MFA in photography...

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by scootermm, Nov 13, 2005.

  1. scootermm

    scootermm Subscriber

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    per the similar BFA in photography thread I thought I would pose my thought process etc in a seperate thread so as not to hijack that seperate and slightly related thread.

    I posted about a year ago about applying to graduate school with the hopes of getting into an MFA program in photography. That application wasnt accepted but this is a task I feel is VERY important for my (at present) life's goals.
    The reason Im posting is to discuss my fears and apprehensions and see what other's thought are on this.
    I studied architecture in college... thats where I was introduced to painting and spent the later part of my undergraduate time being a TA and working on my painting with a friend/advisor/professor. Never did I try or even give a passing consideration to photography. I started out picking up a camera about 4 years ago shooting outdoors (climbing related) and it bloomed from there. Ever since undergrad and my realization of having no desire to pursue architecture all I wanted to do was teach. well.... and to keep making art but to hopefully and eventually help others to do the same through teaching. I also realized that to do that (in the manner I hope to) I would need to get an MFA. Its a check box Im willing to do the effort to check but have alot of apprehensions about it.... in studying the different programs across the country and seeing the "work" that comes out of these programs, well honestly, I am in no way suprised I didnt get accepted.
    Im not in any way "knocking" those individuals work nor their passion to pursue it... I love the diversity. but it makes me apprehensive of the experience. What effect it will have on what is such a strong passionate love of mine...
    will it get distilled... or deformed into something thats "right" in the eyes of the world of present day academia?
    Theres alot of fear as to what the effect it will have on me and my work. I spend so much time self learning (with the much and plentiful help of many APUG members) working at whatever pace I choose... challenging myself and pursuing the work or methods I feel passionate about.
    Does anyone have experience in these regards? going through a graduate program in MFA especially in photography? similiar past fears thoughts etc?

    anyone thats still reading this.... I apologize :smile:
     
  2. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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    You know... I'm working on my BFA... so .... there is still a way ahead of me.. although I'm wading into my third year with pleasure.
    I definetly am not stopping at the BFA level, and intend to head off for an MFA. Where? - wherever recognized artists whithin my genre are currently working and teaching! I've thought of CalArts, b/c of Jo Ann Callis, and I recently discovered that although Robert Heinecken is no longer teaching, his long time partner is teaching in New Mexico...
    What I'm getting at, is that as I approach the place where I want to get my work in front of galleries, and more importantly- buyers, AND I want to secure myself a position teaching photography, what has become paramount is WHO is teaching... not where. The idea being that you will learn alot more from someone who has experience in the area of art that you practice, not to make you into a clone, but because they have spent years thinking and working in a particular vein, they will be best suited to push you further down the road...

    Whether someone gets warped or not by the people/departments they come into contact with has alot to do with the personalities involved, and less, I believe, than simple "they are going to put me in their box" . . .

    Just my two cents. I'm sure everyone's mileage will vary.
     
  3. laz

    laz Member

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    Noah beat me to it:

    I don't know how you approached your selection and application. The way one applies to a graduate school, in any field, is totally different than undergraduate. As Noah said you first must find out where recognized artists are doing work similar to yours. In graduate school that means finding a faculty member in a MFA program whose work you admire; works in the same genre as you and who you believe would be open to what your own artistic vision is. Then contact that person and express your desire to be his or her student. A good place to start might be that "friend/advisor/professor" who you studied painting with. Talk to him or her about your work and artistic vision and see if they have any suggestions. At the very least this person should be a good reference. It doesn't matter whether it's your painting or photography this person knows, what a graduate program is interested in is your abilities as a student and serious artist. The bottom line for graduate school is that it is not just a continuation of undergraduate education. It's a place fully in the field of your endeavor where you will be mentored rather than just taught.

    As far as your fear that your passion will be "distilled... or deformed into something thats "right" in the eyes of the world of present day academia" Why do you worry? If you aren't willing to accept that fact that part of a formal education is about mastering methods and styles that might very well not be a part of your vision, you don't belong in grad school.

    -Bob
     
  4. PBrooks

    PBrooks Member

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    I understand your concerns fully having just graduated from Parsons, MFA. This website on many ocasions was my saving grace in the push/pull mental rigor of graduate school. Remember there job is to break you down at first and its not to be mean or to put you in a particular genre, its because you have to talk about and write about your work in a historical-conceptual-contemporary context. Beleive me it can be done anything can be justified but you see that's the thing they are are going to push you into everything that makes you feel uncomfortable painfull many different tortures one can not imagine. This is done so that you know exactly why you make your work, not just because you like to but because you have a passion for it.
     
  5. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Do It Matt!! If you want to meet and discuss over a beer we can do that, but my answer is still the same - Do It!! Now the next question is a bit harder, what do you want to teach? Art/Photography/etc? and at what level...reason for asking, is the art programs at many public secondary schools have been cut back or are gone. At the college level it is a different thing all together, and I can really see you teaching at that level. Guess what I am getting at, if you can 'get through' the MFA program - which I think you can there should be no worries about your own art being distilled or distorted. Think of grad school like a job, you will do what you have to in order to complete the program (just like you would do what you had to do for a job) but you would still have your own work that 'is you'. If some academic program can change that, chances are you would have the same problem with a job...so keep your focus (sorry no pun intended) and go for it. You have the background, learn some of the history of photography, notice how there have always been educators that are out of step with the institutions they work for. Let's keep this discussion going next time we meet up...would love to hear what your thoughts are, and you know I will share mine.
     
  6. David

    David Member

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    Let's see - academia or experience... I don't think that this is an unwarranted question. I took an undergraduate degree in philosophy and completed a masters degree in theology followed by further linguistic studies. I considered a career in academia (Classics) but decided against it in order to follow a career in field linguistics and subsequently photography.
    It's common in school to fall into the pattern of providing what is expected in order to succeed with a degree. Currents of expression in vogue today (although whatever is current passes onto the next 'in' thing) are difficult to swim against and the effort required - for me - wasn't worth the bother. If you can develop and maintain your own 'voice' without having it compromised (as opposed to enhanced) then you'll be on solid ground. Being able to follow your own star has its own rewards. If I needed a particular degree in order to gain access to a particular career door I would do it, enjoy the enjoyable coursework available and hold my nose through the rest. If I didn't need the degree for professional reasons I would just study what appealed to me and make photographs, informally informing myself all the while through reading, experience and observation - something that gets richer the longer one lives. Good luck!
     
  7. sajianphotos

    sajianphotos Member

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    I have a theology degree as well (MDiv). I'm not sure there's much difference in one's artistic distinctions being refutiated, if that's what I hear part of your worry is, and one's theological distinctions being refutiated. When I entered seminary my theology was tested and challenged almost to the breaking (quitting) point. Now, years later, I realize that the book learnin' I received, as valuable as it was, was secondary to the discipline I learned from the experience. Not necessarily discipline to the doctrines and arts but to my self awareness of why I believed what I believed and who I was in relation to my existence and passions.

    Very possibly the greatest ability a great photographer or teacher may have is to understand themselves, why they are who they are, why they love what they love, why they see what they see, and then to have the discipline to walk securely through the many minefields in the way of their passions; which, by the way, may very well be their avocation.

    If you have the ability to remain disciplined to your individual artistic distinctions while learning the "institutional art disciplines" then experience will lead you into holistic disciplined individualism of the best and most expressive sort.

    Jeese, I've rambled on again. Be true to your abilities and passions and disciplined toward the goal.
    Good luck.
     
  8. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    They keep you alive to serve their ship!
     
  9. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    If you need a degree in MFA, you need to get one. But for teaching, depending on the level or teaching, you can do that with an undergrad degree. I've seen some in the U.S. All you need is your portfolio and the basic knowledge of photography. It could be a part time job to start, but might not be a bad idea.

    Or if you're wiiling to travel abroad, you can make it more interesting. I've seen a lot of English native speakers teaching English and doing pursuing other things. Maybe you can teach photography there. In case of Japan, you don't need much previous training in Japanese even applying for the government-run English teaching program. There are these English teachers who have plenty of spare time with enough income. Some of them have a plan to go back to gradschool later, and others want to stay longer or teach in another country, etc.

    If you have a particular place in mind and want to photograph in an extensive period of time, like one or two years at least, this will be your option.

    Good luck.
     
  10. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I guess you need to ask yourself at what level you want to teach. If you want to have a tenured position at a higher level institution you will need the MFA.

    As someone else mentioned many community colleges and smaller private colleges need instructors and usually require less initial background. Such institutions are usually more flexible in how courses are taught by the instructor. You can also teach at different institutions. I have a friend who owns a business but with a background in meteorology and physics teaches courses part-time a the local community college and a priviate school. You could also teach the occasional workshop.

    One thing to keep in mind when persuing an MFA and PHD is that you basically have to tow the party line and kiss a lot of ass to get through the process easily. Most professors have their own ideas and theories about your chossen profession and they are going to try to get you to adapt their views. You will have to play along to achieve your goals, especially when dealing with thesis advisors or committees.

    I personally would explore teaching on the community college level first and see if I enjoy teaching in a academic framework.
     
  11. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    See the movie "Getting Straight" with Eliot Gould, 1970. The thesis defense scene is priceless, and Gould's "chalice" line was oft repeated by a friend of mine in grad school.

    Lee
     
  12. severian

    severian Member

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    MFA

    Soot,
    How many schools did you apply to? I get the impression it was one. UT?
    My advice to undergrads is to apply to many schools. 20-30 is not too many. I know it can get pricey but it could be well worth the expense. You WILL go to the school that accepts you, regardless of all other considerations, So you have to live in Bugknee USA for a couple of years. Will your work become diluted? Thats one way of looking at it but another way is to consider your work enhanced. If you spend three years in an MFA program and your work does not change then you haven't been paying attention. In grad school you will be subjected to all art disciplines and points of view. They are all valid and are there for your use. Along with the photography study history,criticism, sculpture , painting etc. it can be fun. Througout your life your work will change. Photography seems to be a subtractive process. Try something, reject it if it doesn't fit your visual vocabulary. Move on and try something else. Eventually you will come to a point where the choices will be very few. The more you do the fewer choices you have. When you arrive at this point you will really have defined Scootermans photography. Allow your work to evolve.
    I think you should search out a program with profs and students producing work that is the absolute antithesis of the typr of work that you are doing. Appear at the office of the faculty one day, preferably unannounced, and explain that you would like to enter their program because exposure to this anti Scooter work will help develop you as an artist. When they talk to you personally and look you in the eye you become a person and not just an application form or portfolio. I was rejected by a University and became somewhat depressed. Took my work to another University and almost barged into their offices and began to plead my case. They accepted me. I found out that the university that I went to was rated #5 in fine arts in the country. The one that rejected me was unranked. Good luck
    Jack B
     
  13. nick mulder

    nick mulder Member

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    Architecture school huh..

    I spent 4 years at one of those before dropping out and doing a couple of semesters in engineering (mechanical and electrical) - I wanted to be the art-wank engineer about town making robotic painting machines and art-code computer programs that did nothing tangible but make your CPU heat up, anyways, all good fun until I ended up in hospital for 12 weeks (my head was on backwards one day and my gall-bladder had something to say about it, oh yeh then i got a mystery illness 'not unlike malaria') ...

    It was a bit of a wake up call - I thought I'm not learning anything here that I couldn't learn from the internet and a good amount of text books and possibly sneaking into the very large undergrad lectures only every now and again (i studied in bed) - so i dropped out...

    there is still some part of me that wants to complete a tertiary level qualification tho - here in NZ we are very low on science and technology secondary teachers so the government is giving full study grants and subsequent payments (over and above the fee's) for anyone doing a post grad dip in teaching... Not that I'm in it just for the money, as I love the passing on and sharing of information and ideas to whomever (very APUG) it just that I didn't want to teach science or computers

    I recently found out that included in 'technology' umbrella is photography -

    damn


    I thought I had my next few years sorted out (start working in the motion picture industry art dept with a final goal to be a production designer)

    Life seems to never let up on the decisions

    have you thought about high-school level teaching ? do you need a Masters to do that in the states ?
     
  14. Dave Wooten

    Dave Wooten Subscriber

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    You do not need a masters degree in the states to teach in public school....you do need a B degree in the major area you wish to teach and enough education courses to qualify you to teach in the state you wish to work in....Each state sets the requirements for licensure..
     
  15. Digidurst

    Digidurst Subscriber

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    This is an interesting point... I don't know what age level you are most likely to jive with but if you want to teach, may I offer some really 'out-there', unsolicited thoughts?

    With the art programs being cut from our public schools, many parents (including myself) would be thrilled to include our children in some sort of paid program (kind of like music lessons, karate or gymnastics but for art). If you jive with school age children, pre-teens, and/or adolescents you might be able to achieve your goal of teaching via your own business platform.

    Again, I realize my thoughts were unsolicited but PhotoMC made me think of it so I thought I'd take a chance and share. Regardless of what path you follow, I wish you nothing but success!
     
  16. scootermm

    scootermm Subscriber

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    all thoughts are solicited. :smile:
    its the reason I posted/started the thread.

    I actually, since posing this thread, have visited a couple schools and had some good and bad experiences. Visited Univ of Tx at San Antonio yesterday morning and enjoyed talking with the prof there.
    Planning on applying to 6 schools, can not in any form or fashion apply to 20-30 schools thats just COMPLETELY financially straining thought. 6 is manageable though. so Ill see in the next few months how that all turns out.

    in regards to teaching and age groups... Im much more interested in the upper level age groups (college, higher education, continuing education) as opposed to younger kids.

    again thanks everyone for the input/thoughts.
     
  17. severian

    severian Member

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    Six apps is six times more than one. You'll get there. Be patient
    Jack