• "To me, art is no longer a question of aesthetics. Art is a question of the survival of life as we know it on this planet. In those regards, artistic strategies are a poignant complement to the disciplines of ecological, social and political science and any other discipline relevant to how we shape our habitat and relationship with one another."

    1. Are there new or different skills and areas of knowledge that students require now?

    New as in compared to what time period? I know a few things I that I wish I would have learned were how to build a website and Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. I also think it is crucial that we discuss how to make our art relevant...art isn’t anymore the center point of human culture like it was during the Renaissance...it’s got the internet, youtube and so many other things to contend with now. Other topics I would have liked to have explored more with teachers and peers: time management, navigating/avoiding student debt, financial wellbeing, and knowing which opportunities to select and which ones to pass up.

  • Somethings I am extremely appreciative of learning included things I didn’t think I needed to learn but did, how not to do unnecessary work that has been given to you by a teacher, how to (ethically?) pad your resume, how to collaborate with other students whose work you might not be on the same wavelength with, and not to be so direct/reinforce typical artist and activist stereotypes... I haven’t been able to rid myself of this habit entirely but at least I feel like I am a little more cognizant of it.

    I feel like the most generative things that I got out of my program were ones that helped me build inertia and street-smart savviness. Street-savviness was gained from experiences: like it is typical for older artists to try to sleep with younger, impressionable artists who idolize them. Inertia was germinated from were opportunities that were presented to me: being offered to exhibit in shows in New York, residencies in Europe, conferences, under-the-table study abroad programs, getting to work with and form relationships with artists who I had only read about in books. I say inertia because it seems that the more you do, the more people you know, the more your work is set in motion and keeps in motion. I think that our teachers or major artists are often successful because their work/names have inertia.

    One thing I wish I would have known as an MFA student is:

    All advice is biased. Be aware if who you are asking advice from someone who shares the same values and ideas as you. If they have different values or modalities, their advice will most likely steer you in that direction. The advice you get might not be well thought through. You are the one who spends the most time thinking about your work/self. Your teachers (and colleagues) have their own lives going on as well, so the advice they give you might not be the most well thought through.

    Keep that in mind if you are going to change what you are doing based on what someone else says. What might appear as weighty advice might actually be off hand. 

    2. Within an academic environment, how does visual-art training relate to other disciplines?

    To me, art is no longer a question of aesthetics. Art is a question of the survival of life as we know it on this planet. In those regards, artistic strategies are a poignant complement to the disciplines of ecological, social and political science and any other discipline relevant to how we shape our habitat and relationship with one another. However, I realize by broadening the scope of art in this manner, can obscure it to the point where it has no focus. To bring it back in to focus is one of the reasons I enjoy working in the arts field. Art is a medium of possibility. In the artistic field, there is the ability to exist in the grey area between commercial and noncommercial, public and private, goal-oriented and abstract, legal and illegal; and to move across disciplines.

    3. What are your feelings about the relationship of MFA programs to the art market?

    I don’t have any experience in the commercial art market, meaning galleries that sell work. My experience is with museums, residencies, and other institutions that bring artists in to create work that is geared towards public engagement. This work is typically “unsellable” because it is not directly commercial or object based. Those institutions exist in the wing of the art market that is part of the nonprofit industrial complex.

  • It is frustrating/confusing to think of all the administrators that are paid to facilitate artists making work and how few artists are paid for their work. For instance, right now I am in Germany participating in a international arts festival. There was a tiny budget per project and they also didn’t have any money to pay for my travel. However, when I arrived they had paid someone to be my assistant for a few days. Although it was very helpful to have an assistant, I was never consulted if I even needed an assistant, which I didn’t. Given the choice, I would have much rather had the 200 Euros to pay for my travel costs. I wish artist had more direct influence on how money that is supposed to support artists is spent. 

    To continue this thread surrounding how institutions control the way that arts funding is spent, I was at a residency in the USA a few months ago and a foundation representative came to visit the residency program. The foundation was funded by a major bank and considering funding the residency program, but was looking for residency programs that supported artists making work that was pro-business. It was infuriating to see first hand how the banks could influence not just what type of artwork is funded, but what type of artwork is validated — because our current system of validating what artwork is “good” artwork revolves around an institution (via a foundation) anointing an artists with residencies and exhibits. It is in those seemingly unbiased, but really extremely subjective spaces that work is produced and validated. For example, the Tate Modern is funded by British Petroleum and Unilever, which in turn shapes the content of the work that is validated in the walls of the Tate. This pretty much guarantees that art will not be validated at the Tate that is rabidly anti- capitalist, anti-GMO, or anti-burning fossil fuels as long as the Tate’s funding stream is laced with political prozac.

    With regards to MFA programs relationship to the institutional wing of the art market, I see their main link to the businessization of schools. At my MFA program, it felt like students were being sucked in to buy a very expensive degree with student loans and years of indebtedness as payment. Degrees are no longer something you earn, they are something you buy. I don’t directly blame my teachers who sort of function like drug dealers getting students hooked on the high of overpriced education. Rather, I see them as just a cog in the machine. The administrators I have less sympathy for, but they too are just cogs. It is a discourse that we are trapped in. Foucault describes “discourse” as a system of relations that is not controlled by an overseeing body. It is the system of relations itself that self-perpetuates the discourse. My school is in bed with banks. There are even school buildings that have banks in the lobbies, so you pass by the bank on your way to class. One time, I even went to an event that was supposed to showcase the different student clubs, but was sponsored by local banks and to get a free sandwich you had to first visit the booths of all the bank sponsors to listen to their spiels about taking out a student credit card. So the question is how do we escape from the MFA-program-as-business- discourse? How can we use our imaginations to think of an alternative system of relations?

    4. Should collectors and dealers be given access to students? Should students be encouraged to make contact with galleries as soon as possible, even before graduation? In general, what role should issues of profession and career play in MFA programs?

    I don’t have any experience with collectors or dealers...it is out of this world to me to think of a collector or dealer wanting to buy some of my artwork.

  • My funding trickle doesn’t come from commercial galleries, but instead from museums and residencies. (Plus I keep my overhead extremely low—I haven’t rented an apartment for 1.5 years now...that is the main reason I am able to do what I do.)

    Concerning the idea of being a professional artist, one of the best things I was ever told, a la Steve Lambert, was that I shouldn’t strive to be a professional. I should strive to be an amateur in the best sense of the word. Thinking of myself as an amateur has been really liberating; it has helped me not take myself or my work so seriously and to some extent helped slow the metastasization of my ego.

    I do have a few suggestions for the role that MFA programs can play in helping students craft their careers. I think that MFA programs should talk about how the fuck to earn money in the arts, rather than avoiding the money topic like the plague. I don’t think our ability to think creatively should stop at our pocketbooks. How to do you price your work and time? How do you write a grant? How can you get funding by working cross disciplinarily? Is it easier to obtain funding in Europe than the USA? What jobs are available for artists and how do you apply/get for them? What are ways that you can exploit or take advantage of funding (and use it for good means of course)? How can you pay back your student loans, or avoid paying them altogether? These are all questions that I have been looking for answers on my own. I do think that I could have done a better job recognizing that my MFA program wasn’t going to help me learn about funding methods, and instead convened a group of fellow students to delve into these issues. If we can work together I think our success will be far greater. This is obvious, for example, when conceiving of a debt strike. Autonomy is necessarily collective.

    5. What, if any, are the significant differences among schools within the US.? What makes for a successful art school/MFA program? What kinds of things most often stand in the way of a program becoming successful? And what are the criteria of success?

    It is hard for me to talk broadly about different kinds of programs in the USA, because I have only experienced two of them directly. I really enjoyed my undergraduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison because of the autonomy and freedom that it gave to students (at the time...I am not sure what it is like now). The school is extremely large and has lots of resources, if you take the initiative to access them. You can really do whatever you want, no one is there to hold you back...or to hold your hand either. I was able to utilize the facilities for ceramics, painting, printmaking, sculpture, drawing, even when I wasn’t enrolled in them for a class. I was even given 24 hour access to them, without having to jump through lots of hoops. I grew a lot as an artist because I was able to spend tons of time working in the studios, doing pretty much whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. And for same reasons there was a pretty good community of students that developed; we would all work together till odd hours in the night, blasting music and talking. My graduate school was the reverse situation. This had more to do with the school than the program itself. The school has been infested by bureaucracy and complicated security systems that make things unaccessible. Getting access to the various art facilities was jumping through hoops on fire. The whole time I was there I was never able to figure out how to get on the 24-hour access list for the art building. None of the facilities opened their doors to us grad students...it was crazy: all these incredible resources with no clear way to get access to them. There was a total disconnect concerning who to talk to, how to get a key, etc.

  • The only way I was able to access the printmaking studio was by making friends with the printmaking teacher. I would arrive during the evening (before the building was locked) and stay there printing at night sometimes. Walking the halls, the whole building was a ghost town. Empty of the music or voices that would stream out of many doors at my undergrad. I think this is the main reason that (this is where I start to sound snooty) a lot of the undergrad work that was happening there was crap or nonexistent: because of lack of access and therefore lack of the camaraderie that builds a positive feedback loop around making work.

    This question about “the program” being successful...that is a strange one. I guess I think that a more legitimate question would be about making students successful, rather than a program. What does a “successful program” mean anyway? Does this mean one with lots of students signing up and filling the pockets of the academic institution? Or does a successful program help students learn, grow and achieve what they are desiring? I would argue that often the meta-narrative of “the program” often steamrolls the real reason it exists in the first place: to help the students. Is a successful “program” one that programs students to think in a certain way, to make a certain type of art, and to further establish that “program” as one other students should join and other artists should revere, and walks in lock step in the system of hierarchy and capitalism.

    I think a successful graduate MFA school does try to impart some wisdom to its students, but it also asks students what they want to get out of it, what they want to learn, how they want to grow. And it also helps students not be so overloaded with work, shows, and opportunities that they they get caught in the storm of confusion and crash into the iceberg of student debt, sinking to the bottom like the Titanic.

    This storm of confusion was partly the result of my MFA program often asking students to do a lot of needless work and having too many email chains happening. A lot of this stuff could have been done during our weekly, day-long class meetings if we would have just streamlined and focused our conversations a bit more. However, I have a feeling that everyone (including the teachers) was so overwhelmed and exhausted that no one could organize their thoughts...Or maybe I am just extrapolating that falsely and it was just me that was overwhelmed. I felt like my MFA program streamed opportunity after opportunity, which was great and also overwhelming. Now I have a great CV, by the dominant art world standpoint, and the grey hairs to show for it. How much did I participate in reproducing the dominant art world’s hierarchy of basing someone’s artistic merit on where they have exhibited and who they know? What about the work itself? Isn’t that what is crucial? And how we live? Even before the work, isn’t in important that we live in a balanced and kind way, kind to each other and to this planet we share.

    When I was feeling like I had lost all hope in higher education, I went to Copenhagen to study at the school of Walls and Space for a semester. That is by far the most “successful” “program” that I have ever experienced. The School is organized pretty much horizontally with students: there is transparency around the budget, students have a ton of input into what they want to learn and who they want to invite to guest teach...it is kind of a small utopia (and anti-capitalist think tank). I think the main reason for this is there is very little competition between students. Students are paid about 1000 Euros a month to go to school for five years. There is also an unemployment safety net ready to catch them after they graduate. Because students aren’t freaked out about loans or where they will get a job, they aren’t

  • concerned with who is a better artist than who or which program is better than which. In this way, students genuinely care for each other, want to help one another and don’t take themselves to seriously (and all the stress that comes with that). Just imagine if our country prioritized funding/ supporting students like we do blowing up small children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Waziristan, Khyber Pass, and other places where their is oil and natural resources to be had.