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mfa programs wonderings

updated fri 20 dec 02


Richard Mahaffey on mon 16 dec 02

Mel wrote:

she was too much of a threat to the
program. don't want any quality potters in a clay program that
is all b.s.


I have had students run into this kind of thing.

In this state, if you want to go to the largest school it seems that you

need to be doing sculpture if you want to get into their MFA program in

There are Very Few choices locally (in this state) for someone who makes
One of the programs in a neighboring state only likes their own grads.

I wondered why all of the people working in clay sculpture are not in
the sculpture program.

Seems to me that when one takes a clay program and turns it into a
sculpture only program that the clay program just another sculpture
program with a different name.

Is one of the two programs (Clay and Sculpture) redundant?

Maybe I just don't get.

Rick Mahaffey
Tacoma Community College

Wes Rolley on tue 17 dec 02

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At 08:47 PM 12/17/02 -0600, you wrote:


Thank you for the introduction to Beth Cavener Stichter's work. A search=20
turned up which is her WWW site.

I find that the array of talent you show in the Student Work Gallery shows=
in focus on helping students find their way rather than imposing yours.


"I find I have a great lot to learn =96 or unlearn. I seem to know far too=
much and this knowledge obscures the really significant facts, but I am=20
getting on." -- Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Wesley C. Rolley
17211 Quail Court
Morgan Hill, CA 95037


Diane Mead on tue 17 dec 02

I think the MFA dilemmas regard the controversy that all art must
be "completely original." Sometimes craftsmanship is sacrificed
for Pseudo originality. I know all my painting professors had
to fight this trend. Some art is great and is not totally
original. All art has a tendency to inform other art.

In my college career there were some real off-the-wall
things happening that made it difficult to learn classical
methods of representational painting. It was a pain for those
of us who desired this training as we did not want courses
with the jackson pollock expressionist guys.

Maybe that is why I am still so close to so many of my
former profs. They were fighting for their right for
their brand of expression. I would rather follow the path of
Hamada and Winslow Homer and Warren Mackenzie any day than
express myself in a necessarily "unique" and often indecipherable
form. But I do still love Matisse. But then again, he's always

Fabienne Cassman on tue 17 dec 02


Here is what I fear: Clay is not "worthy" of being a sculpture department. Sculpture being considered a high art while clay is not. Clay is considered to be an intermediary step to sculpture, the draft before the masterpiece. Even plaster seems to hold a higher status than clay in sculpture. To me it's just a nice way to make a mold and nothing more. Do you see jewelry in the sculpture department? Some make sculptures; granted, small ones, but nonetheless sculptures.

I don't share this view of low, high, worthy and not, etc., but I believe that it is reality, a dynamic one, but a slow one.


---------- Original Message ----------------------------------
>I wondered why all of the people working in clay sculpture are not in
>the sculpture program.


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Snail Scott on tue 17 dec 02

At 10:18 PM 12/16/02 -0800, you wrote:
>I wondered why all of the people working in clay sculpture are not in
>the sculpture program.

Because (mostly) they won't let us. I've tried.

Basically, the equipment is the thing. It's
not about the work you're doing, it's about
the facilities you'll be using. Call it
sculpture, fine, but if you need a kiln to
make it, you're generally required to join
the ceramics department. Many grad programs
nowadays call themselves 'interdisciplinary'
or some such, saying that you can work in
many areas unrestricted by a declared medium.
In practice, only a few schools carry this
through to the clay area, because of the
equipment-intensive (and technical-knowledge-
intensive) nature of any ceramic work. From
a managerial/facilities perspective, making
sculpture out of clay looks more like making
pots out of clay than it does like making
sculpture out of steel.

Alfred has a sculpture department, but if you
enroll in it, you won't be allowed to use the
ceramics facility, even there.


vince pitelka on tue 17 dec 02

Rick Mahaffey wrote:
> In this state, if you want to go to the largest school it seems that you
> need to be doing sculpture if you want to get into their MFA program in
> Clay.

Rick -
As you probably know, UW has been a sculptural program ever since the late
60s when Fred Bauer made his lightening-fast transition from those beautiful
salt-fired pots to his "Funk Pumps."

Back in the early 80s, when I was first toying with the idea of returning to
school for an MFA, I was visiting friends on Whidbey Island. They suggested
that I go check out the grad program at UW. So I brought a sheet of the
slip-decorated functional work I was doing at the time (you can see the work
I am referring to at my website at - go to
the "gallery" page, and then to the "slip ware" page). The work was very
traditional and conservative, but I think well-made. If anything, the
examples depicted in the slides I took to UW were a little more free-form
and abstract.

Howard Kottler showed me around the facilities. At the end of our tour,
with a tone of utter resignation, he said "Well, let me see your slides."
He held them up to a small window in the center of an exterior door and
looked at them for ten or fifteen seconds, handed them back to me, said
"Judging from this work it is impossible to visualize your potential" and
turned and walked away.

From experiences like that I learned a lot about how to talk to students -
how to be honest and direct without being rude or mean - how to be
encouraging even when you must be critical.

But back to the present - with faculty like Akio Takamore, Doug Jeck, and
Patty Warashina (she may be officially retired by now), it is no wonder that
UW they are only interested in sculptural work. Too bad none of the other
Washington schools have stepped in to fill the gap.
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Appalachian Center for Crafts
Tennessee Technological University
1560 Craft Center Drive, Smithville TN 37166
Home -
Work -
615/597-6801 ext. 111, fax 615/597-6803

Stephani Stephenson on tue 17 dec 02

At 10:18 PM 12/16/02 -0800, you wrote:
>I wondered why all of the people working in clay sculpture are not in
>the sculpture program.

I always had a tough time with separating the Ceramics and the Sculpture
completely........ same thing applies with separation of 'studio art '
and 'art education' programs.... i felt like I wanted SOME art ed
classes but did not want to sacrifice the emphasis on studio ..

Generally, by the time you are in MFA program you are 'supposed' to
specialize! Generally you will have to 'choose' one or the other, but
you can still partake and 'dip' into other programs at many
institutions. You do have ability to take 'electives' outside the main
program, and some programs will allow you to take 3 years instead of
2... which allows for a bit more crossover.

I went to University of Oregon grad school and got an MFA in
Ceramics... However they had a very good professor who taught figurative
sculpture, in the sculpture department and I wanted to take some classes
from him. I had taken a lot of Sculpture and figure studioes in
undergrad work and wanted to continue to develop that along with my
I took additional figure studies and anatomy classes from him. Most of
his students went on to work in Bronze or metals but a good many of them
took some credits in ceramics and occasionally there was a special
ceramics class for those students, so they got to 'cross over' to, and
really enjoyed it. They had a good deal of strength in modeling
originals, but did not have as much time to develop the technical
aspects of Ceramics such as glazing and firing , and also how to build
'hollow' instead of solid, clay pieces. I got to dip into seminars and
classes in the Sculpture program , but had to choose a priority with
clay... fortunately I had an excellent sculpture, design and metals
foundation in my undergrad studies.

Also I did take some Art Ed seminars and even dipped into Art Therapy
studies, Folklore studies, Art History, and Dance , during grad school.
Some of the other Ceramics grad students continued to take classes in
Photography, printmaking, jewelry, fabrics, etc.

Stephani Stephenson

vince pitelka on tue 17 dec 02

> I wondered why all of the people working in clay sculpture are not in
> the sculpture program.

Snail had some good thoughts on this. This is an unfortunate reality in
almost all university sculpture programs. In some university art
departments (like UMass-Amherst, where I did my graduate work), sculpture
and ceramics have merged into a "3-D" area. That usually means the end of
any emphasis on functional vessels. At UMass it happened after I left, and
sadly it has really diluted the program. A student entering as a clay major
might end up with foundry faculty for a major professor. The implication
seems to be that process and technique really don't matter at all.

If you have studied art history, you know about Lucca Della Robbia. He was
an early Renaissance sculptor who chose to work in clay rather than stone or
bronze, the "legitimate" sculpture media in the Greco-Roman classical
tradition. Such traditions die very hard. Della Robbia does appear in the
art history books and the museums, but he is always treated as something of
an aberrant anomaly, because of his preference for clay.

Some years ago I had a student named Beth Cavener Stichter - one of the most
talented students I have ever had at TTU. Please check out her work at my
webpage at - go to the "gallery" page and
then to the "student work" page. After she left the Craft Center, Beth
decided to go to graduate school, and was determined to apply to sculpture
programs. I advised her to apply to ceramics programs, and then, once in
grad school, carefully make the transition over to the sculpture program.
But Beth is very sincere and idealistic, and that is certainly to her
credit. So she applied to a number of the best sculpture grad programs, and
was rejected from all of them. This is a student with an undergraduate
degree with honors from Haverford College, and very strong sculptural work
in clay.

She was initially very discouraged, but then decided to go ahead and do a
ceramics MFA. I believe she recently completed her degree at OSU.

Those familiar with the work of Rodin have probably seen the small
terracotta sketches he did in preparation for work larger work. They are
some of the most exciting work he ever did. I think they have far more life
energy than any of the large stone or bronze pieces.

There are plenty of examples of dynamic and dramatic clay sculpture through
history in many cultures, but it is true that in our culture there has
always been a strong stigma placing clay in the "craft" media category, and
academia has been very slow to change in that regard.

More and more clay artists have broken through this barrier - Voulkos, Viola
Frey, Mary Frank, Michael Lucero, so many others. But the reality is that
any serious clay sculptor wanting to do an MFA should apply to a graduate
ceramics program.
Best wishes -
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Appalachian Center for Crafts
Tennessee Technological University
1560 Craft Center Drive, Smithville TN 37166
Home -
Work -
615/597-6801 ext. 111, fax 615/597-6803

Dean Walker on wed 18 dec 02

In response to Diana on poor art teachers being everywhere not just
college... I had an art teacher at Bay High in Panama City, Florida years ago
that only got out of her desk to walk around the room to critique. To a third
year class, she instucted us to "draw a spaceman". Once on her rounds she saw
that my brother (who was also in this class) had done a light gray wash with
watercolors with some oriental style trees in black. As a final touch he
added a tranparent red sun ...the only color in the painting. It had a
wonderful mood. As the teacher looked at it she said "why did you have to put
that red sun in it ? It makes it look niggery". You can only imagine the hush
that fell over the room. We were the advanced art class....the best of the
best of Bay High...and this was what we got for our teacher. The woman was a
complete ignoramus.

Diana Currier on wed 18 dec 02

I am admittedly new here, but feel the need to comment on the talk of MFA
programs and instructors. Many have mentioned instructors and programs who
seem to discourage any genuine creativity, unfortunately (as many of you may
be aware) this problem is widespread. It's not just college programs, it's
high school programs, middle school programs and most sadly (at least imo)
elementary programs.

My ceramics teacher in hs, who I learned a good deal from and was exposed to
a wide variety of ceramics because of her courses, was one of those very
limiting instructors. Not one of my pieces earned above an average mark
(though others loved it and praised it highly, including those who didn't
particularly care for my feelings...) On many of my grading sheets comments
meant to limit creativity were written. The most memorable being for my
mermaid sculpture. I (apparently) had forged into unknown territory for
her... I was marked down for combining a stone wash effect, with metallic
rubs. One of her "limits" was mixing stone and metal. Huh?

I could have been put off from exploring 'alternative' designs, many
students in her classes were put off from their projects and creativity
because of her rules. I spent a total of 5 classes (out of 10) my senior
year in her class. 4 were ceramics related, the other graphic design or
something. 1 (of the ceramics) was an assistant and I heard in all her
classes comments which limited the creative expression the 'student' was
going towards.

The criticism I speak of was not of the poor technique (in a beginners
class), but of the form the pot (or sculpture) was taking. It wasn't of the
poor joins clearly evident in the final glazed product, but of the inlay
pattern (too abstract, she didn't 'get it'). She did critique the
construction technique too, but only after she (dis)approved of the artistic
impact or statement. She didn't care about the statement they were trying
to make, only what she wanted to see.

I didn't necessarily learn the lessons she intended, but I did learn a lot.
I learned that in some cases the saying "Those who can DO and those who
can't TEACH" is true, she was a prime example, at least imo. I know not all
teachers have that mindset and if/when I find a program/class where the
instructors aren't going to hold me to their rules, or their creativity I
may sign up for a class or two.

I would love to see more artists teaching introductory classes in all
mediums at all levels, in particular middle to high school. I think it
would be wonderful for someone who works with ceramics on a regular basis to
teach for an hour a day at local high school (or lower level). Learning
from someone who "does" is so much better than learning from someone who
"has" but doesn't anymore, no matter the topic.

Just getting back into mud, for me...


Jim Kasper on wed 18 dec 02

Vince said:
"Some years ago I had a student named Beth Cavener Stichter - one of the most talented students I have ever had at TTU."

I saw her **crayfish thing on your site. In the student Gallery. I thought, I wonder if I could buy that? Then I did a search on her name, I see she has allready gone far, and uses that piece as her main image on her own site. Oh well, with luck I will get to pet it in my travels.


Janet Kaiser on wed 18 dec 02

Everyone wanting a ceramics + sculpture course should enroll at college in
Wrexham (North Wales). I have just heard on the grapevine, that the
sculpture department has be taken over by the ceramics tutor.

But there are ructions, wailing, hair-pulling and chest-beating... The
"real artists" (sculpture students) are not taking kindly to "where he is
coming from" and the ceramic connection is openly scorned. They just spent
some time learning how to make moulds (yes, funny they only needed a couple
of weeks... only STUPID potters would need longer...).

They resented it like hell... Even though it could be really informative
and useful for their work in the future. A basic knowledge of what can and
cannot be done. But no, "I don't need that skill... I am an Artist"... Yes,
well... Why bother making or taking a course which will involve producing a
"product" at some point? Not to say what are they planning to do in a 3D
career/profession without every skill available to them? Do they never mean
to cast in bronze? Are they going to stick to conceptual art where a pile
of dirty cloths or a midden is all they need to "do sculpture"?

Just do a CAD design course and leave the foreign workers or foundry to
make it up... That is apparently the sum and total of aspirations in many
colleges and faculties throughout the UK. All animation and computer-based.
No drawing on paper, painting on canvas, print making, any actual doing or
making... Nothing. Nought. Zero. Zilch.

They are also getting additional investment funding for PCs (not Macs)
because the govt. did a deal with Mr. Gates personally. So everyone can get
rid of their dirty, expensive-to-run workshops, studios and equipment...
Teachers too, because it is all self-taught, on-line, module learning. Just
the student hunched over a keyboard and a screen...

We in the West design... You, Tarzan make!

When Mr. Blunkett was Minister for Education, he made a speech about the
desired direction higher education in the UK should take... A real
chiller... Singapore was held up as the non plus ultra. Forget it!

The consolation? There has to be a revolt soon! Students are paying good
money for a non-education. What use is a piece of paper without the means
with which to produce the goods later? Where are all the certificate
holders going to go? What are they going to do? Are there enough designer
positions and posts to go around? What is the satisfaction of designing
without the making? Can one design without knowing the finer points of
making? What is possible and what not? Designing without any experience of
the chosen materials and their properties?

It is all going to go pop! Common sense is going to have to win...


Janet Kaiser aka Procrastination Princess... Doing everything except what I
should be. Like writing Christmas Cards... Over 300 still to go... Then the
2002 gingerbread house... Then buy a cake, cos I haven't made one... On and
on... Good job we can now buy German Christmas cookies here in the UK,
otherwise I would really be in trouble. At least the heating is back on! 6
days without... Brrrrrrrr!
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