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The MFA Visual Narrative is a flexible, low-residency program designed for working professionals and students of visual storytelling alike. Three onsite summer sessions are connected by two years of online study during the fall and spring semesters. After each summer session and academic year, students must receive an acceptable review from a faculty panel in order to continue in the program. Degree candidates must successfully complete 60 credits, including all required courses.

During the eight-week summer sessions, students attend classes and seminars, and work in the studios for 8 to 10 hours per day, six days a week. Several evenings are devoted to digital/interactive tutorials, critiques and lectures. Capitalizing on New York City’s rich array of culture, research trips including contemporary artists events, studio visits and other activities will take place during workshops and on weekends. The summer sessions concentrate on advanced writing, digital media and technique-based workshops. Working in tandem, the creative writing and visual studio workshops as well as analog and digital media studios create a unique and intensive environment— allowing the author-as-artist to thrive.

Throughout the fall and spring semesters, students fulfill the studio components of the online program, with supervision from their course instructor and support from their chosen mentor. Creative writing is assigned in coordination with the online studio story course. This important component includes online submission [posting] of written and visual materials. In the third year, each student is responsible for producing, curating and/or publishing a unique narrative thesis, which will be exhibited in a group show in one of the SVA galleries. Both analog and digital versions of each thesis project must be approved by the Thesis Committee, the student’s mentor and the department chair in order to be eligible for degree conferral. 

First-Year Requirements

VNG-5040 Black, White and One Color (summer)
VNG-5080 Analog to Digital: Dynamic Transformations (summer)
VNG-5130 Narrative Writing (summer)
VNG-5170 History of Visual Storytelling (summer)
VNG-5540 Story Visualized (fall)
VNG-5580 Creative Script (fall)
VNG-5620 Digital Short Story (spring)
VNG-5650/5655 Lecture Series I and II (fall/spring)

Second-Year Requirements

VNG-6120 Color, Process, Text and Image (summer)
VNG-6150 Bringing the Story to Life (summer)
VNG-6210 Visual Writing (summer)
VNG-6240 Form, Empathy and Character Play (summer)
VNG-6320 Identity in a Digital World (fall)
VNG-6330 Selling Your Story (spring)
VNG-6520/6525 Thesis Studio I and II (fall/spring)
VNG-6540/6545 Thesis and Mentor Review I and II (fall/spring)

Third-Year Requirements

VNG-6820 Connecting Story to Audience (summer)
VNG-6850 Guest Critic and Editing Seminar (summer)
VNG-6870 Professional Practice (summer)
VNG-6900 Thesis Production (summer)

General Course Listing - MFA Visual Narrative

First Year 

Black, White and One Color
Summer semester: 3 credits
Lighting, temperature, character, mood, setting, continuity and rhythm—these are but a few of the basic, yet fundamental, building blocks of visual storytelling. Favoring content and narrative over finished product, this course aims to help students examine their assumptions of these visual fundamentals in their own work through a limited and focused palette. Using only black and white, mixed with spot colors, students will be given a series of exercises that are intended to disrupt and challenge current working methods. The goal is to gain a better understanding of storytelling as both artists and as authors.

Analog to Digital: Dynamic Transformations
Summer semester: 3 credits
The proliferation and advancements in technology and mobile media have redefined, if not revolutionized, how narrative art is created. The goal of this course is to give students an understanding of digital image-making and basic motion graphics for print and web. We will explore the unique tools of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects, how the programs overlap and intersect with each other, and how to integrate traditional analog techniques into the digital realm. Students will discover a variety of methods for producing digital images, and how to translate a stationary vision into the more dynamic world of motion. The evolution of storytelling from analog to digitized new media and the future of storytelling will be reviewed.

Narrative Writing
Summer semester: 3 credits
An author is broadly defined as “one who originates or gives existence to anything; a creator.” More narrowly defined, it’s someone who practices writing as a profession. Skilled writers use language to successfully portray individual ideas and unique images, and skilled visual artists can take those ideas and images and push them far beyond the written word. Combine the two and great things can happen. Exploring the “artist as author” is the goal of this workshop. Personal artistic voice will be explored through on-location and in-class writing exercises, often done in tandem with, and inspired by, images created in VNG-5040, Black, White and One Color. Universal themes present in literary genres and popular culture will be analyzed and debated. Students will be required to keep a written journal to help them promote, practice and refine a relationship between visual and narrative storytelling. An extensive reading list will be scrutinized and discussed, and lectures by guest authors will be scheduled.

History of Visual Storytelling
Summer semester: 3 credits
This seminar provides an overview of visual storytelling in photography and graphic media. It will examine the evolution of children’s books, comics and photography as the departure point for different approaches to telling a story with words and pictures. A thorough history of these art forms and their various points of intersection will be given, from children’s adventure books to comic strips and photojournalism to modernist approaches to storytelling, the underground revolution, contemporary digital photography and film. Guest artists and lecturers will address the class and field trips to local archives and collections will be organized.

Story Visualized
Fall semester: 3 credits
In this course, students will explore concepts and techniques for telling stories with images and words, learning by reading and viewing examples from comics, film, literature, and other media. Short assignments during the first semester will help students master various aspects of visual storytelling: design, pacing, style, text/image balance. Students will prepare online presentations that examine the aspects of visual narrative of their choice.

Creative Script
Fall semester: 3 credits
Concept, character, structure and craft—the fundamentals of creative storytelling and the architecture of a well-defined outline—will be the focus of this course. Students will develop writing skills in the core components of storytelling through exercises, such as an active but flawed protagonist with a concrete goal, a story with a sound structure based on character story arc and a unique concept with a specific target audience. The similarities and differences between theater, film, television, comics and interactive media will be explored through readings and discussions. The end product will be a rough draft of a short script for a visual medium of each student’s choice.

Digital Short Story
Spring semester: 6 credits
Digital Short Story combines the concepts covered in VNG-5540, Story Visualized, and VNG-5580, Creative Script, to produce original short stories in a digital, visual narrative format. This course will focus on taking an idea from its initial stage through proposal, story and character development, editing layout, design, color palette and typography to revision and finished narratives, culminating in an exhibition of both the digital story and artwork. Geared toward digital publication and distribution, we will also explore production techniques, including the technical considerations necessary to generate both digital and print editions. Guest artists will represent the wide range of digital publishing, distribution and creative experiences available.

VNG-5650 / VNG-5655
Lecture Series I and II
Fall and spring semesters: no credit
These guest lecture programs offer students the opportunity to hear from a wide variety of professional perspectives. Given by artists and authors from around the world, these presentations will address several aspects of storytelling.

Second Year

Color, Process, Text and Image
Summer semester: 3 credits
Understanding the letters we use to create the stories we write is an important part of the storytelling experience. In this course we will survey type design from different eras and production methods to gain an understanding of its historical, physical and formal considerations. How to bring the letters that tell a story to life and make a powerful impact on the message of the story itself will be emphasized. We’ll also take advantage of NYC and harness the typographic inspiration of this incredible city. Creativity, experimentation and messy hands are all encouraged, as students are guided by demonstrations, critiques and guest lecturers.

Redefining the Spine
Summer semester: 3 credits
Building upon the foundation and storytelling skills of the first year, this course will assist students in the preparation for their upcoming thesis projects through a variety of professional studio visits, guest lectures and research. Students will begin to mold and establish a viable direction for their thesis projects throughout the course, while attending professional practice tutorials in project management. Presentation coaching will be provided, culminating in the delivery of a verbal pitch of the student’s chosen thesis project to the class and the Thesis Committee.

Visual Writing
Summer semester: 3 credits
This course will explore an alternative understanding of narrative. We will experiment with different forms of nontraditional storytelling—including diagrams, maps and charts, as well as illustration and photography. Through a series of exercises, students will gain an understanding of the ways in which these visual forms both structure and expand the limits of what can be told. Throughout, we will approach “the visual” and “the narrative” not as separate modes of work, but as deeply integrated processes of thought.

Form, Empathy and Character Play
Summer semester: 3 credits
Sometimes the only way to find one’s “voice” as a storyteller is to get into character. This course aims to enhance the skills needed to successfully develop a character, by designing, constructing and animating that character and then bringing it to life in believable and interesting ways. Using role-playing techniques and exercises in improv, students will explore various contexts for their own character creations. Guest lectures will complement studio work.

Identity in a Digital World
Fall semester: no credit
Instructors: M. Rota, B. Zackheim
The concepts and practices related to web publishing, marketing, the mobile mindset, data analysis, print publishing and digital storefronts will be addressed in this course. Strategies to create an online identity will also be discussed in order to get students thinking about who they are as storytellers and how they want to present themselves. In addition to online presentations, the instructors are available for consultation.

Selling Your Story
Spring semester: no credit
Using the power of marketing as a creative resource to tell a story is the focus of this course. We will examine the best ways to market content to diverse audiences through a variety of media, including online, mobile devices and digital publishing. The course will provide a path to identifying markets specific to each student’s thesis. In addition to online presentations, the instructor is available for consultation.

VNG-6520 / VNG-6525
Thesis Studio I and II
Fall and spring semesters: 6 credits per semester
Guided by faculty and mentors, students will plan, pitch and execute a thesis project. The direction and visual medium for the thesis project is open to students’ interpretation, and must demonstrate their strength and vision as storytellers and visual narrative artists. Equal emphasis will be given to the verbal and visual direction of each thesis. Students will maintain a written journal documenting the progression of their narrative thesis from inception to completion, including detailed accounts of discourses and critiques with their advisor. An analog and digital version of each thesis is required. Additionally, thesis work will be augmented with “toolbox” sessions that will explore advanced technique, related analysis and professional practice. One-on-one and online group discussions and lectures by guest artists and authors will be scheduled. The thesis project will culminate in a group exhibition at SVA in the third summer session.

VNG-6540 / VNG-6545
Thesis and Mentor Review I and II
Fall and spring semesters: no credit
To support thesis development, students will work with a mentor of their choosing during the fall and spring semesters. In addition, individual meetings with the department chair will be held weekly, throughout both semesters, for review of thesis projects and the mentorship process.

Third Year 

Connecting Story to Audience
Summer semester: 3 credits
In this course, students will examine the social and cultural impact of narrative content in a connected world, and the relevance of the “artist as author” in an ever-changing marketplace. Mobile devices and interactive technology will be studied through readings and discussions. By the end of the course, students will have a solid understanding of where the craft and marketing of visual narrative is headed.

Guest Critic and Editing Seminar
Summer semester: 3 credits
Through lectures and studio visits with guest art directors, editors, critics and curators, this seminar is designed to offer each student a deeper understanding and insight into how narrative art is viewed, edited, chosen and critiqued in the industry. Portfolio reviews from noted professionals is included.

Professional Practice
Summer semester: no credit
It is increasingly necessary for artists to have a strong professional outlook and understanding of the laws and core business practices central to independent art practice. Through a series of instructional seminars, we will focus on four main goals: an understanding of the publishing, gallery, and narrative art marketplace; how to review, prepare and pitch a cohesive body of work; the development and application of the student’s brand and identity tools as both an artist and author for communicating, showcasing and promoting that work; the legal limitations and responsibilities of self-authorship, intellectual property, copyright and art law.

Thesis Production
Summer semester: 6 credits
As visual storytellers, we create original works of art and literature for an audience to consume and critics, peers to validate and history to judge. Every artist and author takes on varying levels of responsibility, ownership and authorship. Each decision made, medium used and audience addressed in the creation of the work is a reflection of the voice of that artist, author and storyteller. In this final thesis studio, students will complete their thesis projects and prepare for the final Thesis Committee review, installation and exhibition. In addition, various guest artists, authors, critics, publishers and industry leaders will be invited to engage and critique individual student work over the course of the summer. Successful review and approval of the thesis by the Thesis Committee and department chair are required for degree conferral.



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