A CalArts education is based on both artistic and intellectual rigor. To ensure that each 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—offered through the School of Critical Studies—in addition to coursework in their individual programs.
Designed to broaden vision and encourage well-informed, innovative artmaking, the Critical Studies undergraduate requirements help students develop analytical, writing, quantitative, computing and research skills and learn about aesthetics, history, philosophy, social sciences, cultural studies, science, technology and special topics related to the arts.
BFA candidates are expected to take either three or four Critical Studies classes (6-8 units) per semester as part of the total 46 units required for graduation. Typically, this amounts to 40 percent of each student's overall course load.
Developing an effective general education program in an art institute, as distinct from a college or university, presents a particular challenge. The School of Critical Studies comprises 20 core faculty and four staff, and employs at least a dozen Adjunct Faculty annually to teach across its broad curriculum.
At CalArts, undergraduate students are selected by faculty in their metiers on the basis of the talent demonstrated in an audition or portfolio. Students admitted to CalArts can therefore vary widely in their academic experience and skills. The challenge for Critical Studies is to tailor a curriculum to students who define themselves primarily as artists which at the same time enables them to acquire conceptual, analytical and communication skills relevant to their artmaking and to their larger roles as artists in contemporary society. The Critical Studies curriculum is designed to develop the powers of analysis and communication which students need to produce innovative and challenging art and to articulate their vision in the larger social context.
The principal aims of the Critical Studies curriculum are therefore:
Liberal arts/general education credits from other colleges can also count as Critical Studies units. Students with previous bachelor's degrees and those seeking an undergraduate Certificate of Fine Arts only are exempt from the Critical Studies undergraduate requirements.