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Susan Robertson First to Receive JSU's New Master of Fine Arts in Visual Communication

09/18/2014

On August 8, Susan Cowan Robertson became the first recipient of Jacksonville State University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Visual Communication.

J. Seth Johnson, head of JSU’s art department, said, “By classifying the program as visual communications, it allows doors to open up and various strengths to come through such as photography, motion graphics, interface design, etcetera, all while focusing on the bigger picture of art as a medium to a marketable message.”

Robertson stated, “The MFA program was designed to give students a blend of traditional and new media toward the understanding and production of visual communication designs. It was a combination of studio courses where we created visual communications and seminar courses, where we read, researched, and discussed theories in visual communication design. There were also courses in the history of graphic design and technology. It was very intense and multi-disciplinary.”

 “…The MFA program blends the applied arts with linguistics, especially semantics, and with education science and the social sciences of psychology, anthropology and sociology. Ultimately, we are creative problem solvers,” she said.

It is this idea of problem solvers that drove Robertson’s senior thesis entitled “The Design Investigation Method.” For her thesis, Robertson took her extensive career experience and combined it with the various methodologies she learned at JSU.

Robertson has had a very successful career in the arts and has won several awards such as inclusion in Dothan Magazine’s “Women Who Make a Difference,” an Honorable Mention by the American Association of Museums Publications Awards, and the JSU Department of Art Service Award.

“I have been a creative worker my entire career – as a designer, business owner, marketing director and most recently as the executive director of the Wiregrass Museum of Art in Dothan,” said Robertson. She served in that capacity from 1996-2005.

She also served as the director of programs and marketing for the Anniston Museum of Natural History from 1990-1992. From 2005-2011 she was a graduate teaching assistant for JSU. She became creative director for Garfrerick’s Café and Garfrerick Farms in 2011 and held that position until 2013.

“After several years in the museum field, I decided it was time to try something different,” Robertson explained. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching, so I decided to pursue a degree that would allow me to teach on the college level or advance in arts administration.”

Between the time she was an undergraduate and a graduate student, Robertson said her educational outlook underwent a major shift from asking  “How?” to asking “Why?” As a graduate student, she wondered, “Why do some designs have more impact and longevity?” To find the answers, she studied the dynamics of the human experience in regard to design and how it can affect the introduction, acceptance and interpretation of a work.   

This new concept of design with human interest at the core is creating a more marketable skill. And the idea of visual communications is, too.

Johnson said, “Graphic design was coined in 1929 and it represented a field that is now 85 years old. So to say that graphic design, the term, represents what all we do in the field of visual communication is very limiting in the explanation.”

Robertson said, “They [the art department faculty at JSU] understand that design is a new field of study, and that it is developing its own rhetoric, theory and methodology. They are eager for us to be part of that growth, and some of us have been able to participate in national academic design conferences.

“I chose the MFA program at JSU because JSU is my alma mater. The program was also affordable, and because it was brand new, I felt like I could be part of helping shape it. Also, I have always applied my knowledge of graphic design to my work. It has been an important part of my ability to communicate with audiences, co-workers, board members and so on. It was natural that I would seek to deepen my understanding of visual communication design because it had always been very useful. I was very happy when JSU announced the MFA program,” said Robertson.

To learn more about the JSU Art Department and the MFA in Visual Communication, please visit the MFA program on the web at http://www.jsu.edu/art/academics/graduate.html or call JSU Art Department Head J. Seth Johnson at (256) 782-5625.

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