Curriculum Overview

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The School of the Art Institute of Chicago's (SAIC) Department of Contemporary Practices combines skill-based instruction—from drawing to new technology—with studio-based methods of conceptual exploration and artistic research. All of the courses in Contemporary Practices combine meaning with making. Students are asked to problem-solve through engagement with materials and research methods. The curriculum is designed to:

  • Immerse students in an environment in which studio practice is integrated with the history, theory, and criticism of art, architecture, and design
  • Promote and enact diverse definitions of artists and designers such as critic, writer, intellectual, educator, collaborator, and engaged citizen
  • Integrate the development of each student’s individual voice with an awareness of the context in which that voice is expressed and heard

Coursework in this department is required for all incoming first-year students; and courses are also offered for transfer and prior degree students.


Required Courses for First-Year Students

Core Studio I and II: Core Studio is a fast-paced, yearlong sequence of courses that introduces students to both disciplinary and interdisciplinary art and design practices. These team-taught classes explore the materials and techniques of surface, space, and time (2D, 3D, and 4D), as well as the connections and interplay of these areas. Core Studio integrates the formal with the conceptual, traditional with the contemporary, and makes visible a variety of approaches in current cultural production in order to foster the development of students’ emerging practices as makers and thinkers.

Research Studio I: This studio course explores the themes, practices, contexts, and questions undertaken by contemporary artists and designers. While developing your own work, you will investigate a wide variety of research methods that facilitate artistic practice. You will also learn how to use the critique process to discuss your own work and the work of others.

Research Studio I helps connect you with your own practice, with other artists, the museum, the city of Chicago, and SAIC. Through this course, you will also be paired with an academic advisor, who will attend several classes and work with you one-on-one to help in the process of navigating SAIC's curriculum.

Research Studio II: This studio course builds on Research Studio I and allows you to deepen your individual artistic inquiry. Students choose from a selection of more than 30 thematic offerings.

The thematic focus of the class connects you with other students and faculty who share similar interests. Through studio projects and additional research methods, you continue to develop your imaginative intellect as well as work on the creation, construction, and critique of your work.

Included in the Research Studio II thematic offerings are a selection of community-based classes. These sections focus on an examination of your work and life as an artist and will explore means of engaging communities both within SAIC and throughout the city of Chicago. While the majority of class time is devoted to individual artmaking, if you choose a Research Studio II: Community-Based Practices, you should be open to collaboration and participation in activities outside of the classroom.


Courses for Transfer Students

Research Studio Transfer (RST) is a required course specifically designed for transfer students. Research Studio is a class that explores the themes, practices, and contexts of cultural inquiry and production undertaken by artists and designers. This particular class combines elements from Research Studio I and Sophomore Seminar, both required courses that transfer students do not take. RST includes an orientation to the culture of the SAIC community and Chicagoland and the development of artistic research skills for students already engaged in a practice. Students take this required course in order to experience and develop a variety of research methodologies, both conventional and alternative, which include utilizing collections and archives in the School and the extended community.

The goal of this course is to provide students with the tools to develop and connect their ideas and production, and to discover the pathways of study they can take at SAIC. Students are assigned an Academic Advisor who provides additional support to acclimate to SAIC and plan their future studies. In addition to studio production, students can expect to engage in some reading and short writing assignments for this class.


Courses for Prior Degree Students

UG DIV Research Studio—Advanced is recommended and specifically designed for students who are new to SAIC coming from backgrounds with a previous degree or a substantial amount of college-level course work under their belt. This particular class combines elements from Research I and II, which include an orientation to the culture of SAIC's community and Chicago at-large, with the more advanced developmental explorations to support and build an already engaged practice. Students take this class to engage with a variety of research methodologies, both traditional and experimental, utilizing SAIC archives and the extended community in response to studio-based work.