In the new issue of Aeqai.com, out today, is a short essay by yours truly on Peter Paul Rubens. It is an appreciation of his stunning oil sketch, Samson and Delilah, in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum. A juicy topic, from one of the best-ever painters of flesh.
PS–the images in the article can be expanded to see details if you keep clicking.
Mid-winter is the season for writing recommendation letters, as recent and not-so-recent grads apply for graduate study and jobs. In the conversations I have been having with many of my former students, the topic of how to get into the top MFA programs often comes up. One way to get in is to get more training. The one-year Post-Bacc certificate offers that. This article isn’t terribly convincing about the merits of the programs, but it is an introduction. Each program would have to be examined on its own merits, of course.
I have pasted the article into my blog, but you will find a link at the bottom if you would rather see it on the NY Times site. The photos of the student art were not inspiring–art training is still in a terrible fix–but that is a subject for another post.
From the New York Times
January 6, 2008
Continuing Education Section
More Than a Bachelor, Less Than a Master
By DANIEL GRANT
With a B.A. in studio art from the University of New Hampshire, Erik Evensen worked as a graphic designer for a few years before deciding to pursue painting as a career. He applied to the master’s program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston. He was rejected.
“My portfolio wasn’t all that strong, though they told me it showed technical and conceptual promise,” he says. “And I didn’t have as many credits or as much experience” as other applicants. (Bachelor of Arts art majors like Mr. Evensen are generally required to earn 30 studio credits, while a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree requires two to three times as many.)
But Nan Freeman, director of the post-baccalaureate program at the Museum School, as the Boston institution is called, had seen his application and portfolio. “He had wonderful abilities,” she says, “and I knew I wanted to keep him, but he just wasn’t ready for graduate school.”
She recommended her post-bac program, and this fall, with a certificate of completion, he was accepted into the Master of Fine Arts program at Ohio State University, which offered a generous financial aid package. “I had never heard of a post-bac before,” he says.
Join the club.
A layer of study between the bachelor’s and master’s degrees is now available in a wide range of fields. Post-baccalaureate programs may be informal, providing professional development (accounting) or enrichment (English lit), or they may have specific goals — most often, state certification to teach.
In studio art, the post-bac year has become an increasingly popular step toward applying to an M.F.A. program. With so much competition for graduate school and a surge in the number of adults looking to change fields, a dozen or so schools, mostly art academies, have devised programs aimed at raising the level of the artists’ portfolios. In fact, post-baccalaureate admissions deadlines tend to extend into early summer to pick up applicants rejected on the graduate level.
While these programs are open to anyone, they are not for dabblers. They are full-time, full-cost courses of study, usually taught by regular faculty in the regular college rather than in continuing education departments. They attract liberal arts majors who came late to fine art or who minored in it — students with talent but insufficient training — as well as art majors. For them, such programs provide, in effect, a fifth year at art school so they can soak up what they didn’t have time or opportunity for as undergraduates.
There is considerable flexibility and individual tailoring in the post-bac year. Students get studio space, take courses at the graduate or undergraduate level, depending on focus, and participate in critiques. The desired result is a portfolio that will impress.
Most art students do not emerge from a generalist college ready to teach or to exhibit professionally. “There is a certain remedial aspect to these post-bac programs,” says Buzz Spector, former chairman of Cornell’s department of art. “The students in them are often lacking basic, underlying skills, so they don’t have the means to express themselves.”
That view is seconded by Duane Slick, graduate coordinator for painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, which has a post-bac in glass art. To him, the programs “reflect, to some degree, problems in the training of artists in this country.” That is, while the best students master both conceptual ideas and craft, undergraduate training too often encourages doing your own thing rather than technical skills in the making of art. Of R.I.S.D.’s 225 fine arts graduate students, 4 to 8 percent attended a post-bac program. R.I.S.D. sometimes recommends the idea to M.F.A. applicants “who clearly show talent but right now don’t have the chops,” says John Terry, the dean of fine arts.
The post-bac program at Brandeis University was developed in the mid-1990s, after “one of our students who had received a B.A. in studio art was rejected from an M.F.A. program, and we just thought that was ridiculous,” says Joseph Wardwell, its post-bac coordinator for painting. The Brandeis program is aimed at graduates of small liberal arts colleges, whose students, he says, “need additional time and space to build a portfolio so they can apply to M.F.A. programs.”
Mr. Wardwell says up to 90 percent of Brandeis post-bacs develop portfolios strong enough to gain them admission to graduate school. Indeed, because most art students do not become successful artists, the only measure of the effectiveness of a post-bac program is how many students go on to M.F.A.’s.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts established its post-bac program, which stresses traditional figurative art using traditional media, in the mid-1990s; it sends more than 80 percent of its post-bac participants to graduate schools. The School of the Museum of Fine Arts reports the same, with about half its students moving into its own M.F.A. program. Of course, it’s a leg up when you know the faculty and they know you.
Samuel Messer, associate dean at the Yale University School of Art, one of the top art schools in the country, takes a cautious view of post-bac programs. Over all, he says, some “are quite good and set high standards, while others take more casual artists.” Yale does not offer a post-baccalaureate but has accepted post-bac participants in its M.F.A. program. Mr. Messer, however, expresses concern that many of these programs are simply “money-makers” for the schools, “a catchall for people who are afraid to be out of school and probably need to just be out in the world, gaining life experience.”
While federal loans are available and the schools offer partial scholarships, tuition in private academies is not insubstantial. The Museum School costs $30,000. (Mr. Evensen got a scholarship for half that.)
There are also no guarantees that post-baccalaureate participants will be taken into the M.F.A. program of their choice. Michael Pollard, who has a B.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute, applied to its M.F.A. program. “I didn’t get in,” he says. The blow was softened by the proposal of a post-bac program that would provide entree after a year’s study and faculty review. He liked the graduate-level classes, and his artwork shifted from colorful mixed-media assemblages to whitewashed sculptures and, finally, somewhat figurative paintings. “They didn’t like it,” he says. “They didn’t think it was up to the level of an M.F.A. program.”
Mr. Pollard now works at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago as a facilities and security supervisor and continues to create art.
As a matter of pride, most institutions will not accept their own graduates into their post-bac programs. That’s the case at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, says Bill Schmidt, the graduate director and head of the post-bac program. “It would seem to suggest we’ve failed them in their undergraduate studies.”
Graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are also ineligible for their college’s post-bac program. “They should already be prepared to compete at the M.F.A. level,” says André S. van de Putte, director of graduate admissions there. The institute also prefers graduates of liberal arts colleges over graduates of professional art schools. “Our program is meant for someone who has not been immersed in an art school environment,” he says. Three-quarters of its post-bac students eventually enter its M.F.A. program.
The training of artists is no longer only about transmitting hands-on skills like drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography and digital media. In addition to mastering a medium during many hours of studio work, art majors must meet academic requirements in art history, art theory and other subjects. Those involved in the education of artists continually adjust the balance of practice, study and theory in a changing landscape.
Many believe that students can’t get it all in four years.
Katherine Osediacz, a painter, decided she needed time and freedom to develop her ideas. She earned a B.F.A. in art education from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston in 2005 and began work this past fall as an art teacher at Narragansett Regional High School in Massachusetts. Uncertain about her abilities, she attended the Museum School’s post-bac program last year.
“I needed to work on my own art before I thought I would be ready to teach,” she says.
The post-baccalaureate certificate is listed prominently on her résumé. That confuses her father. “It’s not a master’s?” he wants to know.
“No, Dad,” she tells him. “It’s just something I did for myself.”
Daniel Grant is the author of “The Business of Being an Artist.”
This is a study done from life. This painting has been on my studio wall for 18 months, along with many other works that have been lingering there, or in my storage drawers. Lately, I have resolved to photograph them and so will post some as I do so.