Four years after I graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a BFA in Drawing and Painting, I asked three of my favorite teachers what an MFA degree would do for me that I couldn't do for myself.
Susan Kraut's answer was that most people went for an MFA to get to where I already was, a working artist with a studio of one's own. Unless you want to teach, she added. Then you need an MFA. I did not want to teach on a full-time or regular basis.
Richard Deutsch countered my question with one of his own--was I satisfied with my studio practice? If not, then what was missing? He suggested that I could always take a course as a student-at-large to fill in gaps I felt in my training. Unless I wanted to teach? I did not.
Richard Rezac was the last teacher I approached. I've often found his art difficult to access--the references are obscure or personal or abstract, the forms carefully chosen and unexpected at the same time. And every time I've asked him for advice he has been amazingly concrete and helpful. Once we got the "Do you want to teach?" question out of the way he said, "I'll give you the advice that I didn't take--save your tuition money and travel with a purpose."
This advice really resonated with me and was the beginning of what I often refer to as my "home-school MFA." I asked Richard to be more specific about "travel with a purpose." I suggested a show of Titan work in the National Gallery in London as an example. He described how he would plan his itinerary, going to the show his first day in London. Doing some research before his trip to find out what else was showing in galleries or museums and spending a day or two exploring this art. Then he suggested returning to the Titian show before departing. A three or four day trip to London to see art.
He also suggested I read widely, go to lectures, ask questions. I asked him what besides art he did for fun and he looked sort of sheepish and admitted that he doesn't do non-art related things. I'm not sure that's true, since I've bumped into him on his way to the symphony, but he has always seemed dedicated to art the way a monk is dedicated.
It's been about fifteen years since I quizzed my teachers. I would not say I've attained my degree yet--it's always a work in progress.
I still have my studio and I think of Richard Deutsch talking about the importance of just showing up, logging the time. I have a time clock in my studio to remind me to log the time.
I have taken workshops and attended lectures. And I've traveled a lot. Not always as purposefully as the theoretical London trip that Richard Rezac laid out, but I search out opportunities to see art wherever I go.
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