Is art school relevant? Good question. Are galleries? Museums? The rotary telephone? High heeled shoes?
It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose. There are some people out there with whom I would plead to NOT go to art school. There are some, like myself, that believed the time was “right” to go back and develop skills I haven’t had the opportunity to hone in the real world. Now I’m a first year graduate student working towards the completion of an MFA at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, in the Book Arts/Printmaking program.
Personally, I want to learn. Period. While working in a non profit print studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania I always wanted to learn more. I wanted to know how to fix that acid bath or maintenance that press. I wanted to know how to sharpen my tools for that perfect wood engraving, how to really make those colors pop in that silkscreen. As an Adult (Oh god, am I using that word?) I lusted after the opportunity for uninhibited learning.
I chose to go back because I believed the opportunities in grad school would help me to create a strong professional art practice — better chances at a wider range of teaching positions, more likely to be considered for those dream grants and residencies (I’m looking at you, Skowhegan), more opportunities to show, and just more work getting made in general.
But depending on the day, when the last time I ate was, and how well I think I’ve been adjusting socially to my new city*…my opinions are inclined to change.
What does my learning experience look like? As one of my classmates stated recently, “I have never been this tired for this long before.” Two things you should know: she already holds a PhD from an Ivy League school and this was said after only one month of class. Grad school might have it in for me.
My average day is spent often trying to reconcile the differences between a bookmaker and a printmaker. Until recently I had considered myself to be in the latter category, however my program is very heavy on the former. Something else you should know: in a book arts/printmaking program personality traits such as obsessive compulsion and anal retentiveness are actually badges of honor.** These are badges I have yet to earn.
After spending time trying to learn how to be a cleaner, neater, more methodical artist I often abandon trying and just give myself up to the full, overwhelming chaos that is my course load of work. This usually happens around lunch.When thinking about grad school I often want to describe it with words like chaos. Or miasma.
I was told not to do this because it might give the impression I’m lost or have no control. Quite the opposite — I’m exactly where I want to be, doing things I want to do. And this leads to a funny thing that happens in grad school, too. I’m not sure how to describe it exactly but, there is an interesting super-ego ego-less place I often arrive at by the end of the day. I’m so tired and overstimulated I feel completely disarmed and open to the world around me. I feel free and ready to receive anything that comes my way. I say “Yes” to more work at school. I tear up just watching the previews to The Darjeeling Limited. I discover things that inspire me that I never would have thought to look for on my own.
It’s a whole hornets nest waiting to be kicked to talk about my politics and how art school fits in there — especially in light of recent protests sweeping the country (and world!). Lets just say my interests in printmaking rise from ideas that the artist can be a social worker and that social workers shouldn’t speak for others, but offer processes that allow others to speak for themselves. Ask me in two years how that’s working out.
*I promise I have not now, nor will I ever, use OKCupid.com to meet people. I meet people the old fashioned way: by drinking in bars.
**This is not a diss. I am so far removed from that kind of mentality and so firmly entrenched in the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants methodologies I’ve developed over the years. Everyone knows that works great for shitty prints. As a first year grad student I pledge to try binding my books neatly, printing my lithographs cleanly, and not spilling my lunch everywhere in between.