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2 year or 3 year mfa

updated fri 4 apr 08


Vince Pitelka on mon 31 mar 08

Kelly -
Your situation is special, and I can certainly understand how a two-year MFA
is right for you, and maybe for Patrick as well in the current circumstances
there at EMU, but in almost any other situation two years is barely enough
to do justice to an MFA degree. I would say that three years is always
better, if one can afford it, and at that point in one's career it is a real
shame to be thinking about saving money. If a person is paying their own
way, I can see how it would be a struggle to do a three year program. When
I was doing my MFA at UMass-Amherst it was officially a three-year program
if you had a TA, and I had a full TA for those three years. My wife was in
the doctoral program in American History and also had a TA, and our son was
in high school. We did take out some loans, but not at all extreme, and we
got by okay. I would not have wanted to try and do the MFA in two years. I
am not saying that it is not right for some people, but I would never
recommend to anyone that they complete the MFA in two years unless they have
some compelling reason to do so. Or, to put it another way, I would always
recommend that a person spend three years doing the MFA if they can possibly
manage it.
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Appalachian Center for Craft
Tennessee Tech University;

Kelly Savino on mon 31 mar 08

There are a lot of "it depends" answers, here.

How strong are the potter friend's skills, currently? Any time spent
getting to the point where the hands can make whatever the mind can
imagines, will be time subtracted from the real meat of the MFA program,
which has to do with deciding what is worth making and seeing where it
will go,

If the friend has been a potter for a long time, or has a
ceramics-intensive BFA, then a two year might do. It also depends on
things like the number of profs, and the number of kilns/types of
equipment to be mastered. I'm at the end of my two years and am just now
getting results I like in the salt kiln -- and just beginning to solve
the puzzle of the wood. SO many variables, tests, experiments. Like Tony
F. says, you're never done (isn't that the beauty of clay?) so you'll be
graduating right on the verge of some discovery anyway, two years or

Another question is, how many required courses will there be outside of
your studio time? Classes I took in sculpture and printmaking were
useful and challenging and helped me with my clay work, by extension..
but right now I am finishing a six page exam for Visual Arts in the 20th
century, have two presentations to give on Thursday about a contemporary
art critic and a contemporary artist, and I am working on a 15 page
research paper due next week comparing a film, a painting and a
photograph on a similar theme. Oh yeah, and my Clay Times column is
overdue. These classes have stirred me in with MFA in other media, given
me the background needed if I end up teaching someplace, and have
completely boggled my little mind with stuff (good and bad) I would
never have encountered it the "fortress ceramica" of Sill Hall.. but
dang, it's time consuming.

I am fortunate to have a studio at home where I can work at three in the
morning when I need to, but time for clay is definitely shared with
other studies. Our art department is currently adding MORE art theory
classes for MFA studio students. So factor in books-and-papers time,
depending on the program.

My opinion at this point is purely based on my own context: my instinct
says two years was both too short, and interminably long. I wouldn't
survive a third year, at this point -- my finances, energy level,
commitment, morale and family life are all stretched to capacity. But I
am not the traditional student. I'm a forty-something homeschooling mom
with 3 kids, a side job teaching at the potter's guild, a half time grad
assistantship and a half time TA, and a damn long commute.

Still. Patrick IS a traditional student, immersed in the studio, with
GAs in the ceramics studio and the gallery -- no wife and kids, no lawn
to mow or community obligations, no life whatsoever outside his studies
in ceramics -- and I can GUARANTEE he's ready to be done, too.

After two years, the hunger to have your own quiet, unshared studio
space, nobody over your shoulder, and just your own imposed deadlines
becomes a driving force. Cash flow beckons, too, even if it's only
having pots to sell. Any contract you sign up for imposes restrictions,
and I am looking forward to shucking this particular collar and leash
and returning to my own fenced yard.

For what it's worth...

Kelly in Ohio

Dannon Rhudy on tue 1 apr 08

It happens that my MFA was a three year
program. However - I'm not at all sure that
it makes a significant difference. Some of the
best programs are two years - Alfred, for example.

The main thing in any program is the opportunity
for complete immersion in what you're doing.
Or nearly complete. I taught two University
life drawing courses each semester, plus
teaching an outside community ceramics class.
I was unwilling to borrow any
money, so had to manage on what I could earn
as I went. That took some time from studio, but
no harm and I learned more than my drawing
students every class I taught. Worth every hour.
The rest of the time I was asleep or in the studio
or sometimes both. Time flies in either situation.
It was great to go, great to get done-great to get out
-great to get away.
Sleep deprivation was the hardest thing,
and I didn't get to read just for the fun of it for
three years. But it's all good. Besides - we
get what we get.

Kelly, your MFA theme sounds pretty interesting
to me. Git 'er done - Dannon

> Your situation is special, and I can certainly understand how a two-year
> is right for you, ---->>>>>>>>

Snail Scott on wed 2 apr 08

> Date: Mon, 31 Mar 2008 08:25:48 -0700
> From: Kelly Savino > > instinct
> says two years was both too short, and interminably long...

I also was more-or-less mid-career and middle-aged when I
went to grad school, with a husband and a life, though with no
dependents and scant prior history of domestic responsibility.
By the time I had ended my two-year stint, I felt I was not nearly
finished, and another year would have been very welcome.
(Remember, for the most part we're the perverts who actually
liked school. I liked it so much that I fled for 20 years because
it seemed too comfortable.) If I had been single and 25, I might
have wished I'd picked a three-year program, or maybe two
plus a residency, and been committing no one but myself to
a longish future in which to pay it back. As it was, though, my
Sig.Oth paid the rent single-handedly for two years but I still
used up all my meager savings. When I finished, I wanted
more, but it wasn't my commitment to make alone, and I doubt
it would have worked out as well if I'd actually done it.

I would have gained a lot with another year, I think, because
I was trying to reinvent my work after a period of doldrums,
and I was just beginning to see some possible resolutions
on the horizon. By the time my thesis show came around, it
didn't feel like some culminating conclusion, but more like
a beginning step in another process (with hors-d'oeuvres).
And, I was just starting to get the hang of school again...

I certainly didn't feel strongly one way or another when I was
applying. The pros and cons seemed about equally weighted
at that time, and I suppose they still were afterward, though
the reasons and rationales had changed. In my selection
process, length of program wasn't the most critical factor. The
attitude or style of the program was number one: I wanted a
non-medium-specific orientation that would let me place my
clay among other materials, and find its place in the larger
context of contemporary sculpture. Next behind that were
preferences for cost and geography, because I ain't single
anymore and it couldn't be my decision alone. So, cheap
(or lots of aid) and a job in the region for Jack were essential
as well.

Faculty were a secondary concern. I wanted a program
with several full-time faculty, since I have lousy people skills
and I didn't want to spend several years tied to someone I'd
pissed off irremediably. I didn't seek out any particular
heroes, though. I've spent enough time in school to know
that art you admire doesn't always come from people you
can work with, and that positive first meetings don't always
develop into good ongoing relationships. I've also learned
that people whose work is similar to your own are often the
least helpful in developing your own voice, and some of
the most helpful critiques can come from artists who make
relatively disparate work. They see it with an informed and
thoughtful eye, but from a fresh perspective, and that's what
I wanted. Anyway, It's hard to know who can teach well,
and even tougher to guess who might teach YOU well.

Back in the 'pack' of other factors were things like facilities.
I knew that what I needed wasn't new skills in the studio so
much as new skills in the skull: new ways to think about my
work, rather than new ways to make it. If the latter doesn't
follow from the former, then it's just technique, not art. The
facilities where I ended up were actually pretty bad, though
mostly manageable. (Why do they even make 3' sheet-metal
shears, when steel is sold in 4' widths?) I'd have liked better,
but it wasn't my priority. Perfect is for fairy tales.

I wanted to end up in the best place for me. Whether that
place turned out to be a two-year or a three-year program
was never the deciding factor.