Noah beat me to it:

Quote Originally Posted by Noah Huber
- wherever recognized artists whithin my genre are currently working and teaching!.
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