Textile art by Michelle Bonilla.

Fine Arts

Through self-examination, critique, and dialogue, fine arts students at California College of the Arts (CCA) explore artmaking within a broad context as technically trained creative practitioners who are socially engaged with the world around them.


Expand how we view the world

Reflected light from the greensweep casts a pallid glow upon the gleeful faces of film students as they compose their shot.

Nurture creativity and civic-mindedness

At CCA, we think with our hands, cultivate intellectual nimbleness, and pursue socially engaged artistic practice. Our fine arts curriculum emphasizes critical thinking, visual literacy, hands-on studio craft, and cross-disciplinary applications. As fine artists and creative citizens, CCA graduates enter professional practices or careers in the arts ready to make a positive impact in our local, regional, and global communities.

painting students engaging with one another's work through constructive criticism

In the studio and classroom, we maintain a student-to-teacher ratio in the single digits to maximize opportunities for close instruction, mastery of technical skills, and productive dialogue. Students have the freedom to explore materials and interdisciplinary modes of artmaking while engaging in CCA’s fruitful critique culture. History, culture, politics, science, economics, psychology, religion, sociology, and much more are interwoven into the studio curriculum, encouraging deep thinking and innovation. You’ll gain practical skills and experiences, and refine your ability to research, write about, and critique works of art.

CCA faculty holding a seabird with the ceramic nest made in collaboration with CCA Ceramics and Oikonos

Opportunities for collaboration abound with peers, faculty mentors, visiting artists, and nonprofit partners that foster thoughtful questioning and discussion. Our San Francisco Bay Area location means we’re mere steps away from cultural hubs, such as CCA’s Wattis Institute, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SFMOMA, Museum of the African Diaspora, Asian Art Museum, Jewish Contemporary Museum, Pier 24 Photography, and more. Engagements with external partners, such as Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge and the Center for Investigative Reporting, are available at both the undergraduate and graduate level and merge studio skills with real-world challenges. Upon graduation, you’ll have a body of work, artistic network, and cumulative experiences to launch a career and shape culture.


Challenge the boundaries of artmaking

Image of Allison Smith, Dean of Fine Arts at CCA

Allison Smith, Dean of Fine Arts

Meet the Dean of Fine Arts

Dean Allison Smith investigates the cultural phenomenon of historical reenactment and the performative role of craft in the construction of identity. Her diverse studio practice integrates sculpture, traditional craft, photography, printmaking, and textiles, as well as modes of experimental performance and social practices. Smith has produced over 25 solo exhibitions, installations, performances, and artist-led participatory projects for venues such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Public Art Fund, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, The Arts Club of Chicago, and S!GNAL Center for Contemporary Art, among many others. Her work is held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Saatchi Gallery London, Linda Pace Foundation, and many other public and private collections worldwide.

Keith Thomas offers his expert insights to painting students during a critique

Award-winning artists and social practitioners

Our faculty nurture a think tank culture that engages with critical issues and expands the boundaries of artmaking. By emphasizing dialogue and criticality in studios and seminars, they help students challenge conventions, foster civic-mindedness, and reframe how we experience the world. In addition to their work as educators and researchers, faculty are active practitioners who exhibit, perform, and publish widely. They exhibit in some of the most exciting galleries and museums around the world, including the National Gallery of Australia, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Johnen Galerie in Berlin, Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, and WhiteBox in New York City. From Academy Award-winning documentaries to NEA-funded environmental impact projects, faculty accomplishments inspire students to take active roles as agents for change in various creative, cultural, and economic arenas.

Four dancers at CCA's Wattis Institute performing Adam Linder Full Service Leah Katz, Justin F. Kennedy, Noha Ramadan, and Stephen Thompson

Adam Linder, Full Service (installation view), 2018, Wattis Institute; Choreographic Service No.5: Dare to Keep Kids Off Naturalism, 2017, Duration variable, Four dancers: Leah Katz, Justin F. Kennedy, Noha Ramadan, and Stephen Thompson; photo: Allie Foraker

Robust public programming

Our national and international networks are amplified by our lecture series and exhibitions. Open to all disciplines, our keynote lectures feature interdisciplinary artists, critics, scholars, and filmmakers, among many other practitioners, from the Bay Area and around the world. Recent guests include Léonie Guyer, Laura Poitras, and alumnus Hank Willis Thomas.

In addition to our public programming, students have opportunities to learn from diverse practitioners in CCA’s galleries, which host upwards of 150 exhibitions and artist talks each year. The nearby Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, a nonprofit exhibition venue and research institute that’s part of CCA, commits an entire year to reflecting on questions posed by a single artist. Students in the MA in Curatorial Practice and MFA in Fine Arts programs collaborate with the Wattis on exhibitions and publications as a part of their coursework.

Explore Fine Arts

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April 3, 2020

Days of isolation call for remote Q&A with CCA MFA 2020 candidate, Sarah Kanninen! @kandycorn_art 🎉
(Swipe to catch the full Q&A!) -If you were to describe your practice in a word or phrase, what would that be?
SK: It’s Crazy Clown Time. .
-What attracts you to your medium(s) of choice? 
SK: I love stuff. I love things. I’m a maximalist in both my “real” life and art life. I’m also not wealthy and I never have been so I’m attracted to cheap and easily accessible materials. I really like the elevation that’s implied with using “low art” materials in a “high art” setting. I also never throw anything away, you never know what might be useful later . -How are you coping with the current Shelter In Place, and how do you think your practice might change, if at all, in response to COVID-19?
SK: I’m doing alright. I’m very lucky to have family and friends with me during this time which helps immensely with the isolation. I’m very comfortable with alone time and staying home. I grew up on a farm so every activity was pretty much done in isolation.
My practice has become much smaller, as I don’t have space for a home studio. It has become much more focused on how Gurggles can help me. He is always in isolation, whether that's in my head or even in my video work, he's always alone. So I've been leaning into what he can teach me about this kind of isolation. .
-Anything else you’d like to share?
SK:Thanks to anyone who took the time to like/read this post. I hope things are as well as they can be for us all and to anyone who needs a friend to chat with or person to share art with I’d love to be that for you. <3

Thank you for sharing your time and work with us Sarah! Can't wait to see what you do next!🎈.
1: Flesh and Blood (or two balloon dogs) 2020 latex balloons, air, stage blood, etymology pins
2: Balloon Prolapsed Anus 2019 latex balloons, red sharpie
3: The One that Got Away 2019
watercolor and mixed media collage, latex balloons, helium
(barclay award show install)
4:Left -In the Eyes of the Beholder 2018 watercolor and collage on paper, black yarn
Right - Looking Glass 2019
fashion magazine college, mirrored vinyl, wheat paste, latex, blood
(barclay install image)

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April 1, 2020

Sharing work right now can be difficult, but our MFA students collected a few unique opportunities for online showcasing!

1. The Social Distancing Festival is providing a digital space for artists who could not show their work the way it was originally intended because of COVID-19. Visit their website for live streamed music, comedy, and spoken word, or check out their galleries of visual artwork, dance performances, and theatre.
socialdistancingfestival.com Submitted by Rachel

2. Quaranzine -Today is the last day to submit your pandemic related 2D works for @taylorkuether 's Quarantine Zine! This is an opportunity to share work that may otherwise not be able to be shown in this time of isolation.
Submitted by Consu and Emily

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March 20, 2020

Looking for inspiration and entertainment in these times of isolation? Check out these highlights from our CCA MFA virtual community board!

1: Enjoy art from home with virtual tours of the Louvre, or tune in to the Philharmonie Berlin through their digital concert hall
https://www.cntraveler.com/story/all-the-museum-exhibits-symphonies-and-operas-you-can-enjoy-from-home submitted by Pippa

2: Cook up some soothing broth to ease the stress of quarantine, and have a tasty lunch while you're at it.
https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/garlic-broth submitted by Jeff

3: How can we not be entertained by ugly Renaissance babies?!
https://uglyrenaissancebabies.tumblr.com submitted by Emily

4: Instagram art party? Yes please...
#30dayartquarantine brought to you by @thejealouscurator

Stay safe and healthy everyone!

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March 18, 2020

Friends at CCA and beyond-- stay safe, healthy, and happy in these peculiar times. Even in lockdown, wash your hands, cover your cough, and be nice to each other! We'll get through this together ❤


Learn to question and create

critical studies students working on their YBCA mural panels

Experience cross-disciplinary studios

We offer 12 BFA programs, including the self-directed Individualized Studies degree for students whose work intersects multiple fields. Minors, which can be completed without adding to your total required units, explore social impact, alternative systems of representation, and literary arts. Immersed in cross-disciplinary thinking from day one, fine arts students get the best of both worlds: a liberal arts education and a craft-based studio culture that encourages them to experiment with their hands.


Amplify your voice and talents

Class taking place in CCA's Curatorial Research Bureau at YBCA

Contribute to a socially engaged culture

We offer three graduate programs and two dual-degree options, which make it possible to earn two separate graduate degrees in just three years. Throughout your coursework, students experience a rich ecosystem of craft, civic engagement, and entrepreneurship. Drawing inspiration from San Francisco cultural institutions, such as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, our programs encourage students to contribute to local art and design communities through exhibitions, publications, and various critique formats.

Studios + Shops

Foster civic-mindedness

CCA fine arts students lead a "Capitalism Exorcism" activation in the Hubbell Street Galleries

Connect studio work to societal issues

We provide students with the hands-on tools, digital fabrication resources, and materials they need to experiment and create a cohesive body of work. On-site studio managers, who are artists and designers themselves, are available to provide safety and skills training, as well as to suggest alternative approaches throughout ideation, iteration, and final project stages. Students investigate larger societal issues, from identity and race to power and technology, through mediums and collaborative exhibitions that reflect who they are and what they want to argue. CCA’s legacy as a center for arts and crafts and social activism can be seen and felt in each one of our creative spaces.

student working on mural for YBCA install

Spotlight on creative spaces

Mural Room

Painted by and for the community, murals have long been a tradition in San Francisco. Across the Bay Area, and especially in the nearby Mission District, murals are visual odes to historical figures, local landmarks, social movements, and more. Students can create their own social and political messages in the Mural Room, where they can make large-format vertical or horizontal prints with specialized tools and equipment.

Student welding a sculpture during a metal working class

Metal Fabrication and Welding Shop

Open to all students who have completed the required orientation, this shop specializes in clay and metal. Students have the space to work on large-scale projects and can use the shop’s free scrap metal when available. There are a variety of tools and equipment, including a plasma torch, drill press, mill, lathe, chop saw, spot welder, and manual slip roll for bending steel.

A student follows a pattern while working on a weaving machine

Textiles Weaving Studio

Our Textiles program is one of the few in the United States to teach digital weaving on Jacquard looms. The Weaving Studio, open to undergraduates and graduate students who have experience in textiles or have taken related courses, features two state-of-the-art Jacquard TC2 looms. Students who spend time in this studio merge modes of design thinking, formal abstraction, and personal narrative in fabric-based projects.

Students play conceptual art games in Glen Halfand's "P.E." UDIST class

Upper Division Interdisciplinary Studio

Collaborative and topic-based, Upper Division Interdisciplinary Studio (UDIST) courses combine techniques and content from various disciplines at once. Course topics, which change regularly, challenge students to shift from a singular mindset to one that is all-encompassing and socially engaged. You’ll learn how to take studio-based practice out into the real world. Featured below are recent UDIST courses that leverage interesting, locally based nonprofits.

  • The Peripatetic Wunderkammer: This experimental and performance-based course teaches students how to build a mobile media project that expands a San Francisco museum collection into public spaces throughout the city
  • Animated Investigation: In collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting, students consider the documentary’s role within contemporary visual culture, working on projects that may involve animation, comics, motion graphics, photography, and more
Japanese students pose in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan

Japanese students pose in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan.

Experience another culture

We encourage students to refine and expand their skills in new environments by studying in other United States cities or in another country. Some of our most recent study-abroad courses focused on the following themes.

  • Life, Death, Art, and Ecstasy: Taking place in Reykjavik and rural areas along the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, this interdisciplinary course immerses students in Icelandic art, culture, and history
  • Exhibition Brooklyn: A collaboration between CCA and Art in General, a 37-year-old nonprofit art space in Brooklyn’s DUMBO district, this course introduces students to artists and art world professionals in New York City through studio visits and one-on-one meetings

We’re here to answer your questions

We’re happy to share more information about our alumni, faculty, study-abroad opportunities, and the many socially engaged projects our students create across the Bay Area.

Exterior view of San Francisco campus

CCA Admissions

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