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A redesigned B.F.A. curriculum in the Department of Art will combine core studio and seminar courses with academic electives across Cornell for undergraduate art students.

New B.F.A. curriculum prepares artistic and intellectual leaders

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Jeff Tyson

Beginning in the fall of 2018, a new Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) curriculum for undergraduate students in the Department of Art will combine the intensive studio culture of the department with enhanced access to electives across Cornell.

Designed for students who see themselves as both artists and scholars, the redesigned curriculum will distribute credits almost equally between electives and traditional studios and seminars. The department aims to produce a community of artists who will participate in the world as artistic and intellectual leaders.

“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,” said Renate Ferro, visiting associate professor and director of undergraduate studies.

The curriculum was developed over three years with input from students and a committee of art faculty. “Early on, our committee came up with a working descriptor – the ‘Artist/Scholar Program,’” associate professor and department chair Michael Ashkin said.

Students are given primary responsibility for selecting their classes in the new program, with the aim of developing an art practice that is 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 students the opportunity to develop a mature artistic practice at the earliest possible stage.

“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 said.

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,” she said. “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.”

Students also will benefit from advising that balances the surprise of discovery and the rigors of immersion.

“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,” Ferro said.

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,” Ferro said, “some of us in the department asked, ‘Why not encourage them to think about bringing other studies into their practice?’”

The option to take semesterlong programs at 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 based on strengthening self-directed practice while preparing for a thesis project.

“The educational philosophy is that art is a holistic practice,” Ashkin said. “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.”

Patti Witten is a writer for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.


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