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Diagram of three bubbles reading "Artist + Illustrator," "Author + Writer," and "Curator + Critic."

Degree Requirements

50% illustration studio work, 20% visual culture and history, 10-20% hands-on archive work, 10-20% electives.
Year 1: Fall
Illustration Studio 1: Drawing & Voice
6 credits
The Illustrated Periodical
3 credits
Special Collections: Research Methods
3 credits
3 credits
Year 1: Spring
Illustration Studio 2: Artist / Author / Audience
6 credits
Graduate Drawing Studio
3 credits
Comics & Cartooning: A Critical Survey
3 credits
Special Collections: Exhibitions & Engagement
3 credits
Year 2: Fall Semester
Thesis Studio 1: Drawing & Voice
9 credits
Readings in Visual & Material Culture
3 credits
Advanced Archival Practice or Elective
3 credits
Year 2: Spring
Thesis Studio 2
9 credits
Local Archives Internship or Elective
3 credits
3 credits

Total: 60 credits
Credits may not be transferred from another institution into the MFA IVC program. Potential candidates must apply directly to the program.

A. Illustration Studio Practice Courses

Half of all course credits are classified as illustration studio courses. These courses begin as group class experiences and grow increasingly tutorial in nature from the first year to the second, as student research orientations become manifest, although peer exchange and review will remain a critical dimension of program learning throughout.

B. Hands-On Archive Work

A second group of courses similarly involves hands-on work: curatorial studies courses in Washington University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections. Students will take 2 of these courses (6 credits), commencing with an introduction to Special Collections and curatorial practices across the seven collecting areas of the department. Students have the opportunity to take additional archive practicum courses as electives.

C. Visual Culture History & Theory Courses

Students will be expected to complete 4 courses (12 credits) in the history and theory of visual and material culture. These 4 courses may be broken into subsets of 2 courses each: 2 critical survey courses, and 2 theoretical seminars.

D. Electives: Academic/Studio/Art History

Students have the opportunity to take 4 elective courses (12 credits) to align with their interests. These courses may be taken in any of the studio areas of the Graduate School of Art (for example, a course in printmaking, or in the Kranzberg Studio for the Illustrated Book), or from any academic area of any professional school at Washington University. Some sample electives include:

• Applied Illustration • Narrative Comics • Type and Image: Experiments on Press • Typography • Illustration Concepts and Media • Game Design • Animated Worlds • The Illustrator’s Sketchbook • Image & Story • Branding and Identity • Additional Courses in: Visual Culture, Art History, Printmaking, Painting, and Book Arts

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Professor John Hendrix, chair of the MFA in Illustration & Visual Culture program, discusses the process of making visual stories.

Course Descriptions

Illustration Studio 1: Drawing and Voice

(Year 1, Fall) This course provides a thorough exploration of drawing for communicative purposes, stretching from ideation to storytelling to authorship of text and image. Students will use diverse media to create single images and sequences, explore reproduction and multiplicity, and develop a sketchbook practice. In the process, students will develop a set of visual questions and thematic concerns. Working through projects designed for print and screen, illustrators will begin to define a distinctive voice to express their chosen content, to include words, images, audio, and typography or lettering.

Illustration Studio 2: Artist, Author, Audience

(Year 1, Spring) This course explores the format of the self-generated publication: zines, mini-comics, and short visual essays. Expanding upon the content discovered in the first semester studio, illustrators will create a variety of short works to be mass produced for public readership for both the screen and in print. Projects may range from animated sketches to formal visual essays. Research on audience and viewer experience will be a critical focus.

Illustration & Visual Culture Thesis Studio 1

(Year 2, Fall) This advanced course focuses on defining a professional orientation in the practice, criticism, and curation of illustration and cartooning today, focusing on the studio and the archive as zones of investigation and achievement. Work will isolate issues of creative approach, production, distribution, and market position to define and test a major project concept. Projects may include picture books, zines, games, animated projects, comics, and other forms of published matter. Students will define research questions and establish an editorial orientation for critical engagement with visual culture. Project definition and early work will carry forward into the work of Thesis Studio 2.

Illustration & Visual Culture Thesis Studio 2

(Year 2, Spring) Students will build on the project definition established in Thesis Studio 1 to take the project to completion. Projects will be shaped and critiqued through meetings with faculty advisors and dialogue with peers, culminating in the public presentation of student projects.

Special Collections: Research Methods

(Year 1, Fall) This course is designed to introduce students to research and resources available in Libraries & Special Collections to facilitate formal course work at the graduate level. Through effective use of both primary and secondary resources, students learn to access and analyze information in WashU’s collections, primarily from the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library. From medieval manuscripts to original artwork, these holdings cover a diverse range of cultural production and artifact types. This course also presents techniques for successfully compiling sources for the research project, including topic selection, developing effective research arguments, documentation, and bibliography production.

Special Collections: Exhibition & Engagement

(Year 1, Spring) This practicum provides an introduction to practice in archival and curatorial settings, using the resources of the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library, one of seven collecting areas in Special Collections. This hands-on experience will cover five primary areas of activity: collection development, including acquisition and curation; processing (arrangement, preservation, and description); access (digitization, cataloguing, and the management of online presence); reference (supporting instruction and research); and outreach (exhibitions, events and social media). It will include readings in archival theory. The course offers an opportunity to build professional skills and to examine concepts and theories inside/against an actual archive.

Curatorial Practice (optional toggle with open elective)

(Year 2, Fall) This course provides an opportunity to deepen knowledge of curatorial practice and acquire specialized knowledge inside one of the collecting areas of Special Collections (or other specialized collections in the Washington University Libraries system). Special Collections areas include the Film and Media Archive, Manuscripts, Rare Books, University Archives, Local History, Popular American Arts, and the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library. This course is optional; an elective may be taken in its place.

Curatorial Internship

(Year 2, Spring) St. Louis is blessed with a rich constellation of collecting institutions with ambitious programming, including the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Mercantile Library, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri Botanical Garden, and many others. Each student will secure an internship with a local collecting institution for the spring semester. A 3-credit internship requires 8-10 hours of work per week for 14 weeks.

The Illustrated Periodical

(Year 1, Fall) This survey course explores the phenomenon of illustrated magazines in the United States, focusing on the publishing enterprise and trans-local communities of reception. Context is provided by the advent of industrial image production; the emergence of illustration as a profession; the social histories of ethnic depiction; the role of advertising; consideration of women as consumers and producers of commercial images; and high cultural disdain for mass culture and resulting alienation. Canonical figures and projects will be covered.

Comics & Cartooning: A Critical Survey

(Year 1, Spring) This survey course addresses the tradition of caricature in Europe and America; the emergence of proto-comics in the mid-19th century; early Sunday comic supplements beginning in the 1890s and the explosion of the comic strip as a popular form between 1900 and 1935; the advent of the comic book as an advertising premium and its development through the imposition of the comics code in 1954; and the development of underground comix and the emergence of graphic novel. There will be parallel consideration of animated cartoons as an expression of abbreviated drawing languages.

Graduate Drawing Seminar: Literatures of Drawing

(Year 1, Spring) This seminar course explores drawing, printing, and cultural form, focusing on ideologies of illustration and cartooning. Topics may include Plato and the deficiencies of experience; description and idealization in botanical illustration; cultural fluctuation and the flaneurie of Baudelaire; the horror of the author in Henry James’ Picture and Text; and theories of cartooning. Secondary focus will be placed on the representations of illustrators and cartoonists in literature and film. This course will make extensive use of St. Louis collections, including the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library, Kemper Art Museum, Bernard Becker Medical Library in WashU’s School of Medicine, and Missouri Botanical Garden holdings.

Readings in Visual & Material Culture

(Year 2, Fall) “No ideas but in things.” Taking as a point of departure this famous line from a William Carlos Williams poem, which is often said to express the poet’s commitment to a creative practice rooted in tangible things (as opposed to abstractions, formalism, a given subject matter or politics, etc.), this course explores the idea-thing relationship as it has come to be understood in the past century. Studying influential theories of visual and material culture, this course will engage historical, theoretical, and creative texts by Marx, Baudrillard, Bourdieu, Sontag, and others alongside concrete visual and material objects. Students will produce responsive writing and conduct individual research.