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Re: What to Expect from Art



I read with interest Amy Borezo's comments about MFA programs. In some ways, I
agree with her. There certainly are a lot of students in MFA programs who are
never going to be Botticelli or Kollwitz or even Walt Disney. But to say that
because MFA programs don't turn every student into a genius they are no-good
no-account wastes of money is perhaps to think in a slightly limited manner.

There is a difference between vocational education and an education in the
arts. Vocational school trains you to perform a skill which has a monetary
value out there in the real world. (For example, you know how to fix computers,
or perform open heart surgery.) When you sign on to become a graduate student
in an MFA program, the promise that the school is holding out to you is that
you will be afforded the opportunity to learn to become the best artist you can
be. This is an entre into a world of creation, of thought, a world in which the
language of art is spoken. The process of becoming an artist begins long before
you enter grad school, and continues for the rest of your life.

As to the fact that MFA programs are training mediocre artists, well, I imagine
it must be true. But to these artists, themselves, their art is the lens they
use to see the world. Also, there are artists we deem mediocre, whom the future
may regard as astonishing. (This, of course, is the fond hope of everyone who
hasn't had much success after art school.) I'm willing to invest my time in
students who give even the slightest indication that they can ignite if
sparked.

The great thing about a school is that in it are gathered many people who have
clawed their way along the path of figuring out how to make art, and there are
lots of people for whom it's a new discovery, and everyone is trying, as best
they can, to share with each other what is essentially a private thing. It's
good to have company while you invent your head, your language, your world.

Some grad schools are no fun. Some programs are just what you need at that
moment. You gotta shop around. Some people  (and I applaud them) can make it
happen for themselves. Some people do best by apprenticing themselves to a
master. Some countries have better ideas about this than America. Sometimes you
don't know what your schooling did for you (and to you) until long after you
leave it.

I didn't like my grad program much, but I learned a lot, and then I went out
and (with a bunch of fine, fine people) helped start an MFA program that I'm
very proud of. So it is possible to have an effect. If you don't like the
system, you are the very person to reform it.

Good luck to all artworkers and students.

Audrey Niffenegger
Faculty
Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts
MFA in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts

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