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General Studies Requirements

The Critical Studies Curriculum

These goals have served to shape a curriculum which is ambitious in its range and depth. Every semester we offer between 45 and 50 classes in topics as diverse as astronomy, Indian cinema, digital landscapes, theories of the unconscious, genetics, feminist theory and post-structuralist philosophy, poetry, ecology, ritual and performance, new writing and holography. However, the varied range of course offerings by no means precludes intellectual rigor and coherence.

The core of the Critical Studies curriculum is distributed across the traditional range of academic disciplines. Strong offerings in the humanities in the study of literature and philosophy, in the social sciences in anthropology, sociology, psychology and cultural geography and in the natural sciences in physics, biology and environmental science together provide a solid but stimulating framework of academic study. Increasingly at CalArts, as elsewhere in Higher Education, absolute disciplinary boundaries between, for instance, the Humanities, Social Sciences and Cultural Studies have become difficult to sustain, especially in the more advanced, upper division classes. The areas in which Critical Studies core faculty can claim particular expertise—critical theory, cultural studies, performance studies, modern and postmodern philosophy, historiography, experimental criticism, psychoanalytical perspectives, textual analysis, environmental science—are all interdisciplinary in nature or in their range of application.


All BFA candidates are expected to have taken a total of 46 units in Critical Studies by the time of graduation. This amounts to 2-3 courses per semester and represents about 40 percent of each student's overall course load.

Critical Studies Level 100 Curriculum

The Critical Studies Level 100 Curriculum is a graduation requirement. In the fall semester of the first year, all students must take "Introduction to Critical Studies," a course that welcomes students into the critical conversations that are at the heart of Critical Studies courses and to prepare them to engage with a variety of modes of critical inquiry. In the spring semester of the first year, all students must take a Level-One Special Topics course. These courses cover a variety of subjects ranging from literature to biological sciences. Both "Introduction to Critical Studies" and Level-One Special Topics courses have an intensive writing workshop component. 

Critical Studies Core Curriculum

Throughout the remaining three years, students must get at least two units in each of the following Critical Studies categories:

  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences
  • Cultural Studies
  • Math & Sciences

The remaining units are elective and drawn from other courses offered by the School of Critical Studies, or can be fulfilled through Advanced Placement credits and liberal arts/general education transfer credits from other regionally accredited colleges and universities. To successfully complete the 46 units, it is expected that after the first year, the student will need to take an average of three Critical Studies courses per semester (or 6 units).

Residency Requirement

Students with previous bachelors degrees and students transferring in undergraduate credits are required to complete at least 8 CalArts Critical Studies Core Curriculum units in order to obtain a BFA degree from CalArts. While all students graduating will have to meet the Core Curriculum requirement, students transferring in from outside institutions may apply transfer credits to any of the corresponding Critical Studies categories up to a maximum of 38 units. The remaining 8 units (Residency Requirement), which must be taken in Critical Studies at CalArts, may fall in the following distribution:

  • 8 units in any combination of Critical/Intellectual Skills, Creative Writing, Computing and Research Skills, Humanities, Cultural Studies, Social Sciences, Science/Math providing the student will have met the Core Curriculum requirement by graduation.

Critical Studies Minor

Students who have completed their Level 100 and Core Curriculum requirements have the option of obtaining a Minor in Critical Studies in one of the following four categories: Creative Writing, Humanities, Social Science, Cultural Studies or Science & Math. Students are required to take 18 units from their designated area of concentration (12 of which must be completed at CalArts). Students are not required to take additional units to obtain the Minor in Critical Studies; rather students would focus existing unit requirements (46 total) in a specific curriculum area. Students who are interested should make arrangements with the Critical Studies office.

The Critical Studies core curriculum endeavors to promote writing and critical reflection as integral to creative production at every level and in all the Schools at CalArts. With this aim in mind, Critical Studies faculty participate in students' mid-residency reviews in order to get a direct sense of how its curriculum has impacted upon students' progress in their chosen metier. The curriculum is constantly under review and we continually seek to improve existing courses or to fill gaps in our offerings which come to light as a result of student demand, new intellectual currents or developments in the worlds of politics, science, culture and art. If Critical Studies must face the constant challenge of adapting its curriculum to the changing composition, expectations and needs of the Institute population, one mark of our success in so doing is that many CalArts students—we believe the majority—now regard Critical Studies as an essential and intrinsic component of their education as artmakers.

Last edited by bhoward on Aug 04, 2015
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