Curious courses at California College of the Arts

Make magic with your art, design the footwear of the future, and capture photos of your favorite ghosts in these curious courses offered only at CCA.

Photo of printouts of fantastical purple and blue high-heel shoe designs

Courses include titles like Shoe Design, Rise of Robots, and Make It Queer.

At CCA there is no shortage of inspiring and compelling courses that allow you to explore a new medium or topic and help grow your creative toolkit.

Our interdisciplinary spirit allows for unexpected combinations of themes across photography, fashion design, game arts, comics, ceramics, art history, and more, resulting in a rich catalog of both rigorous and lively courses.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of being a professor of footwear design at CCA is observing students from multiple disciplines such as fashion design, textiles, industrial design, interaction design, as well as MFA students, all approaching projects in this course in such varied ways,” says Fashion Design faculty member Caroline de Baere.

Here are just a few fine arts, design, and humanities and sciences courses with curious titles offered to CCA students during their undergraduate career.

A student presents her shoe designs while holding a sample shoe and smiling

Shoe Design

Students design and create models for final projects which include sandals, high heels, climbing shoes, clogs, cycling shoes, outdoor products, and everything imaginable. “I am in awe of this next generation of emerging footwear designers,” says the course’s instructor Caroline de Baere.

Critique day in this footwear design investigative studio is a favorite for de Baere. It’s everything from researching inspiration for their projects and creating inspiring mood boards to tracing the shape and foundation of footwear to finally creating collections and designs of incredible variety.

“We often have guests from the footwear industry join us, and they are amazed by the level of talent and creativity,” de Baere says.

She adds, “After five years of teaching footwear design at CCA, I am inspired anew each semester and can’t wait to meet every new group of designers. They are so talented and approach the projects with such diverse points of view.”

“One of the most rewarding aspects of being a professor of footwear design at CCA is observing students from multiple disciplines such as fashion design, textiles, industrial design, interaction design, as well as MFA students, all approaching projects in this course in such varied ways.”

— Caroline de Baere

Fashion Design faculty member

A student in overalls holds a paintbrush over an unglazed piece of pottery

Students create contemporary versions of ancient artifacts in Future Ruins.

Future Ruins

In this introductory course, students learn the basics of ceramic construction, while exploring the rich history and tradition of clay and the medium's current influence in contemporary art.

Why “future ruins?” Ceramics faculty member and course instructor Maryam Yousif says, “Fired clay is unrecyclable; it will last thousands upon thousands of years. I want to highlight to my students that we should always make with intention and be cognizant of what we are leaving behind.”

As the theme of the class suggests, the final project includes research to mine ancient artifacts and then create a contemporary version of what they have found. In this way, students have made pieces that are personal, timeless, humorous, spiritual, and perhaps lovingly kitschy.

Students also take field trips to view contemporary artists working in the medium. “Last semester we met with and saw the work of Rose B. Simpson at Jessica Silverman Gallery,” says Yousif, “and this semester we will have a walk-through with the artist Dana Hemenway for her solo exhibition at Eleanor Harwood Gallery.”

Theory and Practice for Photographing the Supernatural

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or so they say. Photographs have often been used as evidence of truth, of what is real and factual. But what if a photograph was actually much more than that? In this course, students are challenged to explore their own assumptions about photography to form a deeper understanding of what “real” means today.

Project assignments include documenting a crime scene. “Not a real one,” says course instructor and Film faculty Donald Matthew Smith. “You are to make one. Think of it as photographing an installation you have made … What’s needed style wise to feel like the photograph has any authenticity? How much is shown? What is left out?”

What if we could imagine spirits all around us? Who would your favorite ghost be? Another course assignment asks students to re-create spirit photography which was popular in the second half of the nineteenth century. “What could we conjure that is modern but still has the genre and characteristics of 1890s spirit photography?” asks Matthew Smith.


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Maximum Magic

Students explore a wide spectrum of magics ranging from tricks and illusions to spells and spirituality in this upper level interdisciplinary studio.

“The more we look at art, design, and culture at large, the more we see magic seeping into every crack and crevice,” says course instructor and faculty member Aaron Gach.

Gach adds, “In Maximum Magic, our goal is not to make art about magic; rather, our goal is to use our art to make magic happen.”

Artists across the globe and throughout history have long blended creativity and magic to awaken wonder in their audiences. Through transforming materials and shifting perceptions, art and magic challenge us to bring our imaginations into reality and to make the impossible possible.

A faculty member presents a comic style portrait of a purple-colored gender non-conforming figure

Illustration faculty Ajuan Mance leads Make It Queer, a course designed by Chair of Illustration Michael Wertz.

Make It Queer

Students create outstanding works of visual art in a variety of forms from comics and short animated videos to posters and zines to clothing and jewelry design that respond to and share with a broad audience the history of LGBTQIA+ culture, activism, and identity.

“Bay Area art and artists play a significant role in our course,” says course instructor and Illustration faculty member Ajuan Mance. “In addition to watching documentaries about Bay Area LGBTQAI+ history, culture, and activism, some students also research the artists and art and activist movements in response to the unique legacy of this region in the country.”

A close-up of a student sketching rainbow-colored comic figures.

Additional courses CCA undergrads have taken include Rise of Robots, Seeing the Future, Science Fiction Worlds, Physics for Architecture and Design, Acting for Animation, and more.

These are just a sampling of curious courses students get the chance to take at CCA.

Additional courses include From Be-Bop to Hip-Hop and Rise of Robots as well as Monster Culture, of which course instructor Associate Professor of Critical Ethnic Studies Melinda de Jesús says, “The class explores how humans have used the monstrous to explore things we fear or don’t understand and how the concept of ‘human’ relies upon the monstrous for meaning: they are two sides of the same coin.”