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How One MFA Program Still Pioneers Digital Innovation, 30 Years Later

Established in 1986, the MFA Computer Art at the School of Visual Arts fosters creativity in animation, motion graphics and fine art.

by Eva Recinos
Oct 4 2016, 1:45pm

Tomonari Michigami, Stray Sheep. Courtesy of the artist and MFACA

Nowadays, the term ‘digital art’ is ubiquitous. Not every artist uses these tools, but their influence is felt. For those who choose to, a rich history awaits them.

One part of that history? An academic program with a focus on innovative creation: The MFA Computer Art (MFACA) department at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, established in 1986, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. As the program’s official website states, the MFACA consists of “well-known industry professionals, artists, curators and art historians” all fostering the creativity of the next generation of artists working in the digital arts. It was, in fact, the first MFA program in the U.S. to focus specifically on computer art.

"There have been so many changes in digital technology, it is hard to remember them all,” Bruce Wands, Chair of the MFACA department, tells The Creators Project in an email. “We started the MFA Computer Art department before there was the World Wide Web and 20 years before the iPhone was invented. While we struggled with the technology of the time, creativity was always our goal and that has not changed.”

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José Carlos Casado. Courtesy of the artist and MFACA

That goal persists during a time that boasts plenty of new technology that is changing how we approach visual language on the large-scale. VR and AR enhance our experience of visuals and allow us to dive headfirst into different worlds. Wands says that students now have a “distinct advantage” with all the tech we boast today; that means that to make art with these tools is “all that more important.” The department makes sure to keep up with new technologies and offer a wide range of tools to makers. This proves key when it comes to making art.

“Digital art is now merging with contemporary art and emerging artists are benefitting from the attention now given to it by galleries and museums,” says Wands. “Augmented reality and GPS are also helping to expand the art experience beyond the museum and gallery setting. We set up a VR lab this year and one of our students used VR for their thesis project. We are very excited to see how VR and other new technologies, such as 3D printing, are used for creative projects.”

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Erwin Redl, Dial White-Red, White Blue. Courtesy of the artist and MFACA

Looking backwards usually proves fruitful for art made with any medium, and looking back at pieces made with technology allows for plenty of cultural reflection as well. The 30th anniversary asks artists and the public to consider the history of the MFACA. The official celebration will feature a receiption, open house, and screening of a “30th anniversary documentary, animation, motion graphics, and other work,” as Wands explains, created by students over the past 30 years. 

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John F. Simon Jr., Every Icon. Courtesy of the artist and MFACA

The public is invited to attend the MFACA's 30th Anniversary Celebration reception on October 28 at 6 p.m. For more information, click here.

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