CalArts is committed to providing a course of study, which advances both the practice of the arts, and a broad program of general education designed to enable students to consider aesthetic questions within larger socio–cultural, ethical and political contexts. The emphasis on the close relationship between critical studies and studio practice at CalArts reflects the visionary commitment to inter and cross–disciplinary study on which the Institute was founded.
A CalArts education is based on both artistic and intellectual rigor. To ensure that every undergraduate has the broad knowledge and cultural sophistication needed for successful arts careers in today’s world, all candidates for the BFA Degree must complete the Critical Studies Undergraduate Requirements in addition to coursework in their individual programs.
Designed to broaden vision and encourage well–informed, innovative art making, the Critical Studies Undergraduate Requirements help students to develop analytical, writing and research skills, and to learn about a broad range of topics in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and cultural studies. Many courses directly related to the student’s own métier are also included in the Critical Studies curriculum.
All BFA candidates are expected to have taken a total of 46 units in Critical Studies by the time of graduation. This amounts to 2–3 courses per semester (6 units) and represents about 40 percent of each student’s overall course load.
For satisfactory progress toward the BFA degree, students should have accumulated the minimum required Critical Studies units for their year level as follows:
Year Level / Minimum CS Units Completed
**Any student failing to meet the above year–level requirements will be subject to Academic Warning. (see Institute Policies and Procedures for details. Policy 220.127.116.11 Academic Warning, Probation, Dismissal and Appeal: Deficiencies Leading to Warning, Probation and Dismissal).
100 & 200 Level
Engage in class discussions and communicate ideas, demonstrating course preparation.
Generate class discussion from course material through active questioning, challenging ideas across and through disciplines and diverse cultures, and making connections beyond the classroom.
Lead, facilitate and participate in discussions and collaborative interdisciplinary group work, communicate ideas clearly, and make presentations using image and/or text effectively to a range of diverse audiences.
Frame key events, movements and ideas in a range of subject areas in historical, contemporary and globally diverse contexts.
Investigate and analyze key events, movements and ideas in a diverse range of subject areas relevant to course topic, demonstrating comprehension of diverse methodologies with a range of global and cultural contexts and perspectives.
Synthesize and contextualize key events, movements, perspectives and methodologies that are relevant to your own projects and/or practice demonstrating core cultural competencies in situating work in a global context.
Respond to a range of critical approaches and demonstrate an introductory understanding of how they may relate to métier practice.
Craft ideas, developing and constructing independent critical positions in relationship to course material.
Propose projects or papers that make independent arguments through a thesis demonstrating a sophisticated comprehension of and response to complex ideas.
Identify a range of quantitative methods.
Collect and organize quantitative information related to course material.
Analyze, interpret and utilize quantitative evidence for the development of independent research or projects.
Use an inquiring approach to course content through critical thinking and evidence base reasoning (claim/evidence/analysis) in writing that is clearly communicated.
Write independently using sustained analytical and evidence based reasoning and clear communication.
Write toward mastering compositional protocols and language appropriate for the text’s intended public.
Research using a variety of sources ethically and according to academic citation protocols, and demonstrating familiarity with different research methodologies.
Research including the employment of library, internet, and database searches to find and evaluate relevant and reliable sources.
Develop, articulate, and implement a range of methods in the realization of advanced independent research plans and demonstrate critical research methods in the analysis and use of research material.
The Critical Studies Level 100 Curriculum is a graduation requirement. In the fall semester of the first year, all students must take "Introduction to Critical Studies" a course that welcomes students into the critical conversations that are at the heart of Critical Studies courses and to prepare them to engage with a variety of modes of critical inquiry. In the spring semester of the first year, all students must take a Level 100 Special Topics course. These courses cover a variety of subjects ranging from literature to biological sciences. Both "Introduction to Critical Studies" and Level 100 Special Topics courses have an intensive writing workshop component.
Students either participate in both the fall and spring Level 100 courses, or are exempt entirely.
Students with fewer than 15 CS transfer units would have to take the Level 100 requirement regardless of having the equivalent of "Composition-101". This is because the first year sequence is an introduction to Critical Studies and not simply a sequence of composition or writing intensive courses.
CalArts utilizes an assessment and placement process for multilingual students who speak a mother tongue other than English. Following this process, non-exempt students may be placed into the credit-bearing English for the Arts courses Artspeak 1A or Artspeak 1B in their first year. Students in these courses will join the Level 100 sequence in their second year.
Students who fail to receive credit (by dropping, withdrawing from the course, or by receiving an NC) for either, or both, Level 100 courses will have to retake the course the next time it offered. Failing the Fall Semester course will not prevent students from taking the Spring Semester course. Because these two courses are a graduation requirement (unless exempted upon matriculation), students will have to complete the courses to be awarded a BFA. Transfer credit is not accepted for the Level 100 Curriculum. The Level 100 Curriculum is a prerequisite for all Critical Studies 300 and 400 level courses. Students who fail during their first attempt will be monitored carefully by the Academic Advisors and will be required to use the Writing Center when they retake the required course(s). This close monitoring will continue until the student has completed the requirement.
Throughout the remaining three years, students must get at least two units in each of the following Critical Studies categories:
The remaining units are elective and drawn from other courses offered by the School of Critical Studies, or can be fulfilled through Advanced Placement credits and liberal arts / general education transfer credits from other accredited colleges and universities. To successfully complete the 46 units, it is expected that after the first year, the student will need to take an average of two to three Critical Studies courses per semester (or 6 units).
Students with previous bachelors degrees and students transferring in undergraduate credits are required to complete at least 8 CalArts Critical Studies Core Curriculum units in order to obtain a BFA degree from CalArts. While all students graduating will have to meet the Core Curriculum requirement, students transferring in from outside institutions may apply transfer credits to any of the corresponding Critical Studies categories up to a maximum of 38 units. The remaining 8 units (Residency Requirement) which must be taken in Critical Studies at CalArts may fall in the following distribution:
Upper Division courses (400 level) assume students are already familiar with the modes of thought and writing associated with a given subject area.
Students may take or transfer foreign language credit at accredited institutions outside CalArts during their period of residence (for elective credit only).
Students who have completed their Level 100 and Core Curriculum requirements have the option of obtaining a Minor in Critical Studies in one of the following categories: Creative Writing, Humanities, Social Science, Cultural Studies or Science/Math. Students are required to take 18 units from their designated area of concentration (12 of which must be completed at CalArts). Students are not required to take additional units to obtain the Minor in Critical Studies; rather students would focus existing unit requirements (46 total) in a specific curriculum area.
Students who have completed their Level 100 and Core Curriculum requirements have the option of working closely with a Critical Studies instructor on a well–defined academic project for elective credit. Typically these will be awarded 1 unit and only in exceptional circumstances will be awarded 2 units. Independent Studies allow for further research and development of themes and ideas students have encountered in Critical Studies courses and/or in their métiers; they will not replace Critical Studies courses or requirements. Independent Studies may comprise no more than 10 units of the total 46 needed to graduate.
To obtain credit for an independent study, the student must fully define his/her project in a written Independent Study proposal learning goals drawn from the Critical Studies rubric. The proposal must also include a schedule of meetings and assignments jointly determined by the student and the instructor. Independent Study contracts can be obtained in the Registrar's office.
The School of Critical Studies adheres to the Institute policies on grading. If a student is unable to complete the requirements for any Critical Studies course by the end of the semester, he or she may ask the instructor for an incomplete in lieu of a grade. At the instructor’s discretion, a HP, P or LP grade will be awarded only if missing work, completed to a satisfactory standard, is submitted by the end of the following semester. Otherwise the student will receive a No Credit.
If a student misses more than 3 sessions of one class and does not pursue the formal Withdrawal option, a NC will be given and will appear on external records.
Critical Studies also offers Upper Level courses, which are open to MFA students throughout the Institute, and to upper level BFAs, provided the Level 100 curriculum requirement has been completed. These classes give insight into contemporary criticism and arts practice, with graduate–level readings and assignments.
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The two-year School of Critical Studies MFA Creative Writing Program offers a variety of options for study: the Creative Writing Program—the choice of most students; Interschool Writing; and Integrated Media (IM). At any time during their residency, MFA Creative Writing students may choose to complete one of four interdisciplinary concentrations: Writing + Performativity, Documentary Poetics, Writing and Its Publics or Image + Text. Genre experimentation and an emphasis on critical contexts for creative work characterize each of these options. In support of their writing and thinking, students are paired with a faculty mentor, and work closely with them throughout their time in the Program.
The goal of our MFA Creative Writing Program is to enable students to shape their own unique practice, while familiarizing themselves with an international range of aesthetic and critical traditions through our inclusive and future-forward curriculum. MFA Creative Writing Program students will:
Our Program is designed to inspire students to explore and employ both "creative" and "critical" modes in their practices, without seeking to draw a hard line between the two. All students attend closely to questions of form and aesthetics, as well as to the historical, cultural and critical contexts of literary work. Many classes provide a mixture of discussions and presentations on both assigned texts and student-generated work. In addition to the more traditional forms of lyric poetry, short story, essay, memoir, novel, literary/arts theory and reviewing, Program courses also cover mixed forms, such as prose poetry, micro-fiction and nonconforming "hybrid" writing that blurs the boundaries between memoir and theory, fiction and nonfiction, criticism and poetry. While not all classes are offered every year, over the two-year program students take a wide selection of courses, and are all encouraged to experiment with and create new forms and approaches.
The CalArts MFA Creative Writing Program is ideal for students keen to develop their confidence and range as writers and to benefit from CalArts' uniquely interdisciplinary and experimental atmosphere. The Program is also attractive to students who seek a formally expansive and critically challenging alternative to existing creative writing programs.
The requirements for being awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree in the Creative Writing Program are as follows:
Interschool Writing students enroll in both Critical Studies and in an MFA program offered by another school of the Institute-Art, Dance, Film/Video, Music or Theater. Applicants must apply separately to each school. Requirements for the other métiers are set on an individual basis or according to that school’s requirements. The following list refers only to the Critical Studies component of the Interschool degree.
To receive the MFA degree in Interschool Writing, students are required to:
Students who choose Integrated Media (IM) are enrolled as, and must complete the same requirements as the MFA Writing Program except as noted in the following chart of minimum requirements. Additional requirements-including IM seminars and critiques, specified Critical Studies courses, and electives from throughout the Institute-are set on an individual basis in consultation with the Office of Integrated Media.
To maintain financial aid eligibility, students are required to take a
minimum of 9 units per semester; they are not encouraged to take more than 12.
Semester One Core MFA (3) Core MFA or Elective (3) Writing Now (3)
Semester Two Core MFA (3) Core MFA (3) Core MFA or Elective (3) Visiting Writers (1)
Semester Three Core MFA or Thesis Workshop (3) Core MFA, Graduate Teaching Practicum, or Elective (3)
Core MFA (3)
Visiting Writers (1)
Exit Strategies: Professional Development for Writers (3) Core MFA or Elective (3) Directed Study with Mentor (3)
Semester One Core MFA (3 credits) Writing Now (3 credits)
Semester Two Core MFA (3 credits) Core MFA or Elective (3 credits) Visiting Writers (1 credit)
Semester Three Core MFA or Thesis Workshop (3 credits) Core MFA, Graduate Teaching Practicum, or Elective (3 credits)Visting Writers (1 credit)
Semester Four Core MFA (3 credits)
Getting It Out There: Professional Development for Writers (3 credits) Independent Study with Mentor (3 credits)
Students graduating from the MA Program in Aesthetics and Politics are expected to:
This program embraces a multi-perspectival approach to the various intersections between the realms of the aesthetic and the political. First, the MA focuses on what is normally understood as political art -- i.e. art-making that chooses to become critical discourse in the public sphere. Second, the program addresses the reverse phenomenon -- the famous "aestheticization of politics" that so troubled critical theorists during the twentieth century and that continues to invite further reflection. Finally, the program aims to become a pole of attraction for students, artists, and scholars interested in the type of theorizing -- characteristic of continental thought -- that contextualizes aesthetic and political phenomena within a dynamic space in which social meanings are generated, renewed and contested. Applicants interested in these fascinating crossroads and increasingly burgeoning fields of study will have the unique opportunity of enjoying the artistic environment and interdisciplinary dialogue offered by CalArts.
The MA Aesthetics and Politics is a one-year full time plus one-year low-residency degree program that engages students in an intensive critique of the relations between culture, politics and society in today's demanding global context. Taught in the unique arts-centered environment of CalArts, the Program offers a series of rich and dynamic core courses that span globalization, technology and media, politics and the arts, socio-economics and urbanism. Concentrated elective options delivered by a dynamic faculty and supplemented by a diversity of visiting specialists as well as public conferences enable students to work intimately with leaders in their field. Over two years, students work towards an independent thesis that marks the culmination of their degree and are provided a mentor to support the development of their work. The MA program equips students with a unique combination of creative and analytical skills that enable them to enter their professional milieu with confidence and the ability to participate in practical, cultural and theoretical fields of work.
This program is flexible and substantial enabling students to focus time and depth on their studies, to take advantage of the creative environment of CalArts, to have access to a larger and more diverse cross-section of theorists and artists, and to opt to study while working in their second year.
The Program requires students to take 36 credits of study spread out over two years: the first year, 24 credits, the second low-residency year, an additional 12 credits. The low residency year enables to students to undertake flexible learning options, virtual classes, and provides opportunities for alternative study, internships and professional networking.
To arrive at the required number of credits for the MA, students can add elective courses or independent studies in either year one or two. Alternatively, internships or study abroad can also be credited towards the MA degree.
During the first year, students complete all of their core and elective course credits on-campus at the California Institute of the Arts.
Critical Discourse in the Arts and the Media I & II (6 credits): A year-long core course that enables students to work closely with a specialized series of visiting researchers.
Visiting Faculty seminar (3 credits): This seminar provides students with the opportunity to have a sustained intensive class with a key international thinker who leads a thematic seminar.
Theorist in Residence seminar (1 credit): Each year the Program invite a theorist of high critical esteem to visit the School. Past theorists have included Judith Butler, Fred Moten and Thierry de Duve.
Thesis Seminar (3 credits): This course delivers methodology and critical training to prepare students for the development of their independent thesis work in year two.
Elective courses - Each year the MA program offers electives that cover a diversity of topics and methodological approaches. These include courses on subjects that include: neoliberalism and the history of governance; the question of political art today; philosophies of change and the aesthetics of disagreement; the city and architectural media-scapes; technology and the global environment; arts writing; territories of violence; new feminisms; critical race theory; and core methodological questions on the intersection of philosophical, political and artistic practice. Every semester, we offer about 3-4 elective courses, giving the students a relatively wide range of choices. Students can also choose electives that are not on the recommended list, but in this case they need to consult with the MA program director first.
During the second, low-residency year students complete their remaining coursework and prepare their graduate thesis. The low-residency second year enables students to deepen and expand their thesis research, but also to pursue internships, work, or international exchanges (for example with partner programs in France and the UK). International students should note that their options in year 2 may in part be determined by their immigration status. There may be some limitations on their Year Two Low-Residency Options because of restrictions associated with their visas. International students are advised to seek clarification on the available options through the Office of International Students and Programs.
Low-residency students complete 11 of their second year credits through a virtual classroom experience. Students selecting the off-campus low-residency option are required to be physically present on campus during the two weeks of Wintersession for the Theorist in Residence seminar (1 credit). Students are also required to meet to discuss their thesis progress with their mentor in person during Wintersession on campus.
Fall courses - 6 credits
Independent Study (2 credits) - Students may take an Independent Study with faculty where they are supervised by a faculty member through a virtual classroom on an agreed upon set project that supports the development of the students’ work.
Internship (2 credits) - The Program works with the Center of Life and Work to house students in productive internship environments that include NGO’s, galleries, museums and other cultural industry professions. We welcome students making their own internship arrangements and work with them to facilitate such projects.
Theorist in Residence seminar (1 credit) – on-campus course only
Critical Discourse in the Arts and the Media (2 credits): Students will be given set assignments and are able to work virtually through on-line classrooms engaging with a series of visiting speakers.
Thesis seminar (3 credits): This course takes place each semester under the supervision of a designated mentor through a virtual classroom.
Thesis-related Independent Study (2 credits): Students may take an Independent Study with faculty where they are supervised by a faculty member on an agreed upon set project that supports the development of the students’ work.
Internship (2 credits): The Program works with the Center of Life and Work to house students in productive internship environments that include NGO’s, galleries, museums and other cultural industry professions. We welcome students making their own internship arrangements and work with them to facilitate such projects.