Skip To Main Content
Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Select where to search:


M.F.A. in Art

Envision. Advance. Explore.
Amplify your artistic voice.
Your artistic vision is becoming a reality with each work you produce, and you are prepared to solidify your place in the evolving art world. Our world-class faculty is eager to help. In a highly specialized atmosphere that offers the tools and support you need to grow, the Penn State School of Visual Arts is the ideal place to explore your strengthening artistic voice.

Do you see your art having an impact? We do.

The M.F.A. in Art offers concentrations in ceramics, drawing and painting, new media, photography, and sculpture. An M.F.A. in Art with a concentration in graphic design is jointly support by the Department of Graphic Design in the Stuckeman School and the School of Visual Arts.

Our program is recognized for emphasizing excellence in the study and production of visual art and cultural engagement. We embrace the reality that the art world has changed radically in recent years, and we strive to produce professional artists who are prepared to navigate those changes.

The School of Visual Arts requires completion of a minimum of 60 credits to earn the M.F.A. in Art. Of the 60 credits required for graduation, candidates are expected to complete 30 credits in a major area of concentration, 12 credits in art history and critical studies, 10 credits in related areas, and 8 credits in graduate seminar. No more than 10 credits may be transferred from other accredited graduate institutions.

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

 

Our graduates have consistently demonstrated not only the skills traditionally associated with studio production, but also an acute awareness of critical issues in art, shifts within contemporary culture, and developments in the rapidly changing post-industrial age.

Throughout the course work, students will be guided by an invested faculty that encourages interaction among graduate students and faculty across disciplines within the school, the College of Arts and Architecture, and the University.

In addition to course work, M.F.A. in Art candidates must pass a candidacy review, which is usually held at the end of the second semester of study, submit an artist’s statement, pass the M.F.A. comprehensive oral examination and produce an M.F.A. exhibition and public presentation.

 

M.F.A. exhibition installation Bloom Bloom.
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.

Graphic Design

The M.F.A. in Art with a concentration in Graphic Design is jointly supported by the Department of Graphic Design in the Stuckeman School and the School of Visual Arts and expands on the skillset mastered at the undergraduate level. The program prepares the designer and design educator of tomorrow to shape and lead the world in which we live through thoughtful, collaborative, and innovative solutions to complex design problems.

The M.F.A. program offers students unique opportunities to work with faculty and students from architecture, landscape architecture, digital photography, sculpture, and new media. Students are provided with a rigorous approach to research-focused problem-solving and are instilled with the process, mindsets, and skills needed to transform the world.

Students who have earned the M.F.A. with a concentration in graphic design are equipped with the design skills, research experience, and expertise to further their careers as both practitioners and educators at the highest level.

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.

Penn State Sculpture is dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to building and thinking, one that celebrates Sculpture’s traditional heritage and forward-thinking position. Our courses and facilities support a broad range of approaches to contemporary 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.

Our program is characterized by the strength of our students, quality of teaching, and rigorous expectations. 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, opportunities are embedded into the program for career advancement and professional practices are taught leading to future accomplishments after school. Our undergraduates, graduates, and alumni are rising stars in the field. They 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.

Faculty are all active artists, with nationally and internationally acclaimed exhibition records and accomplishments. Each maintain a rigorous studio practice rivaled only by their engagement with teaching and learning. As a cohort, faculty exemplify range and expertise, providing the program with a robust arc of building applications. The Sculpture area’s philosophy of utilizing conceptually appropriate materials and methods is a direct result of the interdisciplinary approaches employed by the faculty in their artwork.

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

Options in ceramics, drawing/painting, graphic design, new media, photography, and sculpture.

  • Enjoy the vibrant, collegial environment in Penn State’s Arts District.

  • All the resources of a large research university while studying in SoVA’s closeknit community.

  • Faculty bring a range of teaching and professional experience from across the country and the world.

Alumni Spotlight

While I’m still dreaming bigger and bigger, I always think about the incredible foundation that my Penn State education has provided for me.
Penn State alumnus Devan Shimoyama

Alumni Spotlight

Devan Shimoyama

B.F.A. in Art 2011

Devan’s award-winning art uses painting, sculpture, and photography to challenge gender stereotypes and confront racial and cultural injustice with a vibrant, modern edge. He has exhibited at the Andy Warhol Museum and in numerous major cities including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Paris.

Colorful illustration by Devan Shimoyama
Colorful illustration by Devan Shimoyama

News from A&A

Art teachers invited to virtual Summer Institute on Contemporary Art

The College of Arts and Architecture will host the 2021 Summer Institute on Contemporary Art, a professional development opportunity for preK–12 teachers, virtually June 21–25.

The College of Arts and Architecture will host the 2021 Summer Institute on Contemporary Art (SICA), a professional development opportunity for preK–12 teachers, virtually June 21–25. This year, SICA is


Read More

Arts and Architecture names college, academic unit marshals

We are proud to announce our student marshals for spring 2021. Crystal Dahm, who will receive dual degrees in Theatre and French/Francophone Studies, is the college marshal.
Read More

Scholarship established to promote diversity in art education and honor late alumna

Combined with donations in her memory, more than $60,000 has been endowed to create the Melanie Buffington Memorial Scholarship to support art education.
Read More