By Susan Clark, photo by Dineshraj Goomany

Now that we know why you want an MFA, we can get into another thorny question -- is now the right time for you to get your MFA?  An MFA program is a professional program.  You need to have a clear direction in your career, as well as a body of work you can stand behind.  Fight the urge to rush into this extremely intense situation if the timing isn’t right.  Make sure you are ready.  Go to grad school to promote yourself, not to find yourself.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before embarking on your MFA quest.

Am I clear in the direction of my work?  Making art is always an evolution of ideas, but you are about to be buffeted with a myriad of them.  Make sure you are on solid ground with your work before you begin.

Do I have the wherewithal to focus intensely on my work? Get the support of those around you to handle the logistics of life while you spend 20 hours a day working. My son Joey will tell you that it is no fun sitting in a print studio for hours on end while your mother keeps saying, five more minutes, five more minutes.

Am I ready to listen to input and incorporate new ideas?  It made no sense to me that some of my classmates were closed off to the point of view of others.  Half of the benefit of an MFA is in the feedback you receive.

Am I strong enough to shut out strong voices that are wrong for me? Every person brings a different opinion; some people bring so much conviction that it may be difficult to stay on your own track. Being pulled in a direction that is not really you makes it more difficult for you to establish the professional voice that you need to make the most out of the networking opportunities that come in grad school

Do you know the historical context of your work? The influences that surround the Chicago art scene are vastly different from the Bay Area figure painters in San Francisco – Jim Nutt and David Park are drawn to different styles. Knowing how your work relates to where you come from and where you intend to end up can give you a better perspective on your own choices and internal voices.

Do you know how your work fits into the context of the current art world, and the ethos of your school?  Why is your artwork relevant to the current scene? Do you prefer a media siloed program, like Yale, or a purposefully diverse program, like Columbia? Why? I have worked with great conceptual artists who got kicked out of painting programs because they didn’t support their work, and artists who never painted again after going to a school steeped in performance art. No matter how prestigious it is, a program must be right for you.

Are you constantly making and maintaining connections?  Even when you haven't been out of your studio for eighty hours and you're living on Ramen noodles, are you thinking about who you need to check in with? The arts are a networking-driven field! 

If you are looking for a discussion for forum to learn more about the experiences of others, check out this.  If you think you are ready to apply (or if you just have a question or two), drop us a line and we will be happy to help.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Why pursue a fine arts MFA?



Article by Susan Clark, Photo by Angie Harms

What are some reasons people go for an MFA?  Some artists say they want an MFA to teach, but that’s not so easy -- thousands of applicants compete for a handful of available college professorships, even in out of the way places. Recently the University of Central Arkansas received nearly a thousand applications for a position to teach drawing.  An MFA can also help to land teaching positions at private schools, but you’d still have a better chance at a K-12 job with a state teaching license. What enables artists to get the good professorships is a thriving career, so some artists go to MFA programs to gain recognition.

Then there is the networking value, both perceived and actual, of a top MFA.  I attended Yale and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program to improve my ability to connect with those working at a high level that I admired, and hopefully to have them connect with my work. Artists want and need exposure to a broad range of views and a broader network of other artists, critics and collectors.  

But ultimately, we make art because we love it, and we would do anything possible to achieve breakthroughs, including working the midnight shift at the Empire Diner, to afford it. (I was the head waiter there many years ago, before I was a professor and a Forster-Thomas consultant.)  The best reason to get an MFA is to improve as an artist.

If you want to talk to me about your plans to pursue a fine art MFA, hit me up!