San Francisco Studio School of Drawing, Painting, Photography & Mixed Media


A Specific Need

For some years we had been aware that a need existed for a particular kind of art school, one with qualities that are generally missing from current art education. We encountered students who believed the fragmented structure of degree programs actually inhibited depth in their study of art. Some felt those programs represented career strategies for artists more than an involvement with the creation of art itself.

Many students were put off by the unrelenting emphasis on conceptual art when their passion was the painterly or visual qualities of art. They found the largely formulaic classical approach to art to be an unacceptable substitute. There was a desire for a place where art students could study visual principles and substantial contemporary content that can only be attained through long continuity of effort in the studio.

It was also apparent that a school was needed that would provide low-cost tuition to support the students in their commitment to their work. Such a school would offer either an alternative to costly degree programs or a supplement to them.


There were precedents in 20th-Century history related to some of these issues. They could be found in the qualities of the renowned Hans Hofmann School as well as the Institute of Design under Moholy-Nagy, the heritage of the Charles W. Hawthorne School, and in the impetus to the founding of the New York Studio School in 1964.

These were schools that nurtured the American avant-garde, fostered a belief in art for the sake of art and the importance of art as a way of life. Each, while different from each other, produced important painters or photographers who were noteworthy in their own right, who engaged the visual nature of their medium of expression.


We are directly connected to the heritage of some of these historic schools and, at the same time, we founded the San Francisco Studio School with a sense of independent purpose having to do with the unique problems confronting visual artists in our time. These include the need for an awareness of visual language, a respect for the individual’s involvement with the art itself over career concerns, fostering substance over style and marketing.

The Studio as Core

The school was founded on the concepts of continuity of studio work, meaningful discourse related to the visual arts and an affordable course of study. A large well-lit studio and a bright seminar room came to represent the heartbeat of the school. Sponsors came forward to support the school through donations in order to permit an affordable tuition for students.

Painter and printmaker Karl Kasten, Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley, who studied with Hans Hofmann provided enthusiastic support in the founding of the school by giving the first lectures as Visiting Faculty. Peter Selz, influential and formidably knowledgeable curator, author and Founding Director of the Art Museum at UC Berkeley joined as Visiting Faculty. Artists, gallerists, museum curators and critics encouraged and participated in the endorsement of the principles behind the school and its form. Public lectures and workshops were also instituted as a part of an ongoing dialogue with the art community. At the same time a commitment to a small program directed to individuals has been maintained.

SFSS is one of the few schools where painting as a visual art can be studied in unique depth and where photography can be pursued as a visual versus conceptual art. Students from across the United States, France, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, China, Taiwan, Israel, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Romania and Russia have studied at the school. Today SFSS represents a unique and active voice in the discourse surrounding art in San Francisco and beyond.

Laura Harden, Director
Lon Clark, Dean