Studio Areas of Study

Students at SMFA can dive as deeply as they like into a single medium or explore a range of disciplines in service to ambitious projects and individualized goals. Our students do not declare majors, rather, they work directly with their academic advisors and faculty to make a curriculum tailor-made to support them in their art practice while preparing them for their goals beyond school. All doors are open whether you’d like to explore photography to document your paintings, or you’d like to pioneer a new field at the intersection of installation, virtual reality, and painting.

Closeup of Book Art Project


Animation at SMFA consists of a hands-on, artist-driven curriculum that provides students with a solid foundation in a variety of 2D, 3D, hand-made, and digital techniques while encouraging the exploration of a student’s voice and ideas. We emphasize the conception, completion, and exhibition of student work and engagement with the wider public. Experimentation is encouraged through traditional and hybrid techniques that may overlap with disciplines as diverse as photography, installation, sculpture, papermaking, or beyond.

Whether you’re building puppets for stop motion, transforming your knitting into an abstract animation, translating your oil paintings into a time-based medium, or integrating digital character designs into your web content, Animation can provide the support for all of these techniques and more.


SMFA’s curriculum encompasses both the design and production of books as art-objects using techniques ranging from the hand-made to the mass-produced.

A strong emphasis of our curriculum is on the craft, design, production, and distribution of book arts and artist’s book publications from traditional hand-binding to print-on-demand editions. The artist’s book, a format which had one of its peaks in the art world of the 60’s, today is undergoing a Renaissance through various digital printing and distribution methods. Students cultivate a flexible skill-set drawing on graphic design, typography, digital software, binding, and printing techniques, while also engaging with historical research. Our W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library houses a significant collection of contemporary artist’s books which guides students in their studio and seminar courses.

Students produce editions and unique art-objects; sculptural and conceptual books; pamphlets, zines, and digital content; publications as editions, gallery-objects, and mass communication.


Ceramics courses focus on the creative and expressive use of clay through a range of approaches, including installation, performance, mixed media, and large-scale commissioned sculpture. Students may explore ceramics through sculptural, painterly, or functional methods. The immediacy of working with clay makes it a unifying material which can quickly move from idea to object, allowing ceramics to operate at an intersection of medium and process. An in-depth experience in ceramics will reinforce practical connections and aesthetic perspectives applicable to all artistic pursuits.     


Within SMFA’s drawing curriculum you’ll find courses and resources designed to cultivate your technical skills as well as classes designed to challenge your conceptual practice. The curriculum encourages visual investigation through the practice of drawing and exposes you to courses representing a range of methods, sources, and dialogues.

Courses emphasize the translation and observation of relationships within the figure and objects in three-dimensional space. Advanced courses will engage you in the integration of new mediums, development of narrative, and the creation of ideas for self-directed projects. Critique is used as a platform for interaction, and you will present work for both formal and interpretive analysis at several stages of production.

Digital Media

The curriculum of Digital Media offers courses that provide practical and conceptual skills for creating fine art with newer technologies: 3D, virtual reality, augmented reality, interactive installation, and custom software. Our aim is not simply to create new artistic forms, but to think critically about how technology impacts our world and how we live in it.

Because newer technologies don’t carry with them a “tradition”, they can be a ripe field for bold experimentation and highly original concepts, for example, virtual reality can be used to create hybrids of cinema, art installation, and game experiences. The digital skill set you gain in digital media courses is flexible, adaptable, and generalizednot just a mastery of the specific tools we have today, but an ability to translate those skills to the software and hardware that will exist in the future. While our focus is making individualistic statements in fine art, these skills and concepts are also applicable to commercial media production contexts.

Film and Video

The film and video facilities support moving image production in video, film, and time-based digital media. Students can engage in moving image practice through a variety of conceptual and technical traditions, in courses that investigate both cinema and gallery-based work. Courses expose students to the history of the European and American Avant-Gardes and traditions in experimental cinema as they relate to theatrical, gallery-based, and emergent platforms of distribution.

The film and video labs are built to foster a wide variety of skill-sets such as production skills, camera operation and composition, lighting, film and digital editing techniques, projection and digital display in theater and gallery contexts, post-production, expanded cinema, and multi-channel video installations. Film and video easily overlap with students’ investigations in disciplines as diverse as performance, installation, sculpture, sound, and animation.

Graphic Arts

The Graphic Arts area combines aspects of design, illustration, web design, and bookmaking in order to build a set of flexible skills adaptable to students’ specific projects and goals. Courses focus on the development of a personal and public voice through a broad range of approaches utilizing design, printing, typography, graphic images, pictograms, book arts, and interactive web art. 

In addition to developing traditional skills in the field of graphic design, the curriculum explore ways in which artists can work outside of commercial contexts, both within galleries and beyond the gallery space with work that engages communities. Course content and seminars are structured around critical thinking and histories of artist's books, publishing, graphic novels, urban interventions, street graphics, public art, and other strategies for a socially engaged practice.

Our students build skills applicable to commercial practice through the exploration of personal and conceptually-driven work that may take the form of sculptural objects, distributed editions, subverted corporate designs, web interventions, or ephemeral communications.


Installation engages in issues of space, site, location, situation, immersive experience, viewer relations, and exhibition design. Students explore various permutations of installation art, including video, sound, performance, virtual reality and the digital realm, social exchange, collaboration, interactivity and the blurred boundaries between mediums. Students will learn design and fabrication skills while studying the history of site-specific art and its contemporary practice.


Jewelry operates on many different levels – symbol, art object, fashion accessory, social indicator. In addition, jewelry represents a significant means of human communication through embodiments of personal identity. It sends signals of intent, and the act of adorning the body is a performative act. Jewelry at SMFA examines the relationship between the body, personal ornament, and the audience through examination of historical and contemporary concepts and the technical skills required to produce wearable art.


Metals courses focus on the direct study of sculptural processes and expression through non-ferrous metals such as brass, copper, and silver which have great expressive potential due to their malleability, durability, value, and aesthetic properties. Students explore the technical, aesthetic, and conceptual aspects of contemporary metalsmithing while developing professional skills through hands-on work, technical demonstrations, critiques, and exploration of historical and contemporary practice. Students develop their designs and concepts through a range of traditional and non-traditional techniques.


The painting curriculum at SMFA offers courses that build technical, critical, and conceptual skills with the goal of engaging contemporary painting practices in an interdisciplinary, historical, and theoretical manner.

We believe in the importance of developing an individual point of view, fostered by creative play and constructive criticism, while building your awareness of painting's relationship to art history and contemporary visual cultures. You are encouraged to move through the painting curriculum, building skills and developing concept and voice. You may choose to focus on representation, abstraction, or hybrids of painting and technology, and are encouraged to mix classes from other mediums to form an interdisciplinary practice. The goal is to enable you to pursue rigorous, self-directed work.


Papermaking courses explore the possibilities of pulp as a dynamic and versatile material that can be used two and three dimensionally as well as made from a variety of materials such as plant fibers, old clothing, or recycled papers. Incorporating papermaking with sculpture, painting, photography, bookmaking, and printmaking can expand and personalize more traditional uses of these mediums.


The practice of performance art has changed radically from the early provocations of Dada through the happenings and body art of the ‘60s and ‘70s, to contemporary practices that reincorporate aspects of dance and theater or build on relational aesthetics and social practice.

SMFA’s performance courses help you develop your own voice in creating solo and collaborative work that allows you to engage in an interdisciplinary practice. Courses will familiarize you with a range of approaches to developing original performance work, improve technical production skills, and introduce you to the theories and history of performance art. We encourage you to experiment with different techniques and structures while examining the relationship between audience and artist. Interdisciplinary work is strengthened through access to a wide variety of photographic, video, sound, and fabrication tools.


The photography curriculum at SMFA spans the range of photographic practices of the 21st century, questioning and reframing the evolution of photographic and post-photographic approaches. You will gain a solid grounding in the history of photography and explore the pluralities of contemporary, photo-related practice using a range of professional tools. You will learn to make exhibition quality prints and photo objects with digital or analog technologies, seamlessly integrating the two. Faculty encourage critical thinking around a range of issues such as visual literacy in a photo-saturated society, engagement with contemporary international subjects, site specificity, abstraction, reenactment, and performativity. Students learn to develop a unique relationship to their work from an array of instructional formats such as readings, lectures, technical demos, critiques, visiting artists, participation in colloquia, and local art events. Experimentation and risk-taking are encouraged to cultivate individual interests and working methods.


Print courses offer in-depth instruction of traditional printmaking techniques—relief, intaglio, lithography, and screen-printing—as well as a variety of contemporary hybrid approaches. Processes are taught as a means of visual expression and exploration. Edition and production skills are addressed by means of various print exchange portfolios throughout the year. Contemporary printmaking straddles the worlds of serial reproduction for mass distribution, unique art objects, and gallery and site-specific installation work. Students are encouraged to explore all of these aspects as they develop a personalized practice and body of work.


Flexible, creative, sculptural responses inform the individual experience in our sculpture curriculum. Courses use sculpture to encourage an open exchange of ideas, to facilitate communication, and to nurture discovery through play and research. Our courses also introduce computer-aided design with a fabrication component to facilitate the transformation from digital concept to the real world. Critiques and discussions are a major part of the sculpture curriculum. SMFA’s facilities support a broad range of material fabrication techniques from forging to resin-casting to 3D printing.


As one of the oldest programs of its kind in the country, SMFA’s sound curriculum continues to lead in the development of the theory and practice of sound art. It is distinguished from conventional conservatory approaches by addressing the ways in which artists have used (and abused) sound as an expressive and critical medium. Technical skills are balanced with rigorous theoretical concerns. Exploration of other media—for example, video and performance—is encouraged.

Students will gain experience in a fully equipped studio designed for professional sound production. This studio provides technology and applications that allow you to achieve your production goals, whether producing a podcast, creating music, developing a sound installation, or perfecting the soundtrack of a video project.


Welding deals primarily with steel fabrication techniques. We run an industrial metalworking shop designed to serve conceptual artmaking. Sculpting with metal brings your 2D designs into the 3rd dimension, dealing with space and gravity. Students can choose to gain trade-level knowledge of welding technologies, or learn how to safely experiment with various processes to redefine how they may be used within the context of conceptually-driven artmaking. Collaborations with other disciplines such as performance and drawing are highly encouraged.


Woodworking teaches students the skills to support practices ranging from traditional woodworking craft to complex sculptural and installation projects. Woodworking can be integrated into a wide variety of artistic processes ranging from performance and painting, to sculpture and animation. Students learn the fundamentals of working in a woodshop while building a flexible set of skills that apply to a broad range of working methods.