PreachingToTheBirds

Letters of rec from non-artists, especially for Yale

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Greetings,

 

I was wondering if anyone could offer their thoughts on letters of recommendation for MFA applications that are written by non-artists.  I am applying without a BFA and my academic background is in the humanities (although a visually-focused, arts-related discipline).  For that reason, my best recommenders are going to be primarily scholars - literary critics, film critics, gender theorists, poets, etc.  These are people who are part of the discourse of contemporary art, and in some cases very recognizable names (you'll find their books on the shelves at the bookstores of major contemporary art institutions) but are, by the same token, not themselves practitioners.  

 

In general, I am not too worried about this, as my work is very conceptually grounded, and the programs to which I'll be applying are as well.  However, I notice that Yale's website mentions that letters of recommendation should come from "three persons practicing or teaching in the field in which application is made..."  

 

Does anyone have a sense of how hard and fast this requirement is?  Do I need to be branching out now to try and widen my pool of contacts to get some practicing artists to write recs for me?  Is it hopeless without that?  Given Yale's reputation for being very cerebral in their approach, I was quite surprised by this, especially because many other schools list no such stipulation and in fact are very broad in their wording about letters of rec.

 

Any thoughts would be appreciated!  And for what it's worth, I'm looking primary at the Sculpture program.

 

Thanks very much.

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This is me talking out my butt but if you're still interested I would think that if somebody lists that that is indeed the eye that they're taking to the papers.  It's hard to think that somebody who's actually pretty famous would seem inappropriate....just thinking and mulling it over....if you know somebody who's pretty famous-something competetive with an application with the whole thing going on. 

.....This person knows nothing by the way.

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On 8/22/2014 at 0:58 PM, PreachingToTheBirds said:

Greetings,

 

I was wondering if anyone could offer their thoughts on letters of recommendation for MFA applications that are written by non-artists.  I am applying without a BFA and my academic background is in the humanities (although a visually-focused, arts-related discipline).  For that reason, my best recommenders are going to be primarily scholars - literary critics, film critics, gender theorists, poets, etc.  These are people who are part of the discourse of contemporary art, and in some cases very recognizable names (you'll find their books on the shelves at the bookstores of major contemporary art institutions) but are, by the same token, not themselves practitioners.  

 

In general, I am not too worried about this, as my work is very conceptually grounded, and the programs to which I'll be applying are as well.  However, I notice that Yale's website mentions that letters of recommendation should come from "three persons practicing or teaching in the field in which application is made..."  

 

Does anyone have a sense of how hard and fast this requirement is?  Do I need to be branching out now to try and widen my pool of contacts to get some practicing artists to write recs for me?  Is it hopeless without that?  Given Yale's reputation for being very cerebral in their approach, I was quite surprised by this, especially because many other schools list no such stipulation and in fact are very broad in their wording about letters of rec.

 

Any thoughts would be appreciated!  And for what it's worth, I'm looking primary at the Sculpture program.

 

Thanks very much.

If they have books on shelfs at major contemporary art institutions then they are practicing artist. I would recommend emailing Yale admissions. 

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I think there was a dude last year that got accepted into Yale, (wanna say Alment?) that explained his situation and I dont think he had reputable references or anything.  I could be wrong, but meh. Most places always tell you the quality of work is the most important, which makes sense.

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I went to the admissions open house this year, which was REALLY helpful by the way, and someone asked this question. The answer was, ask people who know you, it's better if they are in the arts, but they should know you well.

I do not have a BFA and do not know many artists who are not peers. I remember Alment's situation too, I think he had peer recommendations among his letters. I saw his work in person at the student show that was up during the open house, it was great! :)  

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15 hours ago, minakoruk said:

I went to the admissions open house this year, which was REALLY helpful by the way, and someone asked this question. The answer was, ask people who know you, it's better if they are in the arts, but they should know you well.

I do not have a BFA and do not know many artists who are not peers. I remember Alment's situation too, I think he had peer recommendations among his letters. I saw his work in person at the student show that was up during the open house, it was great! :)  

Well tell us more about this open house. Didn't get's to go :(

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Happy to do so! I took the train from NYC and was in a crunch, so when I arrived a little late there were about 400 people in the main hall looking at a powerpoint of alumni work. The department chairs introduced themselves, and later everyone went to their department's smaller group talk. At photo there were 3 professors and a critic, and about 100 listeners. They said they wanted to see artistic interests, obsessions, ability in the work. They expected all students to live in New Haven. Submitting unfinished work in the application was fine (subtext was, submitting unfinished work is fine as long as we find it interesting). Detail shots were fine as long as they weren't too many - I guess that is less relevant for photo as you can submit a high res image that they can zoom into for details if it is conventional work. The one point everyone kept making was that Yale had a distinct style and was small. If you wanted great expensive facilities or a big green room they weren't that. Some questions to faculty included the earlier anecdote I shared about recommendations, TAships, and the like. TAships come in the second year. Two professors said we could disregard the representative work thing in the prompt if we wanted. One of them said, "I don't know why that's there?" A first year said there is a diversity committee - a current student talked about it but I was not sure if that was only in the school of arts or the entire university. I am a POC and I also observed the faculty and students to be mostly white.

We took a tour of facilities. We saw some nice printers and a studio. We were told current students do a mix of digital and analog but the color processor wasn't great and they were encouraging current students to switch. I cannot remember if this was said openly, but their tone indicated that. Later we re-convened with current students. They talked about the heavy coursework. Cannot speak to other departments but students have a crit every 5 weeks in photo, not counting final crits. I thought the students were very nice, patient and approachable. They talked about the visiting artist program a bit, and mentioned some big names that came that semester to look at student work.

We then went upstairs to a mixed first year show of work and had some food. Some of the faculty were there to talk with prospective students and answer more questions. 

Overall it was enjoyable! It DID make a difference for me as I now feel more self confident about my application. On an irrelevant note, I am also very superstitious so it meant something for me personally that I visited and saw the people who would read my application. 

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Wow, thanks for that great insight!  Well I'm a POC also, so diversity and inclusion are two very important things to me.  "Mostly white" I guess  is the best you're going to get for art schools these days, particularly at the graduate level. But there visiting art list was well represented, seen few big name black artist came through. 

Glad to hear that represented work thing was to be disregarded. Maybe they should think about removing that on the website? Did they care to share what style Yale preferred? 

I'll be submitting my app to Yale by the end of next week, just not looking forward to coughing up that dreadful $100 app fee.  I really was worrying the most about the in-personal interview, it seem almost required and that your work must also come with you. This will be a big challenge as the majority of my work is large.

 

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Word! Same here, and it is so expensive to print large archival photos, let alone haul framed prints to New Haven. Best of luck to you, I sincerely hope it all works out!!

In terms of voicing a preference, they said "you do you" without saying it really. At one point the chair got funny when someone asked "What is the ideal distribution of actual pieces vs. detail/installation shots?" He said "how do you think I'm going to reply to that?" I think in terms of evaluating people they look at how the personality and life experience connects to the artistic decisions made in the work. My interpretation was that they really wanted to see that connection, but what do I know?

Cheers!

 

 

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