The Pennsylvania State University

School of Visual Arts

drawing on walls


The Penn State School of Visual Arts (SoVA) is a part of the College of Arts and Architecture, located on Penn State’s University Park Campus.  SoVA offers degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in three areas of study, including Studio Art, Art Education, and Digital Arts and Design.  SoVA also offers a range of online courses across all areas of study through Penn State’s World Campus. Our nationally and internationally recognized faculty are dedicated to the learning, research, and educational imagination that takes place in the studios, labs and classrooms at SoVA.

The Penn State School of Visual Arts (SoVA) is a place where creative and critical thinkers, makers, and educators shape awareness about what is possible and, in doing so, change the way our world is seen, experienced, and understood. Our visual arts and design programs enable individuals and communities to respond imaginatively to the continuous rush of social and cultural change through exploration, expression and communication that takes place in a multiplicity of ideas, forms, actions, and settings.

Visual arts practitioners use the media, processes, and contexts of visual arts and design to explore ideas, seek and solve problems, question answers, probe issues, and educate others about how art experience can help us to see and think differently. Self-discovery processes, expressive outcomes, and methods of creative inquiry are mindful and purposeful. These practices make use of the unlimited human capacity to give form to creative ideas that are personally transformative, and, when expressed and communicated in public spaces, have real world impact. When visual arts and design practices are applied in social, educational, technological, and political settings, the outcomes of visual art and design research create many options for learning as awareness is enhanced, knowledge is embodied and understanding enabled.

SoVA’s mission is pursued within a variety of contexts that exploit our capacities as visual thinkers and self-reflective individuals who participate in communities of makers as socially engaged practitioners.

visual thinkers
Knowing how to respond in meaningful ways to the increasingly visual world we inhabit requires imagination and creativity. These approaches to thinking and doing are in abundance in SoVA. We develop the habits of mind and the proficiencies of practice that enable individuals to enhance and expand their inherent capacity for invention, adaptation, reflection, risk- taking, and openness, and to trust where these dispositions might take them. By exploring and exploiting the various forms of visual thinking that take place in studios, computer labs, classrooms, online, in museums, and in communities, the means by which we come to see and know things becomes clearer. Furthermore, when this understanding is expressed and communicated in a multiplicity of visual and verbal languages, the capacity to participate actively in communities and cultures is established.

within the self
Experiencing visual arts and design takes many private and public forms. We participate as artists, designers, teachers, viewers, historians, cultural critics, or casual observers as we encounter actual images, objects, or events, or view them within the augmented world of digital space and place. No matter where art is made or seen, it is filtered through personal knowledge and experience and framed by the lens of visual culture. Yet at its core, artistic experience remains an intensely individual encounter. For artists and designers, the creative impulse is motivated by curiosity, inquiry and purpose, and is a lifelong search of self-discovery in the pursuit of public awareness. For the viewer and the participant, the artistic encounter opens up the possibility of connection, affirmation, realization and wonderment. Irrespective of the context or setting in which we experience visual arts and design, what is common is its educational power to transform human awareness, insight, and understanding.

makers and shapers
Today, ‘makers’ in visual arts and design communities produce images, objects, events, and interactions in real, virtual, and imagined environments that influence how we experience our world. Artists and designers have been shaping how we see for a long time. What is common is building the technologies of making to explore the capacity of media, material, software, process, time, space, or motion to be formed into something new. Making is exploratory and action-based and yields new possibilities or productive failures. In other situations, making is based on theories with clearly defined terms that help assess what is new in relation to what is already known. SoVA embraces making practices as teaching and learning processes that are nimble and flexible and adapt to new cultural contexts, social settings, and ecological challenges. Building maker cultures within schools and communities is a collaborative enterprise that is consistent with SoVA’s educational vision of sharing the excitement of how visual arts and design can make a differance in the worldmaking of others.

among others
Visual arts and design are inherently social practices. Throughout history and across cultures, visual forms of expression and communication have been essential in asserting identity, and affirming community values, beliefs, and aspirations. What artists and designers create is filtered through cultural attitudes and historical accounts, and this sharpens public appreciation. The relational aspect of visual arts and design sparks connections and provokes reactions because artistic expression stimulates community debate. SoVA asserts that visual arts and design learning has the capacity to deeply touch individuals, who in turn can be change makers in local and global communities. Creative and critical perspectives informed by rich, individual experiences and socially responsive actions are a crucial part of all learners’ general educational experience. SoVA’s vision of creative agency views visual arts and design teaching as a process of ‘reaching’ that has the capacity to significantly influence the learning lives of others.

enabling goals and actions

  • To develop the artistic, educational, and social mission of SoVA by enhancing the capacity of faculty, students and staff and alumni to contribute in multiple ways to the vision of the school

  • To value imagination and creativity as human resources and individual capabilities by implementing programs that stimulate students’ habits of mind, proficiencies of practice, ethical sensibilities and critical capacities

  • To embrace the belief that visual arts and design teaching and learning has the capacity to increase individual cultural agency by emphasizing the importance of creative and critical thinking across the curriculum

  • To assert that curriculum planning and practice is a continually changing process that takes place in a community context, by affirming that ‘curriculum is community’

  • To implement assessment methods that balance anticipated outcome measures with a focus on developing competencies and capabilities that are option-based whereby students learn how to learn

  • To apply SoVA’s vision for visual arts and design curriculum principles of content creation, responsive instruction, and authentic assessment by improving the quality and flexibility of learning settings and instructional technologies in our resident and online programs

institutional goals and action

  • To promote a culture of faculty participation invested in facilities planning, resource development and collaborative decision-making

  • To increase SoVA’s visibility through an integrated print and digital infrastructure for distributing and implementing effective  recruitment and retention initiatives

  • To support faculty research by providing professional development support by building a effective working relationships with college research services and campus research units

  • To ensure active and effective student representation by involving them directly in SoVA’s governance structure

  • To improve access and affordability for students by increasing material resources and additional sources of aid, and through liaison with the development office to identify potential initiatives for support

outreach goals and actions

  • To emphasize SoVA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion through research, teaching and service  by implementing comprehensive policies that give underrepresented populations full access to all programs, resources and facilities

  • To affirm the mindful and purposeful practices of visual arts and design by expanding opportunities to exhibit faculty and students’ creative accomplishments and to present and publish their scholarship in public and professional settings

  • To enhance the intrinsic and instrumental value of visual arts and design knowledge through opportunities to integrate practice-based methodologies in artistic, scientific, social, educational, technological and cultural research initiatives

  • To foster faculty and student interest in pursuing transdisciplinary opportunities to collaborate across the school, college, and campus by sharing resources, services, facilities and work spaces that stimulate creative agency and cultural capital

  • To embed principles of sustainability into the curriculum to enhance the creative and intelligent use of material processes and resources by participating in university-wide initiatives that apply practice-based methods to problem-based projects

indicators of success

Each of the goals includes an action statement that outlines the tasks required to meet the expectations described. These actions are forms of evidence that affirm SoVA is enacting its mission and realizing its vision. Collectively these indicators of success are guided by the following commitments:

  • Planning and implementing programs that are creative, socially responsive, and models of teaching excellence and best practices

  • Recognizing the distinctive contribution SoVA makes to the land grant history and mission of the university and the centrality of access to the arts embodied in the mission of the College of Arts and Architecture

  • Creating a safe and inclusive environment where all individuals and cultures are unconditionally respected

  • Publicly profiling student work and documenting high-quality performance during college and tracking information about career paths and alumni success

principles of progress

  • The process of planning, whether for curricula, operational or service purposes, involves transforming beliefs and goals into actions that guide future directions, identify resources and prioritize needs. SoVA’s fiscal model is based on the principle that budgets are curricula statements expressed in fiscal form. Hence, a sound curriculum rationale promotes ongoing change and development. A responsive budget process is used to assess resource allocation based on each programs’ capacity to meet expectations and sustain growth

  • SoVA has implemented initiatives to establish a stable academic unit by growing enrollment to optimum levels, maintaining efficient facilities, and securing new sources of revenue to support our growing portfolio of resident and online programs

  • SoVA's facilities infrastructure is monitored by university compliance policies and national accreditation requirements. Providing the necessary resources and services to deliver SoVA’s programs is an ongoing priority that is continually under review