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mfa's, writing and owls

updated wed 28 jun 06


Stephani Stephenson on tue 27 jun 06

I use the term 'OWLS' a bit tongue in cheek
OWLS is the name of a support group at the University of Montana
It stands for 'older, wiser learners'
I think you find an assortment of people in an MFA program, depending
on the location, demographics of the
area and the times, etc.
When I earned my MFA there were a number of moms, and dads
in the MFA programs and in the ceramics program.
In my mid 30s I felt I was in the middle of the age spread.
As to the parents taking classes, they tended to be some of the most
efficient students. The single parents in particular stand out in my
mind. If they knew they had only 3 hours in the studio, they made the
most of it.

As to writing.
The ceramics component of the MFA program I attended did not require
much writing about ceramics , except of course for
the 'terminal project' or thesis , whatever it may be called. And that
is a big deal.
very formal in it's final form, though there is a HUGE amount of
latitude in many programs
as to the specific topic and presentation of your final project.
Usually it involves an exhibit and a written
component..The written portion is usually sent to the University,
approved and bound into a book. But generally ,you make the call on
the form and content,
many of the 'graduate seminar' credits were verbal review sessions.
Many included painters, sculptors, printmakers, jewelers,
photographers, etc.
some , but not all , required reading as a part of the seminar .
Some of these can be well worth it; if you have some skilled ,
perceptive folks at the helm or participating in the group.
I personally felt frustrated at some of these sessions as they often
turned into meandering BS sessions, for me anyway.
I also had difficulty with traditional Art History classes. I found I
could not memorize slides, especially in rapid succession, and I simply
did not get anything out of that manner of presentation.
For electives I gravitated toward the 'graduate seminars' in art
history and even regular classes in departments such as folklore,
anthropology, etc.
these classes or seminars were on specific topics. In these classes I
found quite rigorous attention to reading, writing, and thinking ,
I was nervous about some of those interdisciplinary classes. I wanted
to feel free to delve into topics of interest rather than just do what
was necessary to 'go for the grade' so I took them pass/fail. As it
turns out I probably would have done fine grade wise. This degree of
writing was something I would not have done on my own , and I found it
to be very challenging, and valuable.

Writing about ceramics is naturally going to be a larger component of
distance learning. Unfortunately , there were none of these rigorous
'special topic' classes in Art History which centered on ceramics
specifically in my program. I think , or hope some programs are doing a
better job of that these days.
I was pretty free to choose topics which interested me and form them
into a program which met my needs.
I also took many many credits in the sculpture department, which
leaned toward formal figurative sculpture and methods .
I continued drawing classes.
and , as I mentioned before, I fired every kiln (wood, salt, gas,
electric, raku, primitive)many many times, used every tool, mixed my
own clay, tried to learn about materials, etc. I worked as a studio
assistant so I also taught beginning ceramics , mixed class glazes and
fired class kilns.
I was able to learn from many visiting artists, at a time when I would
not have been able to afford to go to 'workshops' put on by them.
I got help from the college to attend a woodfire conference in
Flagstaff and also helped me attend my first NCECA in 1989.
It was and can be a very intense time, not only in the program, but
because the rest of your life doesn't stop either.
You can try out a variety of equipment, learn from a variety of
teachers, have access to many resources.
Also note ... MFA programs differ WIDELY in their approach, their make
up, how they are run, the type of work , attitudes, etc.
so check them out, Some of them won't want you ( I got rejected by a
few ).. you wouldn't want some of them either!

there are so many variables.

Stephani Stephenson

May Luk on tue 27 jun 06

Hello Stephani;

Thank you for painting a realistic MFA picture and
putting forth your own experience. I appreciated it.

I am learning to write about my practice and I am
surprised at how useful it is. I want to thank Edmund
de Waal* for this.

Nobody likes the BS meandering sessions in art school,
no matter what level it is. I blame it on the
moderating skill of the tutor. It's when they didn't
set the boundary and let some people go on and on,
while everybody else rolled their eyes and adjusted
the watches in the name of manners.

My friend is going to apply for Royal College of Art
for her MA. I applaud her for doing so. I had done my
research and I think there are more suitable schools
here in London & vicinity. There is no denying about
the presitage of RCA. She said she can charge more
money for her work after she graduated. We chuckled.
We chuckled about how shallow and naive we are. We
chuckled because she would charge more for her work

London, UK