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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. 

Degree Requirements 

• Successful completion of 60 credits, including all required courses and the thesis project. Documentation of all thesis projects must be on file in the Visual Narrative Department to be eligible for degree conferral. 

• A matriculation of three summers on-site and four semesters (fall and spring) of low residency. Students must complete their degree within six years, unless given an official extension by the provost. 

• Visual Narrative grades on a pass/fail system. Students are required to remain in good academic standing. 

Note: Departmental requirements are subject to change by the department chair if the chair deems that such change is warranted.

First-Year Requirements

VNG-5040                                        Black and White and Narrative Color      
VNG-5080                                        Analog to Digital: Dynamic Transformations     
VNG-5130                                        Narrative Writing                 
VNG-5230                                        History of Visual Storytelling: Graphic Media                
VNG-5232                                        History of Visual Storytelling: Film           
VNG-5234                                        History of Visual Storytelling: Photography                                
VNG-5540                                        Story Visualized                   
VNG-5580                                        Creative Script                    
VNG-5620                                        Digital Short Story               
VNG-5650/5655                                Lecture Series I and II

Second-Year Requirements

VNG-6120           Bridging Image and Context        
VNG-6150           Shaping Your Story             
VNG-6210           Visual Research                   
VNG-6240           Form, Empathy and Character Play
VNG-6320           Identity in a Digital World  
VNG-6330           Selling Your Story                
VNG-6520/6525  Thesis Studio I and II           
VNG-6540/6545  Thesis and Mentor Review I and II

Third-Year Requirements

VNG-6820  Connecting Story to Audience    
VNG-6850  Professional Presentation and Communication
VNG-6900  Thesis Production and Professional Practice    

General Course Listing - MFA Visual Narrative

Black and White and Narrative Color
Summer semester: 3 credits
Beyond the surface and medium, how do stories really work visually in images? What fundamental elements are required and how do our narrative choices as visual storytellers inform or affect how each story is constructed and received? Are there rules and how do we break them? This course aims to help students explore, challenge and examine these questions and the fundamental building blocks of visual storytelling in their own work through a limited and focused palette. Through collaboration and rapid prototyping, students will be given a series of visual story explorations that are intended to disrupt and challenge their assumptions and current working methods by asking each student to dig deeper and discover how their decisions as visual storytellers truly mold and shape their narrative approach as both author and artist.

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 their story work through digital image-making, motion graphics, print and web. The tools of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects will be explored, as well as 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 discussed.

Narrative Writing
Summer semester: 3 credits
Writing artfully shouldn’t be the first concern of any author; this is as true for the beginner as it is for the seasoned pro. First and foremost, every story author, visual or otherwise, needs a firm grasp of what a story actually is, and what his or her audience is hardwired to expect in every story it reads, hears, interacts with or views (which is often the opposite of what writers have been taught or think it is). This course will tap into recent discoveries in brain science and uncover what those expectations are, where they came from, and how to translate each student’s unique stories into the universal language of storytelling. Instead of rooting around in story plot, key story elements will be unearthed beneath the plot that bring it to life, drive it forward and give it meaning. These elements have little to do with the surface plot or “writing well” and everything to do with what people actually respond to in every story encountered. The course will proceed step by step, from the first glimmer of an idea to an evolving, multilayered narrative capable of hooking the audience from the very first page. Just as important, students will come away with a yardstick to gauge whether each twist is on target or is a digression that brings the narrative to a screeching halt.

VNG-5230 through VNG-5234
History of Visual Storytelling
Summer semester: 3 credits
This three-part series will provide an overview of visual storytelling in photography, film and graphic media. The series will examine the evolution of children’s books, comics, photography and film 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 photography and film. Guest artists and lecturers will address the class and field trips will be included.

Story Visualized
Fall semester: 3 credits
Visual storytelling is a language. Advertising, video, cartoons, symbols, icons and typography transfer information at rates that we previously could not have imagined possible. Today’s content crosses borders and time at the speed of thought—its meaning often altered by everyone who receives its signal. In this course, students will investigate the role of distribution, technology and media in creative content, as well as the significance of editing, design, format and context in narrative. They will consider the impact of business on their practice. Assignments include methods of adapting and creating fictional and nonfictional visual narratives from original and found texts. Students will deconstruct, reconfigure and critically analyze existing visual narratives such as films, video games, book covers, movie posters and graphic novels.

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 emphasized in this course. Through a series of exercises, students will develop writing skills in the core components of storytelling, such as an active but flawed protagonist with a concrete goal, a story with a solid structure based on a character arc, and a unique concept with a specified target audience. The similarities and differences among theater, film, television, comics, and other visual media will be explored through lectures, but primarily by writing itself. The objective of this course is to expose students to the fundamentals of storytelling as applied through writing for a variety of visual narrative mediums.

Digital Short Story
Spring semester: 6 credits
In this course students will combine and apply the ideas and concepts from VNG-5540, Story Visualized, and VNG-5580, Creative Script, to create an original short story in a digital, visual narrative format. We will focus on the creative process of taking an idea from its initial stage through a proposal, story and character development, editing, layout, design, color palette, typography and, finally, revision and finishing. The course culminates in an exhibition of both the digital story and physical artwork. As students create works intended for digital publication and distribution, traditional production techniques will be addressed, including the technical considerations necessary to produce both digital and print copies. Guest artists will discuss digital publishing, online community building, self-promotion, digital distribution and self-publishing.

VNG-5650 / VNG-5655
Lecture Series I and II
Fall and spring semesters: no credit
This series offers students the opportunity to hear from a wide variety of professional perspectives. Lectures will be given by artists, authors, art directors, and others from around the world, and will address multiple aspects of narrative, picture-making, history and storytelling.

Second Year

Bridging Image and Context
Summer semester: 3 credits
Perhaps more than ever, type and image go beyond their original targets of visual communication and message design and have become visual and cultural art forms all their own. With thousands and thousands of typographic options to choose from, how do visual storytellers decide which font, design and format is best? How can the content or message of our work inform our decisions? And how will that typographic decision impact and/or engage the story’s audience? In this course students will be challenged to look beyond basic typographic design approaches by considering alternative methodologies including psychology, sociology, history and aesthetics to solve the various design challenges unique to each work. Students will recognize the beauty of the letterform and learn how to bridge their work’s visual content and contextual meaning to develop a rich and vibrant artistic/communicative palette. From minimal to “in-your-face” typography, students will explore their work and voice as visual communicators.

Shaping Your Story
Summer semester: 3 credits
As readers, viewers and consumers of story, we are hard-wired to respond to every story we encounter. In this course students will sharpen their storytelling skills for their thesis projects by focusing on the “who, how, what, where” and, most importantly, the “why.” From a deep understanding of what story is, students will zero in on the story they want to tell and how they want to tell it, given the specific visual method they plan to employ. Through class discussions, students will develop the foundation, shape and scope of their narrative, establishing a clear yardstick by which to create, gauge and evaluate the relevance of every story element in their thesis. Students will also practice and perfect pitching their story, in conjunction with the plan for production of the thesis.

Visual Research
Summer semester: 3 credits
This course focuses on the application of mapping and data visualization techniques for use in concept development and world building. Students will identify locations connected to their existing story ideas and will investigate these locations using documentary media, data collection, and other methods of site-specific research. Students will compile the materials they gather into visual archives and create analog and digital maps that describe their content. The work produced in the course will function as a reference for the development of thesis projects and as a means of communicating the spaces that these stories will inhabit, and the experiences their audiences will have while navigating them.

Form, Empathy and Character Play
Summer semester: 3 credits
Character and narrative are symbiotic; character + choice = story. Sometimes the only way to find a character’s “voice” as a storyteller is to get into character—we must become the character in order to understand it. This course is designed to further develop skills in character creation through examining what makes characters behave the way they do. With lectures on character archetypes, character crisis, defining moments, unconscious desire and design, students will examine the elements necessary for creating their own characters. Through improv and role-playing techniques, students will understand their how their characters will behave in fictional settings, better enabling them to write and visualize their character creations.

Identity in a Digital World
Fall semester: no credit
What is the story of your life and work that people will find when they enter your name into their browsers? Artists have the ability to control their public identity online and, more than that, they can guide their identity onto the computers and in front of potential clients and marketplaces full of interested viewers looking for exactly the sort of content the artist is creating. This course will introduce aspiring artists and storytellers to the online tools available for sculpting a personal identity, and finding the specific marketplace ideally suited for their unique voice. A variety of web-hosting platforms and blogs will be discussed, along with marketing via social media platforms, gathering data and making sure the work is being seen, as well as helping to match the right platforms with the right content. The pros and cons of each tool will be reviewed, followed by talk about specific strategies for finding clients and generating traffic and interest. Interviews will be provided from a host of creative professionals.

Selling Your Story
Spring semester: no credit
Selling your story means telling your story. The creative person’s marketing plan can be simple, but it must weave a compelling tale that helps people understand what has been created. Through frank and personal process one-on-ones, students will find the best promotional tools and processes. Students will develop and document their own promotional campaign in a thorough marketing plan that is intended to expand their audience and professional networks for both their thesis show and professional practice. Once completed in this course, each student’s marketing plan will be executed in the third summer semester—connecting their story to audience.

VNG-6520 / VNG-6525
Thesis I and II
Fall and spring semesters: 6 credits per semester
This course is focused on thesis story development, project management, production, achieving a professional level of finish and audience engagement. Student will establish their own production schedule and deadlines with instructors and mentors, who will guide and support students through constructive critique, industry feedback and real-world troubleshooting. Mutually agreed upon milestones will be created, based on project and media requirements, to ensure the successful outcome of the thesis project. Students will complete their assignments alongside their peers, participate in ongoing discussions and hear from professionals in various fields. The underlying emphasis of this course is on building a community of mutual support and accountability for the completion of each thesis at the end of the spring semester, as well as in preparation for the summer graduate exhibition and public presentation.

VNG-6540 / VNG-6545
Thesis Review I and II
Fall and spring semesters: no credit
To support thesis development, students will work with a mentor of their choice during the fall and spring semesters. Individual meetings with the department chair for review of the thesis project and the mentorship process will be held throughout both semesters. During the spring semester, students will focus on the continuation of biweekly mentor logs, as well as begin individual thesis exhibition installation development, budgeting and proposals. Students and the department chair will discuss and view all designs for implementation in the third summer session for thesis exhibition and public presentations.

Third Year

Connecting Story to Audience
Summer semester: 3 credits
Promotion is a key part of marketing, but it is only one part. To market our work effectively we need to weave promotions, sales and tales into a captivating whole. Do that, and your marketing leads to sales. But what are you selling? Yourself? Your story? An idea? This course will be a forum in which to discuss the elements of the thesis project that drives each student. By developing a marketing plan through discussions, we’ll spot opportunities to highlight each student’s passions, process and professional practice—connecting each student’s story to his or her respective audience.

Professional Presentation and Communication
Summer semester: 3 credits
This course works closely in conjunction with the other final semester courses to prepare students for their professional life in the world of creative production. At the end of the semester, students will present an artist’s talk on their thesis project and their creative practice, sharing insights into their process. This practice is a vital and necessary component of any creative’s life. Students will also refine their professional presentation skills through exercises and visiting artists’ talks, and by preparing materials for job and arts opportunities. Critical and practical readings, and individual meetings with the instructor will lay the foundation for public speaking engagement and their professional initiatives. Guest lectures and field trips will complement the course.

Thesis Production and Professional Practice
Summer semester: 6 credits
As visual storytellers, we create and contribute original narrative works of art and literature for an audience to consume and critics, peers to validate and history to judge. Over the course of the thesis year, each student is responsible for varying levels of professional practice, portfolio development, promotion, ownership and authorship. The thesis year and thesis project is a reflection of each student’s unique voice as artist, author and visual storyteller. In this final studio course, students will complete their thesis study, installation, exhibition and exit interview. In addition, various guest artists, authors, critics, publishers and industry leaders will be invited to network and critique—both in the classroom and on an individual basis. Approval of the thesis by the Thesis Committee and department chair are required for degree conferral.



School of Visual Arts | 209 East 23 Street, NY, NY 10010-3994 | Tel: 212.592.2000 | Fax: 212.725.3587