Andrew & Laura Conley on mon 25 aug 97
Thank you very much for your advice/comments regarding graduate school.
I received nine responses from varied sources. These included potters
who have not been to grad school, who currently are in school, who have
recently completed school, and who are professors in such programs
My overall conclusion is that I don t quite understand yet exactly WHY I
want to go to school. It seems that the programs vary significantly and
that it is important for me to understand exactly what I want. For now
I will concentrate on the alternatives (see below) and reevaluate next
The responses are summarized below, organized as:
Admission and MFA vs. BFA
Grad School in General
Admission and MFA vs. BFA
Regarding admission, it seems that some schools are very competitive and
may require several tries before acceptance, but mostly this is not a
problem. One person mentioned (and has already executed) a GREAT idea:
make appointments with faculty at schools I am interested in, bring my
slides, and see what reactions I get.
Several people mentioned that applying for admission to an MFA program
without a BFA might be pointless because some schools absolutely refuse
students without a formal background, but that others would judge only
the quality of my work and my work ethic. Several also were concerned
that graduate coursework would be especially difficult (one person saw
other students struggle) without some undergraduate background in art
history or other media (I actually do have some experience, but in what
I think are considered crafts, stained glass and weaving). Lack of
familiarity with art language was also mentioned as having been a
problem (for some non-BFA students) during critiques, both with
understanding and self-expression. Someone pointed out that these
issues might be addressed by some programs requiring that I take some
undergraduate courses the first year, which would probably lengthen the
time I spent in the program, but would ease the transition. Another
point in favor of the BFA was that I could enroll as an undergraduate
and pursue more significant relationships with the faculty, hopefully
acquiring the best of both experiences.
Grad School in General
M chance of admittance, and background I might need (etc.) depend on my
decision of why I want to go to school: to get the name on my MFA or
learn about the medium and explore my work (or both). An MFA from a
good school seems to come with the same political advantages as in other
It was also pointed out that MFA s aren t necessary in this field
(unless I want to teach, and this is not my main goal), but that the
intensive study might mold my artwork and approach for my entire life.
Overall, my impression of the written thesis, from the comments I
received, is quite good. It sounds as if the hard part is having enough
self-awareness, analytical perspective, and verbal ability to articulate
why and how one has chosen to make what art. It seems that most
programs don t require a terribly rigorous written thesis any more. The
written thesis does also contain something akin to the materials and
methods section found in a science paper.
The artwork produced for the thesis must be exhibited/presented in some
way and should explore a particular theme/area.
This seems to be the same as for any graduate program: professors vary,
programs vary. It seems that whatever interaction/mentorship/influence
I might want, I can find, as long as I look carefully to find profs with
the approaches and interests that I want. If I don t look carefully, I
will probably later discover lots that I don t want...
It seems that there is not a more direct route from formal education to
galleries, as I had erroneously suspected. I was less surprised,
however, to hear that art/craft fairs do not lead to galleries. I have
had that impression, but I have known of galleries to visit fairs with
the intention of identifying new artists. I didn t get enough of a
response to this one. My favorite reply (at least partially because I
hope it is true) was that galleries are as accessible and you want them
to be; make work that the gallery can sell, and they ll show you,
whether you have a degree or not. Good old capitalism at work again...
This is probably my favorite category, because I think that in the
long-run, it will have helped me the most. The big words are
apprenticeships, residences, WORKSHOPS, internships, exhibitions, and
conferences. It is strongly suggested that I find potters I
admire/respect and try to learn from them. This may include taking some
courses at a university/college where I can learn from the faculty but
not pursue a degree. An advantage of this strategy is that I broaden
the range of mentors and philosophies I am exposed to.