MFA: a few first semester thoughts

This semester, I’ve seen some very talented artists produce great work despite, rather than because, of the environment they were working in. They solved hard technical problems, worked around fluke software errors, stayed up for several days straight, and held themselves to a remarkable standard in the face of exhaustion.

And they made excellent work, that, I think, will help a lot of actual people feel closer to some important history. Now the unfortunate part – these artists, almost certainly, won’t be able to use this work for their MFA. It’s not as if they won’t benefit from their work: They’ll get class credit. They’ll have nice portfolio piece(s). They may well be able to get paid contracts to do similar work – it’s conceivable that this could be a significant part of their artistic work (and a remunerative part) in the near term. But in terms of getting the degree they’re aiming for, it seems that it will likely be as if the work never happened.

When I’m feeling pessimistic, I wonder if the fact that the work has utility creates some indelible stain that prevents it from being taken as part of an MFA degree. As if the mindset of academic art is something along the lines of “it’s useful, so it can’t be Art.” What kind of educational philosophy disqualifies educationally-focused work from consideration for a higher degree? Especially – and this is a keen irony, if you ask me – when the artists doing the work have explicitly indicated that they plan on teaching as a significant component of their careers?

Nevertheless, these artists have made me proud to be part of the same program. I hope I see their work all over the place. They deserve it.