First-year studio program

Experimental and Foundation Studies (EFS) studios are built around a series of assignments and critiques in which students are encouraged to think deductively and intuitively, and to investigate the potential of disparate materials as they take projects from concept to completion. Faculty members lead group critiques—both during the process and at the end of each project—but critical dialogue among students is also important in helping their work reach its full potential.

Studio | Drawing

At RISD students pursue drawing as both a powerful way to investigate the world and an essential activity intrinsic to art and design practice. As a primary mode of inquiry, drawing is central to forming questions and creating knowledge across disciplines.

Instructors encourage students to work responsively and self-critically to embrace the unpredictable intersection of process, idea and media that drawing affords. The studio becomes a laboratory of varied and challenging activities in which to investigate materiality, imagined situations, idea generation and the translation of the observable world. Formal and intellectual risks are encouraged during a sustained engagement with mark-making, perception, abstraction, performance, space and time.

As students learn to trust the drawing process, they better value its potential and accept struggle as positive and necessary to gaining confidence in their own sensibilities.

Learning outcomes | Drawing

After completing two semesters of Drawing, students are able to:

• identify drawing as a distinct studio practice

• synthesize media, mark and formal elements in their drawings

• use drawing for idea generation, along with iterative visual and conceptual thinking

• develop drawing languages through a responsive and self-critical process

• demonstrate awareness of drawing as a wide-ranging practice investigating materiality, perception, abstraction, performance, invention and sensory experience

Student work | Drawing

Studio | Design

In Design students explore how to organize visual and other sensory elements in order to understand perceptual attributes and convey meaningful messages through objects, spaces and experiences.

Assignments emphasize the critical and experimental utilization of core design principles and allow for inquiries into scientific, social, cultural, historical, philosophical, technological and political topics. Instructors guide students through progressive investigations in which the act of seeing is amplified by the study of the physiological and cognitive factors that generate perception.

As students demonstrate their understanding of composition, color, narrative, motion, systems and cultural signifiers, they are able to communicate more effectively through design.

Learning outcomes | Design

After completing two semesters of Design, students are able to:

• demonstrate fluency with the principles, techniques and terminology necessary to work effectively on a two-dimensional plane and establish connections to three-dimensional and time-­based modes of making

• synthesize diverse art and design methods, including making work individually and collectively, by hand and using machines and/or algorithms

• demonstrate visual literacy, articulate their design process and form reasoned critical responses in words and actions

• analyze the historical, theoretical and social contexts of their work and the nuances of conceptual choices, decisions and results in a given situation

• understand the act of design as vital to all of the arts

Student work | Design

Studio | Spatial Dynamics

This studio-based inquiry into physical, spatial and temporal phenomena considers force—the consequence of energy— and its effect on structure. In Spatial Dynamics the structures of physical, spatial and temporal phenomena are studied through additive, subtractive, transformative, iterative and ephemeral processes, both analogue and digital.

In referencing the histories and theories of art and design, many assignments include areas of inquiry involving disciplines such as the sciences, music, dance, film and theater. Most encourage students to make preliminary sketches and diagrams as part of a process that entails research, planning and experimentation.

Learning outcomes | Spatial Dynamics

After completing two semesters of Spatial Dynamics, students are able to:

• analyze and experiment with physical, spatial and temporal phenomena

• articulate the importance of advanced inquiry into spatial dynamics as a distinct studio practice

• demonstrate the ability to construct physical structures through a range of approaches that engage actual motion, stability and materiality

• synthesize materials, method and formal elements in their work

Student work | Spatial Dynamics

Paula Gaetano-Adi | programs head

“Our first-year studios are immersive academic and life experiences. Guided by a diverse and interdisciplinary cohort of faculty, students learn (and unlearn) how to critically make, think and live their work—and how to take risks, how to fail, how to experiment. Experimentation is at the core of what we teach in our studios—the foremost ‘foundational’ principle. As I like to tell my students, in EFS we not only learn together how to question, how to doubt and how to inquire, but we also try to understand why we do it.”

EFS curriculum

All first-year students are assigned to a section of approximately 20 students who attend the three studio classes together throughout fall semester. Groups are reconstituted going into spring semester so that students work with a different mix of peers during the last half of the year.

During Wintersession—an intensive, five-week session between fall and spring semesters—EFS students are encouraged to select an on-campus course related to their intended major or to select another Liberal Arts or studio course of interest, choosing from classes in all disciplines and available to upperclass and graduate students.

Summer program for transfer students

Most transfer students are required to attend the Summer Experimental and Foundation Studies (SEFS) program, a six-week immersion in RISD’s approach to studio learning. The program is taught by EFS faculty and offers the same three studios as in the foundation year: Drawing, Design and Spatial Dynamics. Each studio session meets 10 hours (over one and a half days) a week—or a total of 60 hours per course.

Students who complete the program successfully earn nine of the 18 required credits in EFS and find it to be an excellent way to transition to RISD. It both strengthens their confidence as makers and reinforces critical thinking and making capabilities.


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