Despite being one of the most populous cities in the country, San Francisco actually doesn’t have as robust a higher education landscape as most cities its size. It makes up for that with a bustling art landscape which is supplemented by noteworthy art educators in the area that help aspiring artists find careers in art. We continue our city-to-city adventure of highlighting 15 noteworthy professors in the area. Fifteen professors is definitely not enough to highlight, but in the interest of keeping the article short(ish), we capped the list at 15. This list isn’t meant to be comprehensive or ordered, but it does find professors at institutions ranging from Stanford to the Academy of Art while incorporating the SF Bay. Don’t miss out!
Mark Fox, Graphic Design Professor, California College of the Arts
To call Fox an accomplished graphic designer might actually be an understatement. The UCLA graduate is considered by colleagues and industry veterans to be a master of logo and symbol design and his list of clients (Random House, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Warner Brothers to name a few) back that up. His work has been recognized practically everywhere, he’s contributed a number of meaningful articles to the field, and he has served as a member and former president of the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts since the early 1990s. The former Chair of Graphic Design at CCA (among other titles) has been a professor at the school since 1993 and not only have his former students gone on to be highly successful in the field, but many credit Fox’s constant pushing and rigorous standards for helping whip them in to shape.
I have been practicing graphic design for more than 25 years, and I continue to be fascinated by the communicative power and reductive form of symbols and typography. These building blocks of graphic design are rich with history, beauty, and meaning. – Mark Fox
Billy Burger, Animation Professor, The Art Institute of California – San Francisco
The Art Institute of California-San Francisco is part of The Art Institutes, a widely recognized system of for-profit art colleges with locations across the continent. The location in San Francisco is one of the more well-known and well-regarded members of the system and faculty members like Burger are a big reason why. The animation buff has a Bachelor’s degree from Ohio State in Industrial Design, has studied drawing and design at the Columbus College of Art and Design, has a Master’s degree in Education from Argosy University and is currently working on an MFA in Animation from the Academy of Art, so it’s safe to say he is familiar with design education. He also was a professional animator for 10 years before becoming an instructor at the Institute. He now teaches animation, design, drawing and portfolio classes both on campus and online and his students have lots of positive things to say about him. Some students praise him for his honesty and others praise him for his extensive knowledge of the industry. But they all agree that he is a teacher worth having.
Macy Chadwick, Illustration Professor, San Francisco Art Institute
Not to be confused with the aforementioned Art Institute of California-San Francisco, the San Francisco Art Institute is one of the oldest private, non-profit, art institutes in the entire country; probably has a lot to do with its excellent reputation. Chadwick is an East Coast transplant who not only publishes artist’s books and limited-edition prints under an imprint in Oakland, she also teaches at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, San Francisco Art Institute, and San Francisco Center for the Book. Her work has been featured in well-known collections across the globe and has a Bachelor’s degree in Illustration from the esteemed Washington University of St. Louis as well as a Master’s degree in Book Arts/Printmaking from the University of Philadelphia. Just an adjunct professor at SFAI, Chadwick teaches graduate and undergraduate classes on Artist’s Books and has made quite an impact with her students, who compliment her endless willingness to help and patience as well as her ability to teach the classes in a relatable way.
Kelton Dissel, Architecture Professor, Academy of Art University
Academy of Art University is probably best known currently for its cutting-edge work in online art education, but some would be surprised to know that the University is one of San Francisco’s oldest education institutions of any kind and has plenty of excellent on-campus, in-person offerings as well. The architecture program at Academy of Art University is especially highly regarded and that is, in part, because of professors like Dissel. The studio coordinator has been a professional architect and designer for nearly 20 years and still works as a senior designer at John Maniscalco Architecture in San Francisco. He graduated with a Master’s degree in Architecture from Montana State and spent a year studing classical architecture at the Prince of Wales Summer School for the Building Arts before embarking on his professional career. He has been an adjunct faculty member in the architecture design studio at Academy of Art for nearly three years and actually teaches classes in-person and online. Students really respected that he seemed willing to go the extra mile to help them and encouraged his pupils to ask as many questions as possible. They were all impressed with the depth of his knowledge and how passionate he is about architecture.
Tim Roughgarden, Computer Science Professor, Stanford University
Many would argue that computer science professors shouldn’t be on a list of art professors and while we understand the argument and agree that computer science is a more technical subject, it’s our list, and we decided Roughgarden deserves recognition anyway. Although not technically located in San Francisco, Stanford is almost universally considered one of the finest schools for computer science in the country and so you know it is staffed with some of the most experienced and talented faculty members the profession has to offer. Roughgarden is an associate professor whose research and interests focus on the design, analysis, and applications of algorithms. It also includes as game theory and microeconomics, especially when applied to networks and auctions. His students flat out love him thanks to his ability to teach complex subject material in a clear and concise way, his sense of humor, and his passion for the subject. His students also appreciate his desire to help his students learn, which they say helps bring out the best in them.
Hertha D. Sweet Wong, Literature Professor, University of California-Berkeley
Department chairs are usually low-hanging fruit when it comes to finding excellent art professors. After all, they didn’t earn that title by accident. Fair or not, we try not to only look at department chairs specifically because we pride ourselves on digging deeper. But reviews from Wong’s students were just too hard to ignore in this instance. An associate professor in the Department of English and Chair of the Department of Art Practice, Sweet Wong has been a member of the faculty since 1990 and writes and teaches about autobiography, Native American literatures, ethnic American literatures, and visual studies. She is an accomplished author and editor of literature in her own right and her work has received plenty of acclaim within the industry. Although students admit that her lectures can occasionally be tedious, they almost universally called Wong one of the nicest and most genuine professors they have ever had. They lauded her for the way she clearly cares about her students and their success and also gave her kudos for taking occasionally tedious subjects and trying to make them as interactive and insightful as possible.
Celia Stahr, Art History Professor, University of San Francisco
Although Dr. Stahr is just an adjunct faculty member at the University of San Francisco, she has made an essential impact on the art department at the university and the art history department in particular. She doesn’t just study art broadly; she has focused her work particular on African art, the Diaspora, Native American art, and many more subjects. Her particular area of expertise is with artists and artwork that makes a cultural, social, and political impact, which is why her work on Frida Kahlo and Yong Soon Min is so respected. She is an accomplished essayist and lecturer, especially on artists like Kahlo, Soon Min, and Elaine de Kooning. She is set to publish her first book about Frida Kahlo in the coming months and isn’t too shabby of a teacher either. The top compliment from students is that Dr. Stahr clearly knows the subject material through and through. Some students found the lecture could get a bit tedious, but they also readily admitted that they learned a lot about art history from taking her class, which is the goal after all.
Silvan Linn, Industrial Design Professor, San Francisco State
The common layman might hear the words “slow technology” and think it was an oxymoron, but Linn has actually studied the subject at length and has even published his research in a thoughtful and detail-rich thesis available on his website. A dual-degree-holder with a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from Carleton University in Canada and a Master’s degree in design from Arizona State (where he studied slow technology as well as theories of human-machine interfaces), Linn is now a well-liked professor and Rapid Prototyping Lab Coordinator at San Francisco State University. Also a Longmore Fellow, Linn’s interests include product development, embedded technology, and new interface concepts between man and machine. Oh by the way, he also teaches, and is apparently quite good at it. Students who have taken his class appreciated his knowledge, helpfulness, and clarity when it came to explaining complex design concepts. Students also liked that he was patient with students who didn’t understand and tries very hard to answer all questions that may arise during or after class.
Bernadette Barker-Plummer, Media Studies Professor, University of San Francisco
The University of San Francisco doesn’t offer a traditional journalism degree. A student can minor in the subject, but the closest thing to a journalism degree at USF is a media studies degree, which does overlap quite a bit. But the school is still producing talented and successful journalists and that is because their media studies professors know a thing or two about the industry. Dr. Barker-Plummer has a literature degree from Edinburgh University, a Master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Texas, and a PhD in Communication and Media Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. She has been working at USF ever since she got her PhD and her focus is on media and social movements. She is an accomplished and excellent writer who teaches classes ranging from Gender and Media to Media Theory. Her passion and knowledge for the subject as well as her desire to see her students learn does not go unnoticed by former pupils. Most liked how interesting and interactive her classes were too.
Alyson Belcher, Photography Professor, Academy of Art University
A homegrown product who got her Bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Berkeley and her Master’s degree in Fine Arts from San Francisco State, Belcher is an extremely talented photographer whose work has been exhibited across the globe. While photography styles grow increasingly complex, Belcher keeps it simple; using a pinhole camera to capture people, landscapes and of course, herself. Her work with pinhole and other low-tech cameras has drawn rave reviews from the global art community and is one of the reasons why her work is so widely displayed. She has been teaching at the Academy of Art since 2000, working her way up from faculty member to Assistant Director of Photography to her current position as Curriculum Coordinator for the Online School of Photography. As a teacher, students find her very approachable, friendly, and accommodating. They also say her clear and concise teaching style and criticisms help drastically improve their photography work. She is helpful and talented and friendly. Need we say more?
Tobias Wofford, African-American Art Professor, Santa Clara University
Santa Clara isn’t technically in San Francisco either, but we are fudging a bit and including schools in the Bay Area, especially when they are schools with the pedigree of Santa Clara. The art department is a big part of that pedigree and although Dr. Wofford has only been teaching there for a little more than two years, he has already made a big impact, at least in the eyes of his students. Dr. Wofford got his Bachelor’s degree in Art at San Francisco State University, his Master’s degree in Art History from UCLA and his PhD in Art History from the same school, so he knows his art well. His focus is on African-American Art (his dissertation was called “Africa as Muse: The Visualization of Diaspora in African American Art, 1950-1980” after all) and the classes he teaches obviously center on the subject. Students not only seem to agree that they learned a lot about the subject in his classes, but they also appreciated how passionate he was about the subject and his willingness to be patient when it came to helping students understand the material. It can occasionally difficult to engage students in niche art subjects that aren’t their favorite subject. Wofford doesn’t seem to have that problem with his niche art subject, which is why he makes the list.
Jody Maxmin, Art History Professor, Stanford University
Let’s start by stating the obvious; Jody Maxmin knows a lot about Classical Art. You don’t have to take our word for it, just look at her resume. There is a Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College plus a diploma and a doctoral degree in Classical Art and Archaeology from Oxford University. She specializes in Greek painting and sculpture as well as archaic Greek art and at a scale famous for its technical prowess, Maxmin stands out for the slew of teaching awards she has won and the rave reviews she receives from her students. Literally, students don’t have anything bad to say about her. They appreciate that she pays individual attention to all of her students, which she genuinely cares about their success, and her seemingly innate ability to make even the most tedious art history lectures fun and interesting. She is enthusiastic and passionate about the subject material and it rubs off on her students, almost all of whom not only said they were glad they took her class but also that they gained an appreciation for Greek Art in no small part because of her teaching style.
Dewey Crumpler, Painting Professor, San Francisco Art Institute
The San Francisco Art Institute just can’t seem to get rid of Crumpler. The artist is currently an Associate Professor of Painting at SFAI and he earned his Bachelor’s degree from the institution all the way back in 1972. He got a Master’s degree two years later from San Francisco State and then went on to get a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Mills College more than a decade later. Crumpler has painted everything from murals focusing on African-American social and political issues to more abstract images and sculptures. His work has been featured and celebrated across the globe and it even has found permanent homes in the Oakland Museum of California and the California African-American Museum to name two. He has been honored with multiple awards and fellowships for his work and now we want to highlight him for his teaching prowess. A faculty member at SFAI since 1990, Crumpler’s students found him to be an engaging lecturer, a smart and knowledgeable teacher, and a willing helper. They appreciate that he seems to really care about the improvement and success of each student and his classes can be tough to get into because they are so popular.
Karyn Lee Connell, Ballet and Dance Professor, Santa Clara University
A Chicago native who has professionally danced with multiple ballets across the country, Connell is a big reason why Santa Clara, a university not known for its dance and theater department, still produces successful professionals in the field. She got her ballet education from the Ruth Page Foundation, the Chicago Academy from the Arts, and the Joffrey Ballet in New York City. She has played a leading role in too many ballets to count, has been a guest artist in places like Scotland and Denmark, and helps choreograph on-campus performances. Also certified as a Pilates instructor, Connell has actually helped develop new courses in the field for Santa Clara and has been teaching at the University since 2003. Students complain about how serious she takes her ballet, as if that was actually a bad thing, but they also admit that if you are interested in ballet, there might not be a better teacher in Northern California. Her knowledge and passion for the subject are obvious and she works hard to make sure her students are learning throughout her courses.
Susan Belau, Printmaking/Drawing Professor, San Francisco State
A graduate from the University of California-Santa Cruz with a Bachelor’s degree in Studio Art and a graduate of the University of Nebraska with a Master’s degree in Fine Arts, Belau is well-equipped to be teaching printmaking, drawing, and graduate seminar courses at San Francisco State. She trained as a printmaker at Paulson-Bott Press in Berkeley and she uses traditional and digital printmaking to look at time, memory, and the relationship between printmaking and observed drawing. Students call her one of the nicest teachers they have ever had and praise how interesting and exciting her class projects are. They also liked that she pays individual attention to her students to ensure they are learning and she is generous with her time when it comes to helping students.
Check out the noteworthy professors from other cities we have covered: