Our History

Until the early 1950s the Art Department offered a generalized program of art study closely linked to Normal School curricula. In the early 1960s, programming and activities developed in multiple directions fueled by an interest in the shifting cultural and political climate of the time. By the late 1960s, faculty who were practicing artists comprised the majority of faculty.

Robert Bechtle and Richard McLean, leading figures in the American Photorealist Movement exemplify faculty who taught in a 30-year period between 1960 and 1990s. They were appointed to the painting faculty in the 1960s. Both continued to exhibit their work through their tenure at San Francisco State University. Their work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern ArtMetropolitan Museum of ArtWhitney Museum of American Art,[and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., as well as SFMOMA.

In the 1990s, a new building was constructed that included the department’s Fine Arts Gallery a 3,500 square-foot space for exhibitions including the annual Master of Fine Arts Exhibition, the Stillwell Undergraduate Exhibition, and a variety of professional shows that showcase both art history and studio faculty research throughout the academic year.

In 2018 the new Global Museum/Museum Studies opened, including a new exhibition gallery, a state-of-the-art collections preservation facility, and a teaching classroom and digital lab housed in the Fine Arts Building. The Global Museum is a university museum that serves as a teaching lab for the Museum Studies program, an academic resource for the university, and a public space for the greater Bay Area community in which to appreciate the power of diverse communities in a globally connected world.

In more recent times, filmmakers as diverse as Francis Ford Coppola and Ken Burns have given talks, master classes and screenings of their work. Our alumni have also returned to critique student work, provide internships and continue the tradition of giving back to their community. And the school has long-standing relationships with the San Francisco Film Society and Bay Area Video Coalition, among many other San Francisco-based film production and culture institutions.

Today, the School of Art (renamed in 2015) serves approximately 18–24  graduate students earning a master of fine arts, and more than 500 undergraduate majors and nearly 100 minors. It also includes the nationally recognized M.A. program in Museum Studies. Students take classes from a diverse group of more than 14 tenure-line faculty committed to exploring all dimensions of art practice, museum studies, and art history from traditional painting to performance and installation as well as art history, covering all time periods with a global perspective.

Additionally, artists living and working in the Bay Area regularly teach in the school. All the while, our faculty continues to make diverse art works, write articles and books on historical and contemporary art, and deliver talks around the world on the meaning of their art practice, and diverse scholarly topics such as "Artists’ Magazines" the "Art and Architecture of Islam."