Our Summer Session topic this month is Back to School, and today we bring you an excerpt from our Help Desk, Bean Gilsdorf’s arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. In this installment, Gilsdorf answers questions specific to the MFA degree, giving readers practical advice on how to sort through the bullshit and find the best graduate-level arts program for themselves. This article was originally published February 6, 2012.
I am considering getting a MFA in sculpture/new media, but it is very difficult for me to get a complete sense of the different MFA programs both in the U.S. and abroad. Unfortunately my best resources have been asking friends and old teachers. From them I get a mix of old information, rumors and myth. Can you tell me the top three MFA sculpture programs in the U.S. and the top three abroad? If not, can you tell me about some resources that can help me learn about these schools beyond their, nearly useless, websites?
To begin, let me tell you how glad I am that you’ve already figured out how useless a school’s website can be. From the un-navigable layouts to the endless paragraphs of self-aggrandizing prose, a school’s website can be really ineffective if you’re looking to understand the culture of the institution or the kinds of students who attend. I have first-hand experience with this dilemma myself: when I was applying to grad school, I did a lot of preliminary research online; but when I visited the schools in person, my experience on campus often contradicted my initial impressions. One website made me fall deeply in love, until I interviewed the school’s students and they all were so sad and burned out and disinterested. Another institution seemed very scholarly—important to me because I like art theory—but the second-year students who toured me around talked about how little time they spend reading and writing. You’re right to be suspicious of websites, and also prudent to ask your colleagues and old professors. But mostly I’m glad you wrote in, because I’m going to share some hard-earned wisdom with you. Come lean a little closer to the screen because I’m going to tell you a secret about the top three art schools:
They don’t exist.