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getting into schools (long)

updated fri 20 dec 02


mel jacobson on wed 18 dec 02

my posts about grad school were hopefully directed at
getting folks to admit that getting in any school
is not easy.

you don't just pick one, and then your in.

if you are a potter, it may be more than difficult. it may
be impossible. i know that is a shame, but it is a fact.

i have worked very hard over the years to get my better
students into good programs. i have had about a dozen
go to kansas city, and that was a great program. ( and my
friendships there, with faculty was a big help.)

i have made many phone calls, written reams of material.
and then it works. we rarely talk of `functional pottery skill`.
that would be a deathnell. i usually focus on amazing energy.
`the student works night and day` sort of thing. takes instruction
very well. always stress the student is very bright and has high

but, for sure, anytime i could make a personal call to a couple
of professors in the department, i knew it could make a difference.
i would always stress that the student had `star quality potential`.
it worked now and then.

without question, advocates help. it is the fact that politics and
inside information works. i have helped many students, and that
was part of my job. i trained them and wanted to help them move
on. (it may seem strange, but i worked often, to get them into
grad school.)

if i were teaching today, i would be feeding karen terpstra as many
of my students as i could. (she is at the university of wisconsin, lacrosse.)
i know they would be in great hands. over the years i fed a number of
programs great kids. ken ferguson once told me....`god damn, you
send me the greatest students, you never miss.` and, of course i
would never send him a dog. that would kill the pipeline. i selected
them, very carefully. did home visits, talked to parents....had
to get them on the `right side`. `no, med school is not a option
for james.`

i was smack in the middle of two former students applying and getting
fulbrights over the last 5 years. it takes a `village` to get a fulbright.

it is a tough road. there are more reasons to be rejected than
there are good reasons to be accepted. it is froth with petty
b.s. and personal bias. nothing frightens me more than vince's story
of the slides held up to a window. `sorry, this is not us`.
not even the dignity of a slide projector. i would not want my career
and future determined by an ass@&^# that could not even
spend 10 minutes to look at my work. that is sheer arrogance
and laziness. and, i think more than not, that is how it works.

i comment those programs that take the dignified, professional
approach of judging entrants to grad school by committee, with
a projector, with serious consideration.

of course, then we could start to talk about how professors get
tenure. talk about petty, backbiting, bullshit, baby behavior.
novels could be written. try being a `women, potter, skilled, intelligent
and committed to teaching` you would have to wear stainless steel
panties and bra to that meeting...and a cast iron shell for your back.

Minnetonka, Minnesota, U.S.A.
web site:
or try:

Diane Mead on wed 18 dec 02

As always Mel speaks the volumes of the midwestern TRUTH.
There just aren't enough grad schools for the truly
talented and truly dedicated to attend. The ratio is WAY
out of wack. As is some of the criteria for admission--
That being said, i cannot remember a year where
1. Someone did not ask me to teach them some art form
as an organized class
2. Someone didn't approach me to be in another show.
3. Someone did not ask for advice on a thing "art"
I do not have enough time in a day to do all that
people ask
So the interest is there, but the USA is big and young and
yet to realize how much more energy we MUST devote to art
All art. Highbrow or "real'. People thirst for it and I've been
in the game, gainfully employed for over 25 years.
It has not made me yet join the middle class (but i do have
decent tires on my car...) But it is something many people will
not pay to do -- lack of understanding of how intensive it is.
There aren't enough grad school programs
There aren't enough colleges that have full-fledged art degrees
There isn't enough energy devoted to art
Until that changes and we become more like Janet's jolly ol
England, we will have talented people not accepted to grad school.
If there were more openings in MFA programs, where would the
grads of these programs teach? So many MFAs I know teach outside
univesity level--many teach h.s.
(I only got part way thru grad schl. --I definitely ran out of
money--another story)

Wes Rolley on wed 18 dec 02

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At 07:17 AM 12/18/02 -0600, you wrote:
>ken ferguson once told me....`god damn, you
>send me the greatest students, you never miss.` and, of course i
>would never send him a dog. that would kill the pipeline. i selected
>them, very carefully. did home visits, talked to parents....had
>to get them on the `right side`.

No one should think that this is only an issue with art=20
departments. Secondary schools that send students to good universities all=
have teachers who do exactly what you do, Mel. In my daughter's HS in New=
Jersey, there was one teacher who even wrote Harvard to withdraw his=20
recommendation after the student in question decided to tank the last=20
semester of her Sr. year because, after all, she had already been accepted=
at Harvard. The acceptance was also withdrawn. He was protecting his=20
credibility with Harvard's admissions.

The pipeline is important. The same daughter had applied to Princeton. She=
was a nationally ranked Jr. Tennis player and high on the Princeton coaches=
list of desired enrollees. However, her HS never had anyone go to=20
Princeton and she was rejected also. In contrast, the adjoining school=20
district had at least 5 students accepted at Princeton every year that I=20
was watching. Our daughter ended up at Stanford. It was more a question=20
of what school had a history of sending successful students to which=20

In many ways, success in getting into a good university program depends=20
more on coming from the right school and having teachers who are willing to=
spend the time and energy to work the system like Mel than it does on the=20
actual ability of the student themself.

"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 wed 18 dec 02

Sounds awful for me to say, but if getting into a good school
is simply who ya know, then maybe it's better to not get in!
This is all total respect to Mel, but then in knowing him
the student is assured of the great foundation education.
In other cases, where it is a good ol boys network, then
it might be better to work the system from without
rather than from within---or avoid the system to an extent

Kira Campbell on wed 18 dec 02

I've been reading all of these threads with great interest. I managed to
squeak into grad school on the basis of my sparkling wit and personality
(guffaw). Although my undergraduate mentors are wonderful people, and
great friends, they teach at a small liberal arts school in Kentucky, one
of those states that no one is really sure exists (before the Kentuckians
yell at me, I love Kentucky, was born there, and can't wait to live there
again someday). So, I found that going to the school, meeting the
professors, and weeding out the places where I got the cursory slide sheet
glance ( I got several "we don't take this kind of work into our
programs"), I ended up somewhere I have the support of my faculty, and they
also LEAVE ME ALONE! And quite frankly, I think that for most people, grad
school should be just like a paid residency - you have access to lots of
resources and information, but you are free to grow (or not grow, as you
see fit) and move in the directions that speak to your heart.

I'm in one of those 'interdisciplinary' programs - I pick and choose what
feeds my work, but I am a clay person, first and foremost. Many of my
colleagues flit all over the media and interest spectrum - they don't make
much, and what they make is downright shoddy sometimes. So I believe that
there should be a balance- be a good craftsperson, know the media you work
in, and also be a citizen of the earth, reading books that interest you,
looking at lots of art, and talking to the people around you. For me, to
do anything else is to fall into the trap of making 'art school' art, not
'kira' art. I've been there, it's not fun, and all that work (an entire
wasted year) stinks.

So there's my five bucks, now I need to get back on the wheel.

In Ann Arbor, where every once in the while the sun peeks through the
clouds and warms my hands up!

Diane Mead on wed 18 dec 02

Kira is in Ann Arbor where everybody is savvy enough to
"get" pots!!!! (Well, about 80% of the population)
Lucky person!

Crafstmanship, as my favorite major prof told me,
is everything.
And I think if the concept of craftsmanship were
more lauded, grad school experiences would be
much different...

Kira Campbell on wed 18 dec 02

Actually Diane, Ann Arbor as a community 'gets' pots, but the art school at
U of M needs to be constantly reminded that they don't 'get' everything.
Personally, I enjoy the challenge, and secretly crow everytime some
high-faluting internationally recognized snobby as all get out professor
says "Wow, I love that, can you make one for me?"

Big pleasure comes in small statements.


Diane Mead on thu 19 dec 02

You go girl. Kick the U of M snobbery
for me in the rear!!!
Born in kalamazoo

Katheleen Nez on thu 19 dec 02

Interesting discussion, if you plan on going on to
graduate school. However, I dont know what I would do
with an advance degree at this point in time. Only
went to one school, Institute of American Indian Arts
( for 5 yrs studying printmaking,
then majoring in ceramics with a minor in photography.
Only came out with an AFA. all the teachers' focus was
on showing us the techniques behind creating whatever
we envisioned. didnt tell us this was good or that was
bad - all of us probably created a lotta 'bad' art.
Also 1 required class to graduate was Business
Principles for the Artist, where you created a
'portfolio', also encouraged to have a graduation
Then you left and went home (or stayed in Santa Fe) or
went on to KCAI or San Fran Art Institute or Chicago
Art Institute (if your tribe could afford it). And
then you tried to make it as an artist. Some did, some
didnt. I still see a lot of the alumni who come to
town during Indian Market (those who come to see the
ones of us that show there). I'm not even shure that
I've made it as An Artist (even tho' I've managed to
support myself for the last 4 yrs as a functional
potter). Even tho' I've done some juried shows around
the country and participated in a ceramics symposium
of international potters. I think if you really want
it, you can get it, and I'm not shure the amount of
education would really make a difference. Who knows,
graduate school mighta ruint me. So once again, its
the "Sign/Dont Sign" issue...just my dos centavos...

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Janet Kaiser on thu 19 dec 02

You would be surprised or not as the case may be, just how many work that
way, Mel.

A very promising young student we "support and promote" travelled all the
way to London with her portfolio, but the fastening got caught and broke on
the journey. She bought some string and tied it together a bit like a
parcel or present. The famous college she was applying for turned her down
"because the portfolio was not accessible". The lazy swine could not untie
a simple bow!! Let alone pay her the courtesy of looking at her work.
Laziness and arrogance come in all forms, but that really go my goat!

"Plenty more where that one came from"...
"We don't need you, but you need us"...

Ha! Another shovel of coal... May they roast!


Janet Kaiser - and yes, I am jealous, Mel!!

*********** REPLY SEPARATOR ***********

>not even the dignity of a slide projector. i would not want my career
>and future determined by an ass@&^# that could not even
>spend 10 minutes to look at my work. that is sheer arrogance
>and laziness. and, i think more than not, that is how it works.
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