The MFA Visual Narrative program offers a fresh perspective and bold alternative to traditional MFA programs. We do so by recognizing that a command of story is the most powerful and fundamental foundation an artist in any creative profession can possess. Exceptional and effective storytelling isn’t conveyed in beautiful words, images, or character plot alone. Audiences only become invested with an insatiable “need to know what happens next” when they connect and empathize with the protagonist—the challenges they face, why they make the choices they do, and how they become forever fundamentally changed by them. That realization of the protagonist’s struggle is what makes stories so powerful and moving and is what matters to audiences.
Our educational mission is to inspire all students to harness their collective creative writing and visual development talents to amplify their visual narrative skills, and master their personal command of story. Our graduates are empowered to be the next generation of transformational, relevant original content creators. The MFA in Visual Narrative program prepares them for leadership, with the confidence to own their personal voice and the visual narrative expertise to change the world through story.
If you are ready to test the limits of your skills and what your stories are capable of, we invite you to join us!
-Nathan Fox, Founding Chair
Why Visual Narrative?
Master your visual language and narrative skills. Founded in 2013, the SVA MFA Visual Narrative Department remains the only MFA program that puts the art and language of storytelling first, through the combination of creative writing and development of visual narrative techniques. In the process, we give each student the:
Confidence to take agency of their creative process, elevate their personal voice and define their career path.
Opportunity to explore new media and push what their imagination and abilities are capable of within a supportive community of storytellers.
Expertise to craft visual narratives with purpose, meaning and empathy that generate original and innovative stories.
Skills to create relevant and powerful stories that reach new audiences.
Connection to a world of professional storytellers and markets curated to meet the specific needs of their artistic medium and practice.
Collaborate in a multidisciplinary community. Students join a cohort of creative trail-blazers from an array of traditional and non-traditional backgrounds, from animation and puppetry to PR and science. Students therefore bring, and share, a range of professional skill sets, building a collaborative new foundation of story craft. This broad range of talent is echoed in the faculty, with expertise in such varied areas as theatre direction, photography, picture books, visual mapping and brand marketing.
Maintain a flexible schedule. During the three summer intensive semesters in the heart of New York City, students attend courses, supported by a network of industry and market experts. Throughout the four semesters of online study during the fall and spring students are able to work remotely and travel—without having to uproot their professional careers and family or change their personal lifestyles.
Define your voice and professional practice. From day one, students learn to communicate their message clearly, with meaning and purpose, in every visual narrative they make. We are a pass/fail program, so our students are encouraged to be bold, to fail and experiment in order to achieve their personal vision. As the future gatekeepers and creators of contemporary culture, our graduates are prepared to respond with the knowledge, vocabulary and skills necessary for true innovation and leadership in visual narrative.
Elevate your career and expand your network. Alumni have moved into careers in creative direction, animation, comics, game development, film, toy design, information and motion design, education and many other disciplines. Recent graduates have worked for such organizations as Apple, Fisher Price, Penguin Books, Disney+, Chase, Deloitte Digital, Nickelodeon, MTV2, Exploding Kittens, Major League Baseball, Nike, Google, The Boston Globe and The White House. Others have gone on to successful teaching positions at prestigious institutions such as NYU, Rutgers, Gallaudet, College of Marin, CCS, UConn, CCNY, KCAI and School of Visual Arts.
To review full Application Requirements, visit here.
Story First | Summertime at MFA Visual Narrative
What’s your story?
Ella Romero talks about life at MFA Visual Narrative
Mary Georgescu talks about life at MFA Visual Narrative
Role Playing Game | Character & Empathy
Who Should Apply
The MFA Visual Narrative department is looking for visual storytellers from all visual disciplines interested in creating their own original content as both author and artist. We welcome applications from working professionals, educators and up-and-coming professionals from all creative industries, along with non-traditional applicants interested in developing their visual storycraft. Some of our non-traditional students have come from backgrounds in biochemistry, creative writing, engineering, puppetry, K-12 education, branding and PR, set design, publishing, editing, and film production management. A bachelor’s degree in any discipline is welcome. Because of the nature of a low-residency program, successful students will demonstrate a high level of professional discipline and practice. Visit the “Our People” section of this site to get a sense of our storytelling community and their work.
Eva Hall (Class of 2020) talks about balancing life as a teacher and a student
Alex Barsky’s ‘Sun Cell’ gets printed on a Risograph
What is the difference between MFAVN and other traditional portfolio-based graduate programs?
The MFAVN program is a rich, interdisciplinary and low-residency graduate program in visual storytelling that places equal emphasis on creative writing and visual portfolio development across all media. Our students explore where their creative story voice is rooted, learn what story really is, how it functions and works across all storytelling mediums. This builds the individual confidence needed to conceive, write and produce their stories from the ground up as original content creators and authors—naturally developing their visual skill sets and portfolio in the process. Working alongside a community of peers, students take ownership of their narrative voice, hone their storycraft, and advance their professional practice pursuits as both an author and artist.. MFA Visual Narrative students ultimately define their direction and careers as professional creators of original content and become future arbiters of visual storytelling.
Why is there such a broad approach to storytelling and how will that benefit my experience as a student?
Story doesn’t really belong to one specific medium, profession, format or audience. The core and fundamental principles of story craft and visual storytelling, are for the most part, universal across all forms of media, entertainment and communications. We are bombarded with different forms and mediums of story every day that permeate and influence almost all that we do, see and feel as visual storytellers. To harness and gain a more focused understanding of these universal, multimedia story fundamentals, we feel that a diverse student body creates a rich and unique studio environment, and informs and challenges every student to engage in the ever-expanding profession of visual storytelling beyond their own chosen medium. Our faculty and curriculum reflects this broad approach to story, with professional expertise in areas like children’s literature, comics publishing, television writing, information graphics, typography, game design, theatrical direction and illustration.
What type of students are you looking for?
The MFA Visual Narrative department is looking for visual storytellers from all visual disciplines interested in creating their own original content as both author and artist. We welcome applications from working professionals, educators, and up-and-coming professionals from all creative industries, along with non-traditional applicants interested in developing their visual storycraft. Some of our non-traditional students have come from backgrounds in biochemistry, creative writing, engineering, puppetry, K-12 education, branding and PR, set design, publishing, editing, and film production management. A bachelor’s degree in any discipline is welcome. Because of the nature of a low-residency program, successful students will demonstrate a high level of professional discipline and practice. Visit the “Our People” section of this site to get a sense of our storytelling community and their work.
What computer applications and software are required?
A working knowledge of Adobe Creative Cloud applications is highly recommended, including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, After Effects, and Premiere. Mastery of Adobe Acrobat and word processing software such as Microsoft Word, Pages, and/or Google Docs is required. Remedial courses for those who do not have mastery of these core applications can be arranged and should not discourage candidates from applying.
What are some career paths for the MFA in Visual Narrative graduate?
In all forms of advertising, plus fine arts, game design, picture books, graphic novels, film, illustration and animation, there is a growing demand for strong story, writing and visual communication skills. The MFA Visual Narrative program fills that need—regardless of medium or style—enabling students to become creative, original content designers and responsible arbiters of visual storytelling who shape their own identities, artistic voices and narrative art. Potential job pathways might be Creative or Art Director, Story Editor, Editorial Designer, Storyboard or Concept Artist, Animator, Editorial and/or Commercial Freelance Artist, Copywriter, Scriptwriter or Screenwriter and more.
We encourage all of our students to pursue clearly defined career pathways as well as blaze their own new trails and define their own careers as their work and narrative voices dictate.
What is “Low-Residency”?
MFAVN is a fully accredited, low-residency, MFA degree program – requiring only three eight- week summer sessions on SVA’s campus in NYC, a schedule which allows students to maintain their professional practices and personal lifestyles. The two intervening academic years are online only through the SVA learning management system. Online classes are accessible 24/7 and primarily self-paced, with manageable deadlines, and designed for students who are working full-time. During the on-line periods, students engage in rich-media coursework on the Canvas system, with supervision from faculty and opportunities to engage virtually with fellow students. The student will be required to submit written material and participate in online forums, as well as contribute online content as both a writer and visual artist.
Classes are posted once a week. Although there is flexibility in the schedule, there will be some assignments with specific due dates. We will provide training for this web-based learning prior to the first semester.
How much time can I expect to spend on my work/classes?
For the online workload, a guideline is six to nine hours of coursework for each credit hour of “class time”. That means for each three hours of class weekly, you can expect 18-27 hours of work time. During the first year spring semester short story project and second year thesis project, those class hours and work times will be directly related to each individual’s project.
During the eight-week summer semester in NYC, students will be in class or in their studios for 40-50 hours per week. We will also be planning outside studio visits and individual and group critiques, and trips to museums and galleries and other cultural events.
Does SVA offer housing for the summer session?
This differs each summer, please check back for information in January about availability and fees.
What other SVA resources will be available to me?
All campus resources are open to you. And during your online semesters, you still enjoy full SVA student status. Campus resources include the SVA Library (including many online databases and other resources), the Visible Futures Lab, the department’s RisoLAB and the Writing Resource Center. In addition, you are entitled to unlimited classes from LinkedIn Learning as well as the ability to audit one tuition-free class per online semester (four in total) from the Continuing Education Department. Some of these classes are offered online.
The MFAVN department founded and manages the RisoLAB. Risograph duplicator printing technology combines the vibrant spot colors of silkscreen and the high resolution and speedy mass production of offset lithography with the user-friendly automation of an advanced color copier. It was founded in fall 2015 by Chair Nathan Fox as an interdisciplinary space for printing, publishing and production of Risograph-based printed works. Students will be trained on the machines and have access during their entire enrollment period. The mission is to become a hub of small scale and experimental printing and publishing activity that brings together artists of all backgrounds and disciplines to encourage dialogue across different creative worlds and foster discussion about the role of print media as a vehicle for art and culture, and a way to work out creative ideas to lead to unexpected results that would not be possible with a sole reliance on today’s digital tools.
The department also sponsors CE classes in other subjects, such as comedy structure and Risograph production. Some of these are taught by program faculty. These classes do not count towards the MFA Visual Narrative degree.
What other access will I have to outside professionals?
The MFA Visual Narrative program has lined up a rich and diverse pool of cross- disciplinary professionals who will be involved in the program as guest lecturers, artists and authors. During the second year, each student will work with the chair to nominate and collaborate with a thesis mentor of their choosing for the duration of their thesis project. A roster of vetted professionals is available, although students can also arrange for their own, with approval from the Chair. Past and current mentors are featured here. And SVA’s teaching model is to draw from working professionals, so all of the faculty are connections for students as well. In addition, the Career Development Office offers extensive workshops, counseling and recruitment events with top industry professionals.
Is the program accredited by NASAD?
Yes, we are fully accredited.
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CurriculumDownload the MFA Visual Narrative curriculum Download