.F.A. Photography concentration and the B.Des. in Professional Photography are parallel majors offer complementary courses that explore technical and creative components of photography, and also provide courses that offer different purposes and procedures of photography as issues-based and client-based art practices.

The Photography concentration is designed to equip students with a range of conceptual and technical skills and knowledge that will enable them to create photographic works of art that contribute to contemporary issues in cultural production. The sequential curriculum is organized around core objectives varied concepts that are explored and applied in response to personal artistic interests. Strategies used for evaluating the quality of portfolios follow well-accepted criteria. These includes how well students acquire and apply photographic competencies, how well students solve image-making problems, how well students apply innovative thinking to the process of making photographs, how effectively students apply risk taking such as going beyond the original assignments parameters or tackling controversial ideas, and how effectively they synthesize or transform ideas into new unexpected photographs.

The main strengths of the Photography program lie in three areas, students, faculty and curriculum. All three areas intersect. Since photography and photographic imaging are components of many disciplines across the arts and sciences, photography classes tend to attract diverse type of students with wide ranges of interest. Our faculty also represents diverse interests and expertise from fine art photography, documentary, technical and commercial image making modes. We have designed our curriculum to take advantage of the strength of the diversity by offering four degree types to accommodate the range of approached to making and studying photography.

A particular strength of Photography lies in the treatment of various forms of photography we teach as having fine art characteristics. This approach is consistent with photographic history where commercial and fine art approaches to photography often intersect.

Sculpture

Zoller gallery exhibition showcasing a large-scale sculpture.

The Sculpture concentration offers students an environment to discover their personal voice in their work. The contemporary practice of sculpture embraces any conceptually appropriate material and method that best articulates the intent of the artist. As such, our courses and facilities support a broad range of approaches to sculpture, providing diverse conceptual and technical experiences to prepare individuals for professional careers. The curriculum encourages the development of historical knowledge, technical skills, and conceptual excellence within a contemporary framework.

At all levels, a critical study of the histories of art and art criticism are stressed, with emphasis placed on current issues in contemporary sculpture. Independent exploration and experimentation are highly valued. From the onset, students are taught professional practices and are encouraged to pursue opportunities for career advancement. Our undergraduates, graduates, and alumni actively exhibit their work and have been offered a variety of professional opportunities including graduate school, residencies, apprenticeships, and teaching opportunities as a result of our professional atmosphere.

The faculty are all active artists, with national and international exhibition records and accomplishments. They each maintain a rigorous studio practice reflective of the research commitment of the university. Their dedication to their research and art making is rivaled only by their engagement with teaching and learning. The Sculpture area’s philosophy of utilizing conceptually appropriate materials and methods is a result of the diverse approaches employed by the faculty in their art work.

Particular strengths of the program include the emphasis on documentation and critique as significant professional practices, and its focus on contemporary art practice that is best represented through sculpture. The sculpture program characterized by the strength of our students, quality of teaching, and rigorous expectations. Professional practices are emphasized, with opportunities are embedded into the program for students leading to future accomplishments after school. With an emphasis on conceptually focused rigor, there is a demand for clarity of thought visually, and in verbally articulating intent.

The sculpture faculty exemplifies range and expertise, who possess a robust arc of building applications and teach conceptually rigorous courses. We are dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to building and thinking, one that celebrates Sculpture’s traditional heritage and forward-thinking position.

Alumni Spotlight

Penn State gave me the opportunity to explore the many career paths available in the film industry.
Caleb Yoder, Penn State alumnus and DreamWorks animatic editor.

Alumni Spotlight

Caleb Yoder

B.Des. in Digital Arts and Media Design 2016

A student internship with DreamWorks Animation led Caleb Yoder to a full-time videographer position with the company following his graduation. Caleb spent eight months as a videographer before moving to the DreamWorks TV division, where he worked as a production assistant and production coordinator on Harvey Street Kids. As a Schreyer Scholar, Caleb graduated with highest distinction, serving as college marshal for the College of Arts and Architecture. Caleb now is assistant animatic editor at DreamWorks.

Silhouette of Caleb Yoder shooting video for DreamWorks.
DreamWorks animatic editor Caleb Yoder pictured with characters from Harvey Street Kids

Considering the B.F.A. in Art? Consider this.

Prepare yourself for a professional career and graduate studies in visual art.

  • Be part of the diverse and vibrant Penn State culture.
  • Exhibit your art in one of the SoVA galleries.
  • Faculty are scholars and visual artists whose work is known nationally and internationally.
  • Enjoy SoVA's close-knit collaborative community.

Faculty Spotlight

video
"Light," a Ben Radatz/Brian Alfred collaboration.

Brian Alfred

Associate Professor of Art

Brian Alfred received a B.F.A. from Penn State in 1997, studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine, and received an M.F.A. from Yale University in 1999. He has had numerous solo exhibitions in locations ranging from New York City to Tokyo to London, as well as group exhibitions nationally and internationally. He is the host of the podcast “Sound and Vision,” featuring conversations with contemporary artists, which recently celebrated its 200th episode. His work is in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Denver Art Museum, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.

Brian Alfred faculty spotlight portrait

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