Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga

Structural Patterns

Reflections on Art, Technology and Society

Considering an MFA

without comments

April 14, 2006
I’m currently teaching the senior BFA course leading to the students’ final exhibition.  Most of the semester has been dedicated to professional development – resume building, press release, cover letters, fund raising, residencies…  Last Wedensday however we discussed graduate school, as many of the students are interested in persuing an MFA.  So I assemebled a presentation/discussion that I think anyone considering grad school might find helpful.

After discussing their personal interests in attending grad school, I pointed out the US News Ranking for Graduate Schools that they do every four years:



Then I entered into my presentation/discussion based on personal experience:

Thinking About Grad School

It is helpful to consider Art in parallel to business or other professional areas in the sense that there are any number of ways of approaching a career in the Arts.  Here are a few scenarios to consider to help you along in your decision process:

Location versus Program:  “Do I go to a city with plenty of art and culture where I can use school to begin networking and launch me into an arts career in that city or do I go to a place where there may be less networking and the arts community may be smaller, but where I may have more time and space to focus and work?”

There are great programs where you will be able to focus, have a strong community with faculty and peers but are located in small cities, college towns or isolated rural areas. OR you may decide that being in a major city with a strong and diverse arts community comprised of a gallery district, several non-profits and available grants for artists is where you would like to go to grad school in order to begin to establish a lasting network, this primarily means schools in or near New York City or Los Angeles.  To use graduate school as an introduction to the art world on a national or international scope is amongst the primary reasons that people choose schools in or near NYC and LA as many of the faculty may be represented by galleries in these cities and can help introduce one to the galleries.  This of course can be particularly important to artists hoping to achieve an independent studio practice maintained by the sales of one’s work.  This question may point to differences between a school that is gallery oriented versus teaching oriented.

Theory versus Practice focused programs:  “Do I enjoy a research oriented practice informed by an understanding of cultural theory or do I prefer to jump right into the materials and allow the process to define the work?”

These two certainly are not mutually exclusive and less so as post-modernity is entirely indoctrinated into art instruction.  However some schools will offer a strong theoretical underpinning to help develop the conceptual strength of your work and put less emphasis in technical instruction.  These schools tend to be less conventional, have adopted a post-modern approach to art making and have little interest in craft.  Here is an example of a description by/of this type of program:

This interdisciplinary program prepares artists of all genres—film and video, painting, performance and installation and sculpture—to successfully enter the contemporary art arena. A significant proportion of its alumni have achieved international and national reputations.

(Art Center College of Design, MFA description)

More traditional programs divide their areas by medium – one must apply to painting, or sculpture, or photography, etc.  These schools may put a greater focus on technical skills and the development of one’s chosen craft and less emphasis on theoretical and conceptual background.

Strong craft oriented programs: Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan – http://www.cranbrookart.edu/

Alfred University

Where would you like to situate yourself in the arts:

Do you envision yourself as an artist working in a creative field with a company, such as a design firm, an ad and publicity company, an animation or film house…?

Do you envision yourself as an independent artist with a personal studio?

Would you seek to establish a relationship with a gallery?

Would you seek a teaching position to split your time between teaching and studio work?

Would you seek to maintain a studio through freelance work…?

Would you prefer to establish yourself as a regional artist with an emphasis in         establishing roots in a specific community?

Would you prefer to establish international credentials?

Would you prefer a studio practice versus a site specific practice versus a community         based practice?

Are you an object maker versus a time-based artist (performance, electronic arts)?

Check out real estate cost in the area

Financial Reality

The point of graduate school is to seriously focus in your work as an artist, without the dilemma and distraction of a full-time job.  Consider grad school your full-time job, if you are unwilling to do so, it’s most likely not worth your money or time to attend a graduate school in Fine Arts.  Look for programs that offer generous funding and positions as teacher’s assistant.

    Personal Suggestions:

  • Take time off from school to test your dedication and perseverance – will you continue producing work without the framework of school?
  • Be willing to live minimally or simply in order to give yourself time to continue developing your work without the strain of a full-time job.
  • When it comes to applying to grad school ‚Äì  research the faculty at the school, look at the work they have produced, look at the work of the current grad students, find information on the facilities, does the school provide generous funding for their graduate students, make an appointment to visit the school if possible, and of course request all their materials.
  • Go to the program that offers you the most money, avoid debt if possible.
  • With or without graduate school, a career in the arts requires a great deal of perseverance, dedication, and patience.  It is important to establish sustainable systems for your work and yourself.
  • It is useful to create for yourself a three year plan: where would you like to be in three years, what do you need to accomplish now to get to that point?  After the first three years, evaluate where you are and your personal satisfaction/happiness/accomplishments and establish a new three-year program.  Eventually the three-year plan may become a five-year plan.
  • Noteworthy Programs in the United States

    The two “art centers”:

    New York

    Columbia University

    City University of New York Hunter

    School of Visual Arts (SVA)

    Pratt Institute

    Bard College, http://www.bard.edu/mfa/

    Yale University

    Rhode Island School of Design



    Los Angeles

    University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA)

    Art Institute

    California Institute of the Arts

    Art Center College of Design

    University of Southern California (film)

    Cities that are considered more “regional”:


    The Art Institute of Chicago

    University of Chicago

    San Francisco

    San Francisco Art Institute

    California College of the Arts

    Mills College

    San Jose State

    San Francisco State

    San Diego

    University of California at San Diego



    School of the Museum of Fine Arts


    Minneapolis College of Art and Design


    Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

    Tyler School of Art

    Temple University (Film and Media Arts)

    The University of the Arts

    University of Pennsylvania

    Drexel University (digital media)


    Carnegie Mellon University


    University of Washington

    Smaller and rural areas:

    Ames, Iowa

    University of Iowa

    Richmond, Virginia

    Virginia Commonwealth University

    Vermont College, Vermont Studio Center

    Alternative Schools – meet only during the summer or limited periods

    Bard (very hot!)


    Vermont College


    Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, New York City (no diploma)

    Schools with traditionally strong gallery associations






    Schools considered strong for teaching

    Carnegie Mellon University

    Chicago Art Institute


    Post-Baccalaureate Art Programs

    The Art Institute of Chicago

    Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)


    University of the Arts (in crafts)

    Programs in Digital / Experimental Media and the Cultural Study of New Media

    Film and Communication Studies Programs in Canada / Programmes de cinéma et communication au Canada


    University of California at San Diego, Visual Arts


    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Electronic Arts


    San Francisco State University, Conceptual Information Arts (CIA) Program


    School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Art & Technology Studies


    UC Irvine – ACE, Arts, Computation, Engineering



    Georgia Tech

    School of Literature, Communication, and Culture


    Graphics, Visualization, and Usability (GVU) Center


    Carnegie Mellon University

    Human-Computer Interaction Institute


    Art Department


    Mass Institute of Technology (MIT)

    the Media Lab


    Art Department

    University at Buffalo

    Media Studies Department


    University of Iowa

    Department of Cinema & Comparative Literature


Written by ricardo

October 28th, 2006 at 9:33 pm

Posted in fine_arts