MFA 2018 All Art ADMISSIONS freak-out forum!!!!!!!!

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Hey all,

I'm currently enrolled in an MFA program. I was on this site last year. I thought it would be helpful to address the issues of anxiety and doubt that artists encounter when going through the application process. I can look back on this time with clarity, and felt compelled to provide a bit of insight to potentially bolster confidence within current applicants and to provide a few personal truths to guide their thinking. I'm providing a summary of my experiences of admission. 

I don't have a BFA, I have a BS. I had taught myself visual art and was eventually inducted into a community of recent MFA graduates in San Francisco.  I was exhibiting as a conceptual artist without an arts degree. As such, many galleries didn't know what to do with me. It proved difficult to move beyond my immediate arts community. I had also dreamed of indulging myself in an arts degree so I could experience crits, learn from talented professors, and advance my career in terms of creativity, merit, and general success.

I had done my research on schools. I applied to the three "Most Influential MFA's in the World"; Yale, Columbia, and Goldsmiths. I hadn't expected anything on account of my lack of a BFA. I did obsess over my personal statements, got letters of recommendation from artists and curators with which I developed meaningful relationships with, and I made certain to put forward a strong portfolio of new work. 

To my great surprise, I was invited to interview at Yale, Columbia, and Goldsmiths! I was ecstatic. I prepared for my interviews, and flew out to New York and Connecticut for Columbia and Yale. I had this unwavering vision as to what these schools were; half informed by a sincere idealism and also the "prestige" that these schools marketed. 

I had arrived in New York and spoke with an acquaintance currently enrolled in Columbia's MFA. The student informed me that the studios were uninhabitable and were bordering on condemnation. Pieces of the ceiling were falling from the ceiling and there was a lot of tension about the limited physical resources provided in relation to the unreasonable tuition (60K per year). The student regretted attending and highly recommended I find a cheaper smaller public school. Students felt anxious about wagering 120k of student loan debt on the slim chance of becoming an acclaimed "art star". I had my interview, it was quick and neutral. My idealism was already crushed. 

I had then went to Connecticut to interview at Yale. I was told that they were tough on applicants during their presentations to see how they react under pressure. I presented my work. I spoke confidently and had decided to discuss my more experimental projects and philosophies. These ideas being critical of elitism, capitalism, and the limited agency artists are granted within contemporary art, result in a critique of exclusive institutions. I wanted to demonstrate the ideas that were more contentious within my practice to depict my sincere intentions in art and to be certain that I find a school that is supportive of my perspective.

I expected Yale, being an "Influential MFA", to be open to ideas that were political and I also expected them to be aware of concerns of their exclusivity. I hadn't expected the faculty to be offended by my comments, and I hadn't expected them to consider my work too conceptual to critique, I didn't think that was even possible. My idealism, again, was crushed. I had expected so much from them and I was completely shocked by the poor response and conservative ideologies that they were adamant to protect. Their comments alluded to a definition of merit as financial success. Their comments on art alluded to an object that is a manifestation of an aesthetic to function as an asset, rather than an artefact of an idea , confession, or philosophy. 

It felt hopeless. After these interviews, I had felt defeated. I spiraled emotionally and starting doubting myself. These schools were marketed to me as some grand answer, an escape perhaps from the uncertainty and physical toil of being an emerging artist. I was labeled as some rabble-rouser, some "other", someone who felt certain about what they wanted but unsure of where to find it. I had saw Oz behind the curtain and I had lost my faith.

I had my interview at Goldsmiths. I gave the same presentation as I had at Yale. I expected the same sentiments and braced myself for the same offense Yale had shown me. They gave me immediate acceptance because of my philosophies.................................................

I'm sharing this story because I thinks important to look beyond the "prestige" of schools. I'd recommend that artists find a school that they identify with, to not attempt to change their practice to appease a school, and to never feel lesser if they do not align with a school's agenda. A Masters in Fine Art is not about a degree, its about an education. As such, we must maintain a criticism of institutions that are not providing adequate education, relevant political inquiry, and encouragement for experimentalism. We must acknowledge the institutional art systems that are inherently exclusive of artists of lower socio-economic class, race, and otherness. We must also acknowledge our desire to attend these institutions as a form of complicity with the creation of fictitious merit and acclaim. 

Your art is a depiction of your individual perspective. Your merit is not dependent on your credentials. Do not spend 120k on a degree. You cannot purchase talent. Do not conform to institutional standards if by any account you attempt to be subversive in your art. Find a school you fall for intuitively and maintain a skepticism of prestige perpetuated by exclusivity. Make efforts to support yourself and others through community. Exhibit without a degree if you don't find the right school. Do not ever see a degree as a form of permission to practice as an artist. 

I never expected to end up in London at Goldsmiths. I am beyond grateful that I found a school that I identify with, one that encourages criticism of injustices, and one that I feel truly provides an education about what it means to be an artist.

Find yourself before you find your school.



P.S. education is way cheaper in Europe 



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Hi Advice4MFA and everyone else!!

I have a BFA in photo (graduated in 2015) and I am now applying for an MFA. My recent work has taken me in this slightly "untraditional" path of photography that I would describe as photo collage (think Charlotte Cotton's "Photography is Magic" for those photographers out there). I am very excited about where this work is going and I got great feedback at the national portfolio review day.

I have come to understand that schools want to see some diversity in a portfolio, as in not 20  images from the same series or body of work. This is where I start to worry a bit. I am afraid that if all my portfolio images are digitally altered in some way that the schools will worry I can't take a good, straight, normal, traditional photograph (which I can). So my question really boils down to this- is it ok to have a portfolio in which all or the majority of all the images are digitally altered in some way? 

I never really knew until recently that successful artist's in the contemporary art world worked in this way so I still feel like I'm treading in uncharted territory. Anyone who has some insight on this I would love love love to hear from you! Thanks a ton!

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Question for Advice4MFA:

How did you approach tailoring statements to your applications?

As I'm applying to multiple programs, I'm noticing that each application has slightly different requirements regarding written documents. Some only have space designated for a general "personal statement" while others have areas specified for multiple: artist statement, statement of professional intent, adversity statement, etc.  

Regarding programs that only accept a single document, should I try to incorporate answers to multiple questions or is it wiser to simply provide an artist statement?


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On 11/17/2017 at 3:43 PM, Zander said:

Did anyone attend Yale open house?!!  If so, give us the 411,  saw that it reached capacity this year! 

I did the Virtual Open House. Takeaways = portfolio is super important, they value tradition, there is no 'right' candidate, they are looking for a mixture of conceptual maturity and promise of growth. Show/Gallery exhibit experience not very necessary, at least not a priority.

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