Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Graduating with an MFA in Visual Arts in the Time of COVID-19.
As usual, after a residency is over, it has taken me a few weeks to decompress and to process all that I experienced. Maybe even more so this time due to the fact that the whole thing had to be moved online because of COVID-19. Technically, I finished at the end of June, which means that this post is way overdue, but I still want to get my impressions down for posterity at the very least!
First of all, the two years that it took to complete this graduate program literally seemed to fly by. The low-residency model was the perfect fit for me and where I am in my life at the moment. It required me to be very self motivated, while at the same time, the rigger of the program helped me to become much more disciplined in my studio practice. Additionally, I was so impressed by the faculty and they way in which the program balanced academic research and writing (which was supervised by an academic advisor long distance during the semester) with the on site critical theory classes taken during the residencies. All of which helped to fill the academic gaps in my art history and art theory education. Plus, I was able to form relationships with other artists and educators from all over the country. Something that I am sure will prove invaluable as I continue to pursue my fine arts career. I would recommend this program and the low-residency model to anyone who wants to pursue an MFA in visual arts.
Secondly, I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that I would graduate in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. A reality that is surreal for sure, but also, rather anticlimactic. Or, I keep thinking that there must be a word that means even more than anticlimactic, but I can't seem to conjure one up.
Thirdly, although the online residency wasn't a perfect replacement for the in person intensive 10 day residencies usually held on campus in Boston, it actually went exceptionally well. Especially when you think about all the moving pieces that had to go into the online format and the sheer number of people involved. Not to mention the fact that they had never done an online residency before, making the success of it all the more impressive. We still had studio critiques, visiting artist talks with Carrie Moyer, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Anthony Romero (with a guest appearance by the art critic Jerry Saltz no less!), critical theory classes, elective seminar classes, and even a mini graduation ceremony of sorts for my cohort.
Additionally, since it was my fifth and final residency, I was required to defend my written thesis, present a 15 minute artist talk about my art practice, lead a two hour group critique of other MFA students, and participate in one-on-one individual critiques (of which I think I ended up doing 15 or 16 over the last 2 days of the residency). All of this was done online in Zoom calls and amazingly, went off without any hitches. Also, the final piece, the all important MFA Graduate Group Exhibition--usually installed in the galleries of the Lunder Center on the Lesley campus during the residency--is now supposed to take place in December, with a real graduation ceremony and opening for us at the beginning of the next residency in January. In the end, it seems that we should still be able to enjoy the full experience of the program. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the next residency will be held on campus in January!
Finally, even a few good things came from holding the residency online. Because of the new format, they decided to hold a couple of online creative workshops and discussions prior to the residency, which were really fun to participate in and were easy to do from the comfort of home. And now they plan to continue this throughout the semester, giving current MFA students and graduates an opportunity to offer their own online workshops. What a great way to stay connected in-between residencies and after graduation. I already attended a collage workshop and plan to attend a "Photography Lighting for Artists" workshop this week.
The elective seminar class that I took during the residency was called Anatomy of an Online Exhibition. Normally, when this class is taught in person, we would curate a group show of MFA students' work, culled from what is brought to the June residency in Boston. Then we would physically install the work in a gallery on campus, with a wine and cheese opening and all the bells and whistles.
But, due to the circumstances, this class like everything else, had to go virtual. Which meant that we had to collectively come up with an idea and platform to create an online exhibition on, as well as to write, edit, and layout the virtual exhibition. All in about 8 hours of class time--which ended up being no small feat!
If you are interested in seeing the result, here is a link to the home page for the show that we curated Unlocked: Art as Antidote. If you would like to see the page that I personally curated for the show, you can find it here or on the home page under the word Compassion.
From the exhibition website:
"In the midst of lockdown, the boundaries of our private lives have been dismantled, and new barriers emerged in our public and social lives. The year 2020 began with the COVID-19 virus, and by summer has witnessed broader social revolution--from advocating for gender rights to righting the wrongs of racial violence. What is the role of art in the era of global pandemic?
Unlocked: Art as Antidote is an online exhibition curated in June 2020 by students in the Lesley Art and Design MFA program. It takes the central question of our discussions as a starting point for an online experience: how can we seek relief, community connection, or inspiration through the creative process in such tumultuous times? While art cannot cure a pandemic, it can function as an antidote, providing a means of distraction, empowerment, expression, and change. In sharing artworks, as well as the process of art making, Unlocked seeks to increase access to how art comes into being as well as reveal the emotions and experiences it brings to us as artists and as humans. We can escape into art in a time of quarantine and crisis, and we can share art to build connections to others in meaningful ways. How can the creative act help us find a way out--or through--the current world situation? "
Stay tuned for my next blog post in which you can have access to my final thesis, artist talk, and a catalog of the work I created throughout the two year MFA in Visual Arts program.