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  1. #1

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    BFA in photography

    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. #2
    jovo's Avatar
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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.
    John Voss

    My Blog

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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.
    [COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]

    Ralph Barker
    Rio Rancho, NM

  4. #4
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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/majorsmin...aphy_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. #5
    Monophoto's Avatar
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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.

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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. #7
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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

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    SuzanneR's Avatar
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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. #9
    Michael Slade's Avatar
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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.
    Michael Slade

  10. #10
    laz
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    Quote Originally Posted by severian
    insists that a legitimate BFA program CANNOT IN ANY CLASS be totally about process or machine operation.
    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
    [SIZE=1]I want everything Galli has![/SIZE]
    [SIZE=1]I want to make images like Gandolfi![/SIZE]
    rlazell@optonline.net

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