BFA in photography

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by severian, Nov 12, 2005.

  1. severian

    severian Member

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    I hope this is considered the correct thread for this question. I am currently involved in restructuring a BFA photography program within a fine arts department.There are two warring parties. One group insists that 2 complete classes be devoted to learning things like photoshop. There would be precious little in these classes except learning programs. This group also wants things like web design represented. The other group(including yours truly) insists that a legitimate BFA program CANNOT IN ANY CLASS be totally about process or machine operation. This includes the analog wet component. My idea is that the BFA education is about ,duh, making art, not how to use a machine be it 8x10 camera or computer. My question is- what do you think a BFA program in photography should contain? How should it be taught. What type of program would attract you to change your life and enroll at that school? If you have studeied photography in an art school what was it like? What were the good points? what were the bad points? What would you have changed? I've put similar question up before but now I'm getting to crunch time.Your vast wisdom and experience is greatly appreciated.(just re read this-thats a hell of a lot of questions)
     
  2. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    I am a music conservatory rather than an art school graduate, but some similarities obtain. Such schools have an obligation (far more than does a liberal arts institution) to prepare its' graduates for real work (if there is any) in the real world. As such, that has to include whatever courses are necessary to fulfill that mandate. However, a bachelor's degree is different from a trade school certificate in that it should encompass the larger historical, theoretical and aesthetic perspective that encompass a broad view of art/photography or music. Unless your school intends to emulate say, the New York School of Photography training-by-mail courses, the acacemic and intellectual rigor of a comprehensive education should be your institution's goal...and that must always extend beyond mere 'how to'. Hold out for what you've maintained; imho, you're on the side of the angels.
     
  3. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    At the fundamental level, I think the course content needs to reflect the objective. Is the BFA intended to reflect that the recipient is prepared to make a living at photography, or that he/she is prepared to discuss photography as an art form over a Starbucks or a glass of wine? If the former, then all practical aspects involved in the trade should be covered, thus forming a basis for real-world work and a foundation for the application of future technologies.
     
  4. jp80874

    jp80874 Subscriber

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    “The Mary Schiller Myers School of Art at the University of Akron Ohio has the largest undergraduate photography program in Ohio.”

    On this site http://www3.uakron.edu/art/majorsminors/photography_maj.shtml
    and linked web sites I think you will find an outline of their program. If you have specific questions beyond that PM me and I can ask for answers.

    Ohio has an “over sixty program” that requires that any state funded school must let residents over the age of sixty take available slots in classes once the paying students have signed up. The cost is only the fees, so I have taken eight courses for the price of a parking permit and lab fees. Since I use my own darkroom I could probably argue my way out of the lab fees, but it is such a good deal I don’t want to rock the boat. No degree is available, but what an opportunity to learn. Besides I got my BA 40 years ago. I’ve had a ball learning and keeping active in my retirement and am preparing for my third photo show.

    John Powers
     
  5. Monophoto

    Monophoto Member

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    I don't have a BFA, and with a background in engineering, I am probably permanently disqualified from being admitted into a BFA program.

    That said, my view is that the traditional BFA programs that I have looked at concentrate on art history and theory. There can be a place for studio arts courses within those programs, but my sense is that students are expected to either bring a basic understanding of the craft aspect of their chosen field, or else find ways outside of the formal program to acquire those skills.

    On the other side are the career-oriented programs that teach the mechanics required to make a living in a chosen field of artistic endeavor. These rightly include major elements of craft.

    I know that as an engineering manager, I often complained about the fact that many educational institutions generally don't adequately prepare students to be able to do the job that I wanted to hire them to do, and I concentrated my attention on students coming out of that small subset of schools who prepared students to be practicing engineers rather than professors of engineering at other schools. At the same time, I avoided students who came out of the engineering technology programs where they were taught rote mechanics rather than how to think.

    I think you could carve out a neat niche for your program by designing it as a art-focused BFA, that also included courses that prepared your students for the challenges that they are likely to face in the real world. I don't think you have to include craft elements in every course, but I think that offering courses - both required and elective - in the craft of photography, chemical darkroom, web-design, and photoshop, as well as perhaps courses in business and ethical considerations for working photographers or photo-editors, the theory of teaching (to prepare them for a teaching career), and (most important) written and oral communications - you could form a program that would attract students on the basis that it actually leads them to a job that pays enough to live.
     
  6. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I have a BFA in photography, and I do not regret it at all. Art school in NYC in the early 80's was a blast, and I was incredibly productive in those years, and by the end had developed strong visual and observational skills.The vision thing can be the hardest part to master, and a BFA, I think, should be the foundation upon which a photographer develops his or her eye. And all that theory served me well as an advocate for using good photography when I worked as a photo editor at a couple of magazines.

    All that said, I wish some of those classes had been a bit more technical, and a bit less theoretical. Our studio class, for instance, we just brought in photos we had done on our own. We never really set anything up to shoot in the studio with the professor. He was a great photographer, not a great teacher, and when you are in your early twenties, you may not be savvy enough to know what you need to learn, and ask for it.

    I think the most successful photographers have mastered both the vision, and technical aspects of this medium. It seems to me that a successful BFA program will teach a student the visual language of photography with the technical aspects so that a student can realize their vision. It should be a broader education than a trade school, but I still think when a student leaves the program, they will need to spend another, say, five years of assisting, or the like before they will have really confortably mastered this craft.
     
  7. jp80874

    jp80874 Subscriber

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    Interesting Suzanne. By contrast the Akron Intro to Commercial Photography course requires that the student learn to use a 4x5 studio camera, gather objects for a food or product photo assignment, set up and produce a chrome or two every two weeks. Class room time includes two approximately 2.5 hour classes a week plus all the time you need on your own to meet the requirement. The school provides 15 Cambos, big bogen tripods and lights. Students have access to the equipment any time a class is not using them. The intro class has hot and I mean hot lights. The advanced class has strobes.

    Vision is more addressed in the Advanced B&W and Color courses as well as the required core group of subjects branching into Art History, Photo History and other media such as painting, metals, sculpture. In the Advanced B&W and Color courses the student must create an idea or theme for a series of twenty matted and over matted 11x14 or larger prints. Every two weeks the students must present ten prints related to their theme for class critique.

    No matter what is or is not provided some few rise above and most just muddle through. They are the ones in for a shock when they hit the pavement. In my artist statement at the first show I said that already having another degree and career, I was doing this for the joy it brought me. One student who I knew to be somewhat of a goof off said to me, we who are working for our grades don't think of it as joy. I just said wait until you see what is on the other side of the door.

    John Powers
     
  8. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    That sounds like a great program. Wish I'd known about it way back when! I think my univeristy has improved some of the commercial aspects of its program since I was there, but it is still very rooted in art. I did it for the joy of it, too, and worried about making a living after graduation. Somehow I landed on my feet, and I think just about anyone who's earned a BFA, with a modicum on intelligence, and realistic expectations, will. It was an amazing experience, and a lot of work, but I felt confident that I could tackle just about anything after it.

    If that kid just working for the grades doesn't enjoy the process now, he'll hate it even more later, when it's a paycheck he's working for!! I so enjoyed the process that good grades easily followed!
     
  9. Kimberly Anderson

    Kimberly Anderson Member

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    Aesthetic coursework aside...I have always argued that ANY art program that doesn't require at least one, possibly two courses in business is doing their students a disservice.

    As a working commercial photographer who recieved a BA 10 years ago, my biggest regret and the thing that has hampered my career the most is the lack of a sound solid business plan.

    All the art training and technical expertise ain't gonna do no one no good if they can't run a sucessful bid-ness.

    Art students may scoff at the idea of learning business in an art-degree, but even the art world is full of contracts, negotiations, expenses, profit/loss statements, tax forms and last but not least GRANT PROPOSALS.

    If artists expect to get any free money (another thread for sure), they'd better be prepared to write about it and present a cohesive grant, which more often than not will include questions on how they propose to spend the $$$.

    Get a few business classes in your curriculum proposal and do your students a favor.
     
  10. laz

    laz Member

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    So what is it about these proposed classes that is so different from, let's say, an Alt. Process class? wouldn't both be about process? I know that you are trying to say the something like Alt. process would include students "creating art" with their skills. Why is it that learning photoshop does not do the same in another medium. I really hate to be reasonable but it sounds like you and "your side" are just passing judgement on digital.

    Please a MFA in anything is useless enough without ommiting a very real part of the art world today.

    -Bob
     
  11. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Couldn't agree more!

    I would also give them a taste of self directed studies in the third year, and emphasize it in the fourth...it would make (at least some of them) think hard about who they are and what they want to say.

    Murray
     
  12. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Good idea Michael. But, wouldn't those subjects be better dealt with at the undergraduate level? Graduate work after all is about learning advanced topics in your speciality, undergraduate work is about preparing you for the workplace.
     
  13. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Whoops sorry. I assumed the subject was about gettting an MFA, not a BFA. I guess I should read the title of the topic more closely. :tongue:
     
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  15. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Brooks, in Santa Barbara is a photography/cine school that turns out thousands of graduates.

    I've talked to a few graduates, and find that they are theoretically educated but lack much real world focus.

    As a result I don't think that too many people end up as professional photographers for a living. Maybe that is not their goal. Don't know.



    Michael
     
  16. laz

    laz Member

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    Wow! Me too. But that makes me even more emphatic in my point. Like it or not the manipulation of digital images is very much a part of the art world today.

    My son will graduate with a BS in photography in June. His program was grounded by film photography but explored every aspect of photography. As part of his degree he recently completed a 6 month internship with a major NYC photography studio. His Photoshop skills were highly valued and at the completion of the internship he was offered a full time job upon graduation.

    You cannot possibly offer a photography degree without including Photoshop and other image manipulation techniques.

    What school are we talking about?
     
  17. jp80874

    jp80874 Subscriber

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    Akron has had and is responding to some interesting feedback. The courses I mentioned are film based, but the Photo Dept. is pushing each student that claims they want to make a profession of this to also get a good computer design and Photoshop background. These courses are taught in the same building just down the hall so it does not seem too alien to them.

    A real world professional course has been added that goes into portfolio design, cost analysis, grant writing, business ethics and bidding procedures. I personally think this is too big a subject for just one course. The students make field trips to local commercial photographers’ studios and advertising agencies to see what they will encounter. I am told they had one back fire incident when a professional photographer, a recent Akron grad, apparently down on his luck, made the whole group swear they would not go into photography as a profession. I don’t think he is on this year’s tour list.

    An Akron grad from two years ago went to Columbia Grad School in Chicago. He came back at Christmas to show his work and talk about Columbia. He said that of 800 students he was the one and only doing entirely B&W. He said that most of his critiques were spent with 50% of the time defending why he was shooting B&W. He was also trying to remain 100% film, but it was a huge uphill struggle before even getting to the battlefield of photography and art.

    I did my undergraduate work at Johns Hopkins. I have been pleased and surprised to find such a good program on the edge of the Midwest, in a small town better know for a failed rubber industry. Akron University is far better known for its growing polymer research than its liberal arts, but it is nice to see the artistic side grow. I am also grateful that the State and the University see benifit to the students in allowing someone in his retirement to come in a play with the twenty year olds.

    John Powers
     
  18. severian

    severian Member

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    Michael
    I am a Brooks grad and you are right. Only about 15% of the grads are in photography 10 years after graduating. At that time,25 years ago, Brooks taught that a "good" photo was only good if the client said so. As a result I have never had a client except myself. Brooks never taught the majesty and mystery of photography. Over the years I have had many students express a desire to study at Brooks. I have never encouraged a single student to do this.

     
  19. jp80874

    jp80874 Subscriber

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    severian

    Where are you? At what institution are you teaching?

    Thank you,

    John Powers
     
  20. laz

    laz Member

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    So are you saying that you envision your institution's BFA be totally devoted to "art" not commerce?

    The only difference then would be that a "good" photo is only good if the professor says so. :smile:

    Still dying to know where you teach.

    -Bob
     
  21. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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    Art, schmart! Photography has a strong craft component.

    Back when my brother earned a BFA in photography from Ohio University he spent a lot of time in the darkroom learning how to print. And he spent a lot of time learning how to make printable negatives too. I appreciate that technology has changed and that knowing how to print black and white is no longer as important as it used to be. But I don't see any reason why today's BFA Photography students should be allow to earn degrees without demonstrating proficiency in the craft as it is now practiced.

    Who wants to make art by photographic means is going to have a hard time realizing his/her/its vision without being able to control the process. So I think you're wrong and the people you're contending with are right. I also think they're mistaken if they think that mastery of whatever today's process is will be enough. The students have to learn how to learn processes as well.

    Cheers,

    Dan
     
  22. severian

    severian Member

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    All art

    Bob,
    Yep. ALL art. NO commerce. Commerce belongs in the business school. Students must learn that they can make photographs for no other purpose than the making of the photograph. That is good enough. There does not have to be any ulterior motive. They are doing it because they must do it.
     
  23. laz

    laz Member

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    Absolutly Dan.

    We now pause for a brief plug for my son's school:

    The Drexel University Photography Program supports students in the discovery of their own photographic vision and style, leveraging a mix of aesthetics and technology, of creativity and technique to convey their unique artistic communication. Through a hands-on program blending traditional processes with the latest digital technologies, the photography curriculum provides all the tools necessary for aspiring artists/photographers to achieve a breadth of experience not generally developed in traditional fine art or commercial photography programs. Photography students receive the same photography foundation courses for all majors until the third year of study, at which point they design a more individualized path of study for their senior thesis process.

    -Bob
     
  24. laz

    laz Member

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    And what exactly do your students eat after graduation? :smile:

    Okay, just kidding. I think such programs are as necessary as any form of education. And while I did say FA degrees are useless, that's hyperbole to say the least and I confess was aiming to be pithy and amusing.

    I believe we must have programs devoted to pure art, once it all becomes commerce we lose the higher purposes that all our work should at least make a nod to. Commerce to feed our bodies, art to feed our souls!

    -Bob
     
  25. jp80874

    jp80874 Subscriber

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    severian
    David'
    I'm in the great city of Houston

    09-16-2005, 08:40 PM

    Clay,I'm in Shady Acres thats the lower end of the Heights. Good luck with that traffic
    Severian aka Jack

    The first thing I took out was 1000 8x10 and 4x5 negatives . They are in my office in Huntsville.

    Sam Houston State University Huntsville, TX
    www.shsu.edu

    Arts and Sciences

    Photography

    Michael I am a Brooks grad and you are right....

    Jack Barnosky was born in Philadelphia and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Brooks Institute of Photography in 1974. He also earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Indiana University. Mr. Barnosky has had 21 one-person and 20 group shows of his work in various places throughout the world. Jack teaches in both the commercial and fine arts areas, and includes a course in alternative processes that is very popular amongst our students.

    Welcome Jack. Most of us leave a trail.
    I hope our thoughts have helped, but it feels more comfortable to me when we are all up front with who we are.

    John
     
  26. PBrooks

    PBrooks Member

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    Well huh, First off I know we are talking about BFA but Why would a commercial photographer receive a MFA in photography if it weren't for his/her soul? Secondly this is a thread I am particularly interested in because I don't have a BFA. I have a BROAD Liberal Arts degree for undergrad, minor in photography, in the south, well Louisiana and an MFA photography and related medias from Parsons in NYC. All the history and theory I knew before going to NYC was self taught, well I quess everything short of 35mm B/W, and very basic digi taught in Graphic design. I knew there was more out there I just was not being taught any of it. I decided to get an MFA from Parsons because of it's diversity. Having now graduated I am back in Louisiana although not teaching yet, I am busting at the seems with all the information of theory, history, processes from antiquarian avant garde, oh sorry alternative process to digi. I think you have to know all the colors in the palette. Although the way I work is more suited toward large format and now ultra large format. I beleive that the conceptual idea and process or materality of the work should not be seperated, for FA that is.