I didn’t get into grad school.
I’ve been researching MFA programs ever since I finished undergrad at USC in 2006. I’ve looked at Columbia, Yale, Hunter College, NYU, UCLA, Otis, Art Center, CalArts, UC Irvine, and a few others. An older artist friend of mine told me that the biggest mistake that she made was completing her graduate art degree and then moving to a different city; basically, get your MFA where you plan on settling. It made sense (still does), so I crossed the East Coast schools off my list and focused on the ones more centered around Los Angeles. When thinking of my career goals, I decided that any grad program that I participate in must offer me the following:
- an emphasis in film photography
- labs where I can do my own printing
- a lax attitude toward interdisciplinary work
- paid TA positions
Those are the four major components that must be present for my graduate education. After all was said and done, UCLA’s MFA program was the only one left standing among my original choices. Besides, if accepted, I could ride my bike between my place and the grad studios. It’s the only place I applied. Their MFA program is notoriously hard to get into. I still cried when I got the rejection email. For about five minutes. Five minutes of whatamIgonnadowhatamIgonnadowhatamIgonnadowhatamIgonnado.
When I thought of my immediate future, I visualized the summer camp I’ll be working, my trip to Brazil, my trip to Germany and Italy immediately after, and coming back to begin my post-graduate education. My rejection means an almost-certain return to an existence I haven’t had to deal with for a while, an existence where I’m wondering where in the hell I’m going to get my next meal, how in the hell am I going to pay my landlady, how in the hell will I be able to afford to get from point A to B, around to C, and onward to D before getting back to A. That existence was marginally bearable, and wasn’t the most fun thing ever. Unless I book another national commercial or my first ad campaign, this is what I’ll have to look forward to come September. Grad school was going to be my physical savior.
I started talking with a few friends, a couple of whom went to art school with me. Through my conversations with them, I realized that what it boiled down to is that I desperately do not want to be stagnant in my art career just because I didn’t get into school. I want to be able to keep my studio, make work, and improve. One thing that came to my mind is a conversation I had a few years ago with a (then) grad student and a gypsy artist. There are more and more MFA students than there have been in history, and we talked about how that in Los Angeles, a good 75% of the artwork represented by galleries and made by MFA grads is utter bullshit. One of the people I was talking with noted how that many MFA programs are gearing their curriculum and studies in a direction that gallerists and collectors will find profitable. I didn’t doubt him for a second – sometimes I’ll be at a show, and “You’ve got to be f***in’ kidding me,” goes through my mind as I view a piece and read the corresponding statement. And it sells, too!
I’m not against the idea of selling work. Much to my distaste, we live and operate within a capitalist economic system that has ascribed monetary worth to the basic necessities of human beings, and while I’d love to see that changed, I can deal with it. In fact, people who go out of their way to ignore how capitalism works within the art world really get on my nerves. Artists have to eat. Gallerists have to eat. So do their interns. We’ve got to make money. HOWEVER, it shouldn’t be all about the money. I have no way of knowing this for sure, but when I think about the direction that my work is going and the form it’s taking, I don’t see my artwork as very saleable. And that’s okay with me. I’m not doing this for money; I’ll make money in other ways, I’ve got all kinds of skills to pay the bills. I’m doing this because God told me to. I have to. With every fiber of my being, I’m an artist and I will manifest that, plain and simple.
Does my recent non-acceptance into grad school affect that? The answer is no. In fact, this may be a blessing in disguise. I’m seeing a bit of turmoil here and there when it comes to the issue of MFA programs going too commercial, and I know that that’s not the kind of education that I want. If the crap I’m seeing is coming from MFA grads – both recent and older – then maybe I need to wait until this quiet revolution is done. I will say this: there’s an artist I ran into at a party, and we struck up a small conversation. She gave me a card for her website. It’s simply amazing, you’ve got to check it out. She graduated from UCLA. Now, if this is what UCLA grads are doing, then I’m holding out for the right school. She’s making some high-caliber art.
So I made a decision: instead of moping and being stagnant, I’m going to teach myself. Robert Smithson did it, and he was one of the most important artists of the 20th century. I’m going to develop my own personal pedagogy for two years, and reapply to UCLA in 2012. I’m going to finish projects that I’ve started, strengthen my photography skills (both film and digital), apply dance/performance/movement to my work in meaningful ways, study my contemporaries, and make assignments for myself. When I go to the Biennale in Italy in September, I’m gonna go to study. I’m going to make money off of talent work. This starts now, and I’m very excited for ME! It’s the reason I wrote this today. I wrote this for me. Maybe this will help you too. Yes, you: Mommy, Erin, and the maybe two or three other people who read this blog.