MFA Student Profiles
Why did you choose MCAD for your MFA?
The facilities were a huge reason for my coming here. Although I am primarily a painter and drawer, I also utilize new technology, and that's one area where MCAD excels.
The computer labs are up to date with all the latest software and hardware. The 3D shop has full-time staff to teach you how to use their machines and other resources, enabling me to output my ideas effectively. And the school is open 24/7, which means that when I need to be in the lab or studio until 4 a.m., I can be. When you're juggling work and school, that's key.
How else have you utilized the resources at MCAD?
I have taken full advantage of the fact that MFA students here can audit any undergraduate class that is pertinent to their program. Even though I've chosen to focus on fine arts, my work has evolved in such a way that I need to know how to write computer code for interactive installations. So I audited an undergraduate programming course to gain those tech skills.
My mentor, Barbara Bell Smith, has also been an invaluable resource. When I began my MFA program, I knew what medium I wanted to focus on, but also knew that I had to be flexible because I anticipated involving film and temporary installation to support my 2D work. So I wanted to find a mentor who was very competent in his or her chosen medium, yet was as deeply interested in content as with technique. I found that mentor in Barbara.
What kind of student is right for the MCAD MFA program?
The right students are determined but open-minded. They have to be willing to take constructive criticism (even when it's harsh) as well as to offer it to others. Confidence is great, but egos are not appreciated. We want an atmosphere of encouragement and respect.
How did you decide to pursue an MFA?
I enrolled in graduate school to focus on making art - to hone my technical skills in photography and explore other, interdisciplinary ways to make art and express my ideas. I went to MCAD to give attention to, and push further, the photography that has been a companion to my other life endeavors and interests. I am also very interested in teaching. An MFA will allow me to do that.
How did your relationship with your mentor help you develop as an artist?
I came to MCAD with specific ideas about how I wanted to focus, both conceptually and technically, and I initially talked through those goals with my mentor, David Goldes. I soon found, however, that my expectations and goals changed because my working process has developed and evolved. David helps me let that evolution happen. He pushes questions on which I wouldn't necessarily focus, and has suggested that I chill out and just take pictures when I would have worked very hard to fit my agenda into them. Now I try to leave room for my work method to mature and evolve, and trust that it will.
What else about the program have you found valuable?
All of the MFA photography students and their mentors held a "departmental review," as I call it, every three weeks during the semester. Each student put work up and is critiqued by fellow students and their mentors.
As a photography student, I believe this is one of the strongest components of the program. It is incredibly valuable, not only because the students receive rich feedback from a variety of mentors and perspectives, but also because we learn a lot about how to critique by observing our mentors do it. It's fascinating to see a group of professionals bounce a critical discussion around in a room. I've learned new ways of looking at art and ways of speaking about it, and ways to draw out ideas and specific articulations from other students.
What is a mentor-based MFA program, and how did you decide MCAD was right for you?
Under the mentor system at MCAD, an MFA candidate works directly under the advisement and counsel of a professor, artist or designer. This was ideal for me because I was motivated to work independently, yet I took seriously the advice and expertise of my mentor. The result of this relationship was a strong connection between student and mentor, the nature of which was defined by the semester contract that my mentor and I developed together. Thanks to that mentor-based program, MCAD allowed me to develop new skills on my own in order to fully develop my craft.
Who was your mentor, and how was that connection made?
My mentor was Thomas Oliphant, an independent sculptor and furniture designer from Minneapolis.
That's one of the great things about this MFA program. Along with faculty available to mentor graduate students, MCAD has connections to other working artists and designers in the Twin Cities who are willing to mentor students as well. I met with several potential mentors that I felt would be a good match, and while the faculty at MCAD is an impressive powerhouse of talent, Tom and I agreed that we would work really well together.
How did the relationship between you and your mentor help you to grow as a designer?
In one of our first meetings, Tom summed up what he understood to be the goal of our relationship at MCAD: "In the past, the student was given a set of instructions. Now it's his or her turn to write the instructions."
In the two years that followed that meeting, Tom encouraged me to broaden my assumptions of what I am capable of and how I develop ideas. Because he is a sculptor, Tom prescribed a sculptural approach to my design work, a process that helped me realize that the boundary I had placed between art and design was arbitrary. He also pushed me to loosen up my process in order to allow for mistakes, and to let those mistakes reveal opportunities for further creative exploration.
Prior to starting the program I had in my mind an idea of where I wanted to be at the end of my experience at MCAD. I hadn't quite developed a clear plan on how I would achieve that goal or what my work would look like, but with Tom's guidance I developed a long-range plan to achieve my goals.
What kind of student will find success in the MCAD MFA program?
For a lot of aspiring artists and designers, an MFA curriculum full of classes is not necessarily ideal. A one-on-one relationship with an instructor may be better suited for students interested in fully exploring the content of their work; those are the students who will thrive at MCAD. The ideal student should expect his or her preconceptions of their own work to be seriously challenged in order for their work to evolve. They should be self-motivated, and they will need to possess an openness to guidance, a favorable reception of criticism and a willingness to stretch beyond their perceived limits.