Course of Study

Course Descriptions

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The Arts at CIIS
MFA Program Core Requirements: Concentration in Writing and Consciousness
MFA Program Core Requirements: Concentration in Interdisciplinary Art
Course Descriptions


This 48-unit degree results from two full-time years of coursework, which can be accomplished entirely through weekend intensive and online work, and one or more of the following:
• a book-length manuscript or chapbook
• an evening-length dance, theatrical, or musical performance
• a visual arts exhibition
• a social justice/community arts project  

The curriculum offers students four different kinds of educational experiences

(1)    MFA Workshop (either the Writing Workshop or the Workshop for Interdisciplinary Artists).  A third Workshop in Theater Performance Making is planned to launch in 2015 (subject to approval)
(2)    Art history, critical theory, and cultural identity
(3)    Seminars in writing, performing, arts practice, and interdisciplinary arts
(4)    Professional Development coursework, including any of the following:

  • Artist in the World
  • Teaching for Social Change
  • Editing and Publishing
  • Community-based Art  

All courses in the department are graded as Pass/No Pass

Core Requirements: MFA with a Concentration in Writing and Consciousness

I.  Writing Workshop and MFA Project–18 units
MFA 7093          MFA Workshop I       
MFA 7094          MFA Workshop II       
MFA 7712          MFA Project: Two semesters    

II.  Writing and Consciousness–6 units
MFA 7071          Art and Culture: Movements and Frameworks        
MFA 7105          Cultural Identity    

III.  The Art of Writing–9-12 units       
Select from the following:       
MFA 7087          Writing as Art: The Art of Text/Image       
MFA 7131          Poetic Forms: The Art of Poetry       
MFA 7138          Invention and Revision: the Art of Fiction       
MFA 7142          Re-creating the Real: The Craft of Nonfiction       
MFA 8888          Special Topics (1-3 units)  

Sample special topics: Poetry and Performance; Text and Image; Memoir; Nonfiction Writing for the Soul; Creating Scene and Dialogue; Photography; The Craft of Choreography; Poetry and the Neuroscience of Perception.  

IV.  Professional Development: The Artist in the World–6-9 units       
The following courses are required:       
MFA 7128          The Artist in the World: Preparing the Artist's Portfolio       
MFA 7038          Interdisciplinary Pedagogy    

V.  Electives–9 units
Select from the following:       
MFA 7301          Teaching Practicum       
MFA 7302          Community Arts Practice I       
MFA 7303          Community Arts Practice II       
MFA 8888          Special Topics       
MFA 7083          The Art and Craft of Teaching Writing       
MFA 7085          Editing and Publishing       
MFA 7206          Editing and Publishing Practicum (3 units)       
MFA 8799          Independent Study        MFA 8888          Special Topics 

Core Requirements: MFA with a Concentration in Creative Inquiry/Interdisciplinary Arts

I. Interdisciplinary Arts Workshop and MFA Project–18 units
MFA 7091                   MFA Workshop I       
MFA 7092                   MFA Workshop II       
MFA  7712                  MFA Project: Two semesters    

II.  Creative Inquiry–6 units
MFA 7071                   Art and Culture: Movements and Frameworks        
MFA 7105                   Cultural Identity

III.  Interdisciplinary Arts Seminars: Inquiry and Practice–9-12 units       
A.  MFA 7223         Interdisciplinary Arts Seminar (3 units) AND/OR       
B. Select at least one from the following:  Arts Practice Seminars-6-9 units                       
MFA 7202         Arts Practice: Inter-Arts            
MFA 7203         Arts Practice: Performance Arts            
MFA 7204         Arts Practice: Sound Arts            
MFA 7205         Arts Practice: Visual Arts            
MFA 8888         Special Topics (1-3 units)  

Sample special topics: The Art of Directing; The Art of Solo Performance; The Craft of Choreography; Movement and Metaphor: Improvisation and Play in Inter-modal Arts Practice; From the Inside Out: Creating the Artist's Voice; Ritual Theater Workshop: Performance as Social Change.     

IV.  The Artist in the World–6-12 units       
MFA 7038          Interdisciplinary Pedagogy       
MFA 7056          The Business of Art, OR       
MFA 7128          The Artist in the World: Preparing the Artist's Portfolio       
MFA 8888          Special Topics    

V.  Electives–6 units       
Select from the following:           
MFA 7218          The Artist as Administrator       
MFA 7301          Teaching Practicum       
MFA 7302          Community Arts Practice I       
MFA 7303          Community Arts Practice II       
MFA 8799          Independent Study       
MFA 8888          Special Topics       
MFA 7085          Editing and Publishing 

Course Descriptions

MFA Writing Workshop I (6 units)
This workshop focuses on learning to read as a writer, to write as a reader (of literature and life), to offer helpful and respectful responses to work in progress, and to challenge old habits and assumptions. This is a multi-genre workshop, which inspires cross-fertilization of ideas and techniques. Participants bring in their most current and urgent writing for responses that support the writer, explore the nature and lineage of the work, and provide questions and suggestions for revision. The primary focus of this course will be the consideration of course participants' work, but writing exercises and pertinent readings will further open us up to a wide range of aesthetics, voices, and artistic and craft techniques. The aim in this workshop is not to reach consensus, or to establish a particular aesthetic or set of rules, but to expand each writer's self-awareness and capacity to develop a unique, extraordinary voice and body of work.

MFA Writing Workshop II (6 units)
A follow up to MFA Workshop I, this course allows students to build on the skills and expertise of the first semester by offering a new perspective or approach. Students’ artwork continues to serve as the primary course text. Students also prepare for and respond to each other’ work, continue to work with outside mentors, keep online journals and read and reflect on texts from a variety of arts forms. But they also begin to focus on the development of a body of their own work and their culminating project for this course is a plan for developing their MFA project.

MFA Interdisciplinary Arts Workshop I (6 units)

In this workshop, the students' artwork serves as the primary course text. Each class meeting, students from diverse disciplines (writing, performance, music, visual art, for example) present their work so workshop members become aware of the formal applications used, the techniques the artist has drawn on, the artistic process and influences on the work. The work presented and in-class exercises become the platform for an interdisciplinary arts inquiry into how the arts intersect, interrelate and rely on each other. Students keep "journals" allowing them to reflect on how their artwork grows and changes over the semester and study texts from a variety of art forms, to further add to their range and capacity. In addition, faculty workshop leaders draw on expert mentors who meet individually with students during the semester and also attend as guest lecturers. Students may work with one mentor throughout their degree or shift to a new one the second semester. Each semester the student plans and completes an arts project with his or her expert mentor and presents it to the workshop.

MFA Interdisciplinary Arts Workshop II (6 units)A follow up to MFA Interdisciplinary Arts Workshop, this course allow students to build on the skills and expertise of the first semester, while offering a new perspective and approach. Students' artwork continues to serve as the primary course text. Students also prepare for and respond to each other' work, continue to work with outside mentors, keep online journals and read and reflect on texts from a variety of arts forms. But they also begin to focus on the development of a body of their own work and their culminating project for this course is a plan for developing their MFA project.

Contemporary Literature: Perspectives and Practices (3 units)
This course asks students to engage modern and contemporary literature through the social, psychological and spiritual movements of the modern/post-modern eras. Making use of interdisciplinary perspectives, the course invites students to consider how new ideas, cultural events and social or technological developments have sparked or inhibited creative work and how/when/why art shapes or shifts culture.

Creative Inquiry: Movements and Frameworks (3 units)
In the Movements and Frameworks course we collectively explore the philosophical, aesthetic and political roots of many of the big ideas and questions that shaped Western art from Classical Antiquity through Modernism. Balancing history, critical theory and art practice, we focus on developing a framework of questions for the analysis of both historical and contemporary works, as well as the work of each individual student. Guest artists and scholars will complement slide lectures, discussion, creative work, and analytical writing assignments. 

MFA Project (3 units x 2 semesters)
Developed over two semesters, participants work with a single faculty advisor throughout the year as they develop their thesis: a minimum of 70-100 pages of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, or cross-genre work, and a substantial self-reflective essay.

The Artist in the World (3 units)
In The Gift, Lewis Hyde writes that, in the modern world, “works of art exist simultaneously in two ‘economies,’ a market economy and a gift economy.” Artists, writers, and performers all have additional tasks, beyond the making of the art itself: to find ways to survive emotionally and financially, to develop the ability to continue making art despite all the usual challenges of life, and to discover not only how they want to bring their projects into the public realm, but how they want to engage the world politically, socially, and imaginatively. Depending on student needs and interests, subjects covered may include artist’s statements; book proposals; CVs and cover letters; grants, fellowships, and residencies; emotional resilience in the face of the world’s responses to our art; and ways of identifying not only the types of day job that work well for different temperaments and skill sets, but also the agents, publishers, galleries, or performance venues most likely to be interested in a given artist’s work. This course will mix this practical information with a chance for participants to reflect on themselves, their learning, their creative processes, and how they want to use what they’ve learned in the future.

The Art of Poetry: Poetic Forms (3 units)
This class offers an intense survey of poetics designed to give writers more tools for approaching the sound, rhythm and adhesive nature of language, with attention to the strategies of contemporary experimental and avant-garde poetics. All writers, whether their primary modes are fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, benefit from the close study of language, sound, and image. Poets have actively used writing as a means to change our perceptions and society. From the disruptive mosaics of the modernists to the mathematical permutations of the oulipo, the avant-garde has sought change through the reshaping of form, thereby disrupting meaning’s tendency toward rhetoric and the curtain of its untruth.

Invention and Revision: The Art of Fiction (3 units)
In order to create writing that successfully engages with the world, we each need to invent our own approaches to the art of storytelling. In this methods/workshop course, students experiment with the imaginative possibilities of such narrative elements as traditional and alternative structures, points of view, language and imagery, complications of character, the handling of time, and significant detail. The class analyzes selections from a diverse,
international group of writers and texts—traditional and experimental, classic and contemporary, insider and outsider—in the process of expanding our tools and abilities as writers. Each writer’s unique vision, subject matter, and voice is honored and strengthened in the course of this work as participants discover the artistic implications of their own narrative choices and how these relate to the deeper meanings of their work.

Recreating the Real: The Craft of Nonfiction (3 units)
An in-depth study of the art and craft of nonfiction, including the personal essay, travel writing, the spiritual autobiography, social and political commentary, cultural critiques, stories of place and more. In our reading of both published essays and the work of participants, we will examine the methods, stylistic possibilities, and ethics of writing about real people and real situations and the boundaries of fiction/nonfiction. We will also consider the place of nonfiction in constructing a literary life, nonfiction as a persuasive tool for change, and the audiences for various kinds of nonfiction.

Writing as Art: Text and Image (3 units)
Much contemporary teaching about writing focuses on the writing process as a tool for self-discovery and personal growth or on writing as a process of effective communication. This course explores writing as an art process. We’ll examine the relationship between word and image in writing—and students will complete projects that allow them to develop writing as art objects and writing pieces that actively make use of aesthetic elements. Students develop and create various writing as art objects—such as postcards, visual/written maps, illustrated “books”, and boxes built from text and image.

Arts Practice Seminar (3 units)

This course provides arts instruction, while educating students in the history and practice of art forms. Offered on a rotating basis, the course will focus on one of the following categories: interdisciplinary arts, visual art, performance arts, or sound arts. Course will offer supervised art study, readings, and intensive art work.

Cultural Identity (3 units)

Building on the foundation initiated in Art and Culture: Movements and Frameworks, we will explore the visual and cultural bases of our identities, shared and individual. Beginning from the historical reservoir of images that Allan Sekula named the shadow archive, we'll trace a trajectory within contemporary visual culture from 1960 to the present, grappling with theories of postmodernism, post-colonial theory, and (post) structuralism, as well as the implications of cultural (mis)appropriation and the dynamic exchange between art and mainstream media.  Balancing art history, cultural theory and art practice, we'll explore the ways in which the cultural phenomena named by these theorists shape our art practices, and how we strategically insert our voices into the fray. During the semester we'll be joined by guest artists and scholars of visual studies. 

The Business of Art (3 units)

As artists, we need to bring as much heart and creativity to the business of survival as we do to our art itself. The class encourages students to think and identify as Visionary Entrepreneurs, who are responsible for sourcing how to transform their "dream" into a reality. They will develop a plan of action and an overview for the next steps they need to take to make their vision into a lifework that supports them financially. They will also have the seed information needed to go on to create a more traditional business plan. Grounded in the vision plans, we will collectively develop boiler plate materials that can be used for fundraising, promotion, web design, etc. The Business of Art is designed to provide an environment in which each student is supported in looking both inward and outward, bringing together what may be disparate aspects of their creative life into a comprehensible whole,rooted in one's deepest values. Students will begin to envision the various possibilities of generating a livelihood that grows organically from one's heart intentions principles to the students' various performing art interests.

Interdisciplinary Arts Seminar (3 units)

Sample Course DescriptionIntersections of the Arts with Science and Spirituality: Gertrude Stein, H.D., and Zora Neale Hurston. Each of these ground breaking 20th century writers had powerful relationships with equally groundbreaking scientists of the era. Stein was influenced by psychologist William James and the "process philosophy" of mathematician/philosopher Alfred North Whitehead; poet H.D. was psychoanalyzed by Sigmund Freud, and then turned him into a character in Helen in Egypt; Hurston studied with Franz Boas and utilized anthropological techniques to gather Southern Black folktales and speech patterns, which she worked into her fiction. All three writers participated in influential art movements: Cubism, Imagism, and the Harlem Renaissance, respectively. And all three of them explored spiritualities other than those with which they were raised. In this course we will intersect with these women's lives, their poetic, prosaic, and theatrical writings, their philosophical and spiritual explorations, while engaging the major science and art movements of their era. We'll explore the insights and questions that arise through the medium of our own arts.

Interdisciplinary Pedagogy (3 units)

Interdisciplinary Pedagogy will explore and define our philosophies of teaching and learning; i.e., how do we conceive of the learning environment, the teacher-student relationship, the aim of our education practices. We will look at a wide variety of teaching environments as they apply to different art forms as well as academic teaching. Students will learn how to design courses and workshops, write syllabi, and articulate their own pedagogy. Students will gain experience teaching, facilitating discussion, and evaluating themselves and their students - and develop, plan, and teach in an environment (from class classroom to community organization) that meets their career goals. As teachers, we will attempt to use ourselves as examples of different pedagogic methods and tools. We will interrogate our histories, our philosophical points of view and our practices as part of the class.

Community Arts Practice 1: Art Matters (3 units)

On the street, and in schools, community centers, town squares and prisons, locally and internationally, artists are partnering with community members to create works of art, whether performed or material, out of the fabric of participants' lives. Artists in this expanded field often work across cultural, educational or economic difference, developing skills and strategies that extend well beyond the particular training of their individual artistic disciplines. Working from the belief that art has the potential to meaningfully impact the human condition, we will together envision and explore a wide range of potential practices not limited by studio-based approaches to making art. Students will investigate the history and theoretical context of community arts as well as current examples and trends in the field through reading, video viewing, guest artists, discussion, field trips, and hands on experience.

Community Arts Practice 2: Resistance (3 units)

What role does contemporary art play as catalyst and provocateur? Conservative political moments are often coincident with moments of radical cultural production, as artists stake out a place for resistance and possibility. In this class we'll look past and present at everything from street theater to poster-making to performative acts of civil disobedience. Building on the foundation of the Movements and Frameworks course, we'll explore contemporary cultural history with a particular focus on art and resistance. Both in and out of the studio, artists are destabilizing outmoded representational vocabularies, rethinking the human relationship with our environment, and collaborating with those outside the arts to propose innovative solutions to lived challenges. We'll take up this exploration in dialogue with local artists and activists, informing the present with historical context, and bridging theory and practice.

Community Arts Practice Practicum: Catalyst (3 units)

Building from the historical and philosophical foundation formed in the Art and Social Justice course sequence, Catalyst students will craft, develop, and document a community arts project. Though students will continue to investigate the history and practice of community arts, this is primarily a practicum class; students will instigate a collaborative project within a community, and evaluate their strategies, successes, and challenges on the basis of the critical discourse they've cultivated within the emphasis. We will meet as a group to offer resources in the development and execution of project work; to support and problem-solve as student-artists work in their identified communities; and to guide the reflective and evaluative piece of the Community Projects. Additionally, we will consider how students can articulate their work as community artists through marketing, promotion, and fundraising. We will look at the landscape of community arts funding and networking both locally and nationally so that students may be prepared to expand their work in the world as they emerge from their MFA Program.

MFA Project (3 units x 2 semesters)

Developed over two semesters, student-artists develop an artistic project that reflects their core values and expands the possibilities for their lives as artists. Students work with a single faculty advisor throughout the year. Students include a statement of their aesthetics in the project. 12 Examples of MFA Projects are:

  • A completed book-length manuscript
  • A fully produced dance concert or theatrical or musical performance
  • An original song cycle written and performed
  • An art exhibit
  • A collection of poetry suitable for publication
  • An original cd, or dvd suitable for distribution