Barbara J. Bergstrom
Copyright © Barbara J. Bergstrom 2014
A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
For the Degree of
In the Graduate College
As members of the Dissertation Committee, we certify that we have read the dissertation
prepared by Barbara J. Bergstrom entitled “Engaging a sense of self: Participatory action
research within a course for MFA graduate students in the visual arts” and recommend
that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement for the Degree of Doctor of
Lynn Beudert, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Garber, Ph.D., MFA
Ryan Shin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Final approval and acceptance of this dissertation is contingent upon the candidate’s
submission of the final copies of the dissertation to the Graduate College.
I hereby certify that I have read this dissertation prepared under my direction and
recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement.
Dissertation Director: Lynn Beudert, Ph.D.
This dissertation has been submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for
an advanced degree at the University of Arizona and is deposited in the University
Library to be made available to borrowers under the rules of the library.
Brief quotations from this dissertation are allowable without permission, provided
that an accurate acknowledgement of the source is made. Requests for permission for
extended quotation from or reproduction of this manuscript in whole or in part may be
granted by the copyright holder.
Signed: _____________________________________
Barbara J. Bergstrom
First, I choose to acknowledge Lynn Beudert Ph.D., as it is her unyielding
dedication to the field of art and visual culture education that has continued to motivate
my personal passion for and professional goal of completing this research study. Lynn, as
you will retire within the same semester in which I will graduate, I want to express that to
the absolute best of my ability, I will carry on your charge. Thank you for your gracious
encouragement, relentless integrity, diplomatic questions, and unwavering compassion
for, and commitment to every aspect of my Ph.D.; you have humbled my approach as I
join my doctoral colleagues. Thank you, Elizabeth Garber Ph.D. for the many years of
support and guidance you have provided me as both an MFA and a Ph.D. student. I am
grateful to you in many ways. I also appreciate the direction of Jenny Lee Ph.D., Ryan
Shin Ph.D., and Marissa McClure-Sweeny Ph.D. who have helped me to develop
perspectives related to their areas of specialty within education.
To “Annika,” “Jenna,” and “Nate”, thank you for sharing the depth of your
persons and acting on your willingness to confront personal, professional, academic, even
political issues with modest receptiveness. Your dedication to our colloquium series, and
thus my research project, has instigated new motivations within me. I appreciate the
commitment that each of you demonstrated to the experiences of this study and more
importantly, to the devotion of earning your MFA degrees.
I acknowledge that the experience of participating in the Graduate Student
Writing Institute at the University of Arizona followed by weekly meetings with tutor,
John Rabuck have made an impact on my writing that otherwise would never have
happened. Thank you.
As I thank Darden Bradshaw Ph.D., a dear friend, colleague, and writing partner,
I am not sure how to express my appreciation. As someone who walked just a few steps
before me while our dissertations materialized, Darden set the bar high, gave it to me
straight, and provided chips and hugs along the way.
The support and encouragement of my parents, John and Patricia Bergstrom have
resided within the heart of each new endeavor upon which I have embarked. Thank you
for the unconditional love you continue to give to me. I also offer thanks to Britt
Bergstrom-O’Malley and Bill Bergstrom. Along with your families, you continue to
provide occasions for all of us to share our laughter, research curiosities, and the
inspirations that guide our futures. To Tim Walker, the quiet champion of my pursuits, I
express heart-felt gratitude. Your presence within this process has been indispensable. I
also appreciate the spirited support that I have received from my friends Kris Bettisworth,
Elaine Weaver, Irene Defotis, John Aucott, and Miles Conrad.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge my friend, Mary. I treasure the experiences we had
together as MFA graduate students and the friendship we enjoy today. Please know that I
am profoundly grateful for the artistic guidance and empathetic support that you continue
to give to me on my creative journey.
Most sincerely, I dedicate this heart-felt project to current MFA students as well
as those who have navigated the experiences of earning an MFA degree. I truly respect
and genuinely champion your embrace of the unpredictable as well as the exceptionally
rewarding journey of an artist.
LIST OF FIGURES……………………………………………………………..
ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………….. 13
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION…………………………………………...
Research questions…………………………………………………………..
Theoretical framework………………………………………………………
Overview of research methods………………………………………………
Definitions of terms…………………………………………………………
Limitations of the study……………………………………………………..
Significance of the study…………………………………………………….
Organization of the study……………………………………………………
Defining sense of self………………………………………………………..
Graduate student development………………………………………………
The process of re-socialization in graduate school……………………...
Graduate students and self-authorship…………………………………..
A student’s sense of fragmentation……………………………………...
Related issues in studies on undergraduate students…………………….
Seven vectors of good practice……………………………………...
Theory of Involvement and life’s “big” questions…………………..
MFA programs in the United States………………………………………...
The awkward history of an esoteric degree……………………………..
Research studies and MFA visual arts programs……………………………
The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project…………………………….
Graduate students in MFA visual arts programs…………………………….
Graduate students as teaching assistants………………………………...
Faculty members and graduate student development…………………...
Graduate students and faculty members as professional models………..
Curricula and pedagogy within MFA visual arts programs…………………
Requirements and recommendations of National Standards……………
Required and elective courses in professional practice………………….
Approaches to teaching in visual arts higher education……………………..
Teaching within action research………………………………………...
Teaching and mindfulness………………………………………………
Signature, emergent, and reflexive pedagogies…………………………
Context of the study…………………………………………………………
My approach to this action research study…………………………………..
The study: Educational participatory action research……………………….
Research questions…………………………………………………………..
Chronology of events………………………………………………………..
Fall semester 2010………………………………………………………
Fall semester 2011…………………………………................................
Early spring semester 2012……………………………………………...
Late spring semester 2012……………………………………………….
Fall semester 2012………………………………………………………
Research design……………………………………………………………...
Qualitative research……………………………………………………...
Action research………………………………………………………….
Educational action research…………………………………………
Living Educational Theory………………………………………….
Participatory action research………………………………………...
Transformative Living Theory………………………………………
Data collection………………………………………………………………
Oral data…………………………………………………………………
Written data……………………………………………………………...
Visual data……………………………………………………………….
Data analysis………………………………………………………………...
Data collection charts……………………………………………………
Reflection worksheets…………………………………………………...
Limitations of action research……………………………………………….
Ethical considerations and research concerns……………………………….
Verification process…………………………………………………………
Participants’ introductory profiles…………………………………………..
Colloquium series…………………………………………………………...
Colloquium one, August 23, 2012………………………………………
Colloquium two, September 6, 2012……………………………………
Colloquium three, September 20, 2012…………………………………
Colloquium four, October 4, 2012………………………………………
Colloquium five, October 18, 2012……………………………………..
Colloquium six, November 8, 2012……………………………………..
Colloquium seven, November 15, 2012…………………………………
Colloquium eight, November 29, 2012…………………………………. 143
My final reflection……………………………………………………… 145
CHAPTER SIX: DATA ANALYSIS…………………………………………...
Research questions…………………………………………………………..
Data display………………………………………………………………….
Research findings……………………………………………………………
Research sub-question one………………………………………………
Finding 1a: Differences in how the participants described
themselves as individuals, students, and artists……………………..
The participants’ individual perceptions of themselves…………
The participants’ perceptions of themselves as MFA students….
The participants’ perceptions of themselves as artists…………..
Finding 1b: Similarities emerged in the participants’
descriptions of themselves in their roles as teachers………………...
The challenges and stress related to the role of the TA…………
Performing and feeling different………………………………...
Finding 1c: The strongest similarities among the participants’
descriptions of themselves arose in the discussions related to
their future roles as professionals in the field of the visual arts……..
Wanting to teach in higher education…………………………...
Mixed messages about teaching visual arts in higher education..
Research sub-question two………………………………………………
Finding 2a: The informal image-making and writing exercises
completed independently by the participants helped to foster
introspective examinations of their experiences as MFA students
including their personal and professional growth…………………...
The participants’ responses to visual journal prompts and
activities as reflexive pedagogy…………………………………
The participants’ responses to written prompts and activities as
reflexive pedagogy………………………………………………
Finding 2b: The informal group discussions fostered collaborative
examinations of and reflections on their experiences as MFA
students including their personal and professional growth………….
Discussions about issues related to communication…………….
Issues related to managing relationships with others……………
Discussions of issues related to the topics of stress in their lives.
Finding 2c: The oral, written, and visual activities we employed
in our colloquium sessions informed the participants’ final project
to design the “Ultimate MFA Course” (see Appendix N)…………..
Research sub-question three……………………………………………..
Finding 3a: My role as a participant in the action research process
helped to develop the empathy for an understanding I had of the
MFA student participants……………………………………………
My affinities with each of the individual participants…………..
My role as a participant within our collective experiences and
curiosities ……………………………………………………….
Finding 3b: Some of the issues that were addressed in the readings,
research, and class activities of two courses that I took during my
doctoral studies influenced the ideas that I had developed in the
process of designing the colloquium series………………………….
Influences from a course about teaching in higher education
and becoming a professional educator…………………………..
A course that helped to connect practice with purpose………….
Finding 3c: Feedback from the colloquium series, “Issues of
Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts” provided ideas for me to
consider as I aim to continue developing other courses of a
similar nature………………………………………………………...
Discussion of themes………………………………………………………..
The complicated insight gained from exploring oneself as an MFA
student …………………………………………………………………..
The complex relationships encountered by the participants…………….
The MFA students’ relationships with their own “selves”………….
Ways the participants understood themselves as students of the
The complex links between the participants and their professors…..
Relationships with peers: The MFA participants’ words and
The participants coming to terms with perceptions of themselves
as artists……………………………………………………………...
The participants’ vague sense of place in the future as professionals.
The fulfillment concerning my own sense of self……………………….
Looking back and acknowledging additional reflections…………………...
Awakenings of interest for the next colloquium series………………….
The small group as intense and open-hearted…………………………...
Implications of the research study…………………………………………..
Conversations about the self…………………………………………….
Required coursework related to the development of the self……………
Who should teach such coursework?........................................................
Listening to and hearing the voices of MFA graduate students…………
Engaging MFA students in writing……………………………………...
Examining and fostering relationships between MFA graduate students.
Enhanced perspectives for MFA faculty members……………………...
Action research in visual arts higher education classrooms…………….
Opportunities for art and visual culture educators………………………
Possibilities for future research……………………………………………...
Appendix B: INFORMATIONAL FLIERS…………………………………….
Appendix D: INTRODUCTORY SURVEY……………………………………
Appendix E: EXIT SURVEY…………………………………………………...
Appendix F: REFLECTION WORKSHEET…………………………………...
Appendix G: COMPLETED DATA CHART ONE…………………………….
Appendix H: COMPLETED DATA CHART TWO……………………………
Appendix I: COMPLETED DATA CHART THREE…………………………..
Appendix J: ARE 695a SYLLABUS…………………………………………… 301
Appendix K: OPTIONAL READING LIST……………………………………
Appendix L: LIST OF QUESTIONS…………………………………………… 307
Appendix N: “ULTIMATE MFA COURSE”…………………………………..
Appendix O: WRITTEN DATA MATRIX……………………………………..
REFERENCES………………………………………………………………….. 319
Figure 1: Action research cycles……………………………………………..
Figure 2: A photographic diptych, Annika 2012…………………………….
Figure 3: A triptych of acrylic paintings, Jenna 2012………………………..
Figure 4: Bronze-cast coffee mugs, Nate 2012………………………………
Figure 5: Just a thought, Barbara 2008………………………………………
Figure 6: The classroom setting for the colloquium series…………………..
Figure 7: An artistic autobiography, Nate 2012……………………………...
Figure 8: Data Chart One…………………………………………………….
Figure 9: Self-controlled, Barbara 2005……………………………………...
Figure 10: Data Chart Two…………………………………………………..
Figure 11: (Re)sources for inspiration and motivation, Nate 2012…………..
Figure 12: A drawing of the riverbed, Annika 2012…………………………
Figure 13: The voices in her head, Jenna 2012………………………………
Figure 14: A child’s pose, Nate 2012………………………………………...
Figure 15: A digital “sketch” of an installation, Nate 2012………………….
Figure 16: His artist self and teacher self, Nate 2012………………………... 172
Figure 17: Her artist self and teacher self, Jenna 2012………………………
Figure 18: Her artist self and teacher self, Annika 2012……………………..
Figure 19: The letter to her artist self, Jenna 2012…………………………...
Figure 20: A reflection on smoking tobacco and finding focus, Nate 2012…. 178
Figure 21: Data Chart Three…………………………………………………. 192
Figure 22: A Tribute to Time, Barbara 2002…………………………………
The purpose of this research study aimed to critically examine personal and
professional issues related to a small group of visual arts MFA graduate students and
myself as we participated in a semester-long course entitled, “Issues of Relevance and
Character in the Fine Arts,” at a large public university in the United States. In the form
of a colloquium series, the course aimed to explore a graduate student’s developing sense
of self and its impact on the different roles he or she often embodies while pursuing an
MFA in a School of Art. These roles include those of an individual, a student, an artist, a
teaching assistant, and a future professional in the field of the visual arts.
Employing a participatory action research methodology, I was also a participant
in the study. I regularly documented the oral, written, and visual data that emerged from
the participants’ considerations of their immediate circumstances both inside and outside
the School of Art as well as their interactions with the reflexive pedagogies utilized in the
colloquium sessions. This dissertation also reviewed research studies conducted on
graduate student development, students in visual arts MFA programs, the historical
development of the MFA degree, as well as faculty members in MFA programs and their
curricular and pedagogical practices.
Findings indicated the following: First, strong convictions seemed to be intrinsic
to the participants’ pursuit of their MFA degrees. They appeared eager to learn about
becoming a professional in the field, and each participant expressed interest in teaching
the visual arts as instructors in higher education. Second, participating in a course such as
“Issues of Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts,” seemed to offer the participants a
receptive and reflective platform to convey the voices of the “characters” they embodied
as MFA students. For example, the participants appeared to clarify intra- and interpersonal priorities, educational goals and artistic aspirations. Their personal and
professional development was influenced by the complex relationships they shared with
others in their MFA programs. The MFA participants grappled with the connections and
disconnections that appeared to exist between their professors, peers, and themselves. A
third theme addressed the impact of my participation within the study. With an
established background in both teaching and taking courses in the studio arts and Art and
Visual Culture Education, the findings suggest that I was able to empathize with the three
other participants on several fronts. Fourth, the findings also address the curricular and
pedagogical strengths and limitations of the course.
The implications of this research study suggest the need for (a) more action
research studies of MFA graduate students, as the methodology seemed to enhance the
reflexive and exploratory nature of self-inquiry; (b) a series of required courses within
MFA curricula that help graduates to systematically reflect upon their roles as graduate
students in terms of their immediate goals, as well as their aspirations for the future; (c)
research and professional development opportunities for faculty members so that they
might become more aware of the ways that their MFA curricula and instructional
practices influence a graduate student's sense of self both positively and negatively; and
(d) research on how art and visual culture educators can be involved in assisting MFA
graduate students and faculty members develop new perspectives related to their
instructional and mentoring practices.
Mary and I chuckle now as we recall the satisfying high five we raucously
exchanged while sporting graduation gowns several years ago. We had each effectively
rounded out an academic accomplishment that reflected our passion for creating and
looking at thought-provoking art. Completing three years of intense academic and artistic
training, exhibiting thesis projects that represented our individual accomplishments, and
passing our “orals,” the final critique among a committee of university professors, Mary
and I had each earned the terminal degree in the visual arts, a Master’s of Fine Arts
(MFA). Inspired to move forward with our lives, we resigned from regular introspective
peer-driven discussions, routine engagement with our creative work, and the camaraderie
we shared in our university studios. With nearly perfect grade point averages, we left our
academic artistic community and understood that with our degrees, we were armed to
approach the elusive, theoretical, conceptual, yet now slightly less mysterious
professional world of the visual arts beyond the campus. There would be no more
fractured days of darting between classes, working as a teaching assistant (TA) for
undergraduates, catching a required evening lecture, and then consuming a bag of
microwave popcorn before we returned to our studios. Finished with school, we planned
to go forward by submitting our artwork to the biennials at noteworthy museums,
speaking at professional conferences, teaching in higher education, and going into the
business of selling our art. With tassels dancing at our cheeks, the entire class that
graduated with us from the School of Art seemed confident, bursting with enthusiasm,
and ready to unleash well-versed creative energies. We understood that our diplomas
indicated, and even verified, that we were artists.
Recently, I called Mary. We assembled stories of isolation, rejection, self-doubt,
and little studio progress. Now, in the real world, we were exhausted and broke, not to
mention spiritually bereft. We sarcastically talked about our fellow MFA graduates’
“successes” as brutally as we condemned our own. Chuck was teaching at a high school.
Mike was working in construction. And Nina had signed on as a visiting artist for one
year at a university on the opposite coast. Along with our peers, Mary and I were deeply
disillusioned and felt that we were not living the lives that we had strived for as visual
arts graduate students. We reflected on the lives our former studio instructors modeled
and recalled the implicit understanding that MFA students would often become MFA
instructors. We hushed the frustrations that, in time and despite our thoughtful intentions,
were replaced with resentment. The phone calls that followed included disheartened and
reflective questions: What had we become? How had the experience of earning an MFA
degree so elegantly framed our naïve expectations?
At this point, as was typical among my peers, I was a master’s-level visual arts
graduate unprepared for the artless living of contemporary American life. We shared
what appeared to be a prevalent sensation of disconnect between a life motivated by
scholarly and creative investigation and life in general. I guessed at what I had missed,
screwed up, not taken seriously, or done wrong during my years in art school. I was
distressed that most of my colleagues and I, with terminal degrees in hand, experienced
the uncomfortable and discouraging reality of being formally educated artists struggling
to become relevant “authentic” artists. My questions continued: Why was I becoming less
motivated to make art? What, exactly, do art students want to gain from an MFA
program? What, if anything, had the program promised us when we applied to the
program? I wondered if I had been sold a “bill of goods?” Given the pride I once had for
having been accepted into one of our country’s competitive graduate studio art programs,
why did reflecting on having earned an MFA haunt my inner purpose? I felt defeated. I
wondered about the mission statements of schools for the visual arts. I wanted to know if
the curricular design of MFA programs actively considered helping students grow as
creative citizens of the world? I wondered in what ways, specifically, were the graduates
of MFA programs trained to walk into the contemporary world with a sense of purpose
and a relevant education? Questioning a distorted sense of self, I wondered, what is the
artist in me good for?
The purpose for this research study was to address these questions and explore
what led Mary, myself, and my peers to grapple with unsatisfied lives after graduation. I
began to investigate issues related to understanding student self-awareness in higher
education, the curricula and pedagogies of MFA programs in the visual arts, and the
personal and professional circumstances of those who earned an MFA degree.
MFA students in the visual arts on university and college campuses around the
United States find themselves graduating into uncertain living circumstances and vaguely
defined career choices. College graduates, “enter the unfamiliar world outside education
with concerns that center around establishing careers, developing meaningful
relationships, being able to manage lives of their own, eventually establishing families,
and being satisfied and happy” (Magolda, 2001, p. 36). As Magola (2001) has noted,
students leave higher education “with an initial awareness [for having] to make their own
decisions, but without internal mechanisms to do so” (p. 36).
I was no exception to Magolda’s (2001) premise. At the time I earned my MFA
degree, several factors contributed to my ongoing sense of self-doubt. I did not own my
home or a car, nor did I possess a responsible amount of financial savings. My material
possessions included two cats and many cumbersome yet meaningful sculptures that I
had made as part of defining my sense of self as a graduate student. Living nearly two
thousand miles from relatives, these pieces of art were “family” and I could not have
been more proud. I had converted a garage space into an art studio and pursued
opportunities to show and sell my artwork professionally. Sporadically, during the
following five years, I had exhibited artwork around the country between jobs in
advertising and retail, sold handmade greeting cards, and had numerous part-time
college-level teaching positions as an adjunct instructor. Throughout this time, extended
correspondence with friends and colleagues from around the country illuminated how the
circumstances of my isolated life, which included unpredictable wages and scarce studio
time, aligned with theirs.
This was not right. I knew it was unacceptable that a handful of degrees earned
from my years of study within higher education afforded a life disconnected from each of
my former institutions’ distinct missions. As I began to read the literature, it seemed as
the Dean of the Yale Law School, Anthony Kronman (2007) had expressed in his book,
Education’s End, that the “true purpose of education has been lost, namely, a deep
exploration concerning the meaning of life” (p. 8). Who was I? What did it mean to be an
artist, a greeting card maker, or worse, a four-time college graduate asking such a
Motivated to change this widespread condition for MFA graduates, I returned to
higher education to study art and visual culture education. In order to do so, I was again
embedded in what had become a familiar cycle of taking on more part-time jobs to
financially support earning another degree. Regardless, I was keenly motivated to apply
my renewed curiosities about issues related to the practices of art making, teaching and
learning in visual arts programs in higher education, and ways to best support the
personal and professional futures of MFA graduate students. I was inspired to explore
how “currently, there is a large gap between educators’ expectations of their students and
the students’ own expectations for success” (McGuire & Williams, 2002, as cited in
Brancato, 2003, p. 60). As a doctoral student, my goal has been to examine the personal
and professional development that occurs amid the experiences of earning an MFA
degree in the visual arts at colleges and universities in the United States.
My examination has included looking at how MFA students develop a sense of
self in graduate school, in conjunction with exploring the relevance of MFA curricula to
the living situations of those who have graduated from MFA programs. My investigations
are not only informed by a range of arts education studies (Efland, 1990; Egan, 2005;
Eisner, 2002) and research on MFA art programs (Daichendt, 2012: Elkins, 2001;
Ritchie, 1966: Singerman 1999), but also by the literature on teaching within higher
education (Beudert, 2006; Madoff, 2009; Palmer, Zajonc, & Scribner, 2010; Shulman,
During this pursuit, I noted the parallels between how I engaged my values and
beliefs directly when creating works of art and when I wrestled with, identified, and
attempted to clarify my individual sense of self. For example, I practiced art making
simultaneously with considerable introspection that critically considered the “statement”
with which I aimed to visually communicate. In a similar fashion, I considered my
personal values and strengths as I aimed to professionally employ myself as a teacher and
as a citizen of the world.
My doctoral minor, higher education, informed my examination of “how our
values shape our everyday lives as students, teachers, and leaders in the higher education
context” (Lee, 2011, p. 1). In a course, taught by Dr. Lee entitled, “Values,
Consciousness, and Professional Practice,” students evaluated higher education’s impact
on issues of identity and character (Astin, 1993; Chickering & Reisser, 1993), intellectual
growth, relating to others, defining values (Greene, 1995; Palmer, Zajonc & Scribner,
2010), seriously navigating career choices (Daichendt, 2010; Pascarella & Terenzini,
1991), and anticipating a quality of life after college (Bok, 2006; Kessler, 2000).
The pedagogical activities in the “values” course included practices related to
understanding emotional intelligence (Goldman, 2006; Gradle, 2011), writing reflectively
(Cameron, 1992; Tolle, 2005) and exploring different types of meditation (Kabot-Zinn,
2006; Tolle, 2005). I began to realize that I wanted to critically study these strategies, as
they were similar to the ones that I applied as an MFA student in order to seek my artistic
voice and professional purpose, and an understanding of the impact of self-awareness.
The experience of and reflections on taking this course contributed to the impetus for this
research study. I designed a course intended for MFA graduate students in the visual arts
entitled, “Issues of Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts.” The curricula and
pedagogies I included addressed issues related to the personal and professional lives of
those in pursuit of the terminal MFA degree. I believed that “[n]ot only students, but also
college faculty and administrators, must take a leap of faith in truly questioning their own
beliefs and values” (Lee, 2012, p. 6) and hoped to help MFA graduate students practice
reflexive actions, examine individual convictions, and maximize their experiences in
graduate school both inter-personally and as future professionals.
In general, this research study allowed me to conduct my course and to gather
data within an MFA program. The class members (the study’s participants and I) would
explore the educational experiences that impact the participants’ personal and
professional development, in terms of their sense of self, while earning the degree. As
“each formal discovery was a self-discovery” (Singerman, 1999, p. 119), this research
study aimed to clarify both implied and inferred purposes of, and intentions for earning
an MFA degree in the visual arts today and, more specifically, help future MFA students,
once clad in their graduation gowns and tassels, leave graduate school with a sense of
purpose and an education relevant to contemporary life.
Research questions
The question that guided this research study was:
How do the experiences related to personal and professional development within
an MFA visual arts program influence a graduate student’s individual sense of self?
In order to address this overarching research question, I posed the following subquestions:
1. How do MFA students within a course that addresses the curricula and
pedagogies of their graduate programs and their experiences as MFA students
describe themselves as individuals, students, artists, teachers, and future
professionals in the field of the visual arts?
2. How does participating in the course allow MFA students to examine and reflect
upon their personal and professional growth as well as their graduate experiences?
3. How does my role as the teacher-researcher-artist of the course enable MFA
students to critically examine and reflect upon their experiences and their
developing sense of self as MFA students?
Theoretical framework
The participants in this research study comprised three MFA graduate students
and myself as we collaborated within a course entitled, “Issues of Relevance and
Character in the Fine Arts.” The research utilized educational and participatory action
research methodologies (Basten, 2012; Blair, 2010; Burgess, 2006; Kemmis &
McTaggert, 2000; McNiff & Whitehead, 2011; Pine, 2009; Vozzo, 2011), which
progressed along a spiral-like and cyclical path as the study progressed. The data
collected, which comprised participants’ actions, reflections, and responses, were
analyzed through a theoretical framework that combined concepts relating to two
educational theories: the first was Jack Mezirow’s (Mezirow & Taylor, 2009)
Transformative Learning Theory, which considers the ways one’s future actions are a
result of revised interpretations of one’s experience. The second was Jack Whitehead’s
(1989) Living Educational Theory that draws on findings from the participants’
involvement with their own educational experiences.
The participants in the study were challenged to analyze how their beliefs, values,
and knowledge are interconnected and to investigate, “[h]abits of thought… to
understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal
consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, [or] experience” (Shor,
1992, p. 29). During the 15-week study, the emergent and ongoing data we collected
conveyed transformations in the process of creating, re-creating, and living one’s own
Overview of research methods
Action research is often used as a form of qualitative inquiry (Creswell, 2009).
According to Krauss (2005), “qualitative research and qualitative data analysis, in
particular, have the power to be transformative learning tools through the ability to
generate new levels and forms of meaning, which can in turn transform perspectives and
actions” (pp. 273-274). The combined theories of Transformative Learning Theory
(Mezirow, 2009) and Educational Living Theory (Whitehead, 1989) can offer a research
framework in which personal and professional experiences could be interpreted and reinterpreted collaboratively in this study.
Teacher-researchers who use educational action research methods build rapport to
develop open, student-centered, and supportive relationships with their research
participants. This approach encourages the participants to relax and be more inclined to
offer their full participation in a study (Blair, 2010). Participatory action research (PAR)
methods situate the study’s participants, including the teacher-researcher, as a single team
of investigators that emphasizes the inherent and beneficial nature of ongoing
collaborative change. It should be noted that according to Hutzel, “Ideally, PAR methods,
from the generation of research questions to analysis of data, involve collaboration. In
practice, however, collaboration does not necessarily happen at every phase of the
research process” (Buffington & McKay, 2013, p. 266). As McTaggart (1997) suggested,
participatory action research methods include authentic or “real” participation and the
relevancy of “worthy” actions. In addition, the iterative and collaborative process of
educational participatory action research can allow for thorough interpretations of
theories and practice that, when combined, ultimately reveal new knowledge (Schratz,
For this study, the MFA student participants and myself “lived,” scrutinized, and
transformed our individual perspectives. We planned, practiced, and re-evaluated issues
related to curricular and pedagogical aspects of their MFA programs and personal and
professional development, in conjunction with reflexive strategies for exploring concepts
of one’s developing sense of self. As Pine (2009) has suggested, “The educational action
research paradigm empowers the participants to take charge of their classroom, to
improve teaching, and to advance student learning” (p. 79).
By the end of this study, three types of data had been collected that included
various oral, written, and visual artifacts, such as audio-recordings, surveys, teaching
plans and reflections, visual journal entries, artist statements, reading responses, digital
images of selected artworks, and evidence of electronic correspondence. Collected at
regular intervals, each individual datum was thematically categorized in relation to each
Definitions of terms
For the purposes of clarity and this research, the following definitions are
provided in order to offer further understanding of relevant terms.
Sense of self
The phrase, sense of self, references the concepts that relate to one’s individual
perspectives with regard to one’s self and/or one’s own being. It is a phrase that is not
universally defined within the literature (Palmer, 2004).
This term refers to an activity or series of teaching activities that were designed,
implemented, and practiced by the teacher-researcher-artist and MFA student participants
within the context of this research study.
Educational action research
The nature of this research method engages teacher-researchers who build rapport
to develop open, student-centered, and supportive relationships with their students, who
are also research participants. These participants are encouraged to relax and be inclined
to offer their full participation in a study (Blair, 2010). Educational action research
“empowers the participants to take charge of their classroom, to improve teaching, and to
advance student learning” (Pine, 2009, p. 79).
Participatory action research
Participatory action research methods situate the study’s participants, including
the teacher-researcher, as a single team of investigators. Emphasizing ongoing change,
the iterative and collaborative process of educational participatory action research can
allow for thorough interpretations of theories and practices that, when combined,
ultimately reveal new knowledge (McTaggart, 1997; Schratz, 1992). Participatory action
research addresses “knowledge within a team context to create innovation and
transformation as collective action” (Burgess, 2006, p. 422).
MFA student
Referenced often throughout this dissertation, the term MFA student refers to a
graduate student who is pursuing a master’s-level fine arts art degree in the university’s
School of Art's studio visual arts program.
Studio art faculty
This group of instructors includes the tenure-eligible and tenured faculty members
who teach visual arts studio courses in the MFA program at the university’s School of
Limitations of the study
As is typical of qualitative research, findings from this study were not
generalizable as three MFA visual arts graduate students and myself represented one
School of Art at a single university. None of the study’s participants came from other
disciplines in the College of Fine Arts, such as theater, dance, music, and creative
writing. The three MFA student participants were of the same ethnicity (white) and in
their late 20’s and early 30’s. Potentially they did not represent a well-rounded sample of
the types of individuals who attend graduate school in the visual arts. The participants
also volunteered to participate in this study, as they were interested in exploring the
issues that were advertised in the course description and flyer. Over the duration of the
study, the findings revealed that the students participated fully in the course. Because this
population was specifically defined, the study may lack external validity (McNiff &
Whitehead, 2011).
My own background as an MFA student may have been a limitation. My input
was influenced by years of experience as a visual artist, as a student in higher education,
and as an instructor of the visual arts. I had earned my MFA degree seven years prior to
this research study that took place at the same university. At the time of this study, I was
a well-practiced, professionally trained art educator facilitating research that purposefully
focused on the curricular plans and pedagogical practices of instructors (often, not trained
as educators) in an MFA program. The objectivity that was required of me was
challenged given my various levels of experience.
On a similar note, another limitation in this study may include the degree of
subjectivity that is innate to findings of qualitative action research. Action research
engages “living theory” (Murray, 2012; Whitehead, 1989; Whitehead & McNiff, 2006),
and only I, as the teacher-researcher-artist, decided what data would substantiate the
findings. The challenge of withholding my motivation to activate changes in MFA
program curricula provides a strong example of the ways methods of action research are
“not a value free process” (Reason, as cited in Pine, 2009, p. 75).
Another limitation to this study is that my research primarily focused on an MFA
graduate student's sense of self. Given this focus, I may have overlooked other research
aspects that emerged within the context of this study.
Finally, issues related to time may have influenced this study in some ways.
Having designed the course that was approved by the Division of Art and Visual Culture
Education several months prior to the study, I came to understand the lengthy and
complex process of implementing new curriculum at the university. Given the scheduling
circumstances, I was obliged to offer the course as a colloquium series and use an art
education (ARE) course prefix rather than list it as an “ART” prefix. This necessitated
that MFA students had to register for a one-credit course outside their MFA program;
thus this may have discouraged students enrolling in the course, a rare “elective”
opportunity for them. In the end, however, once these limitations have been considered,
they do not overshadow the importance of this study.
Significance of the study
Action research is infrequently used as a method of researching issues in higher
education today. Moreover, there has been little systematic research carried out within
visual arts graduate programs. This study aimed to counter this lack of knowledge by
exploring the complex experiences encountered as MFA students learn and begin to teach
undergraduates while they participate in an MFA program. By using a participatory
action research framework, this study not only explored graduate students’ involvement
within their MFA studies, but it also demonstrated how participatory action research can
be a viable research approach within visual arts higher education.
This study is important because it examines the development of a sense of self in
graduate visual arts students. This research has been informed by the literature on college
student development and issues of student identity and character within higher education
(Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Lee, 2011). This literature base, along with information
related to student affairs, has seldom been considered when examining MFA visual arts
Not only are various concepts of a student’s sense of self explored in this study,
but more practical issues are addressed as well. For example, the study examines how to
investigate the “voices” of the undergraduate students in the foundations courses in which
MFA students teach. This entails the TAs having a consideration for, and the knowledge
of undergraduates’ personal values and beliefs as well as professional goals. This study
also documents the various relationships that make an impact on an MFA student’s
academic experiences, the types of professional development courses that support those
approaching the field of the visual arts, and exercises that activate the integration of an
MFA student’s theories and/or philosophies with his or her creative practices. This study
also addresses pedagogical and curricular decision making in MFA programs as well as
documents teaching practices in higher education. Few studies exist not only about how
faculty members model teaching within colleges and universities but also within visual
arts higher education (Beudert, 2006). This study has considered the complexity of the
pedagogical and curricular decisions made in MFA programs.
As the field recognizes that “applications to US-based MFA programs are at a
record high” (Beck et al., 2009), it is important to examine the courses that MFA students
are required to take. However, as current discussions about curricula are taking place
within the field, the colloquium series at the center of this study created a platform for
participants to critically examine and question existing curricula as well as propose
changes for the future.
Organization of the study
The purpose of this first chapter has been to provide the context, research
questions, and research framework that underlie this study. Chapter Two offers a review
of literature that relates to the impact of a developing sense of self on students in higher
education, the historical and contemporary circumstances surrounding visual arts MFA
programs, and selected curricular and pedagogical approaches within the visual arts.
Chapter Three describes the research methodologies employed in this study, including the
data collection methods and how the data were analyzed. Chapter Four presents a series
of profiles of the participants in the study. Chapter Five describes the curriculum and
pedagogy of the colloquium series. Chapter Six presents the data analysis and its
subsequent findings. In Chapter Seven, I discuss my findings and their implications for
graduate students and faculty members in MFA programs, as well as for the field of art
and visual culture education. I also offer several suggestions for future research.
This research study focused on an understudied cohort: graduate students in MFA
visual arts programs in the United States. A lack of research exists relating to the
curricular content of MFA programs as well as those who inhabit the programs, in
particular students and faculty members. This chapter presents the backdrop for my
collaborative and reflexive action research study that has aimed to elicit new knowledge
about the ways an MFA student’s sense of self is influenced by his or her personal and
professional development.
Defining sense of self
Arthur Chickering, an expert in the field of educational leadership and policy,
opened his collaborative text entitled, Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality in
Higher Education by stating, "Although American higher education can justifiably take
pride in its capacity to develop the student’s ability to manipulate the material world
through its programs in science, medicine, technology, and commerce, it has paid
relatively little attention to the student’s “inner” development – the sphere of values and
beliefs, emotional maturity, moral development, spirituality, and self-understanding”
(Chickering, Dalton & Stamm, 2006, p. vii).
Issues that relate to concepts of “self” and having a “sense of self” are central to
this research study. During their years in higher education, young adults refine personal
aspirations that help them “develop those habits of mind and character that will enable
them to desire and pursue worthy goals” (Ryan & Bohin, 1999, p. 102). Attempting to
define “sense of self,” Parker Palmer (2004) wrote:
Philosophers haggle about what to call this core of our humanity… Thomas
Merton called it true self. Buddhists call it original nature or big self. Quakers call
it the inner teacher or the outer light. Hasidic Jews call it a spark of the divine.
Humanists call it identity and integrity. In popular parlance, people often call it
soul. (p. 33)
Palmer (2004) contended that mere efforts to determine one single definition of a
sense of self indicates that society is, at least, attempting not to diminish humanity in
terms of biology, social constructs, or raw material. Ultimately, as part of his personal
scholarship, Palmer (2004) asserted that, “A strong community helps people develop a
sense of true self, for only in community can the self exercise and fulfill its nature: giving
and taking, listening and speaking, being and doing. But when community unravels and
we lose touch with one another, the self atrophies and we lose touch with ourselves as
well” (p. 39). Louise Parsons who has studied visual practices in art education claimed,
“We are continually remaking our sense of self, our ‘I’, in relation to refusing and
revising established codes. The construction of new music, new art, new forms of writing
overlap with new constructions of self” (Parsons, 1999, p. 152).
Researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1993) has claimed that one's “self is more
in the nature of a figment of the imagination, something we create to account for the
multiplicity of impressions, emotions, thoughts, and feelings that the brain records in
consciousness” (p. 216). He has argued that one’s self is partly defined by moments of
“flow,” or sensations of being “in the zone” and embodies an unconscious engagement
with fulfillment where, “Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from
the previous one…. Your whole being is involved” (Geirland, 1996, p. 57).
Csikszentmihalyi identified a personality trait that he called “work orientation.” It is
characterized by “achievement, endurance, cognitive structure, order, play, and low
impulsivity,” and this orientation can be a predictor of a student’s achievement of his or
her long-term goals (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993).
Reflecting back to Palmer's work (2004), “When we are rooted in true self, we
can act in ways that are life-giving for us and all whose lives we touch. Whatever we do
to care for true self is, in the long run, a gift to the world” (p. 39). In the following
sections the importance of acknowledging notions of a student’s sense of self are
inextricably interwoven within the literature on student development in higher education.
Graduate student development
According to the literature, “Students, especially nontraditional students, are
increasingly demanding that education be more relevant to their personal lives and
professional goals. They want to know that value has been added to their lives as a direct
result of their educational experiences” (Brancato, 2003, p. 60). The American Council
on Education (ACE) stated as early as 1937 that, “educators must guide the ‘whole
student’ to reach his or her full potential and contribute to society’s betterment… the
personal and professional development of students is a worthy and noble goal” (as cited
in Evans et al., 2012, p. 8). The ACE revised its statement in 1949 stating that faculty,
administrators, and student personnel workers were to encourage the development of
students and recognize their “individual differences in backgrounds, abilities, interests,
and goals” (as cited in Evans et al., 2012, p. 9).
My research interests pertain to issues related specifically to the personal and
professional development of graduate students in MFA visual arts programs; however,
the literature is limited. The following literature introduces issues relating to graduate
student development in various disciplines outside the visual arts, as “graduate training
may be distinguished from earlier education because of its goal of professionalization”
(Egan, 1989, p. 201).
The process of re-socialization in graduate school
Egan’s 1989 unpublished dissertation entitled, Graduate School and the Self: A
Theoretical View of Some Negative Effects of Professional Socialization, examines the
identity transformations of graduate students and their readiness as academic
professionals upon leaving their programs. She examined the settings of graduate
programs and their intended outcomes as she investigated “changes in students’ selfimages, attitudes, and thinking processes” (p. 201). Egan questioned the re-socialization
or the “process designed to ensure that [graduate students] adopt a new, predefined
professional self” (p. 204) required of graduate students as well as the suitability of
current social structures in graduate education. As these students let go of former identity
and intellectual perspectives for the acquisition of new characteristics, Egan noted
graduate students’ feelings about the “constant pressure to perform, to do more” and their
“guilt over time spent away from studies” (p. 204). The graduate students in her study
believed that they were expected to act independently, yet comply with the innately
subordinate environment of higher education. As a result, inner conflicts emerged within
the students. Egan concluded that enduring the intensity of graduate school in an
atmosphere which fostered self-doubt left graduate students to believe their challenges
most often stemmed from personal inadequacies (Egan, 1989).
Graduate students and self-authorship
Baxter-Magolda (2008) found that college environments often do not create the
conditions necessary for developing what she calls, self-authorship. This can be defined
as “the internal capacity to define one’s belief, identity, and social relations” (Magolda,
2008, p. 269). Employing “constructive-developmental pedagogy” or simulations and
real-life projects that emphasized inviting the self to be a central component of
knowledge construction, Baxter-Magolda conducted a longitudinal study that started with
101 students at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio and ended with 39 college student
participants; 17 of whom were graduate students (Magolda, 2001). Baxter-Magolda's
study began in 1986 when each participant entered college and lasted for 14 years. She
followed the participants through their years in college and as they moved through their
twenties and thirties. Each one was interviewed once a year, at which point BaxterMagolda gathered data related to the ontological issues encompassing individual realities
that change over time. The three questions that took precedence in the regular exchanges
between Baxter-Magolda and her participants included: “How do I know?’ ‘Who am I?’
and ‘How do I want to construct relationships with others?” (Magolda, 2001, p. 15).
Essentially, Baxter-Magolda documented the epistemological aspects of their
human development experiences in college, and after college, by observing the
participants’ “sense of themselves and their relationships with others” (Magolda, 2001, p.
343). She assessed the participants’ choices related to values exploration and their selfdetermined paths to “enter the unfamiliar world outside education with concerns that
center around establishing careers, developing meaningful relationships, being able to
manage their lives on their own… and being satisfied and happy” (Magolda, 2008 as
cited in Evans et. al., 2010, p. 184). She observed which participants grew through selfdirection and which participants grew because of their understanding of what she called
“individually tailored nuances” or individual experiential knowledge building. These
subjective learning circumstances revealed findings of cognitive and intellectual
development (King & Kitchener, 1994). Magolda found that students and graduates often
struggled with challenges for which they were ill prepared. She found that the
epistemological development of her participants was tightly intertwined with the
development of their sense of self and relationships with others. She concluded that, “self
is central to knowledge construction” (Magolda, 2001, p. 436).
A student’s sense of fragmentation
Though his focus is not that of examining graduate students, sociologist Parker
Palmer, whose studies are rooted in adult development, examined the factors in higher
education that can lead to a student’s sense of “fragmentation” (2004; 2010). Palmer
(2004) claimed that, “Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing
brokenness as an integral part of life… As adults, we must achieve complex integration
that spans the contradictions between inner and outer reality” (p. 21). Today, he continues
to promote this concept of humanness through engaging curriculum, pedagogy, and
student assessment.
Palmer (2004) has written about the circumstances that affect college students and
how, as a result of their environment, these circumstances reflect ever-changing,
morphing, and sometimes volatile positions of responsibility throughout any given day,
month, and year. His theory of education has posited that students acquire knowledge
from the traditional practices of education, yet their actual existence is separate from this
knowledge; thus obtaining this knowledge becomes “an end in itself.” According to
Palmer (2004), “As the outer world becomes more demanding – and today it presses in
on children at an obscenely early age – we stop… entering the world of the soul. And the
closer we get to adulthood, the more we stifle the imagination that a journey requires” (p.
Related issues in studies on undergraduate students
Here I acknowledge the research of two scholars, Arthur Chickering and
Alexander Astin, who currently address issues related to concepts of self within
undergraduates. Often referenced within the discipline of Student Affairs, both
Chickering and Astin have explored notions of identity, student development, and
professional goals. These scholars have addressed complicated issues that often reflect
the diverse growth occurring within college students themselves, and “student affairs
professionals appear to have the strongest and most consistent voice in the academy
articulating concern for the human growth and development of students” (Evans et al.,
2010, p. 20).
Seven vectors of good practice. Arthur Chickering has conducted many positivist
studies engaging Psychosocial Developmental Theory that assists in identifying a college
student’s ability to develop competence, manage his or her emotions, and strengthen
connections between vocational and recreational interests. Chickering and Reisser (1993)
defined “self” in terms of “genetic predispositions, family norms, cultural traditions, and
experiences as a member of a majority or minority ethnic group” (p. 188) and have
claimed that identity establishment is at the “core” of student development. Chickering’s
book, Education and Identity, was originally published in 1969 and became a “must
have” for professionals in the field of student affairs. The book described a set of seven
vectors (or principles) related to understanding college student development. Each vector
aimed to reach college students “where they live [and]… connects significantly with
concerns of central importance” (p. 3). Together, the vectors represented “major
highways for journeying toward individualization” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p. 35).
By 1993, new studies in identity development led Arthur Chickering, together
with Lisa Reisser, to revise and update the seven developmental vectors. The updated
principles examine college student identity in terms of the following qualities: developing
competence, managing emotions, moving through autonomy toward interdependence,
developing mature interpersonal relationships, establishing identity, developing purpose,
and developing integrity (Chickering & Reisser, 1993). Chickering and Reisser's research
is viewed as important for faculty members as they interact with their students. For
example, the researchers have encouraged ideas such as the importance of establishing
student-faculty contact both in and outside of class, addressing concepts that are
collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated, and providing opportunities for
college students to “talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it
to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives” (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996).
Chickering and Reisser aimed to serve faculty members in higher education by offering
strategies to organize student programs that would systematically enhance student
Theory of Involvement and life’s “big” questions. Astin’s (1984) Theory of
Involvement acknowledges “the amount of physical and psychological energy that the
student devotes to the academic experience” (p. 297). Within it, he postulated that
students’ experiences occur along a continuum and that their involvement can be
quantitative (i.e. measurements of time) and qualitative (i.e. measurements of attention)
(Astin, 1984, 1993; Evans et al., 2010). His studies have focused on facilitating student
development rather than exploring student development, as he has contended that
teachers need to offer specific opportunities and create programs for students to become
involved in their educational environments both inside and outside of classrooms. Astin
has measured, in degrees of increased student involvement, the effectiveness of these
activities, programs, and policies.
The research conducted at the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at The
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has included studies that relate to
interdisciplinary issues and policies in higher education. Astin, as founder of the Institute,
has conducted multiple studies that consider spirituality and students’ quests for the
answers to life’s “big questions.” The results of Astin’s 2001 study entitled, “National
Study of College Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose” were added to a national
database on student and faculty attitudes toward meaning and purpose, and have
prompted the development of new curricula in higher education. In general, the findings
in his research indicated that students grow the most when actively engaged with “inner
work” of self-reflection, contemplation, or meditation (A. Astin, H. Astin, & Lindholm,
MFA programs in the United States
The intriguing story of the Masters of Fine Arts degree in the United States is
crowded with transformations that are as unique, indefinite, and perplexing as the nature
of art itself. Documentation of, and research studies on the MFA degree, its history and
influence are rare, yet rich. They reveal an account of one of the most mysterious
disciplines within higher education that, to this day, resides in the somewhat dim
interpretations of a subjective, yet ardently popular academic structure (Daichendt, 2010,
2012; Lackney, 1999; Morrisroe & Roland, 2008; Singerman, 1999). I approached the
review of the following literature with an understanding that “[MFA programs] still
occupy a somewhat awkward place within the structure of the modern university”
(Stinson, 2013, p. 1).
The awkward history of an esoteric degree
The formal training of artists on college and university campuses in the United
States began late in the 19th century (Efland, 1990). George Comfort, a professor at
Syracuse University and John Weir, Director of the School of Fine Arts at Yale
University, were among the first academics to recognize the importance of incorporating
the education of studio artists into academia and the role of professional art schools
(Ritchie, 1966). Also, the American Industrial Revolution had intensely impacted the
practices of and rationalizations for professional art training in private schools, colleges,
and public universities. At this time in history, most studio-oriented courses were situated
in teacher education programs that were beginning to address the country’s need for
training teachers to educate the growing workforce in the United States (Efland, 1990).
Liberal arts schools maintained their stance, however, by offering studio art
courses only as adjunct to art history courses; thus, keeping any media specialization in
the studio arts at bay. Liberal arts studies emphasized student development and continued
to support the holistic values gained from a broad education in the areas of philosophy,
humanistic science, natural science, history, and literature. Students graduated from these
institutions having gained not only a professional skill, but also a whole body of
knowledge or a “unified understanding called insight” (Singerman, 1999, p. 15).
Early in the twentieth century, visual art programs in higher education faced new
challenges. One of these challenges was to balance the need for skilled and trained
craftsmen (who could continue to address the demands and influences of changing times)
with a more philosophical concern for whether art could be taught in the first place. In
1912 when the College Art Association (CAA) was established, its comprehensive
purpose was “to promote art interests in all divisions of American colleges and
universities” (Ball, 2011, p. 19). The association debated the purpose, content, and
intentions for earning an art degree in higher education until well into the twentieth
Acknowledging the discipline of art history and its research, the utilitarian
significance of studio practice and the contribution of the visual arts to the development
of liberal culture, Harvard University created division leaders for each arts-based
program on its campus. This was the earliest effort to place all arts-related disciplines
within the boundaries of a single university. Harvard awarded its first art history doctoral
degree in 1913 (Singerman, 1999).
In the 1920s, different approaches to studio art education emerged. For example,
as one art professor used standards for which he or she determined good art or bad art,
another instructor, a skilled craftsman, taught students how to make beautiful things. The
curricula at university art schools, technical schools, and liberal arts schools evolved
slowly. During this time, professors at Yale University took great pride in their ability to
create artists who went out into the world and made paintings and sculptures for
commissions. The other kind of artist – the one less inclined to create artwork to satisfy
the requests of individual patrons – was considered by visual arts education professors to
be one of those who entered the world with less promise for a lucrative life.
In a similar vein, R. L. Duffus, a surveyor for the Carnegie Foundation in the
1920s, claimed that a person who chose to go to art school sought a certain kind of life,
not a career. In his book, The American Renaissance (1928), he suggested that, “The
majority [of art students] will drop out in a year or two. Art is not for them. For those
who remain the struggle will be long and desperate” (p. 49). Duffus positioned himself on
the “side” arguing that art could not be taught.
In 1937, when the American Council on Education (ACE) asserted that personal
and professional development was a worthy goal, traditional academic institutions were
extending faculty positions to practicing painters, sculptors, printmakers, and craftsmen
(Singerman, 1999, p. 15). Additionally, academic courses were added to the list of
requirements for earning a bachelors degree in painting, as the Bachelor of Fine Arts
(BFA) was deemed the terminal degree in the studio arts (Ritchie, 1966).
In order to encourage students' artistic development through the engagement of
academic curricula, various assessment tools were implemented to evaluate students’
abilities and examine their concerns. With the influx of students going into higher
education after World War II, the CAA (1946) called for standards to regulate the
training of teachers in higher education in the visual arts. A similar call from the CAA,
earlier in the century, had failed to materialize such standards.
During the 1940s, the University of Iowa's Lester Longman made dramatic
changes to the university’s visual arts programs when he created one, “Art” department to
encompass the entire discipline by including courses in art history, art studio practice, as
well as the curricula he had developed for the "teaching of artistic theory, criticism, and
aesthetics" (Singerman, 1999, p. 198). Hired from Princeton University to head the studio
arts at the University of Iowa, Longman had created and fulfilled a new role: that of the
artist-teacher. Longman taught studio classes in the graphic and plastic arts and aimed to
bring together all arts from their adoptive disciplines across the campus, including home
economics, education, and architecture into the new Art Department at the University of
Iowa. According to Singerman (1999), Longman “saved art history from the grasp of
archeology and the classics” (p. 199).
Longman went on to institute the BFA and the MFA degrees at the University of
Iowa, since he believed that, sequentially, the two degrees provided a path that led
directly to the profession of the artist. His initiatives inspired other universities and
colleges within the United States to recognize the relationship between personal and
professional aspects of student development in the visual arts. His vision largely
promoted a new profession for artists - the profession of the visual arts teacher. At this
juncture in higher education, an artist “could instruct undergraduates in the practice of art
as it exemplifies ‘problems pertaining to esthetics, theory and the philosophy of art’”
(CAA, 1946, as cited in Singerman, 1999).
According to Allen Weller in a 1959 article for the College Art Journal, the
Midwest College Art Conference had passed a resolution confirming that the best market
for MFA graduates included formally acknowledging the MFA as “the terminal degree
for teachers of studio art courses” (Singerman, 1999, p. 188). After considering this
endorsement, the CAA adopted the recommendation one year later, and it became an
official rule in 1966; thus, taking the “terminal” distinction away from the BFA. The
MFA degree was to be, “used as a guarantee of a high level of professional competence
in the visual arts… [and] a certifiable level of technical proficiency” (Singerman, 1999, p.
190). It should be noted that, at this time, members of the CAA did not consider that a
studio-art based Ph.D. was an appropriate degree in the visual arts as it would be
“wasteful of talent to spend time on getting a degree beyond the Master’s at the expense
of one’s development as an artist” (Ritchie, 1966, p. 83).
As thousands of World War II veterans gained admission to colleges and
universities under the “Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944,” informally known as
the GI Bill, liberal arts colleges included studio art activities in their art history courses
despite some administrators' ongoing philosophical concerns about the educational
objectives of specialized professional art schools. Nonetheless, faculty members at liberal
arts institutions began to change their perspectives about art and teaching given that the
number of students who were “professionally” dedicated to the visual arts had grown
immensely and the expansion of corresponding studio art programs in American colleges
and universities had been dramatic. The discipline of studio art had finally broken
through the restraints of academic skepticism and its growth encountered general
enthusiasm. By the 1960s, enrollment in undergraduate studio art programs across the
country totaled approximately 43,115 students (Lackney, 1999; Ritchie, 1966;
Singerman, 1999). In 1940, only 11 institutions (with 60 candidates) offered studio art
graduate programs; however by 1978, 118 institutions offered accredited MFA degree
programs (Singerman, 1999).
The fervor and popularity of graduate studio art education existed in contrast to
the reflections of Raymond Parker, a veteran studio art instructor. As a graduate from the
University of Iowa who earned his MFA in 1948, Parker wrote an article for the College
Art Journal (1953) about MFA programs. He noted the following:
[The faculty members] accept the responsibility of developing skills useful to
commercial and applied arts. They stand behind the education they offer as
relevant to art history, art appreciation, and the cultivated man. They produce art
teachers and patrons. But the popular Masters of Fine Arts degree reflects a
dilemma… since art escapes the formulation of standards and methods. (p. 29)
Writing in the College Art Journal, Steppat (1951) claimed that, “all one can
teach are techniques… artistry is completely a matter of endowment and self-induced
personal growth” (p. 385). That same year, an instructor from Bard College argued that,
“All but the most elementary techniques are fundamentally not teachable” (Hirsch, as
cited in Singerman, 1999, p. 38). The perceptions of the “man-as-artist” in the 1950’s
included his liberal education and notable masculinity (Singerman, 1999, p. 39).
This issue of defining what it meant to be a professional was addressed at a
roundtable discussion at the New York School1 in the early 1950’s. According to
Singerman (1999), artist Ad Reinhardt defined a professional artist as “one who
The New York School most often refers to a group of innovative American painters in the 1940s and
1950s, also known as the Abstract Expressionists (West, 1996).
considered art a way to make a living.” Willem de Kooning rebutted, “You can’t call
yourself ‘professional’ unless you have a license, such as an architect has.” Barnett
Newman simply added, “‘Professional’ for me means ‘serious’” (Singerman, 1999, p.
In 1957 when Sputnick was launched and money was poured into higher
education in an effort to compete with the Soviet Union, all disciplines benefitted, as the
entire educational system was perceived to be in need of improvement. “America became
education crazy” (Neher, 2010, p. 5). According to Ritchie’s 1966 report to the CAA,
visual arts programs were embraced by college and university administrations in response
to the growing public appeals for teaching the arts. It was not unusual for a faculty
member in a school of art to be provided research grants, benevolent teaching schedules,
financial contributions for exhibitions and, though rare, a nearby studio space and art
supplies (Ritchie, 1966). Despite this, instructors in the studio arts were generally not
paid salaries comparable to their colleagues in other university and college departments
(National Association of Schools of Art, 1964-1965).
It should also be noted that at this point in the twentieth century, disciplines in
human behavior, including psychology and sociology, were well advanced and fostered a
desire to better understand the demographics of college students. Attention given to the
importance of the “self” made an impact on higher education in the 1960s as institutions
hired human development specialists to care for students’ welfare and created the Council
of Student Personnel Association (Winston, Miller, & Prince, 1979). New instruments
were designed to measure student development (Evans et al., 2012; Pace, 1984; Winston,
Miller, & Prince 1979) and descriptive theories emerged in terms of students’ cognitive
skills, intellectual capacities, and learning styles (Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Josselson,
1996; Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007; Widick, Knefelkamp & Parker, 1975).
On some campuses in the 1960s, art making was perceived to be less important
than discussions about art and its history in more academically structured courses
However, on other campuses, life as an art student was considered empowering as
students in the fine arts enjoyed opportunities for scholarship support, access to creative
research resources, and participated in cultural activities (Ritchie, 1966). CAA Assistant
Director and a former dean of an arts technical school, Norman Rice, argued in 1963 that
it was possible to create, “an environment that is conducive to the development of artists
spiritually, intellectually, and technically…where students can discover themselves and
accomplish initial artistic growth.” However, Rice ultimately clarified his comment about
the art school environment with this explanation: “I did not say [conducive] ‘to become
artists’” (as cited in Singerman, p. 21). Rice’s claim advanced the decades-old
philosophical debate between whether or not schools could “make” an artist.
Some studio art faculty members in the 1960s found themselves on college and
university campuses having recognized that such circumstances might not reflect the
“best” environment for artists, yet they “couldn’t define what that would be” (Ritchie,
1966, p. 57). Faculty members were more likely to stay in their artist-teacher positions as
the academic environment sustained their interests, productivity, and inspiration. Some
believed that teaching in urban institutions was advantageous to their visual arts careers
(Ritchie, 1966). In his 1966 CAA report, Ritchie concluded that those studio art faculty
members, who had the desire to teach and had the skills to do so, could make themselves
at home on a campus "rather effortlessly.” However, by the end of the 1960s the validity
of the artist-teacher label had begun to fade. The title had come to indicate a person who
was not fully an artist or a teacher (Daichendt, 2010; Elkins, 2001; Ritchie, 1966).
What it meant to be an artist remained unclear on into the 1970s. Fluxus2 artist,
Allan Kaprow, claimed that an artist was the professional “man of the world,” yet
American minimalist3 artist, Dan Flavin argued that art making was a “mature decision
for intelligent individuals with a prerequisite of sound personality and construed
education” (p. 164). Sociologist Judith Adler (1979) added to the debate by stating that,
“the college and university milieu jars with the mores of the bohemian subculture in
which many artists still participate” (p. 17).
When the art market “exploded during the Regan era,” the title of ‘Artist’ became
represent a glamorous profession and successful artists appeared in Vogue as well as in
Artforum. For many, the allure of the MFA degree was the "lure of fame and fortune”
(Neher, 2010, pp. 122-123). Art historian Howard Risatti wrote in 1991 that, “at the very
heart of the problem of educating the artist lies in the difficulty of defining what it means
to be an artist today” (as cited in Singerman 1999, p. 3). According to Daichendt (2010),
“Artists throughout history have redefined themselves; a 19th century artist was very
different from the artist of the 1950s and now the 21st century” (p. 64). And finally
Fluxus is a group of artists in the United States that were most active in the 1960s. They “assumed an anarchist
stance by objective to the professionalization of the art market” (West, 1996, p. 439).
Minimalism is a movement in art history that became prominent in the 1960s as a reaction against Abstract
Expressionism. “Minimalism… [introduced] into the domain of art an increasingly wide and eclectic category of
objects that cannot be easily differentiated from objects in the non-art world” (West, 1996, p. 663).
today’s “artist-researchers in the MFA program are invested in becoming part of the
contemporary art landscape that art historians of the future will study” (Leousis, 2013, p.
137). Americans continue to try to define the “artist-teacher.” As Neher (2010) noted, “At
Pratt, for example, a course titled ‘Painting’ is not a hands-on studio course that addresses
issues of perception and technique, but rather a weekly three-hour ‘talk’ seminar on any
subject of the professor’s choosing” (p. 122).
A recent article published in Art in America (2007) entitled, “Art Schools: A
Group Crit,” brought together the opinions of 13 educators from several art schools,
colleges, and universities in the United States including Howard Singerman, Leslie KingHammond, Dave Hickey, James Elkins, and Robert Storr. They had been asked to
address their ideas regarding the “issues of today’s booming art schools” (p. 99). The
many topics they addressed in this article encircled what skills an artist should acquire in
school, what role might the art market play in a student’s education, what new vocabulary
will comprise the post-modern generation of artists, and in what ways might art schools
address issues related to, as James Elkins claimed, “The studio art Ph.D. is coming and
there’s no way to stop it” (p. 108). He surmised:
U.S. institutions have the opportunity to rethink the [Ph.D.] degree, and make it
into something truly interesting… [an] arrangement [that] is an exemplary use of
a university. The juxtaposition of painting and chemistry, or sculpture and
anthropology, is genuinely interdisciplinary because neither the supervisors nor
the student know what shape the interaction might take. (p. 109).
Research studies and MFA visual arts programs
In this section, I discuss research studies that have focused on MFA programs and
MFA students. Actual and systematic research conducted on specific MFA visual arts
programs has been rare, although several scholars and artists have contributed to debates
about what MFA programs should comprise and look like. For example, James Daichendt
(2010) has written about the scholarship of being an artist as well as the ways in which
required writing activities could have a positive impact within programs. James Elkins
(2011) has published many books about artists, art schools, and art teaching. He has also
addressed the ideas related to the development of an arts-practice based Ph.D. in the
United States. Howard Singerman (1999), who was an important source of information
for the history of the MFA degree, was originally inspired to do his research given his
own experience of earning an MFA degree in sculpture. Steven Henry Madoff (2009) has
pulled together the voices of various contemporary artists and art educators as they
addressed new ideas and suggestions for art schools today. This section closes with the
literature about the quantitative study entitled the “Strategic National Arts Alumni
Project” or SNAAP, as it annually assesses the lives of the alumni of fine arts programs.
James Daichendt (2012), a professor of art at Azusa Pacific University, discussed
the state of art education in higher education and aimed to bring attention to the
importance of writing as it accompanies art making by the “artist scholar.” He suggested
that, in general, there is room for MFA students in the United States to improve their
writing skills in order to better understand how writing contributes to the
professionalization of a discipline. In his investigations into “the place of scholarship” in
the studio arts, he forwarded that writing, as a tool for thinking, is also a way of thinking.
He has suggested that the acts of art making are in line with the acts of writing;
essentially they are promising partners in an artist’s practice of inquiry as they are “two
distinct types of thinking” (p. 88). Like the introspection that emerges in a critique,
Daichendt argued that writing can be “pragmatically” used to improve on one’s art
As the Chair of Art History, Theory and Criticism at the School of The Art
Institute of Chicago, James Elkins is known for his provocative writing. He addresses
such questions as, “What do courses on visual studies teach?” within his publications
with titles including, Why Art Cannot be Taught (2001), What Happened to Art
Criticism? (2003), and Is Art History Global? (2010). His research has brought to the
field's attention seemingly basic questions. However, he also demonstrated that he
understands that no one will likely agree on any answer. For Elkins, it has been important
to focus on and highlight these complicated issues even as, most often in doing so, they
become more complicated.
In his discussions about studio art degrees at the postsecondary level, Howard
Singerman has ultimately promoted that being an artist is about building and acquiring an
identity, and that the position involves “a serious commitment to a way of being”
(Singerman as cited in Pearse, 2012, p. 187). Inspired by his personal experience of
earning an MFA degree, Singerman published the book, Art Subjects in 1999 within
which he has taken a comprehensive look at contemporary MFA programs in the United
States. He has thematically addressed many aspects of the degree, including its origin as a
teacher’s and a woman’s degree, the expansion of visual arts programs in higher
education after World War II, and the effects that the “art stars” (p. 189) of the 20th
century have had on higher education in the visual arts. His research has been guided, in
part, by the questions: “What is a professional [in the visual arts] and why is the
university the place to be one?” (p. 189). Singerman also discussed how becoming an
artist is “intensely psychological” (p. 130) given “the cruelty of the crit,” and how it has
been “necessarily psychologized and personalized” (p. 211). The critique, according to
Singerman, often confronts the person rather than the artwork or artistic technique.
Intending to enhance the experiences and purpose of earning the MFA degree
today, Steve Madoff, a senior critic at Yale University’s School of Art edited, Art School
(Propositions for the 21st Century) (2009), which is comprised of written essays from,
and interview transcripts of prominent artist-teachers as they reflected on their
experiences in art school. Acknowledging the various types of pedagogical practices
employed by the teachers in their former art schools, these artists offered ideas on new
initiatives for visual arts programs in the 21st century. Some of the “voices” that Madoff
pulled together to discuss the “pressures, challenges, risks, and opportunities” for artists
and art educators in the future, include Ann Hamilton, Mike Kelley, Marina Abramović,
and John Baldessari.
The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project
The researchers involved with a series of recent studies, the Strategic National
Arts Alumni Project or SNAAP, have hoped to make an impact on perceptions that
concern fine arts programs within higher education in the United States. “SNAAP is
dedicated both to providing confidential alumni data to participating institutions as well
as to looking at some of the major issues facing the arts school of the 21st century”
(SNAAP, 2013, p. 6). The project's mission has been, in part, “to investigate the
educational experiences and career paths of arts graduates nationally” (p. 2). A news
release from Indiana University, where the survey is based, announced that SNAAP had
received a national award for arts research and quoted Sarah Cunningham, the Arts
Education Director at the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009. It said, “SNAAP
results will allow us to see how high-quality, deep training in the arts guides professional
careers of creative American citizens.” (Retrieved from
The survey continues to be developed at the Center for Postsecondary Research
and Center for Survey Research at Indiana University in cooperation with scholars from
the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, and has
surveyed more than 80,000 arts graduates on-line annually since 2008 (SNAAP, 2013, p.
10). The survey has included questions related to former art students’ participation with
their institution’s educational resources while enrolled as a student. It has inquired about
the history of and income from full-time and part-time work in occupations associated
with the arts, as well as the level of engagement they have had as alumni with the training
they received while in art school. Researchers hope that the responses to such questions
can serve as “an invaluable tool for institutions in their ongoing quest for good and
meaningful data for evaluating relevant school-based outcomes… [and provide] a system
that arts training institutions, policy makers, and arts graduates value and use” (pp. 2627).
The report on the findings from the first two surveys were combined and focused
on myths related to arts alumni. For example, a common view of the lives of art school
graduates is that few make a living doing art and that opportunities to do so are limited
(SNAAP, 2010). One report noted that:
[I]n large part, [arts alumni] have found meaningful employment, are satisfied
with their lives, work in diverse settings, and are glad that they went to arts
school… These reports also reveal ways in which arts alumni feel their
institutions could have improved their experiences – for instance, by offering
entrepreneurial and financial training and by expanding their career-related
services. (SNAAP, 2013, p. 10)
The SNAAP researchers also reported that, “Arts training in postsecondary
education exists within a complex ecology of pathways and opportunities… [A]cross all
social groups, alumni show high levels of overall satisfaction with their experience
studying the arts” (p. 24). As accountability demands in the field of higher education
strengthen, SNAAP has considered reporting future findings through the lens of the wage
gap between men and women as well as issues related to students developing “creative
identities” that are sustained throughout their lifetimes (p. 26).
Other scholars that have examined the Project’s findings have researched ways
“… many artistic aspirants who do not work within the arts still incorporate artistic
elements within their diverse careers and often engage in art avocationally” (Lindemann,
2013, 465). Lindemann (2013) claimed that there are “compelling reasons” to study the
“alternative ways” (p. 465) artists are putting together creative careers.
Elizabeth Lingo from NexusWorks and Steven Tepper (2013), the Research
Director of SNAAP argued that:
[A]rtists need to be masters of navigating across historically disparate domains,
for example, specializations and generalist skills, autonomy and social
engagement, the economy’s periphery and the core, precarious employment and
self-directed entrepreneurialism, and large metro centers and regional art markets.
(p. 337)
Graduate students in MFA visual arts programs
Some scholars and administrators have argued that there are too many artists
graduating with the MFA degree at the present time. According to Grant (2011), Michael
Aurbach, a sculpture professor and past president of the CAA, said that, “The problem is
we are producing far too many MFA graduates for the number of existing jobs” (Artist
MFAs Find Teaching Jobs in New Venues section, para. 2). He elaborated further that, as
the result of this circumstance, artists seemed to be exploring new educational venues
such as art museums, community colleges, and private schools.
Potential reasons for why artists attend graduate schools may include a desire to
focus on improving their artwork or to obtain high-level feedback and mentoring from
established artists. Limited literature on this issue suggests that there appears to be no real
consensus about why graduate students pursue the visual arts MFA degree. However, the
existent literature, though sparse, has addressed issues related to MFA students and
teaching. For example, according to Daniel Grant (2011), a regular contributor on the arts
for The Chronicle of Higher Education, many artists "want the degree so that they can be
candidates for teaching jobs at the college level” (Helping Fine Artists Become Fine
Teachers section, para. 2). Joe Girandola, Director of the MFA program at the University
of the Arts in Philadelphia, concurred with Grant’s statement: “I’d say most, if not all, of
our MFA students are thinking about teaching at some college, and they know that it’s
almost impossible to get hired without the degree” (Helping Fine Artists Become Fine
Teachers section, para. 3).
Graduate students as teaching assistants
Despite what Morrisroe and Roland (2008) reported that, "The general
assumption among university art faculty is that students come to MFA programs to hone
their artistic skills, and teaching assignments or assistantships are often seen as simply a
way to provide financial support to graduate students while they work in their studio” (p.
87), many MFA graduate students have pursued teaching assistant opportunities in the art
schools they attended. For example, Michael Hardesty, coordinator of the MFA program
at The Ohio State University, has stated his beliefs on why artists apply to his program.
Grant (2011) disclosed that, according to Hardesty, “The primary focus of [MFA
students’] time at OSU is their development as artists” yet approximately 90 percent of
the MFA students want to be TAs while earning their degrees" (Helping Fine Artists
Become Fine Teachers section, para. 5).
I have uncovered no research studies about why MFA graduate students like to be
TAs; but it makes sense that both teaching aspirations and financial concerns may figure
into their already complex world of earning a graduate education. I found one study,
however, that occurred in 2011 at the University of Virginia and addressed graduate
student TAs within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
(STEM fields). Though not conducted in the field of the visual arts, this study’s findings
put forward two potential advantages that gradate students who have worked as TAs
might gain. I propose that these same advantages could be true of MFA graduate student
TAs. According to Breene (2011), David Feldon, an assistant professor at University of
Virginia’s Curry School of Education, studied more than 140 master’s and doctoral
students from three universities, some of whom worked as TAs and some of whom did
not. He determined that “students spending time both teaching and researching
outperformed the research-only colleagues” (U.VA Study Reveals Grad Students’ Work
is Better When Teaching and Research are Part of the Mix section, para. 9). He suggested
two possible explanations for his findings, which included “practice makes you better…
The more they worked with their students on [various] challenges… the more they
practiced their own research skills,” and, “students who explain how they perform the
skills they are trying to learn tend to learn more quickly and develop better skills” (para.
Returning back to issues within the field of the visual arts, I discovered that issues
related to preparing MFA students as studio art instructors have been recurring concerns
at regional and national conferences, such as those held by the CAA, Foundations in Art:
Theory and Education (FATE), and the Society for Photographic Education (Morrisroe &
Roland, 2008). The ways in which teaching assistants are prepared appears to vary across
institutions. For example, there are no teacher training opportunities at some institutions
compared to a year of mandatory teacher training coursework at others. Additionally,
according to Grant (2011), Howard Quednau of the Minneapolis College of Art and
Design has suggested that MFA student TAs sometimes lack confidence in expressing
themselves in words and are not proficient enough in the subjects they are expected to
teach. He pointed out that, “Some… MFA students need to get [their own] remedial help”
(Artist MFAs Find Teaching Jobs in New Venues section, para. 17).
Subsequently, new courses related to studio teaching have emerged in selected art
schools and departments across the country. For example, the University of Florida added
an elective course to its curricula entitled, “Teaching Art in Higher Education” in 1998,
which was taught by an art education professor. Its premise was that of teaching graduate
students about pedagogy and the basic principles and practices of teaching or the “nuts
and bolts” of university teaching (Morriroe & Roland, 2008, p. 89). Eventually, topics of
theory, academic freedom, and academic responsibility became part of the curriculum for
the course as well. When this became a required course for entering MFA students in
2003, the University of Florida added a position titled, Foundations Coordinator. This
faculty member was responsible for supervising graduate TAs, hosting regular group
meetings to discuss experiences related to MFA students’ teaching, and examining the
quality of the undergraduate student work as a means of assessing the TAs' teaching
abilities (Morrisroe & Roland, 2008).
At the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, faculty members have designed and
taught a course called, “In the Classroom.” The Maryland Institute College of Art has
developed a two-year program that has led to a Certificate in College Teaching in Art.
Other approaches have included required summer courses for incoming MFA students
hired as TAs as well as mandatory attendance at teaching workshops (i.e. designing
courses, writing syllabi, developing studio projects, etc.) during MFA students’ first twosemesters as teaching assistants. The Ohio State University has required MFA students
employed as TAs to take a one-semester seminar course for credit called, “Teaching in
the Studio Classroom,” while they shadow a full-time studio art professor. According to
Grant (2011), The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where full-time faculty
members provide nearly all MFA classroom instruction, has allowed MFA students, upon
the completion of their degrees, to teach two courses at the school as postgraduate
teaching fellows (Helping Fine Artists Become Fine Teachers section, para. 13).
Faculty members and graduate student development
David Brooks (2001) has reminded us that, “For the sake of the students,
educators must help the academy to recognize the value of the whole person concept and
the theory that contributes to students’ growth and change” (p. 21). There is limited
research on how such concepts and theories are viewed within MFA visual arts
education; however, Salazar's (2013) research has aimed to examine how art faculty
members view their students and teaching. She has suggested that one of the primary
goals of art school professors has been “to help students construct a life around art,
conceptualize personal definitions for happiness and success, and develop confidence” (p.
253). Her research also aligns with the CAA's “Standards and Guidelines” (2008), which
state that, “Each student deserves the staff’s careful consideration of individual needs and
conscientious direction in planning an appropriate course of study” (Studio Curriculum
section, para. 11).
Salazar (2013) has also suggested that, “studio instructors who discuss curriculum
and pedagogy with colleagues might become more aware of pedagogical choices,
question curricular assumptions, and expand pedagogical possibilities” (p. 254). Her
research concluded that in order for art schools to meaningfully meet their goal to
develop “the person” in their studio art students, “careful thought must be given to
crafting curricula and pedagogy relevant to citizens of the 21st century” (pp. 255-256).
“The emphasis on doing is not simply about being able to produce a skilled performance,
but is about understanding what it means to be a skilled performer” (Shreeve, Sims, &
Trowler, 2009, p. 128). Salazar (2013) suggested that, “well-crafted curricula will not be
enough: artist-teachers must be able to integrate their studio expertise and curricular
content with the creative inclinations of their students” (p. 256).
Graduate students and faculty members as professional models
As we have seen, once a visual arts graduate student is decorated with an MFA
degree, he or she is often already in the process of pursuing employment within one of
the limited number of open studio art faculty positions in higher education. Even as many
MFA graduates seem to aspire to such positions, the literature relating to these issues in
visual arts teaching in higher education has tended to discourage making the assumption
that recipients of the MFA degree are capable of meaningfully leading a classroom of
visual arts students. It has been argued that such an assumption can be misleading, and
even harmful to the maintenance and longevity of the field. For most of these graduates,
their “teacher” training consisted of the experiences they had while working as a TA for
undergraduates and the observations they made of the ways faculty members modeled the
MFA graduate students may also observe conflicting matters related to how a
studio art faculty member is promoted. For example, the CAA (2008) has asserted that
faculty members' successes in MFA programs have depended “primarily” on their
teaching abilities, despite the fact that many MFA instructors have not been trained as
teachers. On the other hand, Robert Sommer's (1999) research on the role that a studio art
program has at a research university contradicts this claim. He said that, even though
"faculty in studio art are neither recruited nor trained to teach lecture courses…
promotions and merit increases are based primarily on creative work and secondarily on
teaching” (pp. 42-43).
In general, “Teaching to a high level of learning is often a struggle, because
[university] educators are frequently not knowledgeable about a variety of teaching
strategies” (Smith & Geis, 1996, p. 5). Specifically, literature related to teaching at high
levels of visual arts programs suggest that potential challenges to studio art educators
exist as they are often not trained as pedagogues (Anker et al., 2007; Daichendt, 2010;
Elkins 2001). According to Barrett (1988), “…students may well teach as they have been
taught…” (p. 27). This circumstance impacts the ways instructors model the profession.
“The way we teach will shape how professionals behave – in a society so
dependent on the quality of its professionals, that is no small matter” (Shulman, 2005, p.
59). Elliot Eisner (2002) has written that, “the aims of any field are not determined solely
by its subject matter; they are also determined by… teachers who decide what is
important to teach” (p. 70). Salazar (2013) wrote in her article about art making in the
21st century that, “by engaging students as equals and sharing stories from their lives,
teachers model what it means to be practicing artists and ‘real’ people” (p. 252).
Ultimately, as Singerman (1999) has pointed out, “Teaching does not come without
metaphysics. It is not offered, nor is it heard, outside an ensemble of representations,
values, and beliefs woven in and out of course assignments, studio critiques, and modeled
roles” (p. 5).
Atkins, Brinko, Butts, Claxton, and Hubbard (2001) have forwarded that,
"Educators need to… engage in professional development activities that promote among
them a renewed sense of accountability, innovation, and connection to the organization’s
missions and goals while also promoting professional and personal growth (as cited in
Brancato, 2003, p. 60).
Curricula and pedagogy within MFA visual arts programs
According to Saul Ostrow of the Cleveland Art Institute, “the fact that graduate
programs have not significantly changed structurally or pedagogically is a concern for
many of us involved in the question of how artists are to be educated” (Anker et al., 2007,
p. 106). He also recognized, however, that today’s programs are confronted with what he
called “the corporatization of education,” and thus, arts institutions are challenged to
“balance their commitment to addressing evolving cultural standards with the
institutional tendency to see those solutions that are most readily marketable” (p. 106).
Requirements and recommendations of National Standards
The National Association for Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) was
established in 1944 and continues to determine the standards required of the nation’s
graduate and undergraduate visual art programs and oversees the peer review process that
determines an art school’s accreditation. As an organization, NASAD has developed a
core set of National Standards that art schools or departments of art must meet in order to
be represented among schools with the highest levels of teaching and curricula within
visual arts higher education. An art school’s accreditation places its visual arts program in
the top 50 percent of programs at the nation’s more than 600 art schools (NASAD, 2008).
Miller, Bender, and Schuh have written about the accreditation process and the
ways NASAD has determined whether or not schools or departments in the visual arts are
doing what they claim to be doing. Flexibility does exist within the standards as each
school can define its own purpose and determine its curricular requirements. For
example, the NASAD Handbook (2000) indicates that:
Each institution is responsible for developing and defining the specific purposes
of its overall graduate program in art and/or design, and of each graduate degree
program it offers… [including] requirements for such areas studio research,
scholarship, and preparation for teaching in terms of (a) the specialization, (b)
support for the specialization, and (c) breadth of competence. (p. 124)
NASAD recommends that, “students should be encouraged to acquire the
professional development skills necessary to advance themselves according to their area
of specialization and their own career objectives” (p. 126). It has also recognized that,
“Many of those who are in graduate degree programs in art and design are or will be
engaged in art and design teaching of some type during the course of their professional
careers” (p. 126). Therefore, “Institutions are strongly encouraged to give attention to the
preparation of graduate students as teachers… [and] should include an introduction to the
pedagogy of subject matter considered fundamental to curricula for undergraduate art and
design majors” (NASAD, 2000, p. 126). These recommendations, along with those of
CAA, indicate that studio art faculty members should play key roles in designing and
developing MFA programs.
Established in 1912, the CAA recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and
reflected on its long, diverse, multi-faceted history. One of the most significant
contributions the Association has made to the field of the visual arts came about in 1977
when the Association deemed the MFA degree as the terminal degree in the field of
studio visual arts. The CAA standards for the MFA, in part, demand "the highest level of
professional competency in the visual arts and contemporary practices” (as cited in
Morrisroe & Roland, 2008, p. 88). It is the Association’s high level of standards that
place the MFA degree as equivalent to other terminal degrees, such as the Ph.D. or Ed.D.
Today, the CAA retains a comprehensive purpose: “to promote art interests in all
divisions of American colleges and universities” (Ball, 2011, p.19).
Some people within the field contend that both NASAD’s and CAA’s definitions
of what the visual arts comprise have become so open-ended that the needs of visual arts
education are also open-ended and less accurately defined than they should be. For
example, the CAA Standards and Guidelines for MFA programs were updated in 2008 to
suggest that MFA curricula address verbal, written, and conceptual skills. The standards
in the 2007-2008 NASAD Handbook indicate that earning an MFA degree requires
“writing and speaking skills to communicate clearly and effectively to the art and/or
design communities, the public and in formal or informal teaching situations” (NASAD,
The professional organization, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education
(FATE), was established in 1978. Though the organization does not dictate specific
standards, its biennial conferences around the country have concentrated on defining and
understanding issues related to foundations-level studio art programs in higher education.
FATE has also published scholarship related to issues of art school faculty members and
students. In particular, two articles published in FATE in Review, address visual arts
students and the benefits of learning quality writing skills; a topic that relates strongly to
the intentions of the written activities is this study.
It has been argued that writing helps students to learn better and more deeply.
Students can actively understand and better retain knowledge, what Earl Tai (2005) from
Parsons, The New School for Design has called “writing to learn” (p. 35). In his article,
“Writing in the Art and Design Curriculum,” he argued for the integration of writing into
postsecondary visual arts programs. Tai (2005) suggested that writing is a tool to be used
in processing information and knowledge as it can “stabilize” ideas as well as integrate
visual and written language that allows visual arts students to access broader knowledge.
Tai also stated that new writing exercises that are introduced with the visual arts
curriculum would differ considerably from the familiar written project brief and artist
statement. Instead, writing would take on a new form and occur within the process and
aid brainstorming and concept development, annotated sketching, and production
journaling (p. 37).
In the article “Bridging the Gap between Art and Writing,” Calvert (2010), an
MFA student at Portland State University, developed a series of case studies that
addressed the significance of writing activities in art school. She discussed several
writing activities that were supportive of students becoming better informed with regard
to their practice and ideas. For example, students in Calvert’s study wrote about the
descriptions of their artistic processes, the feedback they received from critique sessions,
and their own perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of their projects. Additional
sets of writings included three different written proposals the students prepared before
beginning a project. In each project, they considered different themes including critical
studies of the self, political ideologies, and the project in terms of its formal elements and
principles. Before the critique, students also prepared a written final statement to
accompany their project, and after the critique, students wrote in response to the prompts
they received during the review from peers. This practice represented the belief that,
“Making art may be thought of as a kind of ‘conversational learning’” (Bamberger &
Schön, 1983 as cited in James, 1996, p. 151). The process of this critical evaluation and
therefore, the understanding of what happens in each of the phases of making an artwork,
deepened the connection that students had with their individual pieces and required them
to articulate different approaches to the same work, regardless of whether or not they
used them as they revisited their processes.
Required and elective courses in professional practice
The curricula for most MFA programs are related to exploring studio art concepts
and earning specific credit units in the area of art history. Distinct to a small number of
art schools, some MFA students have the opportunity to take specific courses in
pedagogy in order to learn about teaching in higher education. This group of art schools
includes the University of West Virginia, the University of Illinois Chicago, and the
University of North Texas. Various programs have offered visual arts students advice
about jobs; however as Grant (1998) has argued:
Information about jobs is not enough. Art programs also need to maintain current
listing of upcoming art competitions, exhibition opportunities, affordable studio
and living space… deadlines for grants and fellowships… offer occasional
workshops or seminars that focus on particular aspects of the business of being an
artist, such as laws affecting artists’ intellectual property or ways to find dealers
and collectors. (Fine-Arts Programs School Teach Career Skills, Not Just
Technique section, para. 8).
As more schools develop courses that address professional practices in the field of
the visual arts, including those similar to “In the Classroom” at the University of the Arts,
“Teaching in the Studio Classroom” at the Ohio State University, and “Teaching Art in
Higher Education” at the University of Florida, it seems that MFA students will have
more opportunities to gain practical knowledge about the art world as well as knowledge
related to the work and lifestyle of an artist-teacher.
Approaches to teaching in visual arts higher education
As I address issues related to teaching approaches in the visual arts, I begin this
section with a discussion about action research, the methodology I employed for this
study. Though I elaborate on the methodology in the next chapter, here, I bring attention
to the few researchers who have successfully used action research in the field of art and
visual culture education. I also bring attention to the ways that notions of mindfulness
within teaching have been considered within higher education and visual arts education.
Teaching within action research
Given that most faculty members have not been professionally trained to teach, it
is probable that they have never engaged with action research as such research often
focuses on a teacher’s awareness of their practices as teachers. Additionally, it is likely
that instructors in higher education possess professional priorities related to maintaining a
research program in their own disciplines that often overshadow those in teaching
(Zuber-Skerritt, 1992).
Using artistic action research encourages all teachers to deeply consider the
philosophies and rationales that underscore the choices they make about curricula
(Mason, 2005). Taking part in an action research project requires its participants to
assume self-reflexive and self-critical positions as they share decision-making that
pertains to their teaching practices. “Inquiry into our own practice centers us… in a real
place and time with real persons, begs our questions and possibilities, makes us
responsible for what we believe and do. When done well, teaching as inquiry provokes
our most aesthetic, pedagogical sensibilities. It helps us to envision and craft ourselves
and our work” (May, 1994, p. 124). In these ways, it seems that action research could be
beneficial for faculty members in higher education, especially if they are motivated by a
desire for social change and improvements in learning, teaching, and curriculum. With
continued interaction between practice, theory, and change, action research allows for the
revelation of new knowledge through the analysis of one’s own educational or artistic
practices (Brydon & Miller, 2003; Burgess, 2006; McTaggart, 1997; Reason & Bradbury,
The methodology has been advocated and utilized within art and visual culture
education programs (Mason, 2005; May, 1993). For example, to help pre-service and
practicing art teachers, to reflect on the choices they make within their practices more
objectively (May, 1993), Lynn Beudert and Elizabeth Garber (2013) have reported on
how art and visual culture education graduate students at the University of Arizona have
conducted various qualitative research studies that have involved action research
methodologies. Beudert and Garber have addressed the ways that their graduate students'
research not only allowed for the exploration of important research topics in the field, but
also for personal inquiries into the very nature and relevance of their graduate students’
pedagogical and artistic practices. “Treating one’s [art] classroom as a site for inquiry is
eye-opening and career-altering for many” (Hutchings, 2010, p. 66).
Essentially, the teacher-researcher is a participant of or an insider for the study
itself. May (1994) has suggested that the methodology of action research can help art
educators address the following questions:
How do we help both novice and experienced teachers experience ‘the familiar’
or ‘obvious’ in more provocative and critical ways? If engaged in action research
projects, what are some meaningful, creative ways in which teachers can express,
represent, and share what they have learned or are learning? As art teacher
educators, should we ever intervene or suggest a different direction, particularly if
a teacher’s practice flies against our understanding of ‘best’ practice and personal
ethics or if it seriously diminishes the quality of youngsters’ experiences in art?”
(p. 122)
Bresler (1994) noted that employing action research involves the teacher’s ability
to empathize and recreate the experiences of others within oneself: "The researcher is not
seen as separate from the researched" (p. 2). As a form of qualitative research, the
methodology fosters empathetic understanding that has been defined as including the
voices of many with care and insight. Bresler (2006) has described it this way: “Both art
and qualitative research in the search for empathic understanding involve mediating back
and forth between the personal and the public” (p. 53). When employing empathic
understanding and paying attention to the “space surrounding the art experience”
(Bresler, 2006, p. 54), qualitative action research can offer significant value to visual arts
Teaching and mindfulness
The research of Jenny Lee, the instructor of the course I discussed in Chapter
One, has addressed issues related to mindfulness and teaching, and she has published an
article about the class that I took in 2011. Enthused about addressing the ways education
seems to neglect the inner lives of students in higher education, she wrote that, “The aims
of the education course were to help students understand ways that spirituality,
consciousness, and mindfulness can inform current educational issues… the course
required students to investigate their core beliefs and values and then to examine the
relationship between their values and their professional practices” (Lee, 2012, p. 2). She
quoted Astin (2007) who stated that, “While experience no doubt plays a central role in
shaping our beliefs, what many of us fail to realize is that beliefs play a role in shaping
your experience” (p. 37 as cited in Lee, 2012, p. 4).
Lee proposed that faculty members, especially those who facilitate a course about
consciousness and mindfulness, must first address their own assumptions and values in
order to meaningfully “embrace inner as well as outer transformation for ourselves and
our students” (p. 2). During the course, I noted that characteristics of action research
seemed to emerge as she pointed out how important honesty and accountability were to
the role of the teacher. She noted that, “She or he should be a fellow participant in the
course as she or he leads it… and share common ground that honors diverse thinking but
also allows individuals to safely explore their own inner issues…[with] a shared
commitment to improving educational conditions served as the starting place for
collective self-introspection” (p. 4). Recognizing the complex problems in higher
education today, Lee invited students, faculty members, and administrators to serve as
facilitators of the process that begins to appraise the motivations that guide our visions
for the future. “It is only through immersing ourselves in problems that we can come up
with creative solutions. Effective organizations embrace problems rather than avoid or
ignore them” (May, 1994, p. 144).
Rita Irwin suggested that contemporary education has come to emphasize the
roles a person has in his or her life, for example, roles of parent, teacher, and artist, more
so than the soul that resides at the heart of our interconnected selves, and that of students.
She has argued that, “An education of the soul is an education filled with feeling
completely alive… experiencing joy, compassion, mindfulness, and a sense of awe for
what mystery that abounds” (Irwin, 2007, p. 1401). She noted further that, “With
increasing demands being made on educators, parents, and those assisting with the
education of our youth and our communities… people are longing for more meaning in
their lives and in their educational pursuits” (Huebner, 1999 as cited in Irwin, p. 1401).
As Irwin's research endorses the claim that students remember things more deeply when
they are mindfully engaged, she recalled that: “Mindfulness for curriculum means
learning how to focus and grasping meanings that are important for the individual”
(Iannone, 1999, p. 3 as cited in Irwin, 2007, p. 1401). She continued, “Our presence and
our encounters with others and our selves become a curriculum [as]… artists and arts
educators have the opportunity to open the cracks or gaps in their own learning and in so
doing lead the way for others” (Irwin, 2007, pp. 1402-1403).
Specific research investigations by Beudert (2006) have addressed the ways that
pre-service art teachers can benefit from practicing introspective pedagogy in order “to
understand how their own biographies, teaching philosophies, and viewpoints give shape
to how they teach and who they are as pedagogues” (p. 76). As creating art is often
practiced simultaneously with personal introspection, how MFA students view their own
art making and teaching can be valuable and constructive in the development of their
sense of self.
Signature, emergent, and reflexive pedagogies
Despite the fact that little attention has been paid to the pedagogical theory and
methodology used within studio art courses in higher education (Pearce, 2012), what
follows is literature that explains three types of pedagogy that are relevant to this research
study. The study’s participants engaged in several different activities during the
colloquium series that reflected activities with which they might engage as professionals
in the visual arts. The term, “signature pedagogies" was defined by Lee Shulman (2005),
scholar and then President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Shulman (2005) defined signature pedagogies as “types of teaching that organize the
fundamental ways in which future practitioners are educated for the new professions” (p.
The routine of pedagogical practice can “cushion the burden of higher learning…
transforming the impossible into the merely difficult” (Shulman, 2005, p. 56). In his
article, “Signature Pedagogies in the Professions,” Shulman explained the benefits of the
routine practice of various pedagogies, and how they are of service to training
professionals. The nature of repetition helps trainees to internalize practices so they
“think with them" rather than “about” them (p. 57). He noted that if the use of signature
pedagogies becomes a habit in the classroom, they can influence students' values and
characters as “visibility and accountability inevitably raise the emotional stakes of the
pedagogical encounter… [inviting] both excitement and anxiety” (p. 57).
Klebesadel and Kornetsky (2009) suggested that educated artists need to have the
ability to communicate, and therefore they considered the classroom critique, or the ‘crit,’
to be a signature pedagogy in the visual arts. Though it is believed to be an essential
evaluation process, the critique is “messy, often subjective, highly personal, and as an
outgrowth of the more traditional master-teacher model… hierarchical” (Gurung, Chick,
& Haynie, 2009, p. 108). Klebesadel and Kornetsky also forwarded that, “Critique is a
signature pedagogy for studio art because it teaches core disciplinary understandings of
how the visual arts and artists function in society… [and] persistent effort over time and
learning to use reflection and self-criticism to advance artwork are necessary abilities” (p.
111). As they develop within the field, “visual art students learn to accept, expect, and
even seek [constructive criticism]” (p. 112).
Barrett (1988) has also discussed ways of conducting critiques in visual arts
classrooms; however, he has not addressed it using the term, signature pedagogy. Art
educators often consider critique in terms of “a procedure of interpretation as a procedure
of building arguments on the basis of evidence in and around the artwork, and they claim
that interpretations are open to counter-arguments” (p. 26). Barrett claimed that even as
student work often comprised the exclusive set of objects being addressed during a visual
arts critique, critique can help visual arts students to meet “broader goals of developing a
critical social awareness” (p. 26). For example, this is evident when critique discussions
include historical and contemporary artworks as well as artifacts of contemporary visual
culture including advertising, television, and other non-art design-heavy objects.
According to Barrett’s 1988 study on studio art professors, critique was
“explicitly singled out as the most important aspect of their teaching” (p. 24). He has
written that, “Those professors who expressed difficulty in achieving their stated goal of
engaging students in dialogue about artworks might enjoy great success if they were
more aware of the standard trilogy of description, interpretation, and evaluation as critical
procedures” (p. 27).
According to Blair (2006), who did a study about the feedback that studio art
students gain from large critique sessions, “The crit allows the student an opportunity to
practice and develop presentations skills and a verbal articulation of their thoughts to an
audience” (p. 83). Blair (2006) addressed the ways that visual arts students are affected
by the environment of large critique sessions and questioned, “How does this crucial
aspect of a students’ learning experience map onto their understanding of the professional
world?” (Davies & Reid, 2000 as cited in Blair, 2006, p. 92). Both Barrett and Blair
encourage further research on this unique educational practice that takes place within
visual art classrooms.
Since the nature of a classroom is social, emergent pedagogy aims to promote
interactions within a group of participants as they learn about each other, and it is the
second pedagogy I present that is important in my research study. The use of emergent
pedagogy entails open-ended exploration and trust between collaborative members of a
group who understand that what their peers contribute will be worthwhile. “A group that
engages in significant interactions increases everyone’s learning opportunities” (Dalke,
Cassidy, Grobstein, & Blank, 2007, p. 126). According to Dalke et al. (2007), “the
emergent approach facilitates both independent and collaborative thinking” (p. 126).
Emergent pedagogy requires that participants be open to “the uncontrollable” and
consists of two central themes: “how we often act based on intuitive feelings, without
knowing exactly what they are or what will follow from them; and how a very small local
intervention can make a big difference in the classroom” (p. 118). Dalke et al. (2007)
have also suggested that, “In short, the emergence perspective offers potential framework
and theoretical support for a rethinking of pedagogy that begins, not with a concept of
pre-planned structure… but… the interaction of autonomous elements [that] can lead to a
productive self-organizing structure” (p. 114). When engaging in emergent pedagogy,
Dalke et al., (2007) have argued that students and/or participants must believe that “their
interactions with others will be better than what would have occurred without them” (p.
122). The participants become “creative shapers” of their own lives, which in turn, gives
them a “voice” in their immediate reform of a topic or practice. “Learning objectives of
an emergent approach have less to do with content than with process, growth, and
development” (Dalke et al., 2007, p. 125). They are prompted, "to take responsibility for
their own education and the education of those around them (p. 128).
Reflexive pedagogies comprise the third type of pedagogy I present and offer
participants opportunities for in-depth consideration, debate, and reconsideration. For as
McKenna (1999) has pointed out, “The goal of teaching perhaps should [be] to encourage
[students] to engage with complex ideas” (p. 76). The concepts of reflexive pedagogy
help to build participants' self-awareness. As a teacher and researcher interested in private
self-expression and public communication, Bolton (1989) stated that the use of reflexive
pedagogies can support visual arts instructors as they “broaden the skill-based and
product-focused curriculum to enable pupils to become more critically aware and
sensitive to their own work and that of others through more contemplative and reflective
approaches to art making” (as cited in Bresler, 1994, p. 14).
“The difference between reflexive conversation in action research and other forms
of reflective conversation within practical situations is that it is systematic. It is this that
merits the process of reflection being called a form of research” (James, 1999 as cited in
Mason, 2005, p. 574). The pedagogical practices that I employed within my research
study included many reflective exercises comprising image making, oral exchanges, and
written responses. Boud, Keogh, and Walker, (1985) have described reflection as "those
intellectual and affective activities in which individuals engage to explore their
experiences in order to lead to new understandings and appreciation” (as cited in Boud,
2001, p. 10). As McKenna suggested, “I want students to have some sense that what they
see as reality is always changing and evolving” (p. 77).
Context of the study
During the three-year plan of study that is required of MFA students within the
School of Art, students must earn A’s or B’s in at least 60 units of university credit,
including 30 units in an area of concentration, 12 units in art history (however, since the
time of this study, the required units of credit in art history have changed to nine), and 18
units of graduate level credit in elective courses “taken outside the area of concentration,
to support scholarly and professional development”
(http://art.arizona.edu/students/programs-of-study/2d-studies/graduate-studies). At the
time of this research study, the courses that were open to students and addressed topics
related to professional development included two undergraduate courses entitled,
“Gallery Management” and “Career Development for Visual Arts.” The graduate-level
course that focused on the professional development of visual artists, art and visual
culture educators, and art historians was offered through the Division of Art and Visual
Culture Education. The course was titled, “Visual Arts Teaching in Higher Education.”
This biennial course primarily focused on issues related to the process of becoming a
faculty member in higher education.
There were other benchmarks in the MFA program at the School of Art that were
mandatory for the MFA students in this study. The following expectations were required
to be accomplished chronologically and included passing a “First year MFA graduate
semester review” and a second year “MFA candidacy review” as well as passing an oral
examination that was conducted by visual arts professors in conjunction with the
student’s individual thesis exhibition artwork at the end of the MFA student's final
The succinct mission statement of the School of Art of this study reads (in part) as
follows: “The School of Art … challenges students to think, research, produce and teach
art critically with an awareness of historical context as well as contemporary practices.”
The statement continues with, “Our goal is to provide the practical training they will need
to be successful as arts professionals” (School of Art Mission Statement, 2011, p. 7). The
statement does reflect genuine commitment on the part of the school to its students in
terms of gaining a relevant education in the visual arts.
At intervals of seven years, an Academic Program Review (APR) takes place
within all the various disciplinary programs at the university. Separate from, but aligned
with the School of Art’s NASAD evaluations and goals, the APR procedures at the
School of Art have addressed on-going and specific goals that relate to Art History, Art
and Visual Culture Education, and each visual arts studio medium taught within the
School of Art. The final APR report not only highlights what has been accomplished over
the past seven years, but also puts forth the goals that have been set for the next seven
In 2011, the most recent report opened with the following statements: “[T]he
review committee is impressed by the quality of the faculty’s scholarly and creative
accomplishments and dedication to student learning… The graduate students also
commented that it was often the faculty that appealed them most when they chose to
attend the school… [and] overall, the [First Year Experience] program is widely
supported by the graduate students for the opportunities to learn to teach…” (p. 8).
The APR’s external review committee made recommendations for meeting the
needs of the School of Art’s MFA students. For the most part, their responses were not
different from the general needs already presented in this literature review. They included
“more options for interdisciplinary projects, both within the larger College of Fine Arts
and the entire university community” (p. 9). Referencing “holes” in the graduate
curriculum, one student was quoted in the report for having asked that there be “more
professional practice courses to help them transition from student to artist [as]… current
courses were ‘spotty’ or taken too late in the student's career” (p. 12).
The report also addressed the School of Art’s collegial environment and the
positive relationships between the Dean of the College of Fine Arts, the School of Art's
Director, and the School of Art's faculty and staff members. In general, the faculty
members were pleased with their working environment, and they “strongly expressed
their readiness and need for open conversation across divisional ‘silos’ in an
interdisciplinary, philosophical, and conceptual rethinking of the overall curriculum” (p.
Regarding issues related to curriculum, other input from faculty included the
following responses: “Several [studio art] faculty said that the overall curriculum needs to
be examined… and perhaps some revisions would be timely… A number of faculty,
undergraduate, and graduate students agreed that the ‘menu’ of courses offered needs to
be considered and new, expanded, and updated courses added” (p. 2). Noting a lack of
professional development courses, faculty members in the Division of Art and Visual
Culture Education and Art History expressed specific “concern for their [students’]
overall preparedness for entering into the creative work force and suggested that formal
professional development coursework would be a welcomed addition to the program” (p.
My approach to this action research study
“We cannot pursue happiness, rather, it is something that ‘ensues’ from the
pursuit of a worthy goal outside of ourselves” (Unknown). To briefly recall the order of
events relevant to my role in this research study, I believed my sense of self was
transformed dramatically just after having graduated with my MFA degree. I was
motivated to challenge, develop, and share my artist “self” with the world at large.
Self as defined by Thornton (2013) stated that, “the word ‘self’ is used to
represent the singular, individual and holistic identity” (p. 24). He added, “an individual
‘self’ is considered to have a number of identities, both personal and professional in
nature, which contribute to the deeper sense of self” (p. 24). “The word ‘roles’ is used
simply to denote more superficial social identifications that are not necessarily deeply
personal, but which may impact on deeper personal identities and consequently the self”
(p. 24). “Education could be seen as a powerful influence on identities and the self, and
represents at least in part the culture and practices society wishes to impose on
individuals” (p. 26).
In time, however, the facets of my life amid “real world” settings swiftly stifled
my motivations for art making and nearly paralyzed my fragile identity as a professional
in any field. After returning to the university to pursue my doctorate, a course that I had
taken in the College of Education called, “Values, Consciousness, and Professional
Practice” with Dr. Jennie Lee (2011) comprised part of the impetus for this study. In the
course, Dr. Lee asked her students consider the following questions:
Why am I interested in pursuing a graduate degree in this field? What kind of
changes would I like to make? What drives my efforts? What are my beliefs about
those I serve? Where do my beliefs originate? What is possible, impossible and
why? All too often, higher education scholars and administrators are too quick to
prescribe blanket solutions to higher educations’ many complex problems (while
teaching students to do the same) without space to collectively examine their
vision for the future and to critically question what drives that vision. (p. 6)
Attempting to answer these questions, I began the process of making this research
study a reality. I took to heart Dr. Lee’s claim that, “Any attempt to improve educational
conditions must begin with oneself” (p. 6). So, I began to learn about and model the
depth of investigation necessary for my own personal discoveries within Art and Visual
Culture Education in order to study and support the needs of MFA students within the
21st Century.
The study: Educational participatory action research
I agree with Daichendt (2010) when he suggested that teaching is an “aesthetic
process” and arguably made up of “components similar to the production of art” (p. 67).
In the beginning, I exercised the relationships I had at the university, having sustained
quality rapport with the students, faculty members, and administrators involved in the
School of Art. My multiple personal and professional affiliations with the school served
me well as the process of gaining permission to access and manage this research study
According to Thornton (2013), “I believe that action research, a mode of research
in which individuals or intimate groups of professionals aim to directly improve their
practice and consequentially the service or value they offer to others, is ever present in
the practices of the dual professional… teacher-researcher” (p. 128).
My past experiences were very similar to those of this study’s participants as I
was one example of a life lived beyond earning an MFA degree from this university. In
2002, at the start of my MFA education, I had expectations for the program that matched
those of Annika, Jenna, and Nate, the three MFA students who had consented to
participate in my research study. I wanted to prevent the circumstances Neher (2010)
referenced when he wrote, “If art world success remains elusive after a few years of toil,
many [art school graduates] grow discouraged and give up. And many of those who give
up still must pay off that student debt, which has to be a bitter reminder of a poor degree
choice” (p. 118).
I believed that I was “that certain kind of teacher” with a personality apt for
leading MFA students in personal and professional reflective discoveries that would be
personally sensitive and professionally pragmatic. Butterwick & Lawrence (as cited in
Mezirow & Taylor, 2009, p. 177) have noted in support of transformative learning, a
theoretical framework I introduce in the next chapter, that, “Who is speaking and who is
listening are key questions that need to be carefully considered before engaging with
these kinds of [reflective] activities” (p. 43). I demonstrated early on in the course I
taught that I held great respect for the participants and their pursuit of their MFA degrees.
“When students trust teachers, they cross new intellectual terrain with a tread that is firm
and confident” (Brookfield, 1990, p. 454). I made clear my belief that whether rare, life
changing, or good-humored, the choices we make as independent students in higher
education have the potential to be profound.
Based on the literature in this review, I was inspired to complete this research
study. Supportive construction of a sense of self can impact studio art graduates’
participation within the world beyond their higher education. Given the context of
today’s higher education and the work of artists, art educators, and researchers in the
field, this study encompassed a close look at the significance of documenting and
understanding contemporary MFA visual arts graduates’ lives. In Chapter Three, I
explain the methodology used in this research study, and how I collected and analyzed
the data.
In Chapter Two, I reviewed literature relevant to the background and context of
this research study. In this chapter, I restate my research questions, describe the
chronology of events that led up to the establishment of the study, and explain the criteria
for participation in the study. I also describe the theoretical framework of the research,
which is situated within the paradigms of qualitative educational participatory action
research. I then present a review of the data collection methods that I employed and the
processes of my data analysis. In closing this chapter, I identify the limitations of this
study, ethical considerations, and the verification process that substantiated the study’s
Research questions
The question that guided this research study is as follows:
How do the experiences related to personal and professional development within
an MFA visual arts program influence a graduate student’s individual sense of self?
In order to address this overarching research question, I posed the following subquestions:
4. How do MFA students within a course that addresses the curricula and
pedagogies of their graduate programs and their experiences as MFA students
describe themselves as individuals, students, artists, teachers, and future
professionals in the field of the visual arts?
5. How does participating in the course allow MFA students to examine and reflect
upon their personal and professional growth as well as their graduate experiences?
6. How does my role as the teacher-researcher-artist of the course enable MFA
students to critically examine and reflect upon their experiences and their
developing sense of self as MFA students?
Chronology of the events
As briefly mentioned in Chapter One, this study emerged from personal
reflection, inquiry into the literature, and negotiation within the research site. The
following chronological narrative describes the events leading up to the beginning of the
fall 2012 semester in which I taught the course.
Fall semester 2010
I formally presented the ideas for my research within a yearly course required of
all doctoral students and attended by the faculty members of the Division of Art and
Visual Culture Education. This occasion was my first opportunity to collect critical
feedback and field questions about my research interests concerning the lives of MFA
graduate students. After my presentation, the questions and comments invigorated me
and added to the momentum of my research.
Fall semester 2011
I was fortunate to be able to present my work again the following year. My
research interests had evolved into wanting to help MFA graduate students develop
personally and professionally. In my presentation, I introduced the syllabus I had
designed for a course that I hoped to teach students in the university’s MFA program. I
explained the pedagogical strategies I had incorporated in order to help students
strengthen their writing skills, communicate with different audiences, pursue professional
funding opportunities, and engage in critical examinations of their individual interests,
goals, and creative ambitions. Once more, I responded to feedback from my peers and the
faculty members. I was both supported and challenged by ideas that helped me to edit the
syllabus and consider additional topics for research.
During this fall semester, I had also taken a course entitled, “Values,
Consciousness, and Professional Practice.” Designed and taught by Dr. Jenny Lee, a
faculty member in the university’s Center for the Study of Higher Education in the
College of Education, the course encouraged both electronic and in-class discussions
among the students that addressed the ways our personal values overlapped with our
professional goals. We also participated in short meditation sessions and conducted oneon-one interviews with class members to assess the inward-focused curriculum of the
course. Throughout the semester in Dr. Lee’s class, I regularly recalled my experiences of
being in art school. I realized that as an MFA student, I had participated in meditative
activities and how my own sense of self had been revealed in my artwork and within
critiques. I also recognized that other graduate students’ personal values and beliefs were
disclosed within group critiques.
Having drawn these parallels between my experiences in Dr. Lee’s course with
my experiences in art school, I revisited my MFA course syllabus. I revised my goals and
objectives in order that the MFA students might examine their personal values and beliefs
in relation to their professional goals, which might include both teaching and art making.
Early spring semester 2012
The dissertation proposal I had submitted explained the idea for a research study
that placed my redesigned syllabus at its heart. Entitled, “Issues of Relevance and
Character in the Fine Arts,” the course was intended to investigate the relationships
between the professional development of graduate students within an MFA visual arts
program and their developing sense of self. I chose not to put the term "sense of self" in
the course title rather I used the word “character” to reference the roles (characters)
graduate students assume in art school, such as graduate student, artist, teacher, and
future professional.
After passing my comprehensive examination and gaining approval from the
Division of Art and Visual Culture Education to move forward with my research study, I
met with various studio art faculty members in the School of Art. I had established
relationships with many of them during my time in the MFA program, and I wanted to
gain their input about the potential of such a course within the School of Art. We talked
about ways that my course curriculum would complement existing MFA curricula.
Late spring semester 2012
After meeting with the studio faculty members, I refined the intricacies of my
proposed course. The course would meet for eight bi-weekly sessions on Thursday
mornings for one hour and fifty minutes during the fall 2012 semester. Participants in the
course would earn one unit of credit and would be assessed on a pass/fail basis. I chose to
limit the course to 10 participants. Given the complexity of forwarding a new course
through the university's administrative system, I chose to offer the course under an
existing course number, which was a designated colloquium taught within the Division of
Art and Visual Culture Education. At the same time I sought approval from the
university’s Institutional Review Board to conduct research on this course (Appendix A).
Given a delayed response from the Institutional Review Board, I was not able to
advertise the course until late into the semester. To recruit graduate student participants I
posted informative fliers (Appendix B) in the School of Art’s buildings and the
Laboratory for Graduate Study in the Studio Arts. I also visited two graduate-level visual
arts studio classes and announced the course on various university listservs.
Fall semester 2012
Criteria for participating in the course required that class members were to be
current full-time graduate students in the visual arts and were registered for this one-time,
one-credit colloquium series. Participation in the study was voluntary; however, the
course was also open to graduate students who did not want to participate in the study.
Those participants who consented to participate were asked to sign the universityapproved Institutional Review Board research study consent form (Appendix C).
The four graduate students who attended the first colloquium session agreed to
participate. One of the participants, however, did not attend after the first session as it
conflicted with another course that she wished to take on the campus. The remaining
three participants were enrolled in their second or third year of the three-year MFA
program. The participants and myself then met every other Thursday morning during the
semester in a familiar space, the classroom in the Graduate Laboratory.
Research design
At the heart of this study was the graduate-level colloquium series that I designed
and facilitated. Within it, I aimed to provide MFA students with a platform to
collaboratively engage in a process of self-discovery. The stated objectives of the
colloquium series implied my goals of having each participant engage with an on-going
critical examination of his or her individual sense of self and a consideration of the ways
an MFA student develops personally and professionally. The teaching strategies planned
for initiating these activities aimed to encourage the participants to talk about, write
about, and visually express their assumptions, beliefs, practices, and values that related to
their developing sense of self and to the potential of their future professional roles. As the
teacher-researcher-artist of the colloquium series, I utilized an action research framework.
Bogden and Biklen (1992) have written that action research with people allows them to
“understand themselves better, increases their awareness of problems, and raises
commitment. To know the facts first-hand is to have one’s consciousness raised and
dedication increased about particular issues” (p. 227). I hoped that the semester-long
experience would empower the participants with fresh awareness for who they are as
individuals, students, artists, teachers, and future professionals in the visual arts.
Qualitative research
According to Creswell (1998) qualitative research involves participatory and selfreflexive inquiry. It presumes that the learner actively constructs meaning as he or she
encounters previously unexplored realities. Often, qualitative research is based on the
assumption that interacting individuals construct reality in order to understand a
particular social situation, event, role, group, or interaction. This form of research is
particularly appropriate for determining how individuals develop over time (Evans et al.,
2010; Merriam & Simpson, 2000).
The researcher, when conducting qualitative research, keeps up with the study as
it constantly evolves and changes. This requires that he or she write “long passages”
(Creswell, 1998, p. 17), including quotes from the participants that represent the
participants' different perspectives and so substantiate the study’s claims. Creswell (1998)
also stated that the researcher must “engage in the complex, time-consuming process of
data analysis, the ambitious task of sorting through large amounts of data and reducing
them to a few themes or categories” (p. 16).
Qualitative research takes place within the natural setting of the field and can
generate multiple artifacts in words, images, or both. The researcher is key to the gradual,
emergent, theoretical, and interpretive data collection processes (Creswell 1998; Merriam
& Simpson, 2000; Patton, 2002). He or she emphasizes the process of inquiry that is
focused on the participants’ transformed perspectives; this illustrates what Krauss (2005)
wrote when he said: “People impose order on the world perceived in an effort to
construct meaning… the resulting knowledge is idiosyncratic and is purposefully
constructed (p. 760)… Qualitative research has the unique goal of facilitating the
meaning-making process” (p.763). As the teacher-researcher-artist in this study, I
provided a “platform for life’s experiences” (Astin, 2007) and was immersed in the real
lives and immediate experiences of the participants.
Action research
The action research paradigm is rooted in social justice and positions the
researcher as a participant who facilitates a study’s collaborative interpretations of
various examinations, questions, problem-solving, and theorizing (Merriam & Simpson,
2000; Pine, 2009; Schratz, 1992). “Action research can serve as an organizing strategy to
get people involved and active around particular issues” (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992, p.
228). Primarily, the researcher makes possible ongoing dialogue and reflective analysis
among the study’s participants (Mason, 2005; Schön, 1983) that “enables you to live your
questions” (Battaglia, 1995 as cited in Pine, 2009, p. 175). Action research is learning by
doing, and “full involvement in the social system being studied [is] an advantage”
(Flinders & Mills, 1993, p. 96). According to Altrichter, Posch, & Somekh (1996), “it is
characterized by a continuing effort to closely interlink, relate, and confront action and
reflection, to reflect upon one’s conscious and unconscious doing in order to develop
one’s actions, and to act reflectively in order to develop one’s knowledge” (p. 6).
Kemmis and McTaggart (2000) asserted that the emergent nature of action
research features a spiral of self-reflective cycles that plan a change, activate the change,
observe the consequences of the change, and reflect on the process prompting a new plan.
“[Action research] allows people to understand themselves better, as it increases their
awareness of problems, and raises commitment” (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992, p. 227). “The
action research spiral is evident in the work of both artists and teachers as they plan,
experiment, reflect, and act again” (Räsänen, 2005, p. 13 as cited in Mason, 2005, p.
565). Figure 1 illustrates the cyclical nature of action research.
Figure 1: Action research cycles.
In this study, I wanted to understand the ways in which personal and professional
development occurs within graduate students in MFA programs and how the processes
affect the students’ perceptions of self. Therefore, employing action research
methodologies allowed me to do so and contributed to my analysis and
recommendations. The methodology is also “characterized by both group consensus
concerning the values underlying the processes being investigated and the absence of a
distinction between the practice being researched and the process of researching it”
(Elliot, 1985, p. 239). Findings are immediately applicable to the participants’ practices,
as “the language of action research (e.g., emancipation, participation, collaboration,
actions, change, dialogue) reflects moral and political values” (Pine, 2009, p. 75). The
practical approach of action research was appropriate given my intentions for this group
of MFA students and myself. Action research aims to change a situation and has the
potential to inform curricular theories that contribute to pedagogical practice and social
improvement (Elliot, 1991; Somekh, 2008; Noffke, 2009). Aspects of both educational
action research and participatory action research were involved in this research study.
Educational action research. When the research participants are in a position to
interpret and reflect on the potential resolutions to their educational inquiries, “The
collaborative nature of the [educational] action research paradigm empowers the
participants to take charge of their classroom, to improve teaching, and to advance
student learning” (Pine, 2009, p. 79). Within educational action research, teacherresearchers build rapport to develop open, student-centered, supportive relationships and
to relax the participants making them more inclined to offer full answers (Blair, 2010).
“Ultimately, the informal discourse exchanged between teachers and students engaging in
educational action research studies can reveal positive change, or “new knowledge,”
regarding the implementation of relevant curricular design and meaningful pedagogical
transformation” (p. 355).
Schön (1983) said that, “when someone reflects-in-action, he becomes a
researcher in the practice context. He…constructs a new theory of the unique case” (p.
57). Stephen Corey at Teachers College, Columbia University, proposed that, “teachers
should be equal partners in ‘cooperative action research’ and play a major role in the
design of classroom research and in the collection and interpretation of data” (Corey as
cited in Pine, 2009, p. 41).
Living Educational Theory. Relevant to the social purpose of action research,
Jack Whitehead’s Living Educational Theory addresses the contexts of “living” dialogue.
Whitehead has posited that, “I… believe that [education] needs a theory which can
adequately describe and explain the educational development of individuals” (1989, p.
51). Another aim of action research has been that of improving practice, for as Whitehead
and McNiff (2011) claimed, “action research has always been understood as people
taking action to improve their personal and social situations” (p. 14). They argued further
that doing so “should be seen as a living form of theory… as people think about what
they need to do differently in relation to others… [and] understand work as a living
process” (p. 37). Not considered a spectator, the researcher is encouraged to “find
practical ways of living in the direction of their educational and social values” (p. 15).
We are reminded that, “Educational action research is widely seen as a methodology for
real-world social change” (p. 15) and aligns with Kincheloe’s (1991) emphasis on praxis,
the “inseparability of theory and practice – i.e., informed practice. We must understand
theoretical notions in terms of their relationship to the lived world, not simply as objects
of abstract contemplation” (p. 57).
Participatory action research. Participatory action research is distinct from other
action research methodologies because it comprises a single community of researchers
fully involved and actively participating in the collaborative production of critical
knowledge aimed at social transformation. This methodology situates a study’s
participants as a single team; thus, employing participatory action research within this
study situated the MFA student participants and myself as a single group of research
investigators. Methods within this paradigm integrate social investigation, educational
work, and action (Hall, 1981; Kemmis & Wilkinson, 1998; Whitehead, Taket, & Smith,
2003), and use “knowledge within a team context to create innovation and transformation
as collective action” (Burgess, 2006, p. 422). “The results of this research are
immediately applied to a concrete situation with the goal of… improving the lives of
people” (Pine, 2009, p. 54). According to Atweh (1998), “It is emancipatory, helping
people to ‘recover, and unshackle themselves from, the constraints of irrational,
unproductive, unjust, and unsatisfying social structures which limit their self
development and self determination’” (p. 24 as cited in Pine, 2009, p. 53).
Transformative Learning Theory. Another theoretical framework underscoring
this research is that of Transformative Learning Theory. This theory has its origins in
Jack Mezirow’s research from the 1970’s on women who participated in college reentry
programs, after having previously been subservient to men both personally and
professionally. A college education or a “means to achieve” elicited major changes in the
women’s lives. “These women had returned to learning in a period marked by the
growing force of the women’s movement” (Newman, 2010, p. 39). According to
Mezirow and Taylor (2009), Transformative Living Theory is a reconstructive theory that
“seeks to establish a general, abstract, and idealized model that explains the generic
structure, dimensions, and dynamics of the [adult] learning process” (p. 21). This act of
transformative learning has been defined as:
“[T]he process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised
interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience… that transforms problematic
frames of reference [or, structures of assumptions and expectations,] to make
them more inclusive, discriminating, reflective, open, and emotionally able to
change. (Mezirow & Taylor, 2009, p. 22)
Adult education scholars Butterwick and Lawrence (2007) claimed that
transformative learning could occur through the arts as they offer various ways to
communicate life stories and connect to others. By inviting students to write poems, take
photos, and participate in popular theater that “deeply involves specific communities in
identifying issues of concern” (Lawrence, 2008, p. 65; Prentki & Selman, 2000, p. 8 as
cited in Mezirow, 2009, p. 36), the narratives of their lives emerged. “The outcomes of
[artistic] engagements are often surprisingly profound… As facilitators of these kinds of
activities, we need to be ready for the unexpected and be open to feedback from
participants” (Laurence & Butterwick, 2009 as cited in Mezirow, 2009, pp. 35; 44).
As in participatory action research, the role of working as a single research team
encourages dialogue and problem-based learning (Mesirow & Taylor, 2009). Therefore,
following the principles of transformative learning theory, the participants and I not only
worked together as a collaborative team, but we also considered and reflected on the
complexities that make up MFA students' experiences. For as Mezirow and Taylor (2009)
have written:
The most personally significant transformations involve a critique of premises
regarding the world and one’s self. A transformative learning experience requires
that the learner make an informed and reflective decision to act or not. This
decision may result in immediate action or delayed action, caused by situational
constraints, or lack of information on how to act, or a reasoned reaffirmation of an
existing pattern of action. (p. 22)
Data collection
Within action research, according to Creswell (2009), “The data collection steps
include setting the boundaries for the study, collecting information… as well as
establishing the protocol for recording information” (p. 178). In this study, audio
recordings, written or printed documents, and visual materials were the three main
categories of data types that were collected throughout the semester. Unique to action
research, data collection is ongoing, iterative, and informed by the questions that emerge
from those researchers conducting the study. In the following section, I describe the
methods and materials I used in order to routinely collect data for this study.
Oral data
After the MFA students consented to participate in this research study, digital
audio-recordings were carried out at each of the colloquium sessions. Within these
recordings, the intricacies of the participants’ verbal exchanges were captured, including
variations in the tones of their voices as well as any emphasis they placed on certain
words, phrases, and other audible expressions. Upon listening to the individual recordings
at a later time, I was able to examine and provide a detailed account of nearly 16 hours of
My choice to record the conversations from each colloquium sessions was
important because it allowed me, as a co-participant, to carry out the eye contact inherent
in establishing rapport and trust with students in a classroom. Additionally, I anticipated
that my actions of taking notes would not allow me time to record precise statements in
their entirety; moreover, taking notes could interrupt my participation within the flow of
our interactions. Perhaps just as important was my knowledge (as the researcher) that
every comment was being documented. Because of this, I was able to be fully present
emotionally, cognitively, and physically in all of my exchanges with the participants. As
I listened to the recordings, I employed “thick description [as] the vehicle for
communicating a holistic picture of the experiences” (Creswell, 2009, p. 200).
Written data
To establish the base from which an evolution of self could begin, I asked the
participants to fill out an Introductory Survey (see Appendix D). In doing so, the
participants shared demographic information, described the artists that inspired their
work, listed goals for their futures, and articulated what the term “sense of self” meant to
them. Other written data artifacts that I collected during the semester included artist
statements, book reviews, personal letters as well as electronic correspondence generated
by the participants through email and the discussion blogs on the university’s D2L site.
At the conclusion of the semester, I collected feedback from the participants in an Exit
Survey (see Appendix E) that I asked them to fill out anonymously. Within this survey,
they indicated how meaningful and/or effective the course activities had been, including
our group conversations, one-on-one studio visits, various visual journal entries, and
discussions about issues related to their teaching experiences. The final question asked
the MFA participants to explain how the experience of having participated in the
colloquium series contributed to their sense of self.
Additional written artifacts were those unique to my participation in this study.
They included the pre-plans for each colloquium session, revised plans for each
colloquium session, and eight Reflective Worksheets (see Appendix F). I had created the
worksheets and planned to use them as a means of reflecting on each colloquium session.
They allowed me to routinely answer the same set of reflective questions throughout the
semester. There was ample space at the end of the worksheet to record my additional
thoughts. I also contributed field notes and various personal memos that recorded my
spontaneous observations, ideas, and feelings that were triggered both inside and outside
the colloquium sessions.
Visual data
As the MFA graduate students participants in this study were visual artists, it was
important to this study to collect visual artifacts. According to Cameron (1992), “When
we work at our art, we dip into the well of our experience and scoop out images.” She
claimed that art is “a language of felt experience” (p. 21). The visual data methods for
this study included making digital photographs. The first four images documented the
one work of art that each of the four of us used to introduce ourselves at the first
colloquium session. Several less formal visual artifacts comprised scanned images of
various visual journal entries. I also collected the fliers that announced the exhibitions in
which all three of the MFA student participants took part during the semester as well as
digital images of those actual exhibition spaces. At our last colloquium session, each of
the participants shared one work of art created during the semester of this study that
represented their individual growth over the semester. Digital photographs of these works
that made up the last group of visual data were also collected.
Data analysis
Multiple components comprised the on-going data analysis of this study. Given
the various data collection methods, I needed to develop an efficient way to organize the
oral, written, and visual materials in order to be able to report on the processes related to
the analyses of the data. I applied what Creswell (2009) termed phenomenological
research analysis. This analysis is focused on “significant statements, the generation of
meaning units, and the development of what Moustakas (as cited in Creswell, 2009) calls
an essence description” (p. 184). I designed a series of charts on which I recorded data in
relation to each research sub-question, the reflection worksheets that I filled out at the
conclusion of each colloquium session, and the lists that helped me keep track of the
many topics that spontaneously emerged during the study.
Data collection charts
Creswell (1998) argued that he visualized the collection of data, "as a series of
interrelated activities aimed at gathering good information to answer emerging research
questions” (p. 110). In order to organize the various concepts that fueled this study’s data
analysis, I first created three data summary charts related to each of the three research
sub-questions. Creswell (1998) has described this structure as a matrix that conveys “the
depth and multiple forms of data collection, thus suggesting the complexity… … in an
information-rich case study [and] might serve the inquirer equally well in all traditions of
inquiry” (p. 123). During the course of the study, I constantly adjusted each chart to
reflect the themes that emerged as I collected and analyzed data throughout the semester.
In Chapter Six the reader will see the charts (i.e., Data Charts One, Two and Three)
without their content. The final completed charts, which reflect the systematic
organization of all the study's themes, can be found in Appendix G, Appendix H, and
Appendix I.
I listened to the audio recordings of the colloquium series curious about “What is
this about?” (Creswell, 2009, p. 186), and I took notes related to emerging themes and
entered data based on the participants’ orally expressed thoughts and group discussions
onto the data summary charts. This form of data collection provided me with a sense of
each participant as an individual contributor within the study as well as the contributions
of the group as a whole. When I listened to the recordings for a second time, I heard the
recordings in ways that generated new revelations for me. I wrote additional notes,
thoughts, and ideas in the margins of my materials and made new lists, which were
organized according to the distinct characteristics of the individual participants. My notes
from listening and re-listening to the audio recordings pointed to what Greene and
Caracelli (1997) have noted as “Particularity, rather than generalizability is the hallmark
of qualitative research” (as cited in Creswell, 2009, p. 193).
These important revelations, which determined the valuable differences between
these individuals, allowed me to establish in-depth and authentic narratives about the
participants, which were imperative to the analysis and interpretation of the data.
Reflection worksheets
At the conclusion of each colloquium session, I sat alone in order to quietly
complete a reflection worksheet that I had designed before the colloquium series started.
The prompts on this worksheet helped me to recall similar aspects of each colloquium
session (e.g., the classroom environment, the individual demeanor of each participant and
myself, elaborations of previously completed electronic discussions, a willingness to
collaborate) and provided a comparable framework with which to pinpoint the
participants’ transformations from session to session. The worksheets also helped me to
track the directions in which this action research study took the participants and myself.
The original set of research questions I had proposed for this study were also
listed on the worksheet. I wanted to be reminded to read the research questions at least
once every other week in order to keep the big picture of this overall study in my mind.
The blank space at the end of the reflection worksheet provided a large space in which I
could articulate any final thoughts I had regarding each specific colloquium session.
A familiar habit to me, I kept several running lists throughout the semester-long
study that captured ideas and additional topics that could contribute to some aspect of the
colloquium series. Most of the lists were shared with the participants at the end of our
study because they proved to be informative and inspiring as well as a potential future
resource for them. The lists varied considerably (e.g., reading lists, quips of art school
jargon, critique strategies to use with undergraduate students, and so forth). I also made
lists as reminders to myself. They included ideas for the long term such as additional
research studies as well as ideas for the short term, including the visuals related to
specific colloquium topics that I could use to enrich our discussions. Analyzing the data
in these ways assisted in my interpretations and understandings of larger meanings and
allowed me to efficiently determine the interrelationships between the data I had
Limitations of action research
The limitations in this action research study represented those typical within a
qualitative research design. Though I ultimately hope to contribute to MFA program
curricula in general, the findings from this study represent a small group of participants
that represented one university program; it was the same program in which I also earned
my MFA degree seven years prior. In addition, I was the one who decided whether what
the participants did or said contributed to the findings. As Henstrand (1993) has stated, I
“acknowledged that the only truth I can claim in the study… is my own” (p. 95).
Essentially, using action research methodology is “not a value free process”
(Reason, as cited in Pine, 2009, p. 75) as “it is only through authentic collaboration and
critical dialogue among the participants in an action research study that the integrity of
the action research process can be maintained” (Pine, 2009, p. 78). Furthermore,
according to Bresler (2006), “It is impossible to estimate the transformational (catalytic)
potential of the studies or the degree to which they empower the teacher practitioners to
develop and change their teaching or curricula in the long term” (p. 574). According to
McNiff and Whitehead (2011), “It is important that you do not present your work as a
finished product, which you now expect others to apply to their practice" (p. 172). Rather
it is important to explain how "you have learned from the experience and what they could
also learn… with and from you” (p. 172).
Ethical considerations and research concerns
The proposal for this study was approved by the university’s Institutional
Research Board (see Appendix A) and thus affirmed the actions taken with regard to
respecting the rights, needs, values, and desires of the participants involved in this study.
Informed consent forms (see Appendix C) were offered to and signed by students as they
agreed to participate in this research study. Observing and documenting participants, who
were asked to share potentially sensitive information about their lives, could be viewed as
invasive. Bresler (2007) has put it this way, “immersion in the field; close observation of
others’ behavior in private and semiprivate settings; uncovering personal beliefs,
thoughts, and feelings – can also cause pain and harm” (p. 63). To help avoid causing
pain and harm, electronic data materials were encrypted, names were removed from
written materials, images from the study were never made public, and pseudonyms
replaced the names of all participants in this study other than myself. As Bresler (2007)
has reminded the research community, “Research ethics… involves caring for individual
participants and for the setting, portraying them with complexity and dignity… on
multiple levels – intellectual, affective, and ethical” (p. 65). This research site, a
classroom in the same building as the participants’ art studios, was well removed from
the activity of the School of Art. It was a site that was unobtrusive to others in the MFA
Verification process
As a means to substantiate findings of this study, different verification processes
needed to be conducted. Linking validity and one’s moral purposes in the world is
important (Feldman, 2003). According to McNiff and Whitehead (2011), “Validity refers
to testing and establishing the truth-value of a claim, or its trustworthiness” (p. 161).
During the study and my data collection, I paid specific attention to qualitative validity,
accuracy, and reliability in order to ensure trustworthiness, authenticity, and credibility
(Creswell, 2009). Giving coherency to the findings, the strategy of triangulation
connected the study’s data collection and data analysis with information gained from
observations, electronic correspondence, audio recordings, visual journal entries, and
open-ended survey questions. For example, I met with the participants individually to
verify my descriptions of their individual participant profiles and I have emailed and
offered in person, sections of this dissertation document. Given that “researchers need to
provide an accurate account of the information” (Creswell, 2009, p. 91), I had the
participants comment on sections of my research.
The reader will gain a perspective about what actually happened in the study
opposed to what should have happened given the thick descriptions of prolonged
engagement with the participants are evident in the forthcoming chapters as well as direct
quotes from the copious notes I had taken while listening and re-listening to each
colloquium audio recording. In the next chapter, I present a series of profiles of the
study’s participants.
In this chapter, I introduce the four research participants in this study, the MFA
graduate students who voluntarily consented to participate in the research study and
myself. Following the tradition of action research, I was a contributing participant in my
roles as teacher, researcher, and artist. Pseudonyms (Annika, Jenna, and Nate) are used in
place of the participants’ real names.
Participant introductory profiles
Each profile includes some of the participant’s demographic data and his or her
responses to the Introductory Survey questions (see Appendix D), in conjunction with
other data collected over the semester. The profiles reflect the participants’ backgrounds,
personal and professional goals and choices of artistic media and sources of creative
inspiration. In addition, the profiles include each participant’s specific response to one of
the Introductory Survey (see Appendix D) questions: “What does sense of self mean to
you?” All of the participants’ responses on the survey were submitted to me before
August 23rd, the day before our first colloquium session when each of us introduced
ourselves accompanied by one piece of artwork.
At the time of this study, Annika was a full-time second-year graduate student
from Virginia who entered the MFA program in the fall semester 2011 to study
photography. On the initial survey, Annika indicated that she was between 27 and 31
years of age. She was single and spoke about how she came from a supportive family.
She shared how her father believed that earning an MFA is the “best degree you can get”
and the most “honorable thing” you can do with your life (8/23/12). Some of the reasons
for her choice of going to art school involved seeking out the “core of who I am, what I
believe in,” and “what I am going to [visually] say” as an artist. She explained that, “I’m
learning to be a better artist, and part of that is knowing myself better” (8/23/12). Part of
why Annika wanted to study art was because, “I don’t feel able to do jobs that I consider
meaningless” (8/23/12). Annika’s professional goals consisted of learning about the
different aspects of a career in the visual arts such as working in art galleries, writing
grants, and “potentially” teaching in higher education. At this point in Annika’s threeyear MFA program, she had had some teaching experience, having taught one
foundations-level photography class during the previous semester as a teaching assistant.
As Annika introduced herself to the class, she described her artwork that
addressed issues related to family history and how memories, often connected with
specific places, are handed down generationally (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: A photographic diptych, Annika 2012.
Her artistic medium of choice had recently progressed from photography to working and
experimenting with video, performance, and sculpture. Though unsure of where her new
experiences would lead her, she was pleased and motivated by the opportunity to expand
on her discoveries. During the semester of our colloquium series, she performed new
works at “InFuse,” an on-going reading and lecture series that was organized for and by
visual arts and creative writing graduate students at the university.
At the beginning of the study, Annika reported that she had given up friends,
dating, downtime, as well as cleaning the house and yard because she currently had
different priorities. As an artist and a student, she created and obeyed strict schedules of
work time in her studio. She admitted that she had often carefully considered what
“counts” as work. She alleged that, “Sometimes I’ll go to Goodwill or write an art history
paper, but I know that if I am not regimented about [my schedule]… I won’t work”
(9/6/12). With a self-condemning giggle, she added that she sometimes unwinds by
watching “silly” television or movies.
Playfully, Annika often referenced lively inspirations she received from watching
various TedTalks; further, she acknowledged gaining motivation from studying the
artistic works of Alec Soth, Bill Viola, and Robert and Shana Park Harrison. With a
commitment to her new medium of video and performance art during this semester,
Annika attended a weekly dance class on the mornings before each colloquium session,
actively sought out opportunities to show her work, and participated in a group exhibition
at the university. Part way through the semester, Annika traveled to a professional
photography conference, and while there, she was offered a curatorial opportunity.
Ultimately, she served as a contributing curator for a photography exhibition of works by
MFA visual arts students from our university and two additional major Southwestern
Annika believed that the process of earning an MFA at the university was
“stressful and… difficult” and accompanied by a great deal of pressure. For her, the
American educational system, as a whole, was often “narrow, especially for young kids
that take standardized tests” (9/20/12). She believed that this perspective had been
confirmed after she read Paulo Freire’s book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1989). She
noted that, “education should really come from the students.” She spoke about her
undergraduate BFA experience at Evergreen State College, which employed an
alternative assessment model for art students. This was a model that Annika thought was
not only personally relevant to individual students, but also more meaningful and helped
students to reflect on their artistic purposes. At Evergreen, courses were pass-fail and
final grades comprised of a collaboratively determined “e-val,” or written evaluation,
which was negotiated between individual professors and individual students.
Annika responded to the initial survey question (what does sense of self mean to
you?) by answering “having a sense of self was similar to knowing who you are and
having personal confidence” (8/23/12). Having once heard that MFA programs can “kill”
your creativity, she registered for the colloquium series to “gain a better understanding of
the MFA process and get other people’s viewpoints on it” (8/23/12). Sometimes she
found herself asking why she was pursuing the MFA degree, questioning whether the
process of earning the degree was really helping her art practice, and wondering how it
might hinder her art making. In general, Annika appeared to believe that our seminar-like
course could provide a space in which she could talk about the issues of being an MFA
Jenna was a full-time second-year graduate student from California. She began
the MFA program in the area of drawing and painting in the fall semester 2011. Jenna
was between 27 and 31 years old. She expressed gratitude for her mother, an infinite
“fan,” who had “held a candle for her” along her artistic path. Jenna reflected on how
there was a “shift in my relationship” with her husband when she decided that she was
going to commit to making art. She told him that he could either “come along or not
come along” on her journey to art school and being an artist. Supportive of Jenna’s path,
her husband often helped her to simplify written explanations of her artwork. Jenna also
admitted, “I don’t hang out with people. I used to be social and I try not to do that
anymore” (8/23/12). She believed that art was something you did on your own, and she
credited her mother as the reason she was continuing to endure all the challenges of art
Jenna’s BFA experiences at the University of California Santa Cruz were not
unlike those Annika experienced within her BFA program. Instead of receiving
traditional letter grades, Jenna was provided with written formal evaluations from her
professors each semester. She articulated that once she had earned her MFA, she hoped to
be a professional studio art instructor in higher education so she could “teach collegeaged students the skills needed to help them further their artistic and technical abilities”
(8/23/12). During the semester of this research study, Jenna was a TA for an
undergraduate studio art class in sculpture foundations. She believed that, “It’s a good
thing to teach and be taught at the same time” (8/23/12). This way, she could teach her
students the constructive and meaningful things that she was learning as a student herself.
Jenna’s artistic specialty was acrylic painting. She described her works as
“landscapes” where she would engage color, shapes, and patterns to reflect a “sense of
place,” memories, and memory of place. When she was painting in her studio, Jenna
became part of a process that was intensely seeking to figure out “how multiple memories
of a particular site might be portrayed in one image.” She worked to meaningfully
reconcile and visually illustrate how a person can have multiple feelings and memories
about one particular place. Jenna introduced herself along side a triptych she had recently
completed (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: A triptych of acrylic paintings, Jenna 2012.
When our semester started, Jenna was reading the book A Heartbreaking Work of
Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (2000). She also noted that she found creative
inspiration in the artworks of Lucian Freud, Alex Karversky, and Dan Bayles. She, like
Annika, had critically considered what “counts” as work and had concluded that reading
art history, taking pictures, and paying attention to the aesthetics of a brief walk were
legitimate contributions to the process of growing as a visual artist.
She indicated that she had signed up for the colloquium series because she was a
practitioner of self-reflection and meditation. To her, the colloquium series, with its
emphasis on examining personal character within a seminar-like environment, seemed to
resemble courses that she felt she missed from her undergraduate degree program. Jenna
preferred small introspective courses that were focused on talking and analyzing what she
was doing and why. She thought that bigger and less personal classroom settings felt
“messy.” She admitted to having wondered, “What am I doing for the world?” (8/23/12);
thus she anticipated that our colloquium series might be a safe place to critically examine
informal written and oral perspectives regarding the complexities of art, and of a life as
an artist. One of Jenna’s priorities was to improve the way she “talked” about her work.
During the semester of the colloquium series, Jenna participated in an art
exhibition at the community’s botanical gardens and in the same group show as Annika.
She also helped to organize an informal group critique of the video works of other MFA
students. In addition, she participated in family events including hosting her husband’s
family over the Thanksgiving weekend. In her response to the initial survey question,
Jenna wrote about how “a sense of self” could be considered similar to a person’s deep
feelings or soul. She elaborated further by stating that her sense of self consists of “who
she thinks she is, the story she tells herself about who she is, and who she wants to be”
Nate was a full-time third-year student from New Mexico who entered the MFA
program in 3-D studies during fall semester 2010. He was also between 27 and 31 years
of age and had earned his BFA at the University of Tulsa. Nate was married at the time of
the study, and his wife was also a graduate student at the university. Given that Nate and
his wife both studied and worked on the campus, they were supportive and cognizant of
each other’s schedules and different academic obligations. As he was reading Walden by
Henry David Thoreau (1939), Nate was eager to share other books that were of interest to
him, such as The Monkeywrench Gang (1975) by Edward Abbey, Sirens of Titan (1959)
by Kurt Vonnegut, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
(1974). He found inspiration in the artworks by Andy Goldsworthy, Bruce Goff, and
Mark Dion.
Nate explained that he would engage whatever materials he believed were
appropriate to the concept or idea of each of his individual artworks. He admitted, “I fear
that when I’m talking to someone [about my art]… it’s too complex, I’ll lose them”
(8/23/12). Engaging with this complexity, he introduced himself to class members and
invited us to guess the specific social-political concerns that related to coffee
consumption that he had represented in each of his three bonze-cast coffee mugs, two of
which are depicted in Figure 4. Nate described his past work as having dealt with ways in
which people interact with the natural world “sometimes directly but most powerfully,
through the things we consume” (8/23/12). He had studied issues related to overconsumption in the United States. His primary artistic goal was to bring about an
awareness for the “disconnect between the things we buy and use and the places that they
come from” (8/23/12).
Figure 4: Bronze-cast coffee mugs, Nate 2012.
Nate expressed how he thought the university’s three-year MFA program model
was very strong. He explained that he had found that the first and second years in the
program exposed MFA students to different and important ideas. He stated, however, that
he had felt a sense of relief as he started his final year knowing he would have more
opportunities to act artistically on his own including completing unfinished works from
earlier in his program. The lack of sufficient time to balance the responsibilities and
expectations of being both a graduate student and a TA was the main reason for why
some of his art works were incomplete. He said that sometimes he simply needed to “sit”
with his works of art for a while, and that, “criticism of a work one year ends up being
awesome to you later” (8/23/12).
During the semester of this research study, Nate’s artwork was in a two-person
exhibition on the campus. He also openly discussed the issues he was encountering with
the development of his final thesis exhibition project. He had started a Facebook page
entitled, “Art Show Share,” intending that his MFA peers could recommend mediaappropriate shows to one another. Nate indicated his frustration with some of his MFA
student peers whom he believed had one reason to earn an MFA degree. He guessed that
they “just want the piece of paper to get a job teaching [in the studio arts in higher
education]” (8/23/12). He considered this practice a means of “watering down” the MFA
degree itself and believed it devalued what his MFA degree was going to mean.
Nate followed what he called a “hit-or-miss” schedule for his studio work. He
claimed that he needed a whole day to be truly productive in his studio and explained the
way he found “little things” to do on the partial days in his studio.
During the semester of the colloquium series, Nate was teaching one
undergraduate 3-D foundations studio art class entitled, “Space,” a class he had taught
twice before. Nate had revealed, “That’s one of the reasons I’m going to grad school, to
be a teacher. I really enjoy the process of teaching as it is very much intertwined with my
art-making” (9/6/12). During our semester, Nate also sought out posting for visual arts
teaching positions in higher education and regularly approached his instructors for advice
regarding job applications.
Nate said that he registered for the colloquium course partly because he
considered himself “self-reflexive, in general,” and partly because he was “skeptical of
everything in a healthy way” (9/6/12). In the survey response Nate wrote that “selftheories are fluid” and defined sense of self as, “A series of thoughts, ideas, concepts that
are either picked from other sources or created by you that you relate to, agree with, and
live by. It also involves a healthy amount of confidence in the validity of these decisions
mixed with just a bit of skepticism that, well, you could be wrong” (8/23/13). Nate also
felt that the course would expose him to topics that would “literally not occur to me”
In my roles as teacher, researcher, and artist, I was an active participant in this
study. I am a native of the Midwest and had been living in the Southwest for nearly 12
years. I had been brought up in a family of teachers, many of whom were art enthusiasts
and supported the creative aspirations in their communities. My life-partner is a
photographer and employed at the same university in which this study took place.
Prior to moving to the Southwest, I had spent eight years teaching in middle
schools and high schools. I had earned a BFA degree at the School of the Art Institute of
Chicago and held an MFA degree at the university in which this study took place. The
semester that I facilitated the colloquium series, I was also teaching a contemporary art
survey course and an Art and Visual Culture Education course for pre-service art
When it was my turn to introduce myself to the MFA participants, I explained
how two different artists had inspired my early commitment to study the visual arts.
Figure 5: Just a Thought, Barbara 2008.
I shared with the participants that the poetry written by spoken-word artist and punk
singer, Henry Rollins, in conjunction with the works of Agnes Martin, who was known in
part for her large color-field paintings, had peeked my curiosity many years ago.
Considering the opposing extremes that I perceived between the nature of and inspiration
for these different types of art triggered a new depth to my interests in studying the
creative arts. I described this early artwork (see Figure 5) as one that reflects my personal
efforts to control chaos. The participants seemed to agree with me that the process of art
making, in our respective mediums, is a healthy reprieve from our multi-faceted and
densely scheduled lives.
In the next chapter, I explain the general structure of each colloquium session and
the bi-weekly activities that took place within them.
In this chapter, I present a narrative about the eight sessions that comprised the
course, “Issues of Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts.” I discuss how the course
progressed and transformed over the 15-week semester. The narrative is based primarily
on my written pre-planned teaching notes, class memos, and follow-up Reflection
Worksheets (see Appendix F), and notes taken from the audio recordings. This chapter
concludes with highlights from the final reflection I wrote after the last colloquium
session while sitting quietly and unaccompanied in our classroom, a space turned quiet
and darkened by the semester’s closure.
Colloquium series
The course met every other week in a classroom at the Graduate Studio Art
Laboratory building situated a couple blocks away from the School of Art’s main
building. The six-year old studio laboratory building was an unhurried place where all the
visual arts graduate students at the university were provided secure individual studio
work spaces, access to a wood and a metal shop, and two large open areas for social
gatherings, critiques, and small exhibitions. With space appropriate for 40 people, our
classroom offered plenty of room to spread out our book bags, a scooter helmet, art
supplies, a coffee machine (brought from home), snacks, and artworks made by class
members. The four of us sat comfortably at two standard classroom tables that we had
pushed together and took up one corner of the room (see Figure 6).
Figure 6: The classroom setting for the colloquium series.
Two weeks before our first colloquium session, I emailed the Introductory
Survey (see Appendix D) to the students who had officially registered for my course.
Some questions on the survey were demographic in nature, others sought personal
philosophical perspectives, and others were specifically intended to help me understand
their individual artistic preferences such as their inspirational sources and media of
specialty. Most informative were the responses from questions that asked the participants
about their future goals, their understandings of what it means to have a “sense of self,”
and their interpretations of specific pieces of literature and selected findings from another
survey. For example, one question asked students to respond to a finding from the 2011
Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP): “The findings from this study indicate
that arts training institutions must focus on preparing their graduates for a life of
enterprise, self-employment and entrepreneurship” (SNAAP, 2011, p. 15). The MFA
students’ answers to a total of 15 survey questions provided me with a small peek into the
backgrounds of the future participants in this study.
Keeping in mind the MFA students’ survey feedback, I solidified the plans for our
first colloquium session. The teaching points and introductory handouts I had produced
were extensive and dense. Teaching points on my notes for the day were denoted with
bullet points, check marks, large print, bold print, parentheses, quotation marks, italics,
blue ink, black ink, asterisks, arrows, and text boxes, as well as several headings
including “announcements,” “optional readings,” and “purpose of the semester.” At the
top of my teaching notes, I had listed my research sub-questions to help keep me focused.
What followed on the page was a list of teaching supplies that had been edited several
times and a colorful list of discussion prompts related to the colloquium series’ goals and
objectives. I had prepared a blank copy of my original Data Collection Chart (see
Appendix L) in the event that I wanted to “catch” and organize data right away.
I wanted to begin building rapport with my new students immediately in the hope
that they would eventually become participants in my study. To do so, I had written out a
reminder on my teaching notes that read: “A conversation that begins with ideas is not as
easy to relax into as one that begins with personal experiences. Instead of ‘what do you
think of the topic?’ ask ‘Tell me a story about the topic.’ It’s unlikely a story can be
wrong” (Palmer, Zajonc, & Scribner, 2010, p. 48).
Colloquium one, August 23, 2012
Because of overlapping teaching obligations the morning of the first colloquium, I
walked briskly between the building where I taught an undergraduate contemporary art
survey course and the classroom for my course. I was energized, excited, and acutely
aware of the poignant character switch I was making along the way. I replaced the formal
demeanor I used when lecturing to undergraduates with the casual persona I wanted to
engage with my new class of MFA graduate students. I realized that I was nervous and
my shoulders were tense as I traversed several blocks.
My nervousness was exacerbated by the knowledge that my study had yet to
receive IRB approval from the university administration. During my walk, I telephoned
the IRB office and a staff member confirmed that I had permission to conduct my study.
Upon my arrival at the studio laboratory building, the classroom was already set up for
small group discussions because I had arranged the furniture early that morning when I
first arrived on campus. The room was uncomfortably warm. A supervisor in the building
remedied the lingering summer heat, and I turned on all the classroom lights to brighten
the single-windowed classroom on this rare rainy day. The class members arrived and I
introduced myself, read the course description from the course syllabus (see Appendix J),
and left the students with my advisor, the study’s “third party” who further explained the
nature of my study and collected signed consent forms.
Several minutes later, the intricate plans I had designed for colloquium one
commenced. As the class period progressed, I made notes in the margins. Next to one of
my check marks, I wrote: “felt like this is too ‘study-like’.” Another note read “perhaps
too mushy; I already made that point.” I talked with students who were now participants
in my study about the course and explained the written, oral, electronic, and visual
exchanges that we could anticipate during the semester. I provided each participant with a
new orange-colored 6” x 6” x ¾” sketchbook and described the sketchbooks as “visual
journals” that we would employ to share ideas. I suggested that the journals be a place for
the participants to keep a “bird’s-eye view on our semester” as well as for their reflective
engagements that would take place during our action research journey.
Though strangers at this point, I disclosed details about my background in the
visual arts and my experiences as an art educator. Since I had recently been in their shoes,
I shared how my three years as an MFA graduate student had been enlightening,
intellectually stimulating, and empowering. I also wanted the participants to understand
the legitimacy of my various roles as a teacher, researcher, artist, and participant within
the colloquium series and research study.
I suggested that we set ground rules that established confidential and respectful
exchanges. My intentions were to set a tone for our semester that consisted of trust,
confidence building, creative investigation, and respect for visual arts educators in higher
education, visual arts students, and the MFA degree itself.
Energy among our group escalated as we each took the time to introduce
ourselves using one work of our own art to assist in doing so. The conversation continued
as each of us shared what our art was about. I encouraged them to try to respond with an
“elevator answer,” or a succinct explanation summarizing their work that would satisfy a
stranger’s curiosity while riding between floors in an elevator. Our elaborate
introductions set off a discussion about why each of them had decided to pursue earning
an MFA degree, and why each of the MFA students had chosen to register for the
colloquium series. Given their responses, I added four books to the optional reading list
(see Appendix K) including Thich Nhat Hanh’s (1976) The Miracle of Mindfulness. After
such thoughtful opening conversations, referring to my bullet-pointed lists seemed
tedious and almost obstructive.
I was already looking forward to their assistance in planning future aspects of our
class. I mentioned the optional readings list and issued the visual journal assignment that
asked participants to create a visual educational autobiography or a visual artistic
autobiography. The colloquium ended after I asked that they participate with the
upcoming electronic discussion prompt: “Within the context of graduate studio art higher
education, or MFA programs as you know them, please contribute to a definition or
understanding of ‘the transformative power of true art education’” (Palmer, Zajonc, &
Scribner, 2010, p. 57).
After the participants had left the classroom, I made a note next to one of my
prepared lists that read, “Completely forgot!” On my colloquium Reflection Worksheet
(see Appendix F), I wrote about being grateful for having audio-recorded the colloquium
session, as I had placed nothing into my data collection chart. I wrote out a reminder to
concentrate on “character, consciousness, and sense of self.” More importantly, however,
I wrote, “we established each of our ‘selves’ today… [and] now have a baseline to
support going forward.”
Colloquium two, September 6, 2012
During the two weeks leading up to colloquium two, I started another set of lists;
each one contained a header with the pseudonym I had chosen for each participant. Using
numbers to indicate these individuals as I had originally intended felt cold as I already
began to appreciate each individual as unique. After having arranged the classroom tables
for small group discussion, I spread out three individual lists in order to note when ideas
came to mind that seemed of likely interest to each individual participant. For example, I
noted that Jenna might appreciate the subject matter of my old black and white
photographs. Given Nate’s interest in science and specifically, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty
Principle, I thought he might enjoy the 2004 film, What the Bleep do we Know? Each list
grew as I found out more about the participants.
I had reread my old reflection responses to the “Values, Consciousness, and
Professional Practice” course. Inundated with thoughts, I considered asking the
participants questions like, “where do you see yourself in five years?” and “who are your
heroes?” I wondered about what they would write in a letter to their “artist” self and
about how they took care of themselves physically each day. I added another book to our
reading list, Integrative Learning and Action: A call to Wholeness by Susan Awbrey
(2006). I had also wondered about practicing free writing as part of the discussion in the
next colloquium session.
In a separate memo, I wrote out questions that I thought would be appropriate to
ask participants at the end of our semester, such as what topics they would find
meaningful in a course of this nature. Inundated with pedagogical ideas that could carry
the course in myriad directions, I placed a “post-it” note in my class binder to remind me
of the overall purpose for the decisions I was making. Listing the stages of action
research, the note read, “planning, acting, observing, reflecting, revising.”
The morning of colloquium two, I was running short on time and ended up
parking my car in one of the university garages in order to arrive at my undergraduate
survey course on time. I had to miss my usual and pleasurable daily walk to campus from
a nearby neighborhood in which I had parked. As participants slowly filtered into the
classroom, I hid my awkward nerves and fulfilled a self-imposed requirement to be
outwardly friendly and offer up small talk. With high expectations for myself, and every
aspect of this project, I was nervous and did not feel well enough prepared for the
session. However, that changed immediately as engaging conversations commenced once
As I had done for colloquium one, I listed my research questions at the top of my
teaching notes and began our colloquium session with an extended conversation about
our mutual enthusiasm for cats and other animals. Shortly, we moved on to address our
D2L discussion question about “transformative education.” This D2L exchange had
triggered questions about values and beliefs; however, it became clear during this session
that participants preferred to address thought-provoking questions in person rather than
doing so electronically. Going forward from this early point of our semester, our D2L
electronic exchanges began to fade out.
Colloquium two simmered with talk about the stress involved with leading
critiques as a TA, as well as participating in critiques as a student. Our conversation
roamed from idea to idea within lively brainstorming. Wanting to experiment with my
new pedagogical idea to employ free-writing within a class discussion with the
participants, after several minutes, I broke the flow of conversation in order to have
participants continue their brainstorming in writing. A sharp contrast to the energy in our
oral participation, the room’s atmosphere soon lost its luster as words were silently going
down on paper. During our next discussion, we looked at the participants’ brainstorming
and looked at their visual educational or artistic autobiography. The following is the
series of images that Nate shared to express his artistic autobiography (see Figure 7).
Figure 7: An artistic autobiography, Nate 2012.
At the end of the session, I asked the participants to submit their individual artist
statements to our D2L drop box and to consider reading an excerpt I had posted from the
text by Awbrey. The essay was written by Jon Kabot-Zinn (2006) and entitled,
“Wherever You Go, There You are: Living Your Life as If It Really Matters.”
Additionally, the participants were asked to create a visual journal entry about what it is
that specifically motivates their art making. It read:
Think about your personal motivations. What drives your decisions and choices?
Who inspires you? Where do most of your creative ideas come from? What upsets
you? Why are you doing what you’re doing (or not doing)? What thoughts come
to mind when you first wake up in the morning? Create a visual response for the
following: A reflection about the (re)sources for your artistic research and/or
creative motivation. (9/6/12)
To close, I mentioned the on-line discussion prompt that asked them to help design the
“Ultimate MFA Course.”
My personal reflection about this session contained comments about how the
stories accompanying the visual autobiographies were familiar and how they represented
what I had once said or felt as an MFA student. I noted a curious thought about a
question I wanted to ask the participants: “No, really, how are you going to place yourself
out there [in the real world]? Meaningfully.” Off to the side, I noted that perhaps I was
silently writing out this question so emphatically because, deep down, I wanted to know
my answer to the same question. How was I going to put myself out there after I
My brainstorming continued along with my reflection notes. I wanted to engage
the participants in a constructive conversation about pedagogy at our next colloquium. I
wanted to borrow their visual journals so that I could spend more time with their
thoughtful entries. I wanted to begin a discussion having asked the participants what they
believed was the difference between an artist in the 21st century and an artist in the 21st
century with an MFA degree.
Colloquium three, September 20, 2012
My preplanned teaching notes were getting shorter. I seemed to have become
more comfortable with the organic flow of conversation at each colloquium. Even though
I continued to be delightfully nervous as each new session approached, I needed less
support in terms of talking points and teacher notes. I had noted on my Reflection
Worksheet, I had felt a degree of “confidence in my prepared activities today.” I
continued to excuse the consistent adrenaline in my gut, acknowledging how profoundly
I cared for every aspect involved with this research.
On my way to the university that day, having packed up my coffee maker and
different visuals to share, I realized that I had more ideas for discussions running through
my mind than were possible to meaningfully explore and analyze during our short
semester. More importantly, I was concerned by the participants’ reactions to a D2L
prompt that I had put up on-line shortly after session two. I had asked them to start
thinking about how they would design the “Ultimate MFA Course.” Each of the
participants had emailed me about how difficult they found this activity.
We started class with coffee, tea, and laughter while watching the People’s
Choice Winner from the 2012 Walker Art Center Cat Film Festival, Henri. With our
mutual appreciation for stories about animals, this video was a playful way to open
another session of focused critical engagements. The opening discussion question asked
the participants what they had learned about themselves during the last two weeks.
During this session, I heard about how they had met outside of class to look at one
another’s work-in-progress. They had also offered to teach each other new things, such as
how to make digital mock-ups and prepare a clean empty space to mount photographs for
an upcoming candidacy review.
Toward the end of the session I brought up the D2L prompt to design what they
considered to be the “Ultimate MFA course.” I apologized for having issued the difficult
prompt; however, when we began to explore the topic as a group, the participants
energetically worked together to combine and develop ideas. So much so, that we did not
finish the course design during class time. As a group, we decided that we would think
about the course on our own and bring our ideas to the next colloquium.
When I reflected on this session, I noted an idea that I wanted to conduct an
informal survey with the participants about what we have talked about during our
semester, and discuss what topics they believed would be valuable to cover during the
rest of the semester.
After we left the classroom near the end of colloquium session three, we had the
once-in-a-life opportunity to watch a low-flying aircraft fly over our campus. It was
carrying a retired Space Shuttle to its new home in Los Angeles. Though it meant cutting
our colloquium session short, we wanted to watch this tribute to retired astronaut Mark
Kelley and his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, the former Congresswoman who was gravely
injured in a local shooting just over two years prior.
Colloquium four, October 4, 2012
The pre-planned notes that I typed up for colloquium four were a mere skeleton
compared to those I had prepared for the first three sessions. I had decided to take a more
spontaneous approach to addressing my teaching points. My notes comprised comments
about helping students prepare for their upcoming university candidacy reviews, as well
as visiting each of the participant’s classrooms while they were teaching their
undergraduate classes. I had written down more ideas for our reading list including
Egan’s (2005) An Imaginative Approach to Teaching and an excerpt from Chickering’s
(2006) Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality in Higher Education that I had read as
part of my “values” course. On a brightly colored post-it note, I had recorded a reminder
to ask the participants to look at the reading list and offer additional suggestions. During
the session, the participants recommended an article by Harold Bloom (1973) entitled,
“The Anxiety of Influence.” In one margin of my sheet of sporadic teaching notes, I had
penciled in a reminder to re-read the original “rationale” that I had proposed for this
study. In another margin, there was a list within which I had recorded what I believed to
have been the most productive teaching strategies that I had engaged with the participants
so far. The randomly placed post-it notes, reminders, ideas, and thoughts scattered
throughout my teaching plans made for a confusing document to reference during the
colloquium session. It should be noted, however, that despite this collection of
“thoughts,” I still kept the list of action research steps - planning, acting, observing,
reflecting, and revising - in a prominent place in my teaching notes.
At this point in the semester, we were addressing issues related to professional
development and the participants’ roles as teaching assistants in the School of Art’s First
Year Experience program. We looked at handouts related to how to create a professional
teaching portfolio and critique ideas. We examined the goals and assessment measures
that the participants had developed for the students in their courses. These discussions led
to thinking about how to foster innovation in the classroom and how the MFA student
participants could help their undergraduate students become empowered by their ideas
and resourceful in their research and use of materials. On D2L, I had posted information
of which we discussed relating to current visual arts related studies and initiatives
happening at colleges and universities around the country. They included a 2011 study
conducted through Vanderbilt University’s Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public
Policy that connected art making and issues related to personal happiness, and the
research experiments carried in 2010 by ArtsEngine at The University of Michigan, in
which visual arts practices had been integrated other campus disciplines. The exchanges
this colloquium session enveloped provided the impetus for ongoing conversations,
which gained momentum as the semester progressed and contributed to the cycles of
action research.
At times our colloquium talks took on a more personal nature. I recommended to
all the participants that they gain as much as possible from the experience of earning their
MFA degree, including relationships with their peers, their professors, their
undergraduate students. And most importantly, I recommended that they should be as
open as possible to the insights gained from examining their own selves. This
underscored that I was doing my best to model, the belief that knowing yourself is a
prerequisite for one’s future choices.
I was anxious to schedule individual studio visits to learn more about their
individual bodies of work. In the meantime, I developed an activity for the participants
that asked them to consider a potential conversation that might happen between their self
and their artist self. I asked the participants to think about what they discuss with their
artist self and then write a letter that would initiate this imaginary correspondence.
The visual journal engagement I presented in colloquium session four was to
choose one step of their individual artistic process and create an image in their visual
journals that would illustrate an explanation that would help them to describe that unique
step at our next colloquium session. Along with these mini-presentations, I suggested that
the discussion topics for session five relate to ways to learn to communicate effectively
with professors and other visual arts professionals.
After colloquium four, I wrote out my reflections on the session just as I had
done after the previous sessions. One of the questions on the Reflection Worksheet asked:
“To what extent did participants influence today’s colloquium pedagogy?” For the fourth
time, I responded “not very.” However, as the findings will indicate, nearly every class
had been planned around the participants’ ideas, feedback, and questions.
Colloquium five, October 18, 2012
I arrived at colloquium five having left my undergraduate contemporary art
survey class to take its midterm exam under the supervision of two university-assigned
graders. I had pre-planned various activities for our colloquiums session and had written
them in an abbreviated list. The opening questions prompting the day’s discussion asked:
“In what ways has your sense of self changed since beginning the MFA program? And,
what classroom or other academic experiences prompted those changes?” (10/18/12). We
also shared our visual journal responses while explaining the steps we individually
practiced as part of our personal art-making processes.
We accomplished only half of the activities I had planned for the day’s session.
They included using class time for participants to read one another’s letters to their artist
selves and to share excerpts from the books they borrowed during two previous sessions,
including On Longing by Susan Stewart (1984), On Creativity by David Bohm (2000),
and Art and Fear by Bayles and Orland (1993). Instead we engaged in a sustained
discussion about practicing communication skills, both written and oral, to help prepare
Annika and Jenna for the critique component of their approaching candidacy reviews. I
had also asked each participant to spend a few minutes writing about and briefly
describing each of the other two participants’ artwork. While they did so, I read through
each of their artist statements that I had collected through our course’s university D2L
site, and circled what I perceived to be the most important terms, or buzzwords. We
shared both the peer-reviews and the buzzword lists to determine what each participant
had most powerfully emphasized in, or communicated through writing about their
After this activity, we addressed a list of questions that I had drawn up in order to
help the participants while developing artist statements (see Appendix K). Sometimes
stumped and sometimes accompanied by a giggle, the participants thoughtfully answered
each of my questions in their visual journals and began to identify topics that might be
appropriate to address in an artist statement. Ultimately, the intent of these pedagogical
engagements in this session was to further develop their communication skills. In closing,
I reminded participants about how, “Today’s [session had focused on] being able to talk
clearly about your work and thinking through critique questions before you [meet with]
your committee members” (10/18/12).
I mentioned that we had only ten minutes left in our session and Annika
responded, “Wow, that went by fast” (10/18/12). Her comment made me smile as I
shared the options for the direction of our next colloquium session and brought up the
still unfinished “Ultimate MFA Course” class project. We added a few curricular ideas
that had emerged from the day’s activities, as we needed to round out the fictitious
syllabus. Nate felt particularly strongly about having the “Ultimate MFA Course” require
that students experiment with different materials. We laughed when he said, for example,
“students would have to try using ‘sticks and sand’ or plaster if you’re a painter… In
other words, you’re trying something new with your media” (10/18/12). Annika asked if
it were possible for us to re-schedule our next colloquium date as it conflicted with her
desire to attend a photography conference. As a group, we had decided that having all
four of us present at each colloquium session was important; therefore we decided to wait
three weeks instead of two before colloqium six.
I closed the session by reading the seven traits of an artist that are taught in art
school, yet almost always not written down as part of a lesson objective, according to the
article, “Art for our Sake, the traits that comprised perseverance, innovation, and skill
acquisition” (Winner & Hetland, 2008). I noted on my Reflection Worksheet (see
Appendix F) how I had been impressed with the participants’ commitment to attendance,
dedication to on-going conversations, and respect and honesty amongst each other. I also
made a note about my admiration for their camaraderie.
Colloquium six, November 8, 2012
As usual, prior to this colloquium, I had considered many pedagogical activities
while planning for our discussions. Our lists of ideas and interests had expanded greatly,
and I was curious about the perspectives the participants might have had on the
experiences of our course. I further wondered if our sessions were emotionally draining
or if they found them meaningful. I wanted to know what was running through their
heads as they walked out of our sessions as well as what they shared with peers, if
anything, regarding what it was like to participate in the colloquium series. Looking back,
one of the post-it notes stuck next to this session’s teaching plans indicated that, in fact,
these questions were never asked out loud.
When I arrived for this session, the classroom was freezing. I was already
uncomfortable because three weeks had passed since our last session, and I felt
disconnected from the participants. When I shared that fact, Nate said, “me too” and then
he adjusted the room’s temperature by fiddling with a wire tool he had made to use when
hacking into the university-secured controls in the thermostat box. Consequently, my
opening question was an attempt to reconnect the curriculum of our colloquium series
with the participants’ lives. I asked, “In the last three weeks, what parts of this class, if
any, came to mind for whatever reason?”
During this session, we continued with the theme of communicating effectively
about our artwork. We did an exercise in which each participant presented a description
of their artwork to a different imaginary audience. We also discussed the assumptions the
participants held about the MFA program at this university prior to their admittance.
After this, we explored various ways to engage undergraduates during a critique as an
instructional method in the art room, what Blair (2007) referred to as a form of “signature
pedagogy” (Shulman, 2006; Gurung, Chick, & Haynie, 2009). We suggested ways in
which to make critiques personally meaningful and professionally relevant.
In addition, we briefly talked about issues related to grant writing and submitting
work for exhibition proposals, art fairs, and museum shows. We addressed different
strategies that we had learned in terms of pricing our artwork to sell. We also practiced
answering potential interview questions using “layman’s” terms in order to practice our
explanations for our artistic goals to the general public. Finally, I had coordinated
individual studio visits with each of the participants.
Colloquium seven, November 15, 2012
By now, I had amassed a huge pile of notes related to this research study, and
each colloquium session proved to be as intense as the previous one. Colloquium seven
began 30 minutes later than usual because I was also hosting a guest artist in my early
morning survey course with undergraduate students. Routinely, I had prepared the
classroom well before our colloquium sessions began and organized our corner space for
small group discussion. However, because of my commitment in the survey course, I had
not done so this time.
I opened this session by inviting the participants to make a list of “everything that
needs to happen by the time the semester ends.” Then, I suggested that they make a
second list that contained “everything you want to have happen before the semester ends”
(11/8/12). We discussed the differences between our lists and reflected on how ideally, in
a perfect world, our needs and wants would be the same. Other plans for the day’s session
included sharing the letters the participants had written to their artist selves and
exchanging professional suggestions for writing a studio art instructor’s teaching
We found ourselves in a discussion about the pedagogies that are often used
within studio art classes and shared certain teaching strategies that might be successful
when working within undergraduate visual art courses. The conversation extended into an
evaluation of the strategies that the participants had determined to be most meaningful
within their own experiences as a student. In the end, this conversation among the
participants, one that hashed out reasons for various pedagogical successes and failures,
was believed to be extremely informative and helpful. Annika asked that we spend
additional time at our next colloquium session talking in depth about studio art
pedagogies. Of course, I agreed.
The final visual journal activity for the semester was to create an image that
illustrated their combined roles as an artist and as a teacher. I also said that we would
finish designing the curriculum for the “Ultimate MFA Course” during our final session.
After colloquium seven, I filled out my Reflection Worksheet observing, “I have
noticed that when we talk about leading a classroom or working with studio art students
in general, the participants are particularly passionate in their responses and anxious to
share how they have handled different circumstances in their studio classrooms”
(11/8/12). As my thoughts continued, I wrote down that I had had a particularly
challenging time during this session, as I was very tired and unfocused. In the modest
reflective writing I did do, I reprimanded myself, “this is an intense course and I would
be smart to prepare with better sleep each time we meet” (11/8/12).
I wrote out a reminder to myself regarding colloquium session eight. It suggested
that I create an exit survey, which would ask the participants to provide feedback specific
to the different activities we did as part of our class. I also wrote, “I have so many
random thoughts, memos, and ideas, and I have struggled to convert them all into
productive activities.” I packed up my day’s Reflection Worksheet exclaiming, “I’m
astoundingly exhausted today.”
Colloquium eight, November 29, 2012
My notes for colloquium eight were more detailed like those early in the semester.
I had typed out several unanswered questions that emerged from having consolidated the
comments that I had made on my Reflection Worksheets. It was indeed a struggle to
condense the semester’s countless notes, memos, and lists in order to decide what topics
were the most inspiring and relevant to address on the last day of our course.
Shortly after the participants arrived, I sent them out to their individual studios to
select one work of art and bring it back to our classroom. The piece had to represent who
they had become as a result of the experiences from all of their coursework during the
2012 fall semester. I asked that they take into account various academic, personal,
professional, and artistic challenges. Soon, the participants returned with their artwork
and we had a lively discussion.
After reflecting on the participants’ artworks as well as the progress of our
semester, we spent several minutes talking about pedagogy and our perceived
responsibilities as studio art educators. We discussed more strategies that had been
successful with the students in our individual classrooms as well as the pedagogies that
worked well for the MFA student participants as students themselves.
We revisited the collaborative syllabus for the “Ultimate MFA Course.” Given
time restraints, we were unable to write out the completed course design on paper. To
remedy this, I assured the participants that I would transcribe sections of our discussions
and insert them into our syllabus template as they pertained to our course curriculum,
pedagogies, and other “ultimate course” opportunities we had planned.
As a group we finished our colloquium series with a frank, lively, honest, and
motivating conversation about the course. I listened intensely as the participants shared
what aspects of the course they were most grateful for, as well as took to heart what they
believed could make the course stronger. I shared with them some of the ideas I had
noted in the event that I had the opportunity to teach the course again and asked them if
they would recommend the course to their peers. The reflective and reciprocal discussion
was extensive, and is described in more detail in Chapter Six.
My final reflection
“Sitting in this quiet room, the site of my colloquium series and dissertation
research project, I shake my head. I hate to say goodbye to the energy of this experience.
I have loved digging into what makes artists tick and reasons for why they make the
choices that they do” (11/29/12). I recalled my experience of being an MFA student years
ago more clearly and in doing so I better appreciated the multiple facets of those three
formative years. I wrote, “Today, I reflect on how teaching this colloquium series has
changed me… I have learned that [having an MFA degree] means a lot of things” and
addressed the empty classroom as I said aloud: “Thanks for my MFA experiences of
pain, escape, passion, goofiness, frustration, foul anger, desperation, satisfaction, and
accomplishment.” I smiled to myself as I wrote “like the fruit of a screw-bean mesquite
tree with multiple tendrils, quirky twists, and oddities, I have assembled into an
interesting whole being comprised of input from many characters.” At the end of my
written thoughts that day, I recorded how, “I love it here. I come to life in this space of
indescribable potential” (11/29/12).
This chapter has described the basic structure and context of the course, “Issues of
Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts.” In the next chapter, I present the findings as
well as analyze the findings of this study.
In the two previous chapters, I began to narrow down this study’s data and, in
doing so, provided profiles of each of the participants and a description of the colloquium
series, “Issues of Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts.” In this chapter, I describe
the ways in which I organized and analyzed the data according to a series of categories
(Creswell, 2009). I then present the findings from the study in relation to the three
research sub-questions. Given the nature of action research, the findings are supported by
data that I determined to be of value and representative of the participants’ contributions
within the study (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992; Whitehead & McNiff, 2010).
Research questions
The question that guided this research study was:
How do the experiences related to personal and professional development within
an MFA visual arts program influence a graduate student’s individual sense of self?
In order to address this overarching research question, I posed the following subquestions:
7. How do MFA students within a course that addresses the curricula and
pedagogies of their graduate programs and their experiences as MFA students
describe themselves as individuals, students, artists, teachers, and future
professionals in the field of the visual arts?
8. How does participating in the course allow MFA students to examine and reflect
upon their personal and professional growth as well as their graduate experiences?
9. How does my role as the teacher-researcher-artist of the course enable MFA
students to critically examine and reflect upon their experiences and their
developing sense of self as MFA students?
Data display
The oral, written, and visual data collected for this study were sorted on an
ongoing basis and organized into three data summary charts. These comprehensive
Completed Data Charts can be found in Appendix G, Appendix H, and Appendix I. In the
section that follows, I have chosen to include the three data summary charts with no
contents in order to illustrate how the data were categorized. Each chart represented data
that I determined were associated with each of the three research sub-questions. The
structure of these charts provided space for an orderly collection of rich and complex
qualitative data (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; Creswell, 1998; Denzin & Lincoln, 2003; Guba
& Lincoln, 1994). In each chart, the sub-question is positioned in the upper left corner. At
the top of each of the columns, the names for the different categories of data (oral,
written, and visual) are listed with their corresponding collection methods (e.g., surveys,
artist statements, electronic communication). Specific groupings of information (e.g.,
small group reflections, educational experiences, my influence as the teacher-researcherartist) make up the horizontal rows in each chart. It should be noted that within all of the
data charts, the colors selected to indicate each of the participants and corresponding data
are consistent.
Research findings
The subsequent sections of this chapter report on the findings that emerged from
my analysis of the data. The findings are presented after I restate each of the three
research sub-questions, and they comprise selected narratives, which include the voices
of all or some of the participants. It should be noted that when I use the word participants,
I am referring to the three MFA graduate student participants. In order to include my
participation, I have chosen to write in the first person.
Research sub-question one
The first research sub-question asked, “How do MFA students within a course
that addresses the curricula and pedagogies of their graduate programs and their
experiences as MFA students describe themselves as individuals, students, artists,
teachers, and future professionals in the field of the visual arts?” Data Chart One (see
Figure 8) illustrates how the data were organized; please see Appendix G for Completed
Data Chart One.
MFA students in a
course that
addresses the
curricula and
pedagogies of their
graduate programs
and their
experiences as
MFA students
themselves as:
(Audio-recordings of
eight colloquium
(Surveys, letters to self,
reading responses, artist
statements, electronic
correspondence, lists)
(Visual journal entries,
individual works of art,
demeanor, site images)
Future Professional
in the Visual Arts
Future Professional
in the Visual Arts
Future Professional
in the Visual Arts
correspondence, lists,
memos, pre-colloquium
plans, modified and postcolloquium plans,
reflection worksheets)
demarcated course
documents, my works of
art, site images)
Future Professional
in the Visual Arts
Figure 8: Data Chart One
Finding 1a: Differences in how the participants described themselves as
individuals, students, and artists.
The participants’ individual perceptions of themselves. Jenna began the semester
sharing that she sometimes wondered, “What am I doing for the world?” (8/23/12) and
often wished to be selfish with the ways she spent her time. For example, after
Thanksgiving break, Jenna shared that her holiday weekend had been great because she
“played” the role of host. She explained that doing so meant that she didn’t have to be
social with her dinner guests and family members, including her in-laws. She reported,
“they thought [that my role as the host] was great, but I was being selfish” (11/29/12).
Ultimately, Jenna acknowledged that “growth is painful” (9/20/12) and by the end of
several weeks of our semester, she claimed “the world is a much better place with art, and
even if it wasn’t, this is what I want” (11/8/12).
Nate began the semester believing that you have to “carry yourself [as one who is]
prepared; be clear, genuine, and honest, not hiding a bunch of stuff” (9/6/12). He
explained that getting to know a person in order to have a good conversation with that
person can take a long time. He believed, “you have to communicate out in the real world
as yourself” (9/6/12).
Annika shared that she had lived differently several years prior to entering the
MFA program. Not wanting to recall details from that time, she professed, “I’m going to
art school to get to the core of who I am, what I believe in, and what I’m going to say”
(9/6/12). At our second colloquium session, Annika noted, “I’ve really grown” as a
person having endured the “stress and insanity” of her first year in the MFA program.
She said that she was glad to have accomplished that year successfully.
The participants’ perceptions of themselves as MFA students. Differences
emerged from our discussions about the ways that the participants perceived themselves
as graduate students in the visual arts. Annika had said that she became particularly
motivated after she realized that other students see what she sees. She also expressed
appreciation for the community of artists, including peers and professors, who pushed her
as an art student. For example, one professor challenged her to make artwork about being
happy since her art regularly focused on themes of tragedy. Annika reflected, “I feel like
the best part about being here [in school] is that I have so much time to devote to my
work: I have people that push me and want me to succeed; it’s weird to think about not
having that in the future” (9/20/12). Though she felt that studying within the MFA
program put a lot of pressure on her, Annika reiterated her current priorities that favored
completing her MFA degree unhurried.
Wanting a different lifestyle than her previous career provided, Jenna had left a
lucrative job in the sciences before becoming an art student. Though she and her husband
had to relocate in order for her to do so, Jenna was motivated to become an MFA student
because she wanted to talk about her work “in a more educated way [using] better
vocabulary” (9/20/12). Having once been asked, “Why painting?” Jenna aimed to
conduct research and learn about the history of painting. One of her goals as a student
was to learn how to say something different from artists of the past. She said that she was
pursuing the question: “What is new about me?” and she believed that “art is something
that you do on your own” (9/6/12).
Jenna admitted she had been waiting to change during her first year in the MFA
program. She had hoped that she would somehow “wake up and be different” (9/6/12). At
the start of her second year she had come to understand that, after experiencing the
emotional and artistic challenges as a student, she wasn’t going to wake up and be
different. Understanding that “school is what you make of it,” Jenna willingly took on the
responsibility of being a student as she believed that “an MFA student should, most
importantly, walk out into the world with confidence” (10/18/12).
Nate was motivated to earn the terminal MFA degree, in part, because doing so
made him eligible for teaching positions in higher education. Given that his wife was also
a graduate student who wanted to teach, Nate explained, “Our dream is to teach at the
same university” (9/6/12).
I told the participants that at the time I had started my MFA program in 2002, I
had left a career in secondary art education. I explained to the participants, however, that
although I wanted to study art in depth, I still considered myself to be a teacher. One of
the significant reasons why I became an art student was so that I would acquire the MFA
degree that allowed me to be considered for a teaching position in higher education. I
disclosed to the participants that the years I spent in art school “were the best years of my
life” (9/6/12).
The participants’ perceptions of themselves as artists. When we talked about
ways to describe ourselves as visual artists, Annika admitted that she had “no idea”
where the inspiration for her artwork had come from. She said that this changed,
however, when one of her professors encouraged her to think about the things for which
she deeply cared. Annika described their one-on-one conversation and how it had helped
her to better articulate the meanings within her artwork.
As our semester progressed, Annika believed that she was learning to “discover
[meaning] for herself.” For example, she derived connections between what she practiced
in her dance class and new ideas for her video work, and she began to recognize a
relationship between the acts of trusting her intuition and the success she felt as an artist
(10/18/12). For Annika, art had the “ability to bring me into the present” as it felt
otherworldly, meditative, or “outside the scope of natural laws; not spiritual, but an
elevated place outside reality” (9/20/12).
Annika had started the practice of writing down statements about emerging new
aspects of her artwork and art making. Each statement was followed by approximately 15
minutes of reflective writing about why she believed that the statement was valid. With
new trust for her intuition, Annika noted that she was relieved to have come to
understand that her art was more about questions than answers (11/15/12).
Jenna would often cull the imagery for her paintings from her imagination. The
act of sitting in various spaces while collecting these images was one source of her
artistic inspiration, as was nature, growth, and knowledge. She explained how she would
consider the pattern and colors of a space and think of ways to tie together several visual
elements she had observed. She claimed the spaces where she collected these elements of
art became “something I’m connected to, not just aesthetically” (8/23/12). As Jenna
described the triptych of paintings she had with her at our first session, she explained it
contained depictions of “places that I appreciated.”
At mid semester, Jenna said she was making “tons of work” partly as a result of
regularly walking by “something that I find intriguing,” capturing it in a photograph, and
inserting the “intrigue” into one of her paintings. She explained that she had become full
of ideas and concepts for another body of work. At colloquium seven, Jenna shared a
visual journal entry about a “jaded force” that she believed to be motivating her and she
described it as though she was on the edge of something and “being hit!” Jenna also
explained that new sources for inspiration had emerged as she paid close attention to
color, urban sprawl, decay, feelings of renewal and “expressing my truth visually”
(11/15/12). By late in our semester, Jenna claimed to be “painting to communicate, just
as painting had communicated throughout history.” She believed, “It’s the best way to
talk about complex issues” (11/15/12).
When I referred to myself as an artist among the group of participants, I told them
that trying to make sense of our complicated world motivated many of my creative
projects, including my artists’ books of bound notes-to-self and my MFA thesis project, a
never-ending desk where I would sit to take on the challenges of organizing my life as a
teacher, a researcher, and an artist. (See Figure 9.)
Figure 9: Self-controlled, Barbara 2005.
I explained how the pursuit of earning my Ph.D. was part of my continued efforts to give
order to what I previously did not understand.
Finding 1b: Similarities emerged in the participants’ descriptions of themselves
in their roles as teachers. All three graduate participants had been employed as teaching
assistants prior to our semester together. They had been provided with the School of Art
Adjunct and TA Handbook, which they were expected to follow. Since the participants in
this study had been or were assigned to teach foundations-level courses as part of the
First Year Experience4 (FYE) program, they were given a second handbook that outlined
specific foundational curricula. To help TAs prepare to teach, the FYE handbook
comprised the curricula for each of its eight courses, a syllabus for each course, and a
The School of Art’s First Year Experience program comprised of a series of eight courses, which were often
taught by MFA student TAs. Undergraduate students were required to complete these courses as part of the BFA
sample calendar for the TAs to reference when designing the schedule for their semester.
The pedagogies they employed in their classrooms, however, varied despite the predetermined curricular expectations.
During the semester of our colloquium series, the participants wanted to try to
think like teachers and consider issues related to classroom environments, assessment
strategies, and designing effective presentations. Our conversations evolved into
reflecting on what the participants believed was most rewarding about being a teacher.
Annika said that it “feels meaningful to inspire others.” Nate believed that acts of
teaching and bringing about new awareness were “satisfying, open-minded, [and]
empathetic.” Jenna concluded, “That’s rewarding… help[ing] students think through
things that feel impossible” (11/15/12).
As the participants listened to one another’s teaching stories and the challenges
they had each faced in their classrooms, they began to prepare for various challenges that
they found they had had in common. During the colloquium sessions, they not only
brought up issues related to the experiences and anxieties that they had encountered in
their teaching practice, but also related some of the ramifications of the pedagogical
choices they had each made as instructors.
The challenges and stress related to the role of the TA. All of the participants
encountered the challenge of how to motivate students. Annika, for example, asked for
advice about how to motivate students who saw themselves as 2-D majors, yet were
required to complete a course (Space) in which they had to learn 3-D techniques. Jenna
acknowledged having had the same issue and responded to Annika, by noting that these
types of students say things like, “why do I have to make this stupid sculpture?”
(11/15/12). Nate had added that he sometimes dealt with unmotivated students by
pretending to be excited about their work. Annika asked a follow-up question about what
should one do “when a student’s work is just ‘God-awful’… How do you get students to
think more deeply?”
All of the participants had shared how leading a critique session was a source of
stress. For example, Jenna had expressed how she found it difficult to talk about students’
work that she believed was poorly executed. She wanted to avoid indicating to any one of
her students what she believed had been implied in her own critique sessions as an
undergraduate student, that “you’re the worst artist ever.” She did not want her students’
feelings to be hurt as she had experienced as a BFA student; so she took careful effort in
the choice of words she used with her students and made a point to not “humiliate a
student whose artwork was just bad” (11/15/12). Jenna also disclosed that she felt badly
when her students were stressed, when any student was absent from her class, and when
she had to issue some of them the final semester letter grade, D.
Nate found grading to be stressful as it was time consuming given that he took the
process seriously and believed that “being upfront about the first project sets the bar for
your grading” throughout the semester (11/29/12). Jenna said that her way of grading was
time-consuming as well, and she also considered it to sometimes be an emotional
experience. She had expressed that she found it difficult to balance the use of required
teaching objectives with the subjective nature of assessing art. During the semester, all of
the participants had talked about how having assessed undergraduates prompted them to
question the standards to which they held themselves accountable as students.
Performing and feeling different. The participants disclosed ways that they felt
different when working as TAs. Jenna had noted that teaching felt similar to doing a
performance and that “performing” with enthusiasm influenced her exchanges with
students as they would noticeably mimic her energy. Jenna said, “if I’m exhausted and
crabby and I let it show… I’ve set that to be the tone [for the day]” and the “whole class
period can [be ruined]” (11/29/12). Nate acknowledged that we often play “front stage”
or “back stage” when interacting with the world. He compared the sensations of teaching
in a classroom full of students to those of working with customers at “the front of the
house” in a restaurant, opposed to working “the back of the house” in the kitchen
When Annika said that she “feels like somebody different when she’s teaching”
(11/15/12), Nate and Jenna also noted that they could “see” and “hear” themselves while
at work within their roles as teachers. Annika elaborated as she described how she
“heard” her own principles and personal values emerge when she was speaking with her
undergraduates. She told us that she had sometimes thought to herself, “Oh yeah, I
actually believe that about art… maybe I should apply that” (11/29/12). Nate concurred
and shared that he, too, could “hear himself giving advice to his students and then thinks
to himself, “I should do that in my own class” Jenna taught the same things to her
students that she learned in her own studio classes. She valued having the ability to
connect with students and treasured being a “part of someone else’s artistic process…
guiding them.” She added, “as a teacher and as a student, I am asking questions and
doing this intense thinking that doesn’t happen outside the situation” (9/20/12). Annika
talked about how she liked the “idea of inspiring young people” as she believed that her
life’s experiences could be valuable to students just as she had found inspiration in the
experiences shared by her former studio art teachers. In general, all of the participants
appeared to believe that teaching in the visual arts helped them to clarify their beliefs
about art making and the practices of teaching.
For all of the participants, teaching appeared to ignite new understandings of
pedagogical issues related to visual arts education. The data suggest that pedagogical
discussions that occurred during the colloquium sessions moved from a focus on the
participants’ own experiences as students to a more critical awareness of their
responsibilities as teachers. For example, Annika and Jenna expressed that they had
learned that teaching provided them an opportunity to create what felt like a collaborative
space for undergraduates to create and learn. Interacting one-on-one with students was
important to Jenna, and she appreciated students who would “speak up” and share their
minds with teachers.
Finding 1c: The strongest similarities among the participants’ descriptions of
themselves arose in the discussions related to their future roles as professionals in the
field of the visual arts.
Wanting to teach in higher education. On the Introductory Survey (see Appendix
D), the participants had written three things they anticipated would be part of their futures
once they had graduated with their MFA degrees. All three of the participants expressed
some degree of interest for teaching studio art. For example, Jenna had written that she
would like to “teach college students the skills to further their artistic ideas and
techniques.” One of Annika’s goals read: “to potentially teach” (8/17/12). Nate shared
that he had planned to become a teacher for quite some time and, indicated on his
Introductory Survey that, “I specifically want to teach in a supportive environment in a
geographic area where students may not have much exposure to art” (8/17/12). He also
added, “It matters to me where I’m living. I’d take a job somewhere that is not so great if
[the place is where] I want to be. I think you are inspired by where you live” (11/8/12).
Mixed messages about teaching visual arts in higher education. In colloquium
session four, our conversation had focused on acquiring a position teaching studio art in
higher education. Annika had said that her professors had not talked with her about
pursuing teaching as a career. Nate and Jenna, however, conversed about the mixed
support they had received from professors regarding finding a teaching job. Nate was
reminded of how one of his professors told him, “most people don’t do that [during] their
thesis year” (11/8/12). Jenna said, “I’m told that teaching isn’t realistic… [and that] there
is so much competition, it’s unlikely.” Yet, as she continued talking, she also remarked
that some of her teachers had said, “you’ll get something, just work hard” (11/8/12).
This conversation about finding work continued throughout colloquium session
five, and I had become worried as Jenna began to express various concerns. She had
many questions including: “Do I apply everywhere? Will I have time to make my art?
What makes money? Will it be hard because I’m married? Is my husband going to go
somewhere because of me, or will I go somewhere because of him? How are we going to
work that out?” (10/4/12). Nate nodded in agreement. He then proceeded to discuss his
difficulties of having to apply for teaching jobs by mid-December while his strongest
piece, his thesis project, was not going to be complete until the month of April during the
following semester. He wanted Annika and Jenna to understand that the process of
submitting applications for teaching positions compared to a full-time job.
Annika had expressed that she had wanted to go to Los Angeles or New York
City right out of school and work any job, make her art, and apply for teaching positions
at a later time. She was concerned, however, about how working a full-time job would
likely leave her little time to make her experimental art. Jenna ended this conversation by
sharing that one of her professors had encouraged her to understand that a future takes
These findings, aligned with research sub-question one, have pointed out the
differences between and similarities among the participants. The next set of findings is
related to the experiences of having participated in this course.
Research sub-question two
The second research sub-question asked: “How does participating in the course
allow MFA students to examine and reflect upon their personal and professional growth
as well as their graduate experiences?” Data Chart Two (see Figure 10) illustrates how
the data were organized in relation to this research sub-question. Please see Appendix H
for the Completed Data Chart Two.
Participating in the
course allows MFA
students to examine
and reflect upon:
of each colloquium
Personal growth
Professional growth
Graduate experiences
Figure 10: Data Chart Two.
(Surveys, letters to self,
reading responses, artist
statements, electronic
correspondence, lists,
electronic correspondence,
lists, memos, precolloquium plans,
modified and postcolloquium plans,
reflection worksheets)
(Visual journal entries,
individual works of art,
demeanor, site images,
modeling, demarcated
course documents, site
Finding 2a: The informal image-making and writing exercises completed
independently by the participants helped to foster introspective examinations of their
experiences as MFA students including their personal and professional growth. In this
finding, I present examples of the participants’ responses to visual and written prompts,
which the participants completed outside the colloquium itself. The participants would
bring these visual and written artifacts to the various sessions where we would view and
discuss them. During these discussions, ideas and meanings were transformed as the
participants listened to their peers as they shared their written and visual work. The
participants created artworks in their visual journals and submitted reading responses,
personal letters, and artist statements. What follows are findings related to the visual and
written data that the participants created independently of one another.
The participants’ responses to visual journal prompts and activities as reflexive
pedagogy. The participants created a series of images in their visual journals over the
semester reflecting Boud’s (2001) premise that a journal provides “the place where the
events and experiences are recorded and the forum by which they are processed and reformed… [working] as a way to make sense of the experiences… and build a foundation
for new experiences that will provoke new meaning” (p. 11).
One of the first visual journal entries asked that the participants reflect on their
sources for inspiration and motivation. Nate was the first to share his entry, and stated
that, “What motivates me is abstract.” He clarified what he meant by the term abstract by
explaining how he was sometimes motivated by the ideas expressed in the media, such as
the various viewpoints that were communicated through CNN and Fox News. He added
that he believed that the act of watching the news allowed people to learn about the
different perspectives of other countries and to stay informed as well as be exposed to
“news that you disagree with” (9/20/12). In contrast and having reflected on a very
different set of sources, Nate shared the elaborate drawing in his visual journal and
discussed the creative motivations he experienced from being among trees, reading art
books, and camping in the woods. The participants admired his drawing and agreed that
Nate was a quality draftsman (see Figure 11).
Figure 11: (Re)sources for inspiration and motivation, Nate 2012.
Unlike Nate, Annika decided to respond to this journal prompt by writing three
pages about how she did not know the sources for her artistic inspiration and motivation.
She later realized, however, that engaging in the very process of making her art,
motivated her most intensely. She said “it’s like magic” and explained how it involved
the coalescence of several things in the universe including what she called, “other
subconscious me’s” (9/20/12). By colloquium four, Annika shared that she had become
more confident when following and “trusting of [her] own ideas, even if they’re stupid”
Like Annika, Jenna wrote a list of things that inspired and motivated her instead
of creating an image. Her list of sources was extensive as it included trees, leaves,
shadows, water, identification, memories, the way she lived, the way she changed, line,
growth, brainstorming, and freedom of expression. On a different note, Jenna admitted,
“I’m a worrier” and explained how her worries often motivated her first thing in the
morning. She elaborated by sharing that she worried about her teeth as she was “paranoid
about their health” and dreamed of them often (9/20/12). Referring back to her visual
journal entry, Jenna ultimately discerned that when she attempted to identify what
motivated her, she discovered that “Nothing else commands me in this way.”
Another assignment that resulted in a meaningful exchange of ideas between the
participants was the project that I have assigned to every student I teach. Each semester
any student enrolled in one of my classes is asked to go somewhere or do something that
they have never done before. To complete the assignment, my students submit an
informal written reflection about the experience. When I introduced this exercise to
Annika, Jenna, and Nate, I also asked that they create a visual response to their individual
experiences. Later, at the next colloquium session, we talked about our experiences and
the accompanying images, insights, and knowledge that were gained. I reiterated to the
participants that the goal of this project that I designed, originally inspired by a 1999 New
Year’s resolution, has always been to distinctly “stretch” the gamut of my former
students as well as the three MFA student participants.
Annika chose to go to a place she had always wanted to go, a river park just north
of the city. While experiencing the dried up quality of most rivers in Arizona at that time
of year, she explained how the faint “fishy” smell, soft lighting, and peaceful quality of
the mountains reminded her of being at the beach (see Figure 12). She enjoyed how this
space in the riverbed had “nothing behind it,” or was void of any agenda related to the
familiar hassles of living in the city. She considered this opportunity a respite from the
life she lived at the university and appreciated having explored a space about which she
had long been curious (10/4/12).
Figure 12: A drawing of the riverbed, Annika 2012.
Jenna had chosen to purchase a new tool, a projector to help her map out the
compositions of her paintings before applying paint on her large canvases. She had been
encouraged to use a projector before, but had believed that using a projector to help her
draw was cheating and compared it to the ways painters used the camera obscura5 in the
16th century. However, to Jenna’s relief, projecting overlapping shapes and images as she
composed her next painting did not leave her feeling as if she had cheated. Referring to
her visual journal response, Jenna explained that she had discovered that using her
projector was a new way of helping her to record the “voices in my head” (10/4/12). (See
Figure 13.)
Figure 13: The voices in her head, Jenna 2012.
Camera obscura is a “black box with a hole in one side to concentrate light and cast the shadow of an
object onto a screen, so it can be traced” (Bulfinch, 1996).
Nate attended a group yoga class for the first time having shared that doing so
would exercise his principle that understood “our presence on the ground is important”
(10/4/12). He reported on his experience and described his realization that doing yoga in
unison with others was “creepy;” he compared it to “reciting things in church.” For his
visual journal entry, Nate drew a human figure in the “child’s” yoga pose (see Figure 14)
and recalled that the sensation he felt from doing the pose was, in fact, relaxing to him.
He said that he had sat in the corner of the classroom and kept his eyes closed for most of
the yoga session.
Figure 14: A child’s pose, Nate 2012.
To his delight, however, Nate had thought of a new idea for a project. He said that the
experience of attending the class inspired him to construct a book within which he would
record each of his various thoughts. This included writing about “all kinds of things and
how they interrelate to each other and cross-reference them along the way” (10/4/12).
Nate was glad to have had the experience of attending the group yoga class; however, he
also made it clear he was not anxious to attend the class again.
At the conclusion of colloquium session four, Jenna offered to accompany Nate to
a different yoga class in the event that he might change his mind about group yoga. This
offer from Jenna prompted an extended conversation among the participants as they left
the classroom that day. Walking out, they exchanged their perceptions about the physical
consciousness brought about when practicing pilates and yoga. Jenna and Annika
described both of the exercises as calming and energizing. I packed up my things and
wrote a note to remind myself to consider using yoga-like exercises as a new type of
reflexive pedagogy in my next colloquium series course. I wanted to explore the ways
yoga and pilates might initiate new consciousness in people, specifically artists.
Another visual journal entry activity involved the participants in both writing and
image making. During colloquium session four, the participants were asked to critically
consider their artistic processes and to write out a list that contained the specific steps that
they regularly used in their processes of art making. Then, outside of the colloquium
session, the participants visually articulated one step that they believed was unique to
their individual process. At colloquium session five, each of the participants used their
latest visual journal entry to enhance a brief description of their distinct step in the
creative process.
Nate was challenged by this exercise and shared that since he did not know
others’ processes, it was hard for him to discern what step of his process was unique. In
the end, however, Nate contributed to the discussion by showing us how he used his
computer to “sketch” various images. Working with a designer who made coffee shop
posters, Nate created several digital drawings and sketches of his ideas for new sculptural
pieces or installation projects (see Figure 15). Despite the many hours required to
complete each digital drawing, Nate was grateful to know how to design what he had
considered a “huge project that would cost thousands of dollars; [so the] two days of
building a scale model is worth it” (10/18/12). Comfortable in my relationship with Nate,
I replied, “it’s you, Nate” intending to imply that employing such efficiency in his
preparation and construction of his artwork fit with the didactic intent behind some of his
pieces. Referring back to Nate’s digital images, Jenna had commented, “That’s really
smart” and had prompted a new conversation about options for ways the participants
might win money to finance large works of art; a subject we addressed in colloquium
session six, when we discussed professional practices.
Figure 15: A digital “sketch” for an installation, Nate 2012.
Annika talked about how many of the individual steps in her art making process
included reflexive action. The image she made in her visual journal included clean, black,
graphic lines combined with softer, relaxed, gray lines. Part of her image contained a
faded photograph, and she explained, “it’s there, but not totally there” (10/18/12). Annika
said that the art making step that her drawing had represented was part of the process she
was developing in her video work, “trusting [my] intuitive process and what I need to do”
Jenna shared a numbered list of short phrases that comprised the basic process for
her art making. The steps included simple things such as getting coffee and preparing
fresh water cups. She explained that the most important step in her process, however, was
when she stopped painting in order to stand back and look at her pieces. She talked about
a certain chair in her studio that she moved around regularly. She would sit down and
observe her work from different angles and note the progress that was taking place in her
paintings. She explained, “There is a different process in the doing and the looking.” She
said, “Like meditating, it feels ritualistic” (10/14/12). The colors of the clothes Jenna
wore mattered to her; she put on certain jewelry pieces when she anticipated that her day
contained a challenge. Jenna needed the music playing in her headphones to maintain a
specific decibel level such that she could not hear anything else while at work in her
studio. With admiration for Jenna’s rigorous disciplined approach to her art making, Nate
admitted that he was not good at practicing rituals despite how much be believed doing
so would feel satisfying and help him to create more work. Annika, on the other hand,
shared an appreciation for Jenna’s approach and said that she was going to try to ritualize
her practice too.
The last visual journal entry of the colloquium series invited the participants to
create images that represented the intersection of their teacher self and their artist self. I
asked them to consider how the two roles might overlap or fight with one another, and
asked that they visually portray that relationship. When we discussed the final visual
journal entries, Nate contributed first. He said that despite having not finished his
drawing of a Venn diagram he believed that having to consider a combination of his roles
as a teacher and as an artist had been important (see Figure 16).
Figure 16: His artist self and teacher self, Nate 2012.
Regarding Nate’s image, Jenna expressed, “I got it” and told Nate that he did not need to
explain his drawing. Nate also disclosed, “I want [the shapes] to overlap more than they
do because I find myself not following my own advice when I’m teaching occasionally.
But, a lot of things happen where they overlap, a lot comes out of where they [overlap].”
I encouraged Nate to elaborate, and he said, “I don’t always think through my own work
in the same way that I ask my students to do” (11/29/12). Jenna spoke up and suggested
that Nate try making lists as he thought through his work as well as ask his students to do
so. Jenna claimed that this practice often helped her to work with her students and weed
out the clichés that sometimes appeared in the works of BFA art students.
Reflecting on her last visual journal entry, Jenna read a list of words and phrases
that described the concepts that she used in her paintings that also described the ways she
thinks about her teaching. The list included terms such as critical thinker, image-maker,
communicator, hard worker, motivator, in the moment, and equal say (11/4/12). Her
image was made up of little shapes that repeated over the page (see Figure 17).
Figure 17: Her artist self and teacher self, Jenna 2012.
Jenna said, “I [felt that] one level [of shapes] was the artistic process that needs to merge
with other levels… Being a painting teacher… I’m constantly having to articulate things
that I hadn’t thought about” (11/29/12). Sometimes, after evaluating her students’ work,
Jenna returned to her own artwork and re/considered the methods she used for artistic
assessment. “Thinking and considering the rules helps me figure out my own belief
system about art and making art” (11/29/12). She said that when she reflected on the
feedback that she offered her students, she would think to herself, “that’s what I must
believe, right? If I was evaluating my own work, would I say that it needs more detail or
better craftsmanship?” Then, she added facetiously, “We’ll see after I’ve been teaching
for 20 years if I still think that.”
The focal point of Annika’s image that combined her roles as a teacher and as an
artist contained a black diagonal line that visually “cut” the page into two separate
spaces. She explained that the arrows pointing in different directions on one side of the
line represented her art making process and the multiple ways she arrived upon new ideas
(see Figure 18).
Figure 18: Her artist self and teacher self, Annika, 2012.
The other half of her image represented her role as an instructor. She explained that “I
have to be more direct in terms of how I guide students,” then added, “I’m not sure how
[the roles] overlap. I want to instill in students the organic process of what they are trying
to do [while] making art versus that it all has to fit into a certain [formula]” (11/29/12).
The participants’ responses to written prompts and activities as reflexive
pedagogy. Early in the semester, I encouraged the participants to write a short review
about one of the books they had borrowed from me. I suggested that they do so in relation
to how the reading might influence their artist selves. Two weeks later, they asked if they
could have more time with their books because they found relief having discovered that
others (the authors) thought the same way that they thought. Annika revealed, “It was
great to know that others can say what you feel” (10/18/12).
Annika had borrowed the book, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and
Rewards) of Artmaking (1993), and referenced the passage, “The seeds of the next
artwork are embedded in the flaws of the current” (Bayles & Orland, 1993, p. 57). She
said it was a particularly fitting book to have looked at, “while getting ready for
candidacy and having a lot of anxieties and fear come up about my work and needing to
defend it” (10/16/12). When Jenna introduced the participants to the book she borrowed,
On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection
(Stewart, 1984), she articulated her appreciation for the “[b]eautiful passages that I feel
connect to my work… I think I need to buy, my own copy of this book… [Stewart’s]
ability to describe landscape, longing, blindness for place and the narrative we place
ourselves in, is something I am trying to communicate in my work and she does it so
eloquently” (10/17/12).
Nate had borrowed the book titled, On Creativity (1998), that had been written by
19th century physicist, David Bohm. He described how “the book talks about the act of
creativity and the quest of true creativity, how it’s a process and it’s satisfying.” Nate
agreed with Bohm’s claim, that “Artists and scientists are doing the same thing”
(10/18/12). Showing his enthusiasm about ways art and science overlap, Nate talked
further about finding inspiration from studying physics, reading about Einstein, and
attempting to grasp the idea that “space itself is bending.” He indicated that the book he
had borrowed “hit the spot” (10/18/12).
The book-review activity helped the participants to make connections between
texts of contemporary or historical theory and the personal and artistic characteristics of
themselves. This discussion led smoothly into the second written prompt that asked the
participants to compose a letter that they might “send” from their individual self to their
artist self. I encouraged them to, “say whatever you want to say [while] playing with the
idea of writing to yourself” (10/18/12), as well as submit them to the D2L dropbox. I was
able to read the letters before our next colloquium session before we discussed them as a
group. The participants each admitted to having been challenged by the process of
writing a letter to their artist self. Nate explained, “it’s hard to separate those aspects of
myself… my authentic self is my artist self” (11/15/12). Annika claimed that writing to
herself was “weird.” She had become frustrated with doing so because she had done this
kind of activity before and did not want to be reminded of that time in her life. In the end,
Annika realized that writing the letter actually helped her to sort out from where her
inspiration might come from, which helped her to further realize, “I wish I had control of
it” (11/15/12).
At the following session, Jenna shared an additional letter she had written: the
response back to her individual self from her artist self. In it, she discussed her recent
realizations about new sources for her artistic ideas. She explained that, “Before, [what
inspired me] was nature, growth, and knowledge. This time it was colors, my bike,
smells, urban sprawl, and decay.” Jenna’s artist self had written, “you are a maker and no
one can take that away… what do I do if I’m [to be] a good partner? How do I apply
paint?” (11/15/12). In her own words, Jenna’s letter implied that her artist self needed
reassurance and asked her to take the time needed to accept that things were okay (see
Figure 19).
Figure 19: The letter to her artist self, Jenna 2012.
Also challenged by writing the return letter from his artist self, Nate told us about
his ritual-like practice of smoking a tobacco pipe to help him to focus his thoughts (see
Figure 20).
Figure 20: A reflection on smoking tobacco and finding focus, Nate 2012.
His letter suggested that he would create much more artwork if he were to be diligent
with his studio time. He also indicated that he had thought about this issue before and that
it bothered him. I assured Nate that this act of pointing out his nagging frustration was
constructive as part of the purpose of this exercise was to reflect upon one’s perceptions
of his or her artist self.
In colloquium four, Jenna had asked for suggestions about her artist statement.
Realizing how important these statements were, we focused on some of the challenges of
writing. The participants practiced articulating their thoughts about art by writing
descriptions of one another’s artwork as if writing a review or a press release. For
example, Nate wrote what he believed Jenna’s artwork was about. Then, he wrote another
explanation for Annika’s work. Jenna did the same for Nate and Annika, and Annika for
Jenna and Nate. We discussed how this exercise could help them learn how others
respond to, or interpret their work.
Before the participants read aloud one another’s interpretations, I took a few
minutes to share a list of “buzzwords,” the words that seemed to be the most defining, in
their artist statement. Nate’s words included metaphor, consumption, economy, plastic,
ignore, and ‘nothing is lost when nothing is obtained.’ Jenna’s words included place,
mapping, traces of interpretation, architecture, human frailty, tension, and implied
narrative; and Annika’s included generations, post-memory, traumatic, omen,
grandfather, futile. Finally, the participants read aloud the descriptions they had written
and were glad to discover that for the most part, we had interpreted one another’s artwork
correctly. Nate complimented Annika’s writing saying that it was “gallery caliber” and
contained a professional combination of formal and conceptual aspects. Reflecting on
what Nate and Annika had read, Jenna said that this exercise “was helpful in this
[colloquial] environment, having peers say it rather than teachers, there’s more trust
between peers” (10/18/12). She added that their interpretations had her “thinking about
what I’m hiding behind the buildings” she paints (10/18/12). The participants believed
that writing reviews of one another’s artwork was very informative. We added the
exercise to the design of the “Ultimate MFA Course,” which was still in progress at this
Ultimately, our writing activities helped prepare Jenna and Annika for their
upcoming candidacy reviews and Nate for his next committee meeting about his thesis
project. On her way out of the classroom, Annika reiterated what Jenna had said, that
having heard the ways Nate, Jenna, and I interpreted her work and having to write out her
thoughts about others’ art were really helpful.
Finding 2b: The informal group discussions fostered collaborative
examinations of and reflections on their experiences as MFA students including their
personal and professional growth. The platform for each colloquium session had offered
a confidential space for the group of participants to talk openly. They were able to share
their personal perspectives and listen to and reflect upon collective perspectives of the
group. In this section, I present four discussion topics that frequently emerged and were
ongoing during our colloquium sessions.
Discussions about issues related to communication. Around mid-semester, our
conversations addressed issues related to being able to clearly and expressively talk about
our work. As a group, we recognized that our discussions not only allowed us to focus on
specific topics, but they also provided us opportunities to practice and reflect on our
communication skills. Given that we had seemed to develop a trusting and confidential
space in which to express our views, the participants felt comfortable speaking
expressively, clarifying ideas, and giving one another constructive feedback. The
discussions also offered the participants a chance to talk about important questions before
having to formally respond to them in front of their professors and peers. I said, “There
will always be hard questions, but [after today] you will have thought some of them
through” (10/18/12).
Jenna felt that the contributions she made to the discussions in her art history
classes were “messy” (9/6/12). As I mentioned in Chapter Five, we had addressed issues
related to communication skills and practiced talking about the meanings of artwork
before different types of (pretend) audiences. For example, each participant was given a
different imaginary group of people to whom they would describe their artwork without
using any prepared visuals. For a few minutes, the participants prepared their
descriptions. The challenge was to clearly communicate the importance of various artistic
concepts and use language that was appropriate to one of the following audiences: a room
full of sixth graders, a large group of older adults in a retirement community, or those
attending a meeting of the School of Art’s advisory board (the group of individuals that
determined the recipients of scholarships from the College of Fine Arts). Nate said,
having worked with little kids before, he went into what he considered to be teacher
mode as well as used videos to explain his work. He emphasized that sixth graders today
were likely to have their own I-phones: therefore, he chose to use videos to communicate
with them. Nate told Annika that she was lucky to be speaking to an educated audience.
As Annika pretended to address the Advisory Board members, she used formal words
similar to those in her artist statement. When Jenna talked with people in an imaginary
retirement community, she used her normal voice but talked more slowly.
Given the participants’ interests in communicating to others in writing, we talked
about communicating our teaching ideas in a philosophy statement. Nate shared a sample
of one he had recently written in preparation for numerous applications for teaching
positions. After Nate read excerpts from his statement, we discussed how to write about
our teaching beliefs and how we viewed undergraduate students.
Other communication issues we addressed included ideas and examples about the
ways we presented ourselves as teachers and artists. We talked about the different
metaphors that we might give to the practices of teaching and or learning. How could we
explain our concepts of art making to others, especially to students or the members of a
search committee? How do we convey the objectives of our lessons to our students? And,
how do we assess the work of visual arts students and inform them about the ways their
work has been graded? Addressing these questions prompted more discussions about how
to convey our ideas within artist statements, grant applications, and professional talks at
galleries and in schools.
Issues related to managing relationships with others. We had established early in
the semester that the participants’ choice to attend art school was a priority for each of
them. This meant making some adjustments in their lives and asking their spouses to
relocate. As I have already addressed, Jenna had to manage “a shift in my relationship”
with her husband given the choice she had made to become a graduate student. She had
also expressed appreciation for the encouragement her mother offered Jenna during her
tough times as a graduate student. When Nate explained that he would be “a much better
artist” if he was not married, he also claimed “I want to spend time with my wife”
(9/6/12). As he was applying for teaching jobs he was also contemplating the fact that
“my wife’s in school for two more years, it’s going to be wild” (10/4/12). The data had
indicated that the participants’ relationships with their family members helped them in
their academic and artistic progress, yet at the same time obligated them to consider the
needs of their respective partners.
In the profiles in Chapter Four, I have addressed how Annika and Jenna talked
specifically about not socializing with others (9/6/12). Jenna put it this way: “There are
only so many hours, I don’t hang out with people. I used to be really social and I try not
to do that anymore” (9/6/12). I could relate to these decisions of Jenna’s and Annika’s as
I had sometimes considered being social a waste of time when I was an MFA graduate
student. During one colloquium session, I shared a story about how I had recently felt
horrible when an old friend recently thanked me for joining her for dinner one evening, as
she knew that I was protective about the ways that I spend my time.
This conversation expanded into talk about how we had sometimes heard people
around us expressing (often with a tone of regret) a previous desire to become an art
student. Jenna shared, “I have people around me saying, ‘Wait, I want to do what I want
to do with my life. Why am I not doing what I want to do?” The four of us talked about
our processes for making choices and “doing what we want to do.” Our conversation
triggered a memory about a poem that my brother had once sent to me. I then emailed the
participants the poem that read as follows:
A master in the art of living draws not sharp distinction between his work and his
play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his
recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of
excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether
he is working or playing. To himself, he always seems to be doing both.
Discussions of issues related to the topics of stress in their lives. Early on in the
colloquium series, I posed the following question: “How do you reflect on stress?” I
clarified the question by asking, “Looking back at it now, how have you survived it?”
(9/6/12). Jenna responded immediately and said that she thought about stress all the time,
because, “That’s the kind of person I am.” She indicated that her first semester had been
stressful because she did not believe that she should be in art school. She disclosed that
she, “was miserable and didn’t have the language to talk about stuff.” Jenna’s sense of
anxiety seemed to become evident during our discussion at colloquium session four. She
appeared particularly anxious about her upcoming candidacy review and unleashed a
barrage of questions. These questions related to the quality and quantity of her work. She
appeared flustered and her questions reflected a lack of understanding of what her
professors expected of her in terms of her artwork and herself. She expressed concern
that her professors would ask the following questions: Where does your work “fit in the
history of painting?” and “what does my painting facilitate?” In addition to these
questions, she also repeated her own question “I wonder what is new about me?” I told
Jenna that I thought she was being very demanding as she placed such great pressures
upon herself. She responded, “Yes, I’m my own worst critic” (10/4/12). After Jenna had
exhausted her questions, she thanked us for listening at length. She then remarked how
she acknowledged that her sense of stress was related to the upcoming candidacy review,
as well as to the fact that she still felt unable to answer questions about where she wanted
to go with her artwork (10/4/12).
Annika felt as if she had to perform a certain way to please her professors in order
to earn an A or a B grade in their classes. Referencing the rigid grading structure at the
university, Annika had disclosed, “I find it really stressful and frustrating… there is a lot
of pressure that I find difficult.” She disclosed that she had often thought about how the
process of earning an MFA degree “can be really stressful. There are so many aspects
about it that I want to question. Why am I doing this? Is it really helping my practice?”
After Jenna arrived at colloquium session six having passed her candidacy review,
she shared that she felt less nervous and stressed especially because the Director of the
School of Art “thinks I’m great.” Jenna said that the writing exercises we had done in our
sessions, including constructing various lists, writing letters, and critically engaging with
artist statements and teaching philosophies, had helped her at the review. In particular,
she was grateful for having reviewed the book, On Longing, because she read excerpts
from it during her review in order to help her communicate with her professors. Jenna
had informed us that she had set aside several academic obligations to prepare for the
review, and now she felt that she needed to catch up with everything. Jenna said that she
planned to do so while keeping in mind a new expectation she had made for herself:
“being on” in order to “work hard all the time” (11/8/12).
Other stressful issues for the participants emerged from various sources. Both
Annika and Jenna disclosed that they kept track, if only mentally, of what counts as doing
work as an art student. They talked about feeling guilty if they were using their time in
some way outside of their studios (e.g. when considering their occasions of looking at
and researching historic paintings on her computer or going for a walk and taking
pictures). They confirmed however, that indeed, such activities mattered as they
contributed richness to their artwork as well as their experiences in art school (9/20/12).
All of the participants had shared that their experiences with critiques had caused
them a great deal of stress. This topic surfaced in our discussions throughout the
semester. The participants noted that in the classes they had taken, most of the professors
at the School of Art used critiques that employed large group conversation and small
group sharing.
The data suggested that Jenna experienced different levels of stress within a
critique session depending on the ways the professors facilitated that critique. For
example, Jenna had explained that, “I’ll work harder for a harsh teacher; they make me
more determined. Before, that wasn’t the case, but now, I’ve created a buffer. I feel more
prepared to take more criticism” (9/6/12). Jenna had become accustomed to experiencing
intense critiques and realized that when her critiques did not feel intense, she thought that
she had not produced good work. She explained, “At my [first year] review the professors
sat in their chairs and didn’t get up or say much.” She spoke about how she questioned
their attitude by thinking, “What? I’ve done so much work. Aren’t you going to talk
about it?” (9/6/12). Jenna explained, however, that she realized afterwards that this group
of professors comprised reserved, nurturing, and quiet people. Somewhat thrown off and
used to the brash personalities of the professors in her division, Jenna had concluded that,
“Interpretations of critique situations depend on the student and the environment a
students wants to be in” (9/6/12).
Annika shared an experience about a one-on-one critique that upset her deeply.
One of her professors had visited Annika’s studio during her first year and “tore all my
work down… [and said] my work was like undergraduate work” (9/6/12). When that
same professor visited her studio a semester later, Annika disclosed: “At first, I was
hesitant to answer her questions… but then, [the professor] said, ‘we’re just talking… no
judgment.’ I thought, ‘What? Really? You made me cry!’” Nate had jumped into the
conversation by declaring that, “I think that that’s a lot of theater that is not necessary. I
don’t think it’s productive” (9/6/12).
At colloquium session seven, Annika had shared that she had passed her
candidacy critique, yet “the experience itself was very intense” (11/15/12) given the
mixed messages she received from her professors. Her committee members looked at her
photographs and said such things as “this isn’t interesting” and “this has been done
before.” One professor confronted Annika with the question, “are you turning into a
documentary photographer?” In contrast, however, another professor told her, “I think
you’re going to have a really good year next year.” Her committee complimented her
willingness to take risks and pushed her to pursue her video work.
The participants shared other ways to lead critiques given our discussions about
how they could be stressful not only for us, but also for our undergraduate students. For
example, Annika explained one way she kept students from becoming overly upset
during the critiques she facilitated. Based on the approaches to critiques that her
undergraduate professors had modeled, she said that she always tried to say something
positive about every work before offering more critical suggestions. Annika disclosed
that she had struggled in the past and wanted her undergraduates to know that she too
made mistakes that can become evident during a critique. After a short pause, Annika had
claimed that, “this kind of consideration was not practiced by graduate level professors at
all” (11/15/12).
Finding 2c: The oral, written, and visual activities we employed in our
colloquium sessions informed the participants’ final project to design the “Ultimate
MFA Course” (see Appendix N). As noted in chapter five, one of the components of the
colloquium series was to develop a course that was intended for MFA students and
design its syllabus. The course the participants created aimed to address what Nate had
termed, the nuts and bolts that are important to earning the degree and to approach the
processes of “digging into your self.” The data indicated that the participants were
initially hesitant to think about this course, given that they felt that it would be a huge yet
intricate project. However, once we began to discuss the possibilities for the course as a
group, the participants expressed their desire to help other MFA students learn about
many of the issues that had been discussed during our colloquium sessions. The findings
that follow reflect the patterns of this action research study as we planned not only the
curricular components that the participants wanted to include in the “Ultimate MFA
Course,” but also the reflective dialogue and decision making processes that took place as
we progressively and collaboratively developed the course.
The participants suggested that one of the assignments in the ultimate course
should be focused on how to help graduate students to learn new skills. For example,
Nate believed that MFA students would benefit from knowing how to set up a studio
space for taking professional pictures of their artwork as well as the work of their
undergraduate students. The participants agreed that having such skills would be helpful
as they designed professional websites, submitted their artwork to galleries, or needed
images of their students’ artwork in order to apply for teaching positions.
Nate had also liked the idea of having MFA students create what he called an
“impossible art piece.” His idea was to experiment with impractical concepts; for
example, the works might be ridiculously heavy or unable to be removed from the
location within which it was constructed. He indicated that this kind of assignment would
challenge graduates to work with unfamiliar materials, not unlike the colloquium
assignment in which the participants were asked to experience something or go
somewhere that was unfamiliar to them.
The participants had decided that the reading assignments for the “Ultimate MFA
Course” would be determined by the students. Expanding this idea, Annika had
recommended that the students provide one another with summaries of the books they
had read. Nate, Jenna, and Annika decided that the discussions about the readings might
center on the ways a student could visually represent an idea from their readings.
In terms of assessing artworks during critique sessions, Nate insisted that the
MFA students’ works must be completed before doing so. Whereas Jenna had a different
viewpoint and suggested that critique sessions could be more helpful if they included
works that were in-progress. Jenna had proposed this because she believed that it would
allow students to be held accountable for working consistently and keeping regular studio
Annika had become really motivated by this project of designing a new course
and said, “We should present this idea to our professors. We should present it at a faculty
meeting… Would that be an appropriate thing to do?” (10/4/12). She continued to say
that, “it would be awesome to have this be your MFA experience.” Jenna concurred by
saying that she would “like to have every class programmed like this.” Nate emphasized
that the new class would offer “broad experiences and focus on self-reflection and artistic
practice” (9/20/12). As he fervently expressed his ideas about the course, he suddenly
burst out saying, “Son of a bitch, I wanna teach this class” (9/20/12).
Discussions about the objectives and student learning outcomes for the ultimate
course appeared to lead to considerable reflection on the part of the participants. For
example, Annika had advocated that the foci of the course should be on research and selfreflexivity, and Jenna recommended that the course activities would allow the
development of an MFA student’s confidence. The data suggested, and the
aforementioned narrative has indicated, that this project gave the participants a place to
constructively discuss and reflect upon curricular and pedagogical practices that they
believed were missing from their individual MFA programs as well as those that would
enrich the current curricula in their programs. See Appendix M for all that comprised the
“Ultimate MFA Course.”
Research sub-question three
The third research sub-question asked: “How does my role as the teacherresearcher-artist of the course enable MFA students to critically examine and reflect upon
their experiences and their developing sense of self as MFA students?” Data Chart Three
(see Figure 21) illustrates how the data were organized in relation to this research subquestion. Please see Appendix I for Completed Data Chart Three.
My role as the
enabled the MFA
students to
critically examine
and reflect upon:
(Audio-recordings of
each colloquium session)
(Surveys, letters to self,
reading responses, artist
statements, electronic
correspondence, lists,
correspondence, lists,
memos, pre-colloquium
plans, modified and postcolloquium plans,
reflection worksheets)
(Visual journal entries,
individual works of art,
demeanor, site images,
modeling, demarcated
course documents, site
Their experiences as
MFA students.
Their developing
sense of self.
Their experiences as
MFA students.
Their developing
sense of self.
Their experiences as
MFA students.
Their developing
sense of self.
Figure 21: Data Chart Three.
Finding 3a: My role as a participant in the action research process helped to
develop the empathy for an understanding I had of the MFA student participants.
Throughout the semester, I often noted that I could “see myself” reflected in the
participants’ stories as they shared their various experiences. As I followed the expanding
data collection and continued to participate with the colloquium sessions’ activities
alongside the participants, I began to realize that the empathy that I had felt for Annika,
Jenna, and Nate continued to grow over the semester. I noticed the similarities between
their stories and experiences and my own as a former MFA student. For example, as a
graduate student I had been driven, idealistic, and unconcerned about my social life, and I
was also older than most of the others in my program. Not unlike Annika, Jenna, and
Nate, I also perceived that my peers might have seen me as someone devoted to her work
and committed to earning her degree. As I paid attention to their comments in class
discussions as well as during our one-on-one studio visits, I found myself relating to each
of them as a former MFA student more so than an instructor. Because I believed that I
had been in their shoes, I found that I had developed different affinities for the
participants as individuals. In the following excerpts, I examine my participation in this
study in relation to Annika, Jenna, and Nate as individuals as well as a collective group of
My affinities with each of the individual participants. During the colloquium
series, the MFA student participants and I often practiced what we called free writing
before answering the discussion questions that opened our bi-weekly sessions. Early in
the semester, I learned that Annika and I had both read the book The Artist’s Way (1998),
within which we had been introduced to the practice of writing morning pages.6 This type
of writing was much like free writing and Annika had claimed, “For me, it’s calming…
[and] nice to get all the words down on the page... Before I get up, I [write] all my
thoughts down” (9/6/12). I had responded that, “writing about certain reservations or
desires helps me to ‘get revved’ for the day” (10/18/12). By discussing the importance of
“Morning pages” is a writing exercise, also called “brain drain,” that is defined as “three pages of longhand
writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness” (Cameron, 1992, p. 9), to be completed immediately after awaking in
the morning. “Think of morning pages as meditation” (p. 13).
informal writing approaches, we realized how we both used it as a means of reflecting on
not only the challenges in our lives, but also as a means of coming to know ourselves
I observed the various lists that Jenna made in her visual journal and it seemed
that we both had found that the practice of making lists and capturing spontaneous
thoughts on scraps of paper provided us with opportunities to record our art making
ideas. These lists allowed us to return to and refine thought provoking topics. Given this
observation, I felt an immediate affinity with Jenna and her ways of organizing various
aspects of her life. During our discussions, she confided that she needed to write
everything down. For example, when I shared one of my book art pieces, within which I
had sorted the notes I had written to myself during the previous year, Jenna had
exclaimed to the whole group, “I totally do this.” We had all laughed in response. Jenna
later asked me about what I did with my expended day planners having noticed how often
I attend to planning and how full the pages become each week. I told her that I felt
obligated to keep them because they seemed to me to be a sort of diary that validated my
life. I also shared that I had come to rely so heavily on my lists and schedules, that they
had the power to influence my demeanor and the relationships I had with others. It
seemed that Jenna organized her time, priorities, and obligations in ways that were
similar to mine.
As the data indicated, Nate discussed how he challenged himself to use different
types of media with each new project he started. He talked about how he anticipated
using various media, including metalwork, ceramics, video, book-making, and watercolor
painting. Throughout the colloquium series, Nate had continually expressed how the
concepts behind an art piece were essential to art making and that the materials he used
needed to relate to the message expressed by the works in some way. Hearing about and
seeing Nate’s artwork, I became conscious of how I had approached my artwork in
similar ways. I shared with the participants how I believed that the concept behind a work
of my art was really important, and that the media I used to create it should match my
artistic intent. Therefore, I also sought out opportunities to learn about different and
unfamiliar media either in classes or on my own in order to reveal and strengthen the
messages I wanted to express through my artwork. Not unlike Nate’s work that was
rooted in various concepts, an example of mine is presented here (see Figure 22). For this
work entitled, A Tribute to Time, I had cut and forged gingko leaf shapes from cold-rolled
steel and left their surfaces untreated so that the metal would eventually rust and
disintegrate. I believed that this process of deterioration would represent the slow passing
of time.
Figure 22: A Tribute to Time, Barbara 2002.
Our common interests in concepts and media seemed to provide a connection between
the ways that Nate and I approached and viewed creating art. This rapport seemed to have
led Nate to invite me to his studio, a second time, in order to more closely consider the
idea behind his thesis project.
My role as a participant within our collective experiences and curiosities. The
overall experiences that Annika, Jenna, and Nate seemed to experience resembled many
of those that I had faced along with my former MFA peers. Under this heading, the
findings I address represent my unique contributions as a participant in the study. I was
able to share how I understood the ongoing questions, concerns, and topics that Annika,
Jenna, and Nate brought up over the semester, and how I could contribute to ongoing
conversations and stories that resurfaced and evolved from one discussion to the next.
Some examples of these stories are stated in the following paragraphs.
The data indicated that we all seemed to grapple with being pressed for time, so
the four of us talked about ways that we might hold ourselves more accountable to the
rigid schedules we had designed for ourselves. As I came to understand the demands that
were placed on Annika, Jenna, and Nate as graduate students, I encouraged discussion
and brainstormed with them about how to address our mutual concerns related to time.
This seemed to help Jenna and Annika come to terms with the issue I have previously
mentioned, that of deciding what counted toward the progress of their individual artistic
journeys as well as handling their feelings of guilt during the times they were not
working on their art.
At times, I spoke about what the various parts of my MFA journey had entailed.
For example, during a discussion about preparing to make a living after graduate school,
the four of us wondered about how profitable selling our art pieces out in the ‘real’ world
would be and struggled with the idea of working as teachers to supplement the income
we earned from making and selling our artwork. Contributing to this topic, I shared my
recollection of being conflicted when I was an MFA graduate student. I disclosed how I
felt that “I had to decide if I [would continue] to make major conceptually-based works
of art [to submit to] competitive museum biennials or employ my skills of making
beautiful objects such as ceramic mugs, for those that shop at craft fairs, just so I had
money in my pocket” (10/4/12). In addition, I remarked to the group how as a graduate
student, I did not believe that it was possible to do both. I had soon observed that Annika,
Jenna, and Nate were silent when I made the comment that “making ceramic mugs to sell
would have made me miserable. I would be sacrificing the authentic artist in me to
produce objects of little significance for someone else. That is something you confront as
an artist” (10/4/12). Jenna eventually spoke up and agreed by responding, “Yeah… When
I make objects it’s different from making a painting.”
Nate reported that he did not work well without structure and that he had liked the
orderliness of the university’s semester system. I concurred by saying, “I appreciate the
rhythm of the academic calendar” (11/29/12). The data suggest that such comments led
into discussion related to why we all had wanted to teach at the university or college level
at some point in our lives.
Given the journey that I had taken to try and reach this goal, we talked in general
terms about what teaching in higher education might entail. I then shared results from the
2011 SNAAP Final Report, which indicated that over 80 percent of masters-level
graduate students in arts related fields worked as educators at some point in their careers.
As a group, we agreed that there were potential benefits of having a job that followed an
academic calendar. For example, some of our discussions focused on the advantages of
having the summertime to make art and sabbatical opportunities for research. I also
shared with the participants that I believed that the occupation of teaching in higher
education was particularly fitting for an artist because of the gamut of resources that
would be available within a college or university (i.e. facilities, equipment, museum
collections, libraries). Jenna had said in response, “I love that idea.” I was also pleased to
share with the MFA student participants the feelings of satisfaction, excitement, and
adventure that I had experienced as I had worked with studio art students and other
learners. In particular, I talked about how I felt invigorated by the opportunities I had had
to teach undergraduate non-art majors about a variety of contemporary issues that seemed
to inspire today’s artists including identity, time, place, the body, spirituality, and science
(Robertson & McDaniel, 2013).
Finding 3b: Some of the issues that were addressed in the readings, research,
and class activities of two courses that I took during my doctoral studies influenced the
ideas that I had developed in the process of designing the colloquium series. As
mentioned earlier in this study, some of the curricular and pedagogical aspects of my
course, “Issues of Relevance and Character in the Visual Arts,” were informed by courses
that I had taken as a doctoral student. The experiences that I had had within two specific
courses including, “Teaching Visual Arts in Higher Education” (Beudert, 2011), and
“Values, Consciousness, and Professional Practice” (Lee, 2012), encouraged me to
mentally project various aspects of my personal self and my professional self into the real
world, and thus informed a larger perspective I might take on the importance of
developing an integrated sense of self. I reflected on these experiences as I developed my
own ideas for curricula and pedagogies for a course that addressed the personal and
professional development of MFA students. I was able to create what I believed to be
important experiences that would help graduate students in the visual arts acknowledge
the potential significance of empowering one’s sense of self through the process of
examining their individual convictions and maximizing their experiences in graduate
school both inter-personally and as future professionals. What follows are the
explanations for some of the experiences I had had within two classes that had influenced
the process of planning the course for this action research study.
Influences from a course about teaching in higher education and becoming a
professional educator. I had planned that the course I would offer to MFA graduate
students would contain no more than 10 students, and as in Dr. Beudert’s course, it would
be conducted in ways similar to those of a seminar course at the university. I had
anticipated that this class format would allow for a strong sense of rapport to emerge
early in the semester as well as allow all of the voices within this action research study to
be heard.
During the semester of the colloquium series when we addressed issues that
related to becoming a professional in the field of the visual arts, I read excerpts from
some of the articles we covered in Dr. Beudert’s class. They helped me to present various
issues within higher education of which the study’s participants may not have been
aware. For example, the topics included issues related to the socialization of faculty, how
college teachers prepare to teach, and gender issues and accountability in higher
education. I expanded on these topics in the colloquium series sessions as I presented the
work of additional scholars who addressed related issues and the ways that such issues
might influence today’s MFA students, in particular. These scholars comprised many that
I previously have reviewed in the literature, including Singerman (1999), Elkins (2001),
Storr (2007), and Daichandt (2012).
Elaborating on the complexities that we had discussed which existed within
teaching and learning in higher education with Dr. Beudert, I discussed the needs that are
specific to visual art students in higher education, the ways politics can effect change
within MFA programs, and becoming a reflective art educator. I then decided to lead
pedagogical activities during the colloquium sessions that included respectively, writing
about the affects of critical feedback on their undergraduate studio art students,
discussing ways to present new curricular ideas to the School of Art’s administrators, and
creating imagery that represented each participant’s perceptions of how their teacher self
overlapped with their artist self.
The textbook we used in Dr. Beudert’s course entitled, Tools for Teaching by
Barbara Davis (2009) was particularly helpful when Annika, Jenna, Nate and I
collaboratively designed the syllabus for the “Ultimate MFA Course” (see Appendix M).
We referenced the research in this book to help us learn ways to assess student artwork,
facilitate various class discussion strategies, and strengthen MFA students’ writing skills.
As we worked during several colloquium sessions to put together a curriculum and
complete the syllabus for this new course, we had decided to include an opportunity for
MFA students to learn how to set up a studio space in order to professionally photograph
their own visual artworks. Other ideas the MFA student participants added to the ultimate
course emerged from my asking the participants to visually respond to the ways their
artist selves were informed by an unfamiliar experience (a visual journal prompt), to
write about the most meaningful pedagogy that they had encountered as an art student (a
D2L discussion topic), and to express what they believed to be the most important point
to teach and make sure students had learned as a student within an MFA program (a
written reflection and in-class discussion topic). We became well immersed in the cycles
of action research as the approaches to these activities led us to practice additional
exercises, such as making lists of the steps we practiced in our art making and articulating
the answer to the question, how do you grade art?
In Dr. Beudert’s course, we learned about professionalism within the communities
in higher education and wrote teaching philosophies to include in our final project, a
completed professional teaching portfolio. These investigations and practices inspired me
as I designed aspects of the colloquium series. Since I wanted to address the specific
language that was used in professional documents, such as teaching philosophies, artists’
statements, and cover letters for job applications, I facilitated discussions with the
participants that helped us to define what it meant to each of us to be a teacher in the
visual arts. I also directed an in-class written activity that helped us discover the most
important vocabulary words in our artist statement, and managed a blog space for the
participants to correspond about the goals they held for undergraduate studio art students.
It should be noted that by examining certain professional issues that were relevant
to teaching within the visual arts in higher education, the two MFA students in this course
with Dr. Beudert had each successfully secured a studio art faculty job at a major
university. Next, I address the influences of Dr. Lee’s course on the ways I approached
developing the colloquium series sessions.
A course that helped to connect practice and purpose. As in Dr. Beudert’s class, I
studied various topics in Dr. Lee’s class that I believed would also be relevant to MFA
graduate students. As stated on her syllabus, these topics included intuition and emotion,
consciousness, integration, stress, awareness, mindfulness, and spirituality in higher
education (Lee, 2011). Some of the ways that Dr. Lee encouraged her students to
correspond with one another during the semester included employing the university’s
D2L site as well as facilitating various in-class small group discussion activities. For use
during the colloquium series, I expanded on these methods for communicating, and
Annika, Jenna, Nate, and myself corresponded with one another through short in-class
writing exercises that we read aloud, sharing and explaining imagery we had created in
our visual journals, conducting one-on-one meetings between each participant and myself
in their individual studio spaces, and engaging in bi-weekly (both oral and written) selfreflections.
The readings that students were assigned in Dr. Lee’s class broadly addressed
issues related to values, beliefs, and personal and professional motivations of students in
higher education. Having always believed that the process of art making pulls at an
individual artist’s values, beliefs, and personal motivations, I became particularly
interested in the scholars Dr. Lee introduced to our class (also reviewed in the literature)
including Astin (2007), Palmer (2004), Chickering (2010), and Kabat-Zinn (1991). I read
more and shared relevant excerpts from these readings with the MFA student participants
during the colloquium sessions. I expanded on the topics and presented the work of
additional scholars including Anker et al. (2007), Beudert (2006), Csikszentmihalyi
(1993), and Salazar (2013), all of whom have addressed similar issues in higher
education in relation to visual arts students.
In Dr. Lee’s class, we had had several large and small group discussions that
related to the integration of our personal values and the ways that they fit into the
professional trajectory of our studies in higher education. Wanting to address similar
topics with the participants during the colloquium series, I facilitated discussions within
which they aligned the reasons that they chose to become MFA students and the
professional development experiences that they had in their courses. We also talked about
ways that our individual artistic voices were expressed through our visual work, written
statements, and interactions with undergraduate students.
When we reflected upon the ways that stress accompanied studying at the
graduate-level in Dr. Lee’s class, our conversations influenced ideas I shared with the
participants. We addressed alleviating stress by brainstorming innovative critique
techniques to practice with undergraduates, writing reflections that contained lists of both
academic and artistic obligations, and sharing the ways we tried to effectively use our
limited time. By revealing the different ways each of us dealt with different challenges,
the participants and I gained new perspectives that we could consider going forward as
future challenges emerged. Often, we ended these interactions by having brainstormed all
that we had learned from and been empowered by, while overcoming what had once felt
like insurmountable ordeals.
Inspired in part by a reading from Parker Palmer’s work that Dr. Lee had
assigned, I had asked the MFA participants to tell stories about the different relationships
in their lives. They shared the connections they felt with specific professors that seemed
to support their progress, undergraduates who inspired them to want to become teachers,
peers who also endured the competitive atmosphere of studying to be a visual artist, and
the family members who involved their lives outside of the participants’ experiences on
campus. As one of us expressed a specific appreciation or frustration, another expression
emerged from a different participant. Thus our conversations throughout the semester
often seemed to organically lead precisely into the next. When we talked about the
potential within relationships that each one of us could have with our individual selves
(Tolle, 2005), I chose to lead a two-part activity that aimed to help the participants
integrate two of the roles they had embodied by writing a letter to his or her artist self,
which was followed up by a return letter to his or her individual self.
Because of the experiences I had had within both of these classes, I was more
aware and mindful of my own experiences in relation to personal and professional
development as a graduate student. These perspectives and understandings with regard to
my own journey had deepened, as I had found myself drawing more parallels between
my professional objectives for being an art educator and the broad personal intentions
that motivated my art making. During the colloquium series, I told the participants that I
had come to believe that teachers and artists do similar work. I explained that they both
employ personal values and beliefs in their aims to communicate something meaningful
to their respective audiences. In the end, these two courses had uniquely contributed to
the merit I had already placed on the integration of one’s practice in the professional
world with one’s personal motivations for being.
Finding 3c: Feedback from the colloquium series, “Issues of Relevance and
Character in the Fine Arts” provided ideas for me to consider as I aim to continue
developing other courses of a similar nature. This last finding reflects the insights and
understandings I gained from the participants in this study at the conclusion of the
colloquium series. These participants, none of whom missed one of our colloquium
sessions, specified the aspects of our semester that they had most enjoyed, found
meaningful, and been challenged by. Reflecting on all the experiences from our semester
together, they openly offered their concerns (in writing and through discussion) about
what they believed might have been missing from our course as well as their opinions
about the relevance of other course topics that I had considered including in the
colloquium series. In this section, I also present the recommendations that the participants
and I discussed with regard to the structure of a course of this nature, the activities that
might be more effective if they were practiced repeatedly throughout a semester, and the
characteristics of the activities we believed were worthy of further development. In
closing this section, I mention some of the final comments that the participants offered
which included the connections they made with their MFA program experiences and a
developing sense of self.
Within the feedback I received on the Exit Survey (see Appendix E), the
participants indicated that they found the various conversations we shared throughout
each of our colloquium sessions to be the most valuable aspect of our course. They added
that opening each of our colloquium sessions with a group discussion in response to a
different reflective prompt was an engaging and meaningful way to begin our interactions
with one another. Other activities that they found particularly meaningful included our
writing activities in which we interpreted one another’s artwork and then listened as each
participant read their interpretations aloud. They also gained valuable insight from the
activity within which each participant wrote an outline of the steps in his or her art
making process and then visually illustrated one of those steps to assist in explaining it to
the group. Jenna had said that the opening prompts as well as other writings we had
practiced, “helped me come closer to who I am. I learned to discuss issues in my own
head” (11/29/12).
On the other hand, Jenna shared that she was greatly challenged by the visual
journal prompt to create a visual representation of the combination of her teacher self and
her artist self. Similarly, Nate indicated that the most difficult activity for him was
writing a letter to his artist self. He wrote, “I felt that this considered a separation… [that]
was forced and unproductive. My artist self is my self, is my student self, is my teacher
self, is my husband self, is my musician self… etc” (12/6/12). All of the participants
indicated that interacting with one another during our semester through the process of
“blogging” was not engaging. Instead, they all preferred to conduct our discussions in
Jenna pointed out her concern about the fact that, “There is very little teacher
training… I’ve been thinking about taking classes in the teaching program to learn to be a
better teacher” (11/29/12). Though Nate thought that the required practicum for MFA
student TAs in the School of Art’s First Year Program was helpful, Annika insisted, “but
we didn’t [learn] any pedagogy or look at articles.” She added, “it would be nice if we
were able to talk about [issues related to teaching]” (11/29/12) as well as conduct more
formalized discussions about pedagogy and about what it means to be a good teacher of
the visual arts.
I pointed out that we did not address the ways that each of us took care of
ourselves physically, nurtured ourselves emotionally, or considered the role that
spirituality played in our lives. I had wondered if they thought such topics might be added
to a course like ours in the future. Nate articulated that discussing the ways we take care
of ourselves was not necessary at the graduate level in education. Annika concurred and
replied, “To me, that starts to bleed into therapy but, ‘how do we manage [taking care of
ourselves physically, emotionally, or spiritually] is a valid topic. There is a fine line
between talking about ourselves and our work and therapy” (Annika, 11/29/12).
As we thought about how a course of this nature might be structured in the future,
the participants exchanged their different considerations for how self-reflexive exercises
fit into a course about pedagogy. They believed that it was important to learn about
“concrete professional things” despite how doing so seemed different from reflexive
actions. Jenna suggested that the self-reflexive activities might become a meaningful part
of MFA students’ studio courses. She also suggested that the colloquium series become a
three-part course made up of professional development, self-reflexive and writing
intensive exercises, and issues related to teaching “broken into sections [by the month]”
The participants indicated two pedagogical activities which they wished we had
practiced more often. They included the writing exercises we did that aimed to develop
their artist statements and teaching philosophies, and the one-on-one studio visits I
conducted with each participant. Overall, all three of the MFA student participants
indicated that they wished we had met as a group every week as was indicated in Nate’s
reflection, “I enjoyed our time together” (12/6/12).
In the end, the participants offered recommendations that included spending more
time discussing the course readings and practicing writing exercises such as one in
response to a critique session. The participants recommended that more time be spent
learning about effective ways to work with undergraduates and about what makes a good
studio art teacher.
Ideas for different visual journal entries included ones in which class members
would create and share images that represented their “frustrated artist self,” and another
one that visually interpreted the physical sensations of being in a specific place that they
found to be invigorating. The participants also offered ideas for experiential occasions
such as going on a group field trip, doing an art exhibition together, and making a larger
work of art based on the participants’ experience of taking this course. Annika added that
making a work of art in response to one of our reflexive exercises would help students to
“integrate self-reflection and art-making” (12/6/12). Jenna encouraged that the next
colloquium series employ a similar classroom environment and added, “this is really
comfortable for me. The calm environment works for me” (10/18/12).
The participants recommended that the MFA students in the next course regularly
engage in writing exercises both informal, like our letters and lists, as well as formal such
as teaching philosophies, artist statements, and professional artist resumes. They also
mutually expressed that it would be professionally beneficial for MFA students to be
required to submit their artwork to at least five shows or galleries per semester. Annika
concluded, “Yes, this should be a part of our plan of study, part of the MFA program”
Finally, when I asked the participants what they believed might help to connect
the experiences of earning an MFA degree with its influence on a student’s sense of self,
Nate wrote:
I think that a [pursuing an] MFA gives one the opportunity to establish a specific
sense of self more than any other degree… you get to choose what you care
about… The MFA program encourages you to figure out exactly what that is,
explore it more meaningfully, and be able to articulate it. (12/6/12)
Annika wrote:
[Earning an MFA degree] forces you to know who you are and what you care
about through caring about your work and standing behind it. I believe it’s
important to know who you are and to grow in order to effectively communicate
through art. In that way, the MFA does help evolve your sense of self. (12/6/12)
To sum up the semester, some of the responses I received from the participants
that were specific to the colloquium series itself included: “It offers a more pointed
opportunity for personal reflection than most classes,” and “It helped to integrate
personal reflection into my art practice and helped me to examine the ways I work and
how they relate to my teaching,” and “Thanks, Barbara! You should convince the school
to start a course about teaching art for MFA students. I think one is very much needed”
(12/6/12). In the next chapter, I discuss various implications from this study’s findings.
In this final chapter, I explain the immediate and wider-reaching implications of
this research study. This discussion focuses on how the findings align with my overall
research question and sub-questions; my interpretations of the study’s findings in the
form of a series of themes; specific questions that emerged during the analysis of the
data; new possibilities and directions for future research, along with the personal
reflections I noted regarding my own experiences, insights, and transformations as both
the facilitator of, and a participant in this educational participatory action research study.
Those persons most likely to find relevant interest in the findings from this study include
visual arts students and instructors in MFA programs in the United States, art educators
within the field of art and visual culture education, and action researchers like myself
within higher education. Thus, throughout the following discussion, how this research
study might impact each of these groups of people provides the context for my narrative.
The context for this study was the semester-long course I designed that offered
one elective unit of university credit to its participants and comprised a series of
colloquium sessions that I facilitated as a teacher, a researcher, and an artist. The question
that guided this research study was:
How do the experiences related to personal and professional development within
an MFA visual arts program influence a graduate student’s individual sense of self?
In order to address this overarching research question, I posed the following subquestions:
10. How do MFA students within a course that addresses the curricula and
pedagogies of their graduate programs and their experiences as MFA students
describe themselves as individuals, students, artists, teachers, and future
professionals in the field of the visual arts?
11. How does participating in the course allow MFA students to examine and reflect
upon their personal and professional growth as well as their graduate experiences?
12. How does my role as the teacher-researcher-artist of the course enable MFA
students to critically examine and reflect upon their experiences and their
developing sense of self as MFA students?
Findings from research sub-question one revealed how each of the MFA student
participants described her or him self with confidence in terms of her or his "character" as
an individual, graduate student, and/or artist. By discussing and refining what is meant by
"a sense of self" during our semester through the use and practice of multiple reflexive
pedagogies, the participants began to realize that they had similar perceptions regarding
their positions as teachers, a character role within which they were fairly new. When
asked to describe themselves as future professionals in the field of the visual arts, the
participants were tentative and disclosed a mutual lack of understanding about what lay
ahead for them after graduating from their graduate programs. These uncertainties and
lack of understandings surfaced during reflective pedagogical activities in which we
critically analyzed our initial motivations for having become MFA students, articulated
the “voice” we hoped our artwork expressed, discovered the impact that the practice of
teaching made in our lives, and disclosed the expectations we held for ourselves, the
MFA programs within the School of Art, and our futures.
Research sub-question two inquired into and addressed the impact of participating
in the colloquium series, “Issues of Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts.” Several
findings suggested that the course’s reflexive pedagogy, when practiced autonomously
followed by discussing the activities among the participants, cultivated revealing
discoveries within the participants that related to the experiences of their MFA programs
and the complex circumstances that accompany earning the MFA degree. What may
account for these findings is how the participants spent time inside and outside of our
colloquium sessions writing, image-making, and talking about topics such as the benefits
of the three-year structure of the university’s MFA programs as well as the MFA student
participants’ desire for training to become studio art instructors (Madoff, 2009). Also, the
cyclical nature of the action research methodology appeared to allow for the ongoing
responses that participants had regarding the issues and concerns they deemed to be most
valuable to investigate and consider during each colloquium session. Acting, reacting,
and responding to various class activities (Pine, 2009; Somekh, 2008; Whitehead, 1989)
revealed the most meaningfully transformed pedagogical practices of our sessions and
why the participants believed that these practices should be placed within the syllabus for
our collaboratively designed “Ultimate MFA Course.”
Participating in each colloquium session was important enough to each of the
participants that none of them missed one session. As I had mentioned when a scheduling
conflict did arise, as a group, we coordinated another meeting date. The findings appear
to indicate that the meaning and usefulness the participants had found in our small
seminar-like sessions were motivating, and in the end, they had requested that we do
more writing exercises, turn one of their visual journal entries into a larger work of art,
and learn more about pedagogical approaches to working with undergraduates.
The nature of the bi-weekly sessions (i.e. cordial, private, receptive) contributed
to the degree of trust the participants developed and enjoyed with one another while
determining issues related to their personal and professional development. The rapport
within our small group was established early in the semester and provided a colloquium
environment in which the participants felt comfortable expressing their concerns and
ideas, which in turn led them to not only evaluate their own graduate experiences, but
also each experience’s potential relevance to other MFA graduate students.
Research sub-question three probed and examined my role in this study. As the
teacher-researcher-artist who facilitated the colloquium series, I believe that the empathy
I contained and expressed toward the participants was critical to the flow of our
conversations. Given my own personal and professional background, the findings seemed
to indicate that I had gained an understanding of many of the relationships that often
materialized between MFA students and their professors, and how they greatly impacted
students’ perceptions of their experiences within their programs. The findings also
suggest that reflecting back to two courses I had taken as a doctoral student provided
inspiration for some of the colloquium series’ curriculum. One course, in particular,
“awakened” me to the connections that I had begun to draw between understanding one’s
sense of self and the acts of creating visually self-expressive artwork.
The insight I gained from the experiences of this research study helped me to see
each of the participant's experiences differently and clarified a need for respecting the
complex relationships that emerged from the analysis of the data. As I interpreted
findings, I found that my background as a teacher, a researcher, and as an artist helped to
enable me to facilitate personal and professional inquiry with a small group. My approach
was informed further by my own experiences of earning an MFA degree at the same
university, the value I put on practices of mindfulness and self-reflection in higher
education, and my understandings of the influential role of being an art educator.
My approach was also guided by my desire and capacity to conduct action
research with the MFA student participants. This form of research allowed me to
document emergent curricular and pedagogical developments within the colloquium
series as well as to convey to the participants the impact of the personal and professional
living circumstances that Mary, my former MFA student colleague, and I encountered
shortly after we graduated with our MFA degrees. In the future, I hope to have the
opportunity to implement aspects of the colloquium series into existing MFA programs
and perhaps contribute to the curriculum development of various programs in the visual
Discussion of Themes
A number of themes emerged from my analysis of the findings and revealed many
intricacies and complexities regarding the educational and artistic experiences of the
participants as they progressed toward earning their MFA degrees. As revealed in
Chapter Six, participating in the colloquium series helped the MFA student participants
to begin to clarify aspects of their inter-personal priorities, educational goals, and artistic
aspirations. It was their relationships with others surrounding their educational
circumstances, however, that substantially influenced intra-personal issues related to selfconfidence, their degree of flexibility toward and consideration of the recommendations
they received about artistic materials and concepts, the affects of the competitive nature
of the field of visual arts, and their handle on the confusion that seemed innate to learning
about what it meant to be a professional in the field of the visual arts. Going forward in
this final chapter and based on my understandings and interpretations of these prominent
and complex relationships, I hope to reveal what I believe to be the importance of the
study’s findings.
The complicated insight gained from exploring oneself as an MFA student
The participants recognized the challenges of performing a study about their
individual selves and concepts of mindfulness. For example, Annika had commented that,
“There is a fine line between talking about ourselves as artists and doing self-reflexive
work and [conducting] therapy… to me, [talking about how we take care of ourselves
physically and emotionally] starts to bleed into therapeutic things.” Nate had concurred
claiming his belief that, at the graduate level, talking about the ways we “take care of
ourselves” was not necessary. As the one who had shared that she wished to forget a time
in her life that had included several years of therapy, Annika eventually concluded,
“However, discussing ways we manage [taking care of ourselves] is an important and
valid topic” (11/29/12). The data inferred that I believed this to be true as well.
Annika had expressed that part of her intention for going to art school was to
learn how to be a better artist, uncover what she believed in, and become more articulate
through artistic imagery. She had considered that doing so would take getting to the
“core” of who she was and had explained that, to her, art school “confronts you with all
these things about yourself and that’s the difficult part about it” (9/6/12).
Jenna had mentioned that, “How I paint is how I think” (10/4/12). She had
discovered that she was painting to communicate just as painting had done throughout its
history. She appeared to believe that her paintings had moods and that it was important to
her for others to be able to discern those moods. Jenna had enjoyed studying the paintings
in art history as she was pursuing the answer to her question, “What is new about me?”
These investigations and realizations appeared to help Jenna acknowledge that the growth
she had made was sometimes painful. She had expressed how she wished that she had the
forte to be selfish with her time, avoid thinking that she should “be good,” and attend less
to others as doing so seemed to impose on her painting practice.
Given the diverse perceptions that I have just revealed, the participants in this
study seemed open to the momentum of ongoing actions of reflecting, reacting, and
responding to the topics not only in the colloquium series, but also to participating in this
research study. The participants divulged, both intentionally and unintentionally, the
impact of the relationships that existed within and between their “characters” as students,
artists, teachers, and future professionals in the visual arts. Our recurrent and candid
conversations exposed many nuances that underscored the complicated and entwined
nature of these relationships between the participants’ “characters” and the others who
surrounded their educational circumstances.
The complex relationships encountered by the participants
It is probable that the professors within the School of Art likely considered and
referred to the MFA participants in this study as “students” within their classes. On the
other hand, many of the undergraduate students within the School of Art probably
considered these MFA graduate students to be "teachers," as they taught them in their
roles as TAs. In addition, their peers in the MFA programs may have deemed the three
participants to be fellow artists; and according to the literature, it was possible that few
persons within the School of Art, including the MFA student participants themselves,
regarded Jenna, Nate, and Annika as future professionals in earnest (Elkins, 2011;
Daichendt, 2010; Singerman, 1999). What follows are discussions regarding the farreaching impact of these peculiar relationships as they relate to each participant’s sense
of self.
The MFA students’ relationships with their own “selves”. Each of the graduate
student participants reflected on their first year in the MFA program as being stressful yet
particularly informative. I recall the comment Annika made as she had first begun her
second year, “Wow I’ve really grown” from the “stress and insanity” of being a first-year
graduate student. She had also given the impression that she was beginning to connect the
significance of her interests in dance with her new video work, which she had been
pleased to explore after setting aside most of her photographic practices.
Nate had explained his belief that the MFA program’s third year was the best. He
believed that he would be able to work more autonomously than he had in the previous
two years. This thought seemed to be reflected in his comment: “Seeing progress takes
literal time. You have to sit with works sometimes and don’t have answers right now just
because you’re a student in art school” (9/6/12). He had been glad to have an opportunity
to revisit unfinished works and seek out such answers. Nate had anticipated graduating
into the real world and claimed, “getting to that point with yourself where you can make
a strong first good impression… is not easy” (9/6/12).
As addressed in Chapter Six, after realizing that she was not going to “wake up
and be different,” Jenna had reflected back to her first year seeing it “as okay” because its
occasion got her to her second year and “more prepared to take criticism.” She had
seemed to come to understand that what results from a critique session, “depends on the
student,” and that art school, in general, is “what you made of it because some [students]
come in, just do the work, and graduate with an MFA” (9/6/12).
Ways the participants understood themselves as students of the profession.
Annika, Jenna, and Nate had previously earned the professional degree of the Bachelor of
Fine Arts. Their choices to return to art school at the graduate level for an additional
professional degree, the MFA, were telling as they revealed a certain degree of
competence and confidence in each of them. I said, after all, “we believe in our artistic
voices, pushing them, and being professionals on the other end” (10/4/12).
As suggested earlier, addressing issues related to the topic of caring about
ourselves could be considered similar to undergoing therapy and was believed by some to
not be relevant to students at the graduate level. Because of this, I had wondered if the
participants believed that they had passed a need to do such “basic” investigations; after
all they had grasped the accomplishment of having advanced to pursue a terminal degree.
Perhaps, because they had already experienced certain developments while earning their
undergraduate degrees, the participants perceived that talking about concepts of self was,
“now considered a somewhat pathetic phenomenon and consigned to adolescence”
(Anker et al., 2007, p. 104).
As the semester progressed, the participants had begun to realize that some topics
that they believed were important appeared to be missing in their programs’ curricula.
These topics included issues that they believed related to many professional necessities
for today’s contemporary artist, such as learning how to construct a professional website,
being trained as a teacher (learning pedagogy, reading current articles, and talking about
how others deal with certain challenges), developing writing skills, learning the
significance of and how to professionally document personal artwork and the work of
their students, creating submissions to galleries in pursuit of their representation,
developing a professional portfolio for the “real world,” and being introduced to the “nuts
and bolts,” the entrepreneurial skills and the business skills involved with being an artist.
Having minimal, if any, say in the School of Art's curricular planning for its MFA
programs, the participants’ collaborative experience of designing the “Ultimate MFA
Course,” appeared to allow for their “voices” to be heard. Many findings reveal the
participants’ excitement and enthusiasm for having designed the course as they
articulated what we believed was important in the professional and artistic development
of MFA students. This project had seemed to inspire the participants so much so that
Annika had asked if we could meet with the Director of the School of Art with our
syllabus and curriculum. As I mentioned, she had suggested that we might present it at
one of the School of Art’s faculty meetings. Nate had commented on how he hoped to be
able to teach a course like this someday.
As the semester progressed, I had also realized that it was vital that MFA students
needed to have quality writing skills (Calvert, 2010; Daichendt, 2010; Tai, 2006). The
participants had appreciated our writing activities encouraging them to informally make
lists, interpret each other's artwork, or write about circumstances that made them feel
uncomfortable and/or motivated. These assignments had been very influential on them,
so much so that a “writing intensive” part to our “Ultimate MFA Course” had been
considered and modified. The participants had wanted to be able to write quality and
meaningful artist statements and teaching philosophies. For example, Jenna and Nate had
each asked me for help with those two types of professional statements, specifically.
Jenna had reflected that, “even writing in her science classes helped her to come closer to
who she is” (11/29/12).
The complex links between the participants and their professors. Though tacit,
one of the most impactful links between the MFA student participants and their
professors was through the ways the participants viewed how their professors modeled
their roles as professional faculty members. Proprietors of their classrooms and curricula,
professors within the School of Art had modeled behaviors of teaching. The MFA
participants noted that they had observed and interacted with various different teaching
approaches, which often involved class critiques and one-on-one discussions at meetings
(often over cups of coffee). Each of the participants had acknowledged the experiences of
how they had been the recipients of validating or cutting comments in a formal review
(Blair, 2006; Singerman, 1999). Observing the teaching practices of professors in their
BFA and MFA programs, together with their experiences working as TAs at the
university, appeared to comprise the participants' "teacher-training." Likely untrained
instructors themselves, the professors at the university “taught” the MFA participants
ways to teach the studio arts in higher education (Beck et al., 2009).
Having gained insight into the personal and professional lives of their own visual
arts instructors, all three MFA student participants seemed to have a clearer
understanding for what it means to teach. I recall the story that Annika shared about how,
once in a critique session, a professor made her cry. When the same professor later
returned to Annika’s studio, she had resisted conversing with the professor. It had felt
stressful for Annika to have to re-embark on a relationship with a teacher who had
previously hurt her feelings. While in her role as a TA however, Annika had also been
challenged with being both honest and encouraging to one of her own students whose
artwork had not met her expectations. Additionally, Jenna had shared that one of her
professors told her that she “wasn’t going to make it.” Considering it a challenge, Jenna
had claimed that harsh criticism made her work harder. During this discussion Nate
added that he believed that this comment the professor had made had been intended to
scare Jenna. This thoughtful gesture of Nate’s seemed to reveal a general concern he
seemed to have for Jenna and Annika as he had also anticipated that Annika and Jenna
would hear similar comments again in the future. The point of discussing the
circumstances that Annika and Jenna experienced with their professors is how they
illustrate the ways in which a professor addresses his or her individual students can make
long-lasting impacts on that individual, especially when made in front of that student and
his or her peers during a studio critique. The participants' experiences suggest that going
to art school and enduring intense relationships with their professors can be an emotional
endeavor, adding to the intensity they enjoy while making meaningful art as part of a
process of self-expression.
As mentioned in Chapter Six, a couple of times during our colloquium series
Jenna and Nate had conversed about the dissimilar messages they had received from
various professors outside of their classes regarding the profession of teaching in the
studio arts. As reflected in the data, Jenna had been told that if she worked hard, her
chances of finding a job would be better. Another professor had indicated, however, that
it was not realistic for Jenna (or any MFA student) to anticipate being a professor right
after graduating.
Nate had also recalled the mixed message he received from the professor who had
helped him write the teaching philosophy he would include in his job application packets.
This professor had made recommendations for using specific language to indicate Nate’s
flexibility regarding his beliefs about teaching art. For example, having been told that he
was sometimes “artistically aggressive,” Nate had also been advised to change the
sentence he wrote: “Art can be anything” to read as, “Art can be versatile.” Nate had
reflected on this by saying, “I have to be sensitive to people that will think differently
from me” (10/4/12). At a later point, upon hearing that this professor had claimed that
most MFA students don’t pursue teaching positions right out of school, Nate had
wondered to himself, “then, what do I do?” and had sarcastically referred to himself as
doomed to “just wandering around for a couple of years” (11/15/12).
Annika had endured another type of mixed message from professors at the end of
her formal candidacy review. The professors in her division had encouraged her to
consider making work that was “happy” as her work up until this point had reflected
subjects related to tragedy. At colloquium session seven, Annika had reported with
disappointment that, “[A professor on her committee] had said, ‘I think you’re going to
have a really good year next year’ and they complimented me about being willing to take
risks. But, I am irritated that [I’m] being pushed in another direction… [another professor
asked me] ‘what are you turning into, a documentary photographer?’” (11/15/12). Annika
had added that ironically, this question came from a professor who claimed to be “so
excited” about her work a year ago. It should be noted that as Jenna listened to Annika’s
story, she had wondered if a student who was considered to be a “documentary
photographer” in Annika’s division was the same as when, in her division, a student was
considered to be an “illustrator?” My interpretation of these comments suggest that
neither of these positions was a positive one for the participant or the participant’s work.
A more optimistic report Annika had shared regarded a scenario she had
experienced with one of her professors in a class during her first year. Annika had been
asked to explain the meaning of the piece upon which she was working and had indicated
to the professor that she “had no idea.” As the data indicated, this answer had cued the
professor to continue talking with Annika about her interests and the things she cared
about, as these could be inspiring sources for her visual art. Annika had been grateful for
this conversation, as she had since believed that the discussion had helped her to make
many meaningful artistic decisions. These data appear to indicate that these MFA
students, when discussing complimentary, discouraging or confusing interactions with
their professors, had placed much value on the communication between a student and a
professor. In doing so, as teachers (TAs) themselves, the participants became more
mindful of the impact their role can make on each of their studio art students.
Relationships with peers: The MFA participants’ words and actions. Interesting
issues, different from those surrounding their relationships with their professors, appear
to have made an impact on the relationships that the participants shared with their peers
across the entire graduate program. By this, I mean that the three MFA student
participants had commented frequently about how they had chosen to avoid being social
and had different opinions about participating in artistic collaborations with others. I
recall when Annika and Jenna had explained early in our semester that they had chosen
not to spend time attending get-togethers, dating, or just “hanging out.” The two of them
had decided that their time pursuing their MFA degrees was more important. Nate had
expressed his frustration with his peers who were earning the MFA to “get a pass” to
acquire one of the credentials, an MFA degree, for a teaching position in higher
education. He had spoken about how he believed that such choices that were made by
some MFA students devalued his own degree.
The premise of these data contradicts the ways that the participants optimistically
regarded their relationships between one another. Annika, Jenna, and Nate appeared to
have appreciated having had the time during our sessions to “just talk” as a small group.
My findings suggest that they had been comfortable disagreeing with each other, and
what seemed to feel like "constructive downtime" provided a place in which I noted the
respect, care, and support that the participants had developed for one another. In
particular, Annika had expressed gratitude for the peers in the program who “pushed
her.” Additionally, during colloquium four, I noted how the participants had offered to
share their time with each other by helping to set up a studio for candidacy or teaching
each other new software. The data indicated how the participants had also reached out to
others with their idea for organizing a student-only group critique. As mentioned in
Chapter Six, when one of the four of us anticipated missing a colloquium session, we had
rescheduled it in order to maintain our small group’s range of perspectives within each of
our sessions. These findings represent a subtle dichotomy between how the participants
implied that they had strong independent natures in part because of the high priority they
had placed on earning their degrees. The findings also seemed to reveal that interactions
with each other and their peers contributed value to the participants’ experiences of
earning an MFA degree.
Given the experiences the participants had had with the group video critique they
had organized, I noted other realizations that had emerged in Jenna and Nate when
reflecting on the event. Having been open to all interested visual art MFA students, the
critique had also been presented as an informal occasion to “see what’s out there.” The
event had been well attended, and Nate and Jenna had recalled that the exchanges among
the MFA students had been “authentic,” despite having also been somewhat callous to a
few of those who had attended. With Nate’s support, Jenna had decided to apologize to
those students. These data seem to suggest that Jenna and Nate possessed an empathetic
awareness for the personal impact that a rigorous critique can have on an MFA student. It
is possible that the care they had for their peers were also inspired by feelings of guilt.
I noted the mindfulness that encouraged the progress of another action research
cycle as Nate and Jenna had planned the event in order to have a critique, had
participated in the event collectively with their peers, had responded to the event realizing
the potential insensitivity perceived by some attendees, and therefore had chosen to
modify and even change their plans for the next critique event.
Concepts for collaborating with peers within an art school were regarded
differently by Annika, Jenna, and Nate. For example, Jenna expressed that it was not
acceptable to her that some students in the MFA program did not take the experience of
earning their degrees seriously. She had observed that, as peers in art school together,
“We’re constantly rewriting and sharing [our artwork] with each other. If you don’t do
that, it’s not okay” (9/6/12). On another note, Nate had shared his experience of having
once been “forced” to pair up with another student he didn’t know as part of a class
assignment. The two of them had been required to create a work of art together within the
following 24 hours and then to present it to their class the following day. Nate had
reflected in the following manner: “I don’t normally like collaborations… but this was an
exhausting and fun experience…[It] had a really strong idea at its core that I still think
about” (11/13/12).
Despite a general lack of enthusiasm from the participants regarding group
projects in any class, my observations and findings suggest that they had worked well
collaboratively. The rapport that had developed within our small group, with the
inclusion of some laughs, seemed to complement the concise engagements we did in
order to complete the final project in our colloquium series. Perhaps, inspired by this,
Annika had recommended that the next time this colloquium series was taught,
consideration should be given to doing a “class” project. Jenna had agreed by
immediately suggesting the inclusion of organizing a group show or doing the 24-hour
exercise paired with a peer that Nate had spoken about. Ironically however, Nate had
responded emphatically, “No, group projects suck” (11/29/12).
As far as employing concepts of collaboration in the classes they were teaching
during that semester, all three participants had mentioned that working within a
collaborative environment was an important characteristic for undergraduate studio art
courses. This appeared to be an example of what we learned in Chapter Six where Nate
“saw” himself teaching something valuable in spite of how he, himself, did not practice
collaborative work.
The participants coming to terms with perceptions of themselves as artists. Nate
seemed to understand that his “authentic self is my artist self” (11/15/12). The findings
indicate that Nate still believed in this and other aspects of himself at the close of the
semester. At the start of our colloquium series, Nate had shared his fear about when he
talked to others about his artwork, his explanations tended to come across as too complex
and had suggested that he would “lose people” in these conversations. He had claimed
that what inspired him as an artist was abstract (i.e. science, the news, time), and how
later he had included that his inspirations had come from reading art books, camping, and
the calm he experienced while smoking his tobacco pipe. In terms of being a maker of
art, Nate’s perceptions of himself throughout our semester seemed consistent and he
reassured us that the concept for and the craftsmanship of his final thesis project would
be equally important.
During our semester, the evolutions of Annika's comments on and reflections
about her artwork suggested that she had learned that her work was more about questions
than answers. The risk of, her trust in, and the unpredictable outcomes from working with
her intuition were what seemed to have most powerfully come to artistically motivate
Annika. To her, coming into a relationship with herself as an artist had meant coming to
terms with a relationship with herself.
The data seemed to indicate that Jenna had responded to input from others as she
grew as an artist during the semester. At first, I observed that she was building a
relationship with her artist self through the input she received from an unusually large
number of critique experiences. However, over time, the data I had collected regarding
Jenna as an artist revealed an elaborate record of her personally valuable ritualistic
actions within many of her working methods. Among the lists she had shared at
colloquium three of what inspired her artistically, which included shadows, leaves,
change, texture, and water, she had included the most humble of visual journal images
and had staked the claim “Nothing else commands me in this way” (9/20/12). This
succinct reflection of Jenna’s is what I believe to be the deepest, most profound, selfreflection of our entire semester. Given the findings and the literature with regard to
understanding one’s sense of self (Chickering, Dalton & Stamm, 2006; Csikszentmihalyi,
1993; Magolda, 2001; Palmer, 2010; Palmer, Zajonc, & Scriber, 2004), Jenna seemed to
possess a deeply-rooted acceptance of her inter-relationships associated with the escape
of her artistic practice, her instinctively empathic demeanor as a TA, and her choice to
leave a career in science to study painting.
It seemed that Jenna’s process of coming to terms with the complex relationship
between herself and her artist self had been balanced with an “inner” confidence that I
believe, based on my findings, was still gunning for the consent of her more resistant and
resourceful “outer” confidence. It appeared that she knew that nearly every act she made
as a student “counted” toward her growth. Data supporting my supposition include how
Jenna had formulated a decision during our semester to invest in expensive supplies and
to acquire a piece of new equipment - a projector - that helped the efficiency of her
production. Jenna also rarely, if ever, veered from her rituals that involved her
preparations to paint in her studio. It seemed Jenna and her artist self were at the edge of
“wholeness” (Palmer, 2010) as she talked about a display she had recently constructed of
all the artwork she had made, from the beginning in high school to now. This was
evidenced in her comment that, “The weirdest thing was that it all connected” (10/18/12).
The participants’ vague sense of place in the future as professionals. My
findings indicate that the participants’ sense of where their place would be in the
professional world appeared unclear at the start of our semester as Jenna had asked,
“What do you do when you’re done with your MFA... it’s a gamble” (10/4/12). As the
semester progressed it seemed that the participants, having articulated many questions
about becoming a professional (artist, teacher, or otherwise), maintained great curiosity
toward and hope for the potential of having earned their MFA degrees. The data also
seem to indicate that many of the pedagogical activities we had completed during our
semester, such as talking about ways to articulate the meanings of their artworks to
different audiences, writing lists of their immediate obligatory and preferred situations at
hand, and considering an image that illustrated where their artist selves and their teacher
selves “overlap” brought about what appeared to be a fresh and mindful awareness as
they had begun to consider how they might begin to integrate themselves into the
professional or “real world.”
It seemed that the most familiar professional work to each of us was the work of a
teacher. Nearly all of the conversations we had had regarding a professional life after
graduate school had included consideration for a career as a studio art instructor in higher
education. In the narrative that follows, a focus on the work of being a teacher will
Nate had articulated wanting to work with university-level students because he
preferred the types of conversations students and professors could exchange between
them. The findings point out that Nate seemed to feel more comfortable teaching older
students rather than younger children. Nate had also indicated that he wanted to place his
artwork in alternative venues and teach somewhere that would inspire him through its
geography. He appeared to understand that the best way to learn something was to teach
Annika had disclosed that it had felt meaningful to inspire others while in her role
as a TA. Once having learned more pedagogy and gained advice for ways to motivate and
communicate with undergraduate studio art students, she had felt that she would be ready
for a professional teaching position. She had talked about the awareness she gained in
order to have realized that teaching styles are responded to differently and expressed how
her role as a teacher became stressful in her desire to grade students’ work fairly as well
as ensure that she spent appropriate time on judging their artworks in order to guarantee
the success of her undergraduates. Jenna also had revealed that she thought that when
offering her students critical feedback during a critique they would hear “you’re the worst
artist ever,” the same internally invented feedback Jenna “heard” in critiques as an
undergraduate student.
The findings indicate that as teachers and considering teaching as a job during the
colloquium series' activities, the participants began to realize that they were pedagogical
models for their undergraduate students and needed to make relevant curricular and
pedagogical choices. The findings also indicate that after the participants had literally
“heard” themselves teach, they started to realize how their own personal values and
beliefs, as well as their distinct perspectives concerning art, seemed to emerge from their
practices in teaching. “The process in which art educators engage should challenge them
to continuously test their theories and rethink what they know and value” (Hausman,
2009, p. 112). Overall, the participants had wanted to know more about working with
undergraduates, learn new class critique strategies, and attain other innovative pedagogies
including reflexive activities so the students learned “to go deeper” (Annika, 10/18/12).
The data that led to these findings include what seemed to be the participants’ growth
toward being full of genuine care for the lives of their undergraduate students. They
seemed to have an inner desire to promote what they believed was life-changing about
studying art, and what might be perceived by their students as having empathy for the
potentially emotional and intense experiences of studying the visual arts.
Designing what could be the best possible course for an MFA student to take
initially appeared to be an overwhelming task for the participants. For example, after I
had posted a prompt on D2L to begin an electronic conversation about conceiving a
syllabus for such a course, Jenna had expressed that doing so was a charge “so big” that it
was “hard to wrap my head around it” (9/20/12). Annika had concurred by saying, “there
are so many possibilities and parts [of a course] to consider.” Given that each participant
had raised some level of interest in being a studio art instructor in higher education, I had
thought that their reactions to the prompt would trigger many telling layers of exchanges
among us. Instead, I had found myself apologizing in session three: “I didn’t mean for
[conceiving the ‘ultimate’ course] to be so hard” (9/20/12). At first, this observation
indicated to me that the participants seemed to be far from clear about or comfortable
with being a teacher of graduate-level visual artist students, the future profession that I
had begun to understand to be of greatest interest to the participants at this time in their
lives. However, I realized that once we had begun a group conversation about what
would comprise the “Ultimate MFA Course,” Jenna, Annika, and Nate had appeared to
enthusiastically pursue discussing impassioned ideas related to possible assignments,
readings, field-trips, and a final project for the course.
These findings show that when the participants had an opportunity to design the
“greatest of MFA courses,” they seemed to prefer, and very much enjoy, collaborating as
they began to divulge their own personal experiences from the whole of their visual arts
education, including how meaningful Annika and Jenna had found the use of written
evaluations as assessment strategies in their undergraduate education. As the participants
revisited this task many times during the next several colloquium sessions, they had
appeared to be motivated by their own previous experiences as visual art students. For
example, they had responded positively to how Jenna’s experience of participating in a
critique offering visual, not oral feedback had been informative to her and her peers in
novel ways. They had listened to Nate’s stories about his experiences of working with a
new medium with each new project he envisioned, and how this had helped his
conceptually-based artistic approach to stay fresh. They had learned from Annika’s
informative actions of personal reflection that had seemed to help her to better understand
the power of her intuition, in conjunction with other situations from their art school
experiences that seemed to have made a lasting impact on them.
Many of the circumstances we addressed seemed to allow the participants to gain
a better awareness of life after graduate school. They had expressed and demonstrated an
eagerness in learning about the practicalities of becoming a teacher in higher education or
working in a gallery as a curator. They seemed curious about new statistics about MFA
alumni, the business aspects of being an artist, and the challenges of maintaining
meaningful creative inspiration and production. The findings show that they had wished
to be informed about the possibilities they might encounter in the future, even though
they seemed to be unclear about what their own personal futures might look like. I have
interpreted these finding to mean that “instead of being reactive," they will "be proactive”
(Nate, 11/8/12) regarding concerns about their futures, because they began to understand
the consequences of the open-endedness of their “terminal” degree (Brooks, 2013;
Elkins, 2011; Singerman, 1999).
The fulfillment concerning my own sense of self
It has been gratifying to sort out the data within this study and immensely
informative to have been able to discuss relevant issues with MFA students regarding the
personal and professional circumstances of their educational experiences. At the
beginning this study, I had aimed to position myself where I could impact the ways an
MFA student might explore his or her developing sense of self and bring to light
opportunities to supplement the fundamental aspects of earning a professional degree in
the visual arts. I believed I might identify, with the help of current graduate students
within the university’s School of Art, what I sensed had been overlooked in my own
experience of earning an MFA degree, and imagined that by doing so might be relevant
to other MFA programs in the United States.
There are many fulfilling relationships that have contributed to developing and
strengthening my own sense of self as a result of this study. I believe that two
overarching circumstances, in particular, contributed to this development and fulfillment:
First, my employment of the methodology of action research meant my relationships with
each of the participants were relevant to our study and contributed to the affects of its
collective experience. Secondly, my desire was to be open to the participants’ curricular
inclinations as I facilitated their collaboratively designed MFA course of their own; thus,
hoping that the participants would be able to conclude the semester having critically
evaluated what they had determined to be most important and meaningful with regard to
their own MFA degrees.
Since I had shared with Annika, Jenna, and Nate that a most important aspect of
the colloquium series was about understanding concepts related to one’s sense of self, I
had recalled the notion I put forward at our first session saying “this class is about you
paying attention to you” (8/24/12) and soon realized that the methodology of action
research would be key to the success of the study. As I “saw myself” in each of the
participants at nearly every turn of topic or circumstance, I was able to seek and explore
proactive responses with them, by employing a very personally motivated empathy.
While the audio from our second session played, I had written in my notes “listening to
this recording is exhausting. It seems that every thought is valuable to my study”
(9/6/12). "Action research works!" It had felt honest to be “in it” with the participants
rather than observing them from the outside.
What fed my sense of self with regard to designing the “Ultimate MFA Course”
was how intensely the participants embraced the project. They had been slow to leave our
classroom after our last colloquium session for the reason that they had asked about the
possibility of presenting the results of our final project - the curriculum for the “Ultimate
MFA Course” - at a faculty meeting. The participants had included in the course design
some of the pedagogies from our bi-weekly sessions and had additionally considered and
debated about what course within their current plans of study might also be appropriate
for addressing these themes and activities. Among these aspects of meaningful
engagements with the participants, I was touched when I noted that within the “ultimate”
syllabus for their new course, the participants had collaboratively determined that the
course would meet once a week rather than bi-weekly, and would be worth three units of
credit toward their MFA programs of study instead of just one.
Looking back and acknowledging additional reflections
Considering the experiences that comprised this entire study, I discerned
additional issues that provided important perspectives at its conclusion. In this section, I
address the ways that, if given the opportunity, I hope to go about leading a course
similar to the colloquium series in this study. After that, I discuss those findings that
emerged unexpectedly over the semester as well as the insight I gained into my own
actions and thoughts within the study. I also reflect on the study's successes and
Awakenings of interest for the next colloquium series
“What didn’t work?” was one of the questions on my reflection worksheet of
which I filled out at the conclusion of each colloquium session called, “Issues of
Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts.” Looking back at what I wrote, I am motivated
to change different aspects of the course. In general, I would first encourage class
members to consider our colloquium series as a place for constructive academic and
artistic “down time.” Though I had considered the data I was collecting to be insight into
the different “characters” of my participants, the term itself was problematic as
participants concluded that “character” did not seem to be what we were directly
addressing in the course. Next time, I would address my research interests in the class
members’ characters through an embedded approach employing the following terms: To
inform myself of the “self” within each student, I would routinely lead a self-reflexive
activity at the start of each session. I would hope that the class members could collect
weeks of inner reflections and ultimately provide a holistic intra-perspective of them
A goal for the end of the course would be that each class member would be able
to acknowledge individual strengths and weaknesses as they recognized who each of
them “had been” during our semester, and therefore be more able to swiftly move past
that place. Students would have an opportunity to sort out, “The ultimate question(s)…
how ambitious you are for your work in the long run? How do you pace yourself relative
to your particular talents, emotional stamina, and powers of concentration, as well as to
the particular demands and rhythm of the kind of work you do? (Anker et al., 2007, p.
Another "character" I would look for within each class member would be to
explore his or her “student” character. To approach this, my class activities would include
a research activity that investigated the topics, personalities, and ideas that provide
students' academic momentum from semester to semester. I would begin by having
students record their short-term goals and determine the questions that needed answers
before they graduate. If class members were TAs as my study’s participants were, I
would address their “teacher” selves by encouraging the small group to decide, on the
whole, what they believed was missing from their MFA programs and then articulate why
having that aspect to the program was important (Beck et al., 2009).
Trying to discover the “artist” selves of the class members, I would have them list
and then explain the reasons why the world should care about their work. I would also
have them consider who made up their supporting and viewing audience, literally. We
could then begin strategizing ways to start building relationships with these groups of
people. To help class members think in terms of the “big picture” of their lives, I would
hope to encourage them to investigate the current and contemporary controversy related
to the relevance of higher education’s humanities degrees. The idea of Leonard B. Meyer
(1967) is relevant to this process, “If our time appears to be one of crisis, it does so
largely because we have misunderstood the present situation and its possible
consequences” (as cited in Hauseman, 2009, p. 111).
Having learned about the professional interests of each class member, in my next
colloquium series, I would hope to gain insight into their “future professional” character
by having them write about ways they perceive the immediate future of the field (and
medium) within which they specialized. I would also aim to have the students discuss
what they each had “heard” within the field in terms of the lives they might expect after
graduation. I would try to lead the discussion toward their thoughts and feelings
indicating if what they “heard” was okay with them; and if not, I would encourage them
to establish why.
Having pursued learning about each of the class members’ characters, at the end
of the course, I would be interested in sharing with each of them the transformations I
had observed and recorded in my reflection notes. A goal for me would be to regularly
document, perhaps using a worksheet similar to the one I used with my study’s
participants, what appeared to change in each of the class members' individual
perspectives, opinions, ideas, and motivations (among other things) throughout our
semester together. Of course, I would be open to conversations responding to the
observations I shared, as well as encourage them to revisit the answers to each session’s
opening reflection questions. Given the many hats ("characters") that visual artists and
arts educators wear, their responses might change during the semester.
The small group as intense and open hearted
I believe that what emerged unexpectedly during the course of this semester-long
action research study contributed to its success. Having determined the three kinds of
data I would collect - oral, written, and visual - I was prepared to have to print out the
blog exchanges from the colloquium’s D2L site in order for me to systematically analyze
our on-line conversations. I was surprised when rather early in our semester the
participants had indicated that they preferred communicating face-to-face in class rather
than following an ongoing blog. I appreciated the notion of being together for our
discussions too; however, just given the nature of the ways that students tend to interact
with social media, I had anticipated the blogs would be of preference.
Another aspect of this study that caught me by surprise was how the momentum
of our action research cycles seemed to take over the flow of our colloquium sessions.
“There is something exhilarating and exciting about encountering issues and challenges
where you work to develop new insights and connections” (Hausman, 2009, p. 112). This
circumstance made for an efficient and constant flow of topics to discuss during the
sessions as well as efficiently led one series session smoothly into the next. This appeared
to be so because we were a small group, which was willing to approach pedagogical
happenings and related issues collaboratively. I am not sure that another group of
students would have gelled as well as the four of us seemed to; however, only future
research studies can tell.
Another, and this time more challenging, unexpected circumstance of the
colloquium series was that I had to navigate specific philosophic or artistic differences.
For example, I had to confront what Morrisroe and Roland (2008) suggested, that TAs
might have preconceived notions about how to teach and, “what we teach in our
foundations program may conflict with the graduate students’ perceptions of how to
educate artists” (p. 91). Nate and I did not agree on ways to fairly assess the progress of
an art student’s semester of work. Regardless of how the teacher in me wanted him to
come to realize differently, I respected his place as a “student” of the studio art teaching
profession and did not insist that he see things my way.
One last issue that came as a surprise to me during this study was that at the
beginning of the semester, only three MFA participants volunteered to join the study. I
was somewhat disappointed, as I didn’t believe there would be enough difference among
the students’ voices in our discussions making them diverse enough for persuasive or
convincing findings. However, as the semester progressed and I accumulated myriad
data, I was grateful for the size of the study. I had amassed many visual and written
documents (see Appendix N) and the hours of audio-recorded oral conversations were
very dense (see Appendix G, Appendix H, and Appendix I).
Importantly in regard to the small number of participants, I realized that, in part,
my data collection was considerable because the participants were forthcoming, openminded, and enthusiastic as well as raised many questions during every colloquium
session. In the end, it turned out that as a small and accommodating group, we were able
to critically and confidentially consider important and intricate issues. Rapport grew
strong and the relaxed nature of our personalities and the setting of the classroom space
also supported timely and efficient shifts between discussion topics. Ultimately, I
believed that working with a small group was positive, as it seemed to impact the
participants’ willingness to share.
Implications of the research study
What follows are some implications developed from this research study in
relation to MFA students, MFA faculty members as well as for the field of Art and Visual
Culture Education.
Conversations about the self
The findings from this research study may have the potential to initiate rich
conversations toward curbing the “uncertain circumstances” of an MFA graduate’s future
professional life. If such conversations were to entwine personal development with
professional preparation, consideration of an individual’s sense of self could arise. I had
hoped that these research findings might begin to reveal the essential process of guiding
MFA students toward their professional goals and that “greater attention [would be] paid
to the nature of artistic process and the inner dynamics as students gave form to their
ideas and feelings” (Hausman, 2009, p. 108).
At the start of the colloquium series I had informed students that our course was
going to be about “you paying attention to you.” I had believed that my role was to help
them learn skills to begin to effectively do so. Sometimes integrated and sometimes not,
the individual characters of each of the participants were the focus of our colloquium
sessions. The series’ reflexive activities seemed to have advanced the investigative
process as well as have been engaging to the participants. This evidence appeared within
the designs of the participants’ curricular ideas relevant to graduate students in the visual
arts. The process of committing to the framework of a syllabus had meant narrowing
down, then highlighting what the participants believed was most important for an MFA
graduate student to learn. In the end, the participants had reported that the course should
become mandatory and worth three academic credit units.
I was curious about my own sense of self and was inspired by innovative
academic approaches for investigating values, consciousness, personal character,
personal statements, professional philosophies, and other intricacies of personal and
professional development. Seeing the responses from the students in this research study,
as well as those I recall reading about from Dr. Lee’s course, there appears to be a need
for classes that encourage introspection and the significance of having a sense for one’s
self, especially while attending to the transformative process of studying the visual arts.
My hope is that the findings help to continue building support for the elaborate and
intriguing process of understanding one’s self within higher education.
Required coursework related to the development of the self
At the University of Florida, after “several years of successfully teaching the
pedagogy course as an elective to graduate students, it became a required course for all
entering MFA graduate students in 2003 and a prerequisite to their assignment as
graduate instructors in foundations courses” (Morrisrow & Roland, 2008). Though this
quote does not reference a course specific to addressing one’s self, it does begin to
address the importance of how higher education benefits from setting its graduate
students up for success. Given the involved undertaking of such a task, the University of
Florida hired a foundations coordinator to oversee the training of MFA graduate students
working as TAs and the foundations program within which they would teach.
As “teaching assistants are teachers in training” (p. 91), Morrisroe and Roland
(2008) recognized the importance of developing an MFA student’s teacher voice as part
of the course in Florida in which MFA graduate students were to acquire a basic
understanding of “the nature and needs of college students and adult learners… [as well
as] the characteristics of effective art teaching.” These qualities were in addition to the
MFA students gaining an understanding for “social and ethical issues related to teaching
art at the postsecondary level” (p.89). Helping MFA art students to understand
undergraduate students’ needs, learn about effective characteristics of a teaching practice,
and incorporate concepts of social issues related to the visual arts in higher education
seem to be intricate and important tasks. Faculty members teaching such a course will be
required to have a deep familiarity of and interest in not only MFA students' needs, but
also teaching approaches and perspectives on social issues.
In some cases, college and university students learn about or gain professional
development by attending a specialized workshop, a series of workshops, an optional
one-credit class, a career center tutorial, or other educational resource facility activities.
At the University of Florida, however, the perspective toward required professional
training for teaching in the visual arts seems to present a respectful awareness for the
position. Like the pedagogy course at the University of Florida, it appears that a course
like “Issues in Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts” would be most effective if it
was to be a required course within an MFA student’s plan of study.
Who should teach such coursework?
According to Morrisroe and Roland (2008), “a growing number of university art
programs are recognizing the need to offer more formal preparation in pedagogy to their
graduate students who receive teaching assistantships” (p. 87). It also appears that those
in the position of a foundations coordinator often take on the task. If given an opportunity
in the future to lead a course similar to “Issues of Relevance and Character in the Fine
Arts,” I hope to ask the students whom they think might teach a course of this nature.
Until then, trying to answer this question on my own has been difficult. It seems
certain qualifications would be necessary, such as having a mature background in the
studio arts and experiences of working as a professional artist. Findings from this study
seem to indicate that having an understanding of issues related to Art and Visual Culture
Education would be an asset, as well as having creative, insightful, and pragmatically
inclined approaches toward teaching in the field. Reflecting back on this study, it seems
empathy was a significant factor in how swiftly I was able to relate to the participants
both personally and professionally. Though I close this section without having answered
its question, it appears that the concern regarding what might be the best way to seek an
answer begins with the concerns themselves.
Listening to and hearing the voices of MFA graduate students
Participating in this research study provided the participants a structured
environment and opportunities within academe for their voices to be heard. “That verbal
process goes hand in hand with creating new visual forms. The absence of the former
retards or compromises the latter” (Anker et al., 2007). MFA graduate students want to
be listened to and heard in ways that a course like “Issues of Relevance and Character in
the Fine Arts” could provide. “The dialogue that can only take place among peers or with
older artists with whom the students have chosen to work is crucial to the roller-coaster
ride of doubt and confidence” (Anker et al., 2007, p. 113). For example, graduate
students can use the course platform to help them deal with being confronted with a
variety of concepts they are expected to be able to talk about as TAs. The suggestions
from the participants that the course should be required and worth three credit units
speaks to their perception of its importance (Grant, 1998).
Engaging MFA students in writing
Quality writing skills are essential for an artist’s professional correspondence and
include those who need to write expressive artist statements and specialized teaching
philosophies (Daichandt, 2012; Leousis, 2013; Morrisroe & Roland, 2008). Expressions
such as “art can be anything” (as expressed by Nate) and “art helps you see the world in
different ways” are not informative to those seeking mindful, creative, and motivated
artists to hire. Learning to write using examples and being able to succinctly explain
complex ideas or scenarios are relevant to the professional success of artists (Daichendt,
2012). The course within this study employed both formal writing exercises (i.e.
statements, philosophies) and informal written engagements (i.e. reflections, lists, mini
art reviews). The participants in the study seemed receptive to engaging in the various
writing activities.
Having a degree of confidence with regard to one’s writing skills can impact the
self-confidence that informs important correspondence. According to Daichendt (2012),
“Writing, for artists, is described as a self-focused activity that remains secondary to the
production of art itself… writing is a tool for thinking” (p. 6). He has contended that there
is a strong connection between writing and the critique process as well suggesting that the
“detailed and introspective manner” of writing might be used to improve art making (p.
Examining and fostering relationships between MFA graduate students
In this study a range of relationships within the experience of earning the MFA
degree were explored in terms of emotional impact and professional confidence.
Critically understanding the value of, and influences of these relationships helped the
participants in making meaningful connections (Parsons, 1999) within and outside the
Within an atmosphere of graduate students studying about themselves as graduate
students (Singerman, 1999), the course could have been perceived as a sort of
constructive downtime or a time away from being judged, and "creative blocks."
However, as Morrisroe & Roland (2008) have pointed out, facilitated meetings, not
unlike the colloquium series," provide an open forum for graduate students to discuss
concerns related to their teaching. They lead to the development of peer relationships…
The graduate students themselves make up and inform the course’s curricular topics and
begin to remedy how “Many artists graduate lacking knowledge of the rich diversity of
the visual archive that proceed and contextualizes their work” (p. 87).
Enhanced perspectives for MFA faculty members
Potential implications of this study for MFA faculty members include the impact
that is inherent within developing a fresh awareness for the different complexities that
exist among and within their graduate students. With knowledge of the findings in this
study, MFA faculty might gain valuable awareness (as well as feedback) about the ways
their graduate students view their MFA programs. The findings can provide faculty
members with both helpful and specific insights into the kinds of goals graduate students
have for their own futures, and what they view as the most important aspects of earning
an MFA degree.
It appears that faculty members also need to become more aware of how graduate
students view them as artistic and instructional models and mentors. The data collected in
this study have suggested that graduate students are acutely aware of how they are taught,
and, in particular, are able to critically address both positive and negative aspects of
faculty members' pedagogical practices.
MFA Faculty members also need to comprehend graduate students' perceptions of
curricular topics and what they believe are relevant to their degrees and to the field.
“Mindfulness for curriculum means learning how to focus and grasping meanings that are
important for the individual” (Iannone, 1999, p. 3 as cited in Irwin, 2007, pp. 1401). In
her push to have faculty members keep MFA curricula relevant, Leslie King-Hammond,
Dean of Graduate Studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art has argued that,
“Students need access to so much more information today because the ways artists work
now is so open-ended, using so many new techniques and technologies and mediums”
(Anker et al., 2007, p. 102).
Implications of this study’s findings on faculty members' relationships with the
participants suggest that faculty members need an understanding of the “Charged
interactions [that] occur in the university, where the artist has no special status but is part
of a complex community” (Anker et al., 2007, p. 109). For example, faculty might gain a
more critical understanding of how the nature of the relationships they have with
graduate students often dictates graduate students’ perceptions as to whether they are
succeeding or failing in a program, as students and as artists (Beck et al., 2009; Dalke,
Cassidy, Grobstein, & Blank, 2007). Moreover, the findings in this study reflect how the
participants were part of a graduate community, and their views of faculty members had
been generated not only by personal faculty interactions, but also by comments about
faculty from the graduate community-at-large, not just the other participants.
This research can inform faculty members about the potential value of being a
mentor for graduate students as, according to this study, some faculty members are
perceived as having developed an unintentional disregard for how their actions serve as
models for graduate students. According to Robert Storr, Dean of the School of Art at
Yale University in 2006:
Faculty must be serious and generous about the teaching part of their vocation –
just “putting in time” should be grounds for early retirement – and they have to be
fully engaged with their own work and in touch with the wider world, even if that
world hasn’t always or even ever paid them much attention… [Faculty members
might] articulate pleasure or passion [for students’ work,] but respectful
displeasure in the work of others is also contagious; these are models of
engagement as important as anything else one can transmit to – or awaken or
confirm in – a young artist. (Anker et al., 2007, p. 113)
Once graduate students have discerned and made known what they feel is relevant
to their education in the visual arts, a faculty member can better evaluate whether the
graduate students’ perspectives align with their own. The knowledge that results may
impact the sensitivity that a faculty member has regarding his or her traditional curricular
autonomy (Morrisroe & Roland, 2008).
Action research in visual arts higher education classrooms
The implications of this study suggest that the "cyclical nature" of action research
can serve as a way to develop MFA graduate students skills for reflexivity. Different
from being reflective, though valuable in it own right, actions of being reflexive entail
putting something out into the world, like ideas and theories, and then reconsidering them
again in terms of their value (Anker et al., 2007; Bresler, 1994, 2006; Campbell, 2005;
May, 1993; McKenna, 1999). Practicing the methodology of action research teaches
students ways to be productively critical about their immediate circumstances and
collaboratively develop plans toward productive change. As Storr believed, “Broader
access to faculty in various disciplines and of diverging esthetic convictions, plus
discussions centered on… student-to-student dialogue, are the better way” (Anker et al.,
2007, p. 113).
Opportunities for art and visual culture educators
The implications for those in the field of art and visual culture education seem
significant given the inherent nature of examining and developing artists working as
teachers and art educators working as artists. The faculty and students in art and visual
culture education could share recent research in the field of teaching the visual arts as the
faculty and students in studio art education could share the trends in contemporary art
When art and visual culture educators learn about findings like those from this
study, they can become valuable resources not only for the MFA students who teach as
TAs, but also for studio art faculty members themselves. With such findings,
opportunities emerge for studio art TAs to work together with art education faculty
members and graduate students in order to learn basic teaching techniques such as
scaffolding, making effective visual presentations, visual journaling, and effective
demonstration procedures (Anker et al., 2007; Boud, 2001; Morrisroe & Roland, 2008).
Art educators might also work with studio art TAs and faculty members to learn about
the nuances in motivating students and assessing an art student’s progress (Anker et al.,
2007). As art educators will also be exposed to art making techniques within such
collaborations, they can directly experience as well as assist in the important preparations
and planning that comprise teaching in the studio arts.
Possibilities for Future Research
Given the potential implications of the findings of this study, exhilarating
opportunities lay ahead regarding the issues surrounding this action research study. Just
as Bogdan and Biklen (1992) claimed, this action research “help[ed me] to develop
confidence. It is difficult to act forcefully toward some goal when you rely on feelings
without data to support your views” (p. 228). Inspired and passionate about these areas
within art and visual culture education, I would like to follow up this study in ways that
others in the field might consider the importance of the personal and professional
development of MFA students as they develop a sense of self. I plan to modify the
structure and various other aspects of the course, “Issues of Relevance and Character in
the Fine Arts,” so that I can offer it to others, likely under a new title that evades the term
“character.” I wish to conduct further action research inquiries, as the methodology is
appropriate for multiple cycles of collaborative inquiry and the emergent nature of
I also envision the development of other studies like this one. Upon collecting
data from several studies, my research might become generalizable and so offer ideas and
recommendations to a larger audience. I anticipate writing articles that address the
findings and implications of this study as these topics might be of interest to the
publications produced through the National Art Education Association, the College Art
Association, and the Foundations in Art Theory and Education. It is possible that the
findings are appropriate for publication in journals directed at teaching artists.
Seeking ways that a course of this type might impact different types of graduate
students, future research can address in what ways such a course might impact a group of
more diverse college and university students or a group of international students. In
addition, what implications might materialize from employing this action research study
with graduate-level art history students? How would the implications be different from a
similar study performed at a private art school or a small liberal arts school? In what
ways would they be markedly different from those of this study at a large public
In terms of modifying the course itself, future research might investigate a threetiered system of related topics that would be appropriate for the different years of earning
the MFA degree, given that personal development might be better addressed before a
graduate student’s third year, when he or she completes final thesis work and seeks
employment in the field of the visual arts. Future research could also consider ways that
embedding related topics into various different courses that already exist affect existing
MFA curricula (Beck et al., 2009).
The questions and implications discovered here seem to point toward many more
lively, transformative, and empowering research investigations. I hope to continue
engaging the action research methodology in more exploration regarding the impact of all
the “characters” embodied within pre-service art teachers, MFA students, and the faculty
members at work within our art schools and their studios. Though complex, the potential
that is inherent to a relationship between a student and a teacher motivate me to offer
students in higher education additional opportunities to acknowledge, examine, and
integrate an individual sense of self within the relationships that they share with
professors, peers, and others. To close, I recall the nature of the most recent conversations
that I have shared with Mary who now works full-time as a professional artist. As
disclosed throughout this dissertation, I work among many other professional art
educators and artists. For both Mary and me, we humbly reflect upon our choices to have
situated our selves within the distinct empowerment that results from our own reflexive
and mindful practices as they accompany the evolving characters that integrate and
comprise one’s sense of self.
ARE695A 002
ARE695A 002
Whatʼs your mission
Does self-analysis play a part
in your art making?
Issues of relevance
and character
Issues of relevance
and character
8 colloquium meetings - 1 credit
graduate student studio ARTST rm. 119
8 colloquium meetings - 1 credit
graduate student studio ARTST rm. 119
send curiosities to:
[email protected]
send curious curiosities to:
[email protected]
partial overview:
informally address individual motivations
for earning an art degree in higher ed.
partial overview:
Consider stream of consciousness. How
might it empower your art practice?
ARE695A 002
go register!
ARE695A 002
go register!
ARE695A 002
How will you integrate
vocation and values?
Issues of relevance
and character
8 colloquium meetings - 1 credit
graduate student studio ARTST rm. 119
send any and all curiosities to:
[email protected]
partial overview:
Identify your current position as an artist
in the 21st century.
ARE695A 002
go register!
The University of Arizona Consent to Participate in Research
Study Title:
ARE695a Symposium
Principal Investigator:
Barbara Bergstrom
Dr. Lynn Beudert
This is a consent form for research participation.
It contains important information about this study and what to expect if you decide to
participate. Please consider the information carefully. Feel free to discuss the study with
your friends and family and to ask questions before making your decision about whether
or not to participate.
You may or may not benefit as a result of participating in this study.
Also, as explained below, your participation may result in unintended or harmful effects
for you that may be minor or may be serious, depending on the nature of the research.
1. Why is this study being done?
To consider answers to the following research questions:
In what ways does a student’s sense of self evolve while earning an MFA degree?
What teaching strategies promote the evolution of a sense of self within an MFA
2. How many people will take part in this study?
Up to 11 persons.
3. What will happen if I take part in this study?
Involvement with this study includes participation with course ARE695a 002,
Fall semester 2012 at The University of Arizona.
4. How long will I be in the study?
August 13, 2012 – December 7, 2012
5. Can I stop being in the study?
Yes, your participation is voluntary. You may refuse to participate in this study. If
you decide to take part in the study, you may leave the study at any time. No matter
what decision you make, there will be no penalty to you and you will not lose any of
your usual benefits. Your decision will not affect your future relationship with The
University of Arizona. If you are a student or employee at the University of Arizona,
your decision will not affect your grades or employment status.
6. What risks, side effects or discomforts can I expect from being in the
study? There are no side effects or discomforts associated with this study.
6. What benefits can I expect from being in the study?
Benefits to participants may be educational: learning approaches to defining self;
emotional: clarifying participants’ current and personal sense of self; and
professional: understanding how knowledge and awareness of a sense of self
contributes to a participant’s professional future.
8. What other choices do I have if I do not take part in the study?
Registered students may complete course without contributing to the study and its
You may choose not to participate without penalty or loss of benefits to which you
are otherwise entitled.
9. Will my study-related information be kept confidential?
Efforts will be made to keep your study-related information confidential. However,
there may be circumstances where this information must be released. For example,
personal information regarding your participation in this study may be disclosed if
required by state law.
Also, your records may be reviewed by the following groups (as applicable to the
Office for Human Research Protections or other federal, state, or international
regulatory agencies
The University of Arizona Institutional Review Board or Office of Responsible
Research Practices
The sponsor supporting the study, their agents or study monitors
10. What are the costs of taking part in this study?
There are no costs associated with this study.
11. Will I be paid for taking part in this study?
There are no payments made to participants in this study.
By law, payments to subjects may be considered taxable income.
12. What happens if I am injured because I took part in this study?
If you suffer an injury from participating in this study, you should seek treatment.
The University of Arizona has no funds set aside for the payment of treatment
expenses for this study.
13. What are my rights if I take part in this study?
If you choose to participate in the study, you may discontinue participation at any
time without penalty or loss of benefits. By signing this form, you do not give up any
personal legal rights you may have as a participant in this study.
You will be provided with any new information that develops during the course of the
research that may affect your decision whether or not to continue participation in the
You may refuse to participate in this study without penalty or loss of benefits to
which you are otherwise entitled.
An Institutional Review Board responsible for human subjects research at The
University of Arizona reviewed this research project and found it to be acceptable,
according to applicable state and federal regulations and University policies designed
to protect the rights and welfare of participants in research.
14. Who can answer my questions about the study?
For questions, concerns, or complaints about the study you may contact Dr. Lynn
For questions about your rights as a participant in this study or to discuss other studyrelated concerns or complaints with someone who is not part of the research team,
you may contact the Human Subjects Protection Program at 520-626-6721 or online
at http://orcr.vpr.arizona.edu/irb.
If you are injured as a result of participating in this study or for questions about a
study-related injury, you may contact Dr. Lynn Beudert.
Signing the consent form
I have read (or someone has read to me) this form, and I am aware that I am being asked
to participate in a research study. I have had the opportunity to ask questions and have
had them answered to my satisfaction. I voluntarily agree to participate in this study.
I am not giving up any legal rights by signing this form. I will be given a copy of this
Printed name of subject
Signature of subject
Date and time
Printed name of person authorized to consent for
subject (when applicable)
Signature of person authorized to consent for
(when applicable)
Relationship to the subject
Date and time
Investigator/Research Staff
I have explained the research to the participant or the participant’s representative before
requesting the signature(s) above. There are no blanks in this document. A copy of this
form has been given to the participant or to the participant’s representative.
Dr. Lynn Beudert
Printed name of person obtaining consent
Signature of person obtaining consent
Date and time
Issues of Relevance and Character in Fine Arts
School of Art
The University of Arizona
ARE 695a 002
August 17, 2012
Degree: MA_____
MFA_____ Other_______________________________
Gender: M _____
_____ Other _____
To what level have you progressed in your graduate program?
1st yr. ____
2nd yr. ____
3rd yr.____
Other _______________
How old are you?
______< 26
As an artist, what is most often your art media of choice?
What is the title of some insightful literature you have read recently?
List three artists that you believe have influenced your artwork.
Please articulate up to three goals (big or small) that you have in mind for a
future with your degree in art.
What does “sense of self,” mean to you?
Below, please write the thoughts that are provoked in you after reading any (or
all) of the following quotes:
Parker Palmerʼs The Heart of Higher Education
“Oxygen and hydrogen make up the elements of water, but the ʻwetnessʼ of water
is an emergent property of the system not reducible to hydrogen and oxygen.”
“One of the neglected dimensions of our educational system concerns the
transformative power true education possesses.”
Daniel H. Pinkʼs Drive
“Our beliefs about ourselves and the nature of our abilities, or ʻself-theories,ʼ
determine how we interpret our experiences and can set the boundaries on what
we accomplish.”
“Finally, consider what is perhaps the most underused word in the modern
workplace: Why?”
Survey of National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) Annual Report 2012.
“Formal training in the arts, when done well, may be ideal preparation for
cultivating these abilities [including being] cognitively flexible and inventive; and,
[using] design thinking and non-routine, entrepreneurial approaches to deal with
unscripted, complex problems.”
“Art school taught me how to do art. It was only later that I learned how to be an
artist.” Sculptor, Jan Shin.
Issues of Relevance and Character in Fine Arts
Art and Visual Culture Education Division
School of Art
The University of Arizona
Fall 2012
Exit Survey
Please rank the following ARE 695 activities in terms of how engaging they were to you:
1 = not engaging 2 = a little bit engaging 3 = engaging 4 = very engaging
5 = meaningfully engaging
Responding (orally or by writing in your visual journal) to class-time reflection prompts:
Comments / Suggestions:
Answering discussion questions using D2L:
Comments / Suggestions:
Class time discussions (in general):
Comments / Suggestions:
Individual studio visits with Barbara:
Comments / Suggestions:
Create a visual about the (re)sources for your artistic research and/or creative motivation.
Comments / Suggestions:
Make a list of the steps involved in your process for art making. Then, create a visual of
one step that is likely to be unique to you.
Comments / Suggestions:
Please rank your level of engagement with the following visual journal entries:
Create a depiction of your artistic "autobiography" or educational "autobiography".
Comments / Suggestions:
Go somewhere you've never been before, by yourself, and create a visual responding to new
awareness that emerges.
Comments / Suggestions:
Create a visual about the relationship between your role as a teacher and your role as an artist.
Comments / Suggestions:
If you designed one additional visual journal entry, what might it be?
In class, I think that talking about _________________________ was least interesting.
In class, I think that talking about _________________________ was the most valuable.
What comments do you have (if any) about ARE 695ʼs teaching pedagogies that stand
out (positively or negatively)?
What readings / activities / assignments (if any) would you add (or subtract) from the course?
In what ways (if any) did you find this course challenging?
What advice do you have for the future MFA students of a course like this?
Would you have liked being more involved (than you were) in the planning of our colloquiums
teaching, learning, reflection, and/or assignment activities?
(yes) (maybe)
Too much time was spent on personal reflection.
Too much time was spent on aspects of teaching studio art.
Too much time was spent on aspects of being a student of studio art in higher
Did the experience of taking this course help you strengthen your role as a teacher of the studio arts?
Did the experience of taking this course contribute to the perceptions you have of your self as an artist?
Did the experience of taking this course contribute to the perceptions you have of your self as an
individual person?
Each of you indicated on the Introduction Survey that teaching is likely in your future. In what
ways (if any) did this course confirm, clarify, challenge, or discourage your thoughts on teaching?
Some in the field of higher education believe that students have in common the need for something
to believe in, something to hold onto, or something to help get them “out” of themselves. Why might
you agree or disagree?
At this point in your MFA degree program (outside of our 8 colloquium classes)
…exploring personal values and beliefs has been encouraged.
…preparation for your professional future has been addressed.
…the overall purpose (or reasons) for earning an MFA degree has been addressed.
If someone asked you what it was like to take a course like this, how would you respond?
In what ways (if any) did this course impact relationships with your fellow (ARE 695) classmates?
What (if any) concluding reflection, thought, idea, or further comment do you have about our semester?
At the conclusion of our course, what (if anything) feels incomplete about our semester?
One final question…
How do you believe that this process of earning an MFA degree contributes to your sense of self?
Thank you, all, for your thoughtful contributions to our semester. Cheers!
Colloquium #
Recording Folder
Classroom atmosphere (On a scale of 1-10)
Instructor energy & demeanor (On a scale of 1-10)
Student energy & demeanor (On a scale of 1-10: 7)
Specific observations from Participant A:
Participant J:
Participant N:
Participant B:
Comments regarding colloquium space:
Major topic of colloquium discussion:
Provocative topics (explain):
Documentation collected:
What teaching strategies seemed to “work”?:
What teaching strategies seemed to not “work”:
To what extent did participants influence today’s colloquium pedagogy (explain)?
In what ways did this colloquium help answer the research question “In what ways does a student’s sense of self evolve while earning an MFA degree?”
“What teaching strategies promote the evolution of a sense of self in MFA students?”
The question that guided this research study was:
How do the experiences related to personal and professional development within
an MFA visual arts program influence a graduate student’s individual sense of self?
Research sub-question one: How do MFA students within a course that addresses
the curricula and pedagogies of their graduate programs and their experiences as
MFA students describe themselves as individuals, students, artists, teachers, and
future professionals in the field of the visual arts?
students in
a course
of their
and their
as MFA
SOS = “knowing
who you are and
having confidence
in yourself”
(Audio-recordings of eight colloquium
(Surveys, letters to
self, reading responses,
artist statements,
correspondence, lists)
(Visual journal
entries, individual
works of art,
demeanor, site
Opening questions
Sources of materials for inspiration
Discussion of individual experiences as TAs
Participants talked about “seeing themselves” in
the readings
Intro survey
Exit survey
Artist statement
Letter to self
Ultimate MFA ideas
Visual journal prompts/lists
Electronic prompts
Best/worst pedagogical
experiences as students
List of art making process
MFA 2nd year
Between 27-31
Visual journal entries:
Artist-biography images
Visual of one unique art
making process step: coll
Sources of materials for
inspiration VJ image
Daughter of proud dad; she talked with him before
going to MFA school and he said that he thinks is
Studio visit
Self-portrait collage
Humble /
Early riser / dances
in am
Dedicated / didn’t
want to miss class
Consistent attitude
Student (A)
the best degree you can get
So, she knows that not everybody thinks that way,
“I’m going to art school to get to the core of who I
am, what I believe in and what I’m going to say
“I’m learning to be a better artist, and part of that is
knowing myself better”
Its difficult to face all these things about yourself
In order to know what I want to say, I have to
really look at myself and it’s not always nice
Liked TedTalk about creativity
She’s let go of friends, dating, downtime, and
cleaning house & yard
Sometimes however, she’ll watch stupid TV to
decompress and decide to waste that hour
Does morning pages but not always in the
morning; she believes its nice to get it all down on
the page; morning pages are calming like her
meditation practice
Mentions another TedTalk about a woman who
shops at a second hand store
She believes that she is “thinking / discovering” for
herself as she connects her dance class with her
video work
She didn’t find it easy to think about who she was
10 years ago because she wasn’t in the best place
in her life (went through therapy)
Thinks of fragmentation in terms of being in one
place but her mind being somewhere else; she’s
glad to hear that the concept is “as old as history”
and non-linear
Says art has the ability to bring her into the present
Enjoys the smells of the beach
Was relieved to read Art and Fear as she could see
that others think as she does; noted in particular
“perfect is the enemy of the good”
Hero’s are monks, rabbis, Martin Hoover (19thc
philosopher), mother Theresa, Bill Viola, and
Bruce Nauman
C7: usually goes to a movie on Thanksgiving
She shared that she was often nauseated when she
used to smoke regularly
Didn’t like writing the letter to herself because it
reminded her of a strategy she used back when she
was living a life that she doesn’t want to reflect
upon; “I don’t want to separate these parts of
myself again”
C8: was fighting a cold; didn’t go shopping after
Thanksgiving this year (not good sales)
Change in media focus
Response to experience of candidacy
Said that she is in this class because she wants to
gain a better understanding of the MFA process
and get other peoples’ viewpoints on it as she
thinks it’s unique
Believes that MFA program can be really stressful
and frustrating
She questions why am I doing this? Is it helping or
hindering? So she said that a class like 695 would
be a space to talk about the issues that she thinks
She’s coming from a different educational model
where students were evaluated not graded at
Evergreen State College
This MFA program puts a lot of pressure on her
Is torn about an MFA being a good thing or a bad
thing as she’s heard around here that, “MFA
Tries to change negative
thoughts so they cannot
hold her back
Tells herself to show down
and trust herself more often
Doesn’t see roles as self
and artist as separate, yet
you can’t create all the time
and cannot be creatively
inspired all the time
She does fully understand
the creative and intuitive
side of her psyche
695 may have contributed
to her perceptions of
herself as an individual
She said that 695, “forces
you to know who you are
and what you care about
through caring about your
work and standing behind
it! I believe it’s important
to know who you are and to
grow in order to effectively
communicate through art.
So in the way the MFA
does help evolve your
sense of self”
Diptych of two
photographs addressing
Said she’d be late to class
each time because of a
morning dance class she
was taking
In school to gain skills and
clarity in her artwork
Wants more knowledge
about professional aspects
of art career: galleries,
grant-writing, etc.
Believes that education
should come from the
Suggests that the ultimate
MFA course would be
titled, “Self Motivated Art
Favorite pedagogy she’d
Change in media focus
Studio visit
VJ medium choices
included pen and ink,
programs kill your creativity” she thinks it sad
“I’m learning to be a better artist, and part of that is
knowing myself better”
Its difficult to face all these things about yourself
In order to know what I want to say, I have to
really look at myself and it’s not always nice
Thinks about priorities all the time because of how
much she has going on as a grad student
She’s let go of friends, dating, downtime, and
cleaning house & yard
She doesn’t think that having to go through harsh
critiques prepares you for the real gallery world as
they are never that mean to your face
She know that the stress and insanity brought her
to her 2nd year successfully thinking “wow, I’ve
really grown”
Once not sure what a specific piece was about, she
appreciated a professor that asked her “what do
you care about” leading to a long discussion about
what she’s interested in, issues, etc. and then
placing them into the piece
Surprised when a prof that once made her cry was
working with her saying “we’re just talking… no
One prof tore her work down at first year crit, then
came back and was more thoughtful
Appreciated her undergrad school’s practice of
evals as they kept her from worrying about getting
a certain grade, “you’re just thinking about doing a
good job”
She notes that it is really hard to get a “C” in this
She keeps a regular schedule in her studio, “there’s
no question about it” stays regimented with her
schedule so she will really work
LOVED the idea of designing our own MFA class
and asked about presenting the idea to the SoA
C4: she wants to learn how to talk about her work
Part of me will be glad when it’s over because it’s
really stressful; but then I want a community of
artists to still push me, I still want to have time to
make my work.
C4: thinks that if she didn’t have candidacy
coming up she would be able to think more clearly
about her work; instead she’s feeling pressure to be
able to “understand” her work and talk about it “I
know what it’s about but I’m not sure how to
contextualize it”
Asks how we can care so much and not burn
ourselves out
GSDS: went to Rillito park because she’d always
wanted to go; reminded her of the beach; soft
lighting; “a place where you go and there’s nothing
“behind it” the Mountains are peaceful and offered
her the same sensations she felt at the beach
She really wanted to present our Ulltimate MFA
course idea to their professors, even present it at a
faculty meeting; she asked, “seriously, would that
be an appropriate thing to do?”
She suggested that we put a serious amount of
work into the idea of designing this Ultimate MFA
Thanked me at end of session
C6 feels pretty ready for candidacy the next
morning; she was confident having had a good
experienced was when a
teacher had her class do a
very short and quick
project at the beginning of
the semester – it helped
jump-start her semester of
Does not like critiques for
projects that were too openended; she agrees that self
motivation is a good thing
to encourage but believes
that, at least, conceptual
goals for beginners and
intermediate courses
provide useful structure
She learned much from the
process of writing about his
peers works and hearing
them read what they wrote
about his work
Found it helpful to list
steps in art-making process
and make a visual of one of
them; “it helped make it
Suggested that we do a
larger piece in response to
one of the entries or selfreflections exercises as a
way to incorporate selfreflection into our art
Didn’t find writing to artist
self engaging
Believed that talking about
artist statements was most
valuable; valuable o have
other people write about
my work and get a sense of
how they see it
Caring casual
conversations with prompts
was really helpful
Suggested that teaching
pedagogies and selfreflection be the main focus
without professionalization
as a topic
The class challenged her to
think about her work and
where her inspiration
comes from
695 strengthen her role as a
studio art teacher as she got
ideas about how to run crits
and how to be more
affective and
compassionate toward
695 helped her integrate
personal reflection into her
art practice and helped her
to examine how the ways
she works relates to her
Artist (A)
experience at the photo conference the previous
A prof suggested that she make a work about
something happy since she tends to focus on
Basically agrees with me about taking your time in
school so what you accomplish is quality
C7: shares her candidacy having passed, it was
intense; they first said of her photography, “this
isn’t interesting” and “this has been done before”;
they pushed me to work with video more and
consider making it political and critical of history;
A said that she’d probably try some of their
suggestions; they complimented her about being
willing to take risks; however, she’s frustrated that
they are pushing her in a different direction; J
recognizes that some of the harshness A endured
during candidacy is the result of the challenging
personality of one committee member in particular
as she asked A if she was turning into a
documentary photographer; J offers support as one
of her profs liked what she used to paint
Feedback from photo conference
Says her work is about family history and how
memories are handed down generationally and
how that can connect with specific places
Introduced herself with a diptych that deals with
psychological memory being passed down
Lately been working with video and sculpture too
Recent images are from a family farm and
landscapes around Virginia
Prepping for a show with J and K
“I’m learning to be a better artist, and part of that is
knowing myself better”
Its difficult to face all these things about yourself
In order to know what I want to say, I have to
really look at myself and it’s not always nice
Being an artist is such a beautiful thing to do with
your life
Believes that artists have a really important roll,
but then… that makes us really self centered
She doesn’t think that having to go through harsh
critiques prepares you for the real gallery world as
they are never that mean to your face
Says it’s nice to talk and write about her work
She believes that she is “thinking / discovering” for
herself as she connects her dance class with her
video work
Says art has the ability to bring her into the present
as it feels otherworldly or meditative or outside the
scope of natural laws and orders of things
It’s NOT spiritual but an elevated place out of
reality, not in a negative way
She keeps a regular schedule in her studio, “there’s
no question about it” stays regimented with her
schedule so she will really work
Said that she had no idea where he work comes
from then realized it comes from working, like
magic; so she did doodles
Doesn’t consider postmodernism today’s
movement; she doesn’t know where we are today
Having to think about doing something “different”
is stifling; she believes that art is always a copy of
previous art; “ art is referential”
Believes that you can make something that states a
social and meaningful comment yet doesn’t fit into
Photography, video, and
Influenced by work of
Soth, Viola, and ParkeHarrison
Feels that she can ask a lot
of questions through art
Her work is about “the hold
that memory and grief
carry though generations,
what impact certain events
have as their “stories” are
passed down, resulting
circumstances, and
modeled behaviors
She questions how an
experience is formed in her
memory and affects her
Trust your process of artmaking
Wishes she could “turn off”
her creativity at will as it
invades her going to bed
and talking with others
Wants to be able to turn it
on as she walks into her
The mystery of creative
and intuitive side of her
psyche may be what keeps
her engaged
She wrote to her artist,
“When I say I’d like to
know you better what I
really mean is that I wish I
understood myself better or
I wish I understood the
world better or I wish I
understood my place in the
world better or I wish I
understood the place of the
artist in the world better.
Diptych of herself
(before moving to video)
Studio visit - videos
Said that she had no idea
where he work comes
from then realized it
comes from working,
like magic
Teacher (A)
the narrative of the art world
As of C4, what’s going well for A is her trusting of
her own ideas, even if they’re stupid
She’s having difficulty talking about her new body
of work (video)
She’s changing to video because of facts that she’s
both getting good feedback but she truly considers
the work interesting as photo has changed
She, and everyone, is more excited about her
Agreed with my buzz words from their statements
and listened closely as their peers interpreted their
work; found it very helpful to know what others
C5: uses a lot of reflection in her artwork; she has
come to trust her intuitive process
Does a lot of different things as an artist: taking
pictures, gathering props, thrift stores where she
thinks, “well, since I’m here”. (It breaks up her
She wanted a list of the questions that I asked at C5
in terms of helping them sort out their artists’
Presented at InFuse and received good feedback
from professors; one shared being proud of her
C6; sharing more about her interest in family
history she realized tragedy or more encompassing
idea of what is passed own is her focus (especially
tragedy); this made her think about making her
work differently
C7: shared how she will write down something that
she does in her work then spend 15 minutes writing
about why; did this before candidacy
She wishes that she had control over when and
where creativity and inspiration come from “it was
good to see that art is about the question rather
than the answer”
Ultimate MFA Course design input
She appreciates very much the ideas we shared
with her in terms of leading meaningful critiques
with her undergraduates
Wants students to pick out what they want to read
in ult MFA class and then to talk about how the
readings inform your work
C7: likes the idea of inspiring younger people; she
likes being able to share the valuable experiences
she’s had because it can inspire others; she too has
had teachers inspire her
She values how the classroom is a collaborative
Isn’t sure if she sees her artistic process in her
classroom has only taught one photo class before
She says that she feels like somebody different
when she’s teaching (N understands) J shares how
she feels like she has to be enthusiastic
She doesn’t know how to motivate unmotivated
students; N says he acts excited; j says that it
depends on who it is (ex; a musician or film maker
has to get through her class so she’ll make the
project relevant to their discipline)
Sometimes student work is God-awful, how do I
get them to think more deeply? I want them to go
deeper but perhaps they aren’t ready to?
Found interesting that certain pedagogies that work
well for me as an individual don’t work with other
Maybe it is all one in the
Her artist loves silly,
absurdity, and elevating the
inconsequential to the most
consequential and the
mundane to the
She asked, do we stand
together or apart… I
suppose we’ll never know
“that is my question to you
and I suppose it is my
challenge as well”
She quoted Art & Fear:
“all artwork will be flawed
because all humans are
flawed”, “the seeds of the
next artwork are embedded
in the flaws of the current”
and “the perfect is the
enemy of the good”
The 695 course may have
contributed to her
perceptions of herself as an
Ultimate MFA Course
Expectations (syllabus and
assignments) provided in
FYE handbook for TAs
Insists that her students talk
about what works and what
doesn’t work when
critiquing with the class.
She shares the purpose for
doing critiques: assisting an
artist to read their visions
She shares with her
students what she has heard
in her own critique sessions
Because photography
offers so many different
ways to work within the
medium, she wants her
students to try different
conceptual and modes so
they don’t get stuck in one
way of doing something
695 helped her see how
what she does in her studio
practices can help her teach
VJ artist and teacher are
completely divided roles
people in a classroom setting; we’re at different
levels and sometimes teaching styles are responded
to differently
Asks if we can talk more about our experiences
with “working” and “not working” pedagogy
She has felt in critiques that she realizes “oh yeah,
I actually believe that about art… maybe I should
apply that”
in the Visual
Arts (A)
Wants to go to LA
What about “nuts & bolts”?
Worked with the group of participants to design
the syllabus and curriculum for the “Ultimate MFA
She thinks about her future; “I feel like the best
part about being here is I have so much time to
devote to my work; I have people that push me and
want me to succeed; it’s weird to think about not
having that”
Has thought about applying for teaching jobs but
doesn’t want to go to just any city where she might
not have time for her work
Wants to go to LA or NYC right out of school to
take a year round job and apply for teaching
positions later
Presented at InFuse and received good feedback
from professors; one shared being proud of her;
though tired she felt good about her InFuse
As a teacher, she said that she would share the fact
that she uses many mediums of photo; it’s a
strength to upper-level classes (and foundations)
Wants more knowledge
about professional aspects
of art career
“To potentially teach”
Believes that art can be
applied outside the studio
and helps solve complex
She asked her artist, “is
being an artist part of my
character? Or is it just a
Unsure demeanor
MFAP see instructors as
role models
Postcard for Rombach
Announcement for InFuse talk
Daughter of a proud mom Shares a little about
being married
She likes doing self reflection and meditation
Describes herself as a visual person
She sometimes wonders, “What am I doing for the
She has (envious) peers around her that say that
they wish that they were doing what they love with
their lives
Married and deciding to make art caused “shift” in
her relationship; he can come along or not
There are only so many hours so she doesn’t hang
out with people; she used to be really social and
she tries not to do that anymore
Doesn’t spend much money or watch TV
During her first year thought, “okay, when am I
going to change?” I knew that I needed to change
but I needed it to start happening
Thought she might wake up and just be different;
she now understands that she needed this challenge
to work harder
Believes that growth is painful
At first was being asked by profs if she was really
doing what she wanted to be doing
MFA 2nd year
Between 27 – 31
We hinder our possibilities
by who we think we are or
should be
“We, as a culture don’t
question enough what are
motives are, why we do
things we don’t want to do,
or why we do what we do
at all”
“You are a maker” and
only anxiety and fear of
failure can change that
Being intuitive and
informed is crucial and
She encourages herself to
be who you are and not feel
guilty about it; trust your
choices, make good
decisions, mistakes are part
of the process
Grateful to others and
Studio visit
3 medium sized square
paintings that capture
space, not people,
abstract, from photos and
from imagination
SOS = who I think
I am; the story I
tell myself about
who I am, who I
want to be, a
deeper feeling of
self (possibly
Humble / insecure
Willing to work as
hard as possible
for her art
Patience teacher
Talkative once she
gets going but a
really good listener
Unshaven / tall
Relaxed demeanor
Positive /
Consistent attitude
Made many lists and
very informal sketches in
her visual journal; used
pen mostly
Was often dressed up for
class (red glasses, skirts,
Student (J)
She knows that she needs to learn to say “no” more
as she’s doing things that others want her to do;
she finds herself doing such duties to “be good”
She wishes that she could be more selfish with her
JC reminds her of her dad and admits to wanting to
be more in touch with who you are and calm
WOW was her response to Nate as he said that he
isn’t fragmented, that all his characters are the
We completely relate in terms of writing
everything down and making list after list
She really enjoyed my small books of lists
She doesn’t want to throw away her journals they
have become lists
First thing in the morning, she thinks about when
she will do yoga, teeth, dogs, how to be still; “I’m
a worrier”
When I’m really tired I worry about my teeth and
teeth health; I clench my teeth so I’m are of my
In general, she is really hard on herself; I told her
as much
She wonders what is new about her?
She admits to being hard on herself and her worst
Asks, “Do I apply everywhere?” will you have
time to make your art? It’s hard because she’s
married and they’ll go somewhere for her or for
him “how are we going to work that out? It’s hard
to know. What makes money? We haven’t worked
that out.
“Just wanted to know what you guys are doing”
Offers to go to yoga with N if he chooses to do it
Wears certain jewelry when she has to do
something difficult
Considered reading On Longing, a gift Was
relieved to read it as she could see that others think
as she does
C6: Challenges herself to ride her bike really fast,
or seeing what all she can do in two minutes
C6 end: has chosen the community she wants
(artistic) even if not everyone considers it valuable
Believes the world would be a much better place
with more art; even if it wasn’t, “this is what I
C7: used to like Thanksgiving on the farm, but
now shares the holiday with her husband; that can
put her on edge
Her husband gets car sick if she reads in the car;
she doesn’t get sick
Says her mom is supportive (like the pep talk she
needs to stay in grad school) “she held a candle for
C8: she’s been sleeping a lot
She shared how she played “host” over
Thanksgiving so she didn’t have to be social at the
table; they thought it was great; but, I was being
believe that they are a big
reason she can do what she
It’s best if success comes
from the truest version of
Response to experience of candidacy
Likes small classes like 695 because they are like
those she liked at Santa Cruz: introspective,
readings, talking and analyzing why I’m doing
things I do
Learning and education can
transform spirituality
Believes that art school
teaches us technique and
how to explain ideas.
Studio visit
Thought at class like 695 would be “safer” than say
her art history classes where her talking sometimes
feels “messy”
She said jokingly that all the best artists steel, “recontextualize”
Likes being able to teach and being taught at the
same time
Feels that if a critique was not intense that it wasn’t
a good critique
Things that different teachers push you in different
ways; it’s what you make of it as a student because
she believes that some of her peers just do the
work and graduate within an MFA
Thought during her first year that perhaps she
shouldn’t be in grad school; she was miserable and
didn’t have the language to talk about stuff
She said that she didn’t “blow off” those profs who
said, “oh, this is not good”
If profs were harsh and mean, it just made me work
Given her first year, she feels more ready to take
Believes that growth is painful
She’s used to having intense crits
Wishes that she had a couple weeks to think about
the hard questions she is asked at critiques before
the crits (i.e. what is your historical context?
Where did my work fit into the contemporary art
world? Now she thinks about these questions all
the time
Her visual autobiography was a list as her
drawings were “dumb”
Said that she was surprised by positive comments
about works that she was planning to throw out
She sets up her days so she has school for two days
and three days in a row for art-making
Notes that vis-com students get instruction on
making websites and that we (in other
departments) should too
She’s obsessive about having several works going
on at the same time
She pays attention to what “counts” as work
Thought it was cool that I wanted each of them to
keep one of my discs
C4: “now I have a consciousness: I go back and
forth between making myself come up with
something meaningful, “my art has to say
something” and the artwork isn’t good; now, I just
make stuff and then figure out what it means
Says that this class format is comfortable for her;
calm environment
She likes the responses we’re doing
C4: Had an idea for a sculpture to make however,
JC wanted her to make a video; she had anxiety
about working with materials that she’s not
familiar with; feels as if she’s doing something that
she really doesn’t want to do
As she gets closer to her new video project, she
feels that the stress of the project is keeping her
away from her work (painting)
Feels as if she should do new work for her
candidacy; trying new stuff and developing a new
Received advice about candidacy and “knowing
where she wants to go”
This session, J has many questions about what she
Believes that the ultimate
MFA course would be
titled, “From here to now: a
deconstruction and
recreation of the artistic
Favorite critique strategy
she’d experienced was
when a painting teacher
had the class respond
(critique) peers’ works by
painting smaller works and
giving them to the artist
She gets frustrated with
teachers that are
unorganized and seem to
have forgotten how to teach
having done it for so long
She learned much from the
process of writing about his
peers works and hearing
them read what they wrote
about his work
She believed that D2L was
a “less connected” way for
exchanges during our term
She wanted to do more one
on one studio visits with
Had a hard time at first
with GSDS; however,
ended up “doing something
new in my art practice”
Believed that talking about
artist statements and
teaching pedagogies was
most valuable
She liked the small class
environment, visual
responses, text sharing and
suggested that perhaps we
could have done more
Believed that we should
have met every week
instead of every other
Suggested going on a class
field trip, doing a show
together as a class, or
create work specific to the
class together.
Artist (J)
needs to do for candidacy, she expresses concerns,
talks about what she’s seen happening in others’
studios; she ends conversation by thanking us for
listening to all her concerns
All participants are supportive and offer each other
advice for candidacy, video work, etc.
GSDS: bought a projector “voices in her head”
were depicted in her VJ (shapes)
Thanked me at end of session
C5: says “ the sculpture stuff for JC this week…
it’s not happening”
Thought themselves too hard on their peers during
the video crit they organized with other video peers
Because there were no teachers there, they were
super harsh, it was “so real”; she wants to
Believes that an MFA student should, most
importantly, walk out into the world with
Wonders if prof want to know where she thinks she
fits in the history of painting or if they asking
about what the medium facilitates
Was curious about what I did with all my calendars
(my journals) as she doesn’t know what to do with
Shared that Dennis thinks she’s great
Was relieved to have candidacy over with support
for her work and now says that she had to catch up
with everything that she set aside preparing for her
Having worked so hard on a painting (for
candidacy), she welcomed her new expectation of
herself to work that hard all the time; she explains
that that level of bring “on” was needed for her
candidacy but still feeling like “no, I can’t take a
day off”
Prompt of On Longing and writing exercises
helped her in her candidacy
C6 means a lot to her when professors share their
work (when they model)
C7: before now, J’s teachers didn’t teach her how
to paint; so “I painted circles and I didn’t know
what I was doing” she felt lost and was criticized
about it; but she felt that she wasn’t given any
options; so she doesn’t want her students to “flail”
Teacher are sometimes competitive and keep
secrets about their skills in painting
Sharing artist statement with husband to help make
it as clear as possible
Her work is about place and sense of place,
Trying to figure out why when you have many
feelings about the place how do you reconcile that
in one image?
Takes “tons” of photos, draws from her
imagination too
Tries to always have a camera with her
Planning for show at Rombach gallery with K and
She sometimes wonders, “What am I doing for the
Believes that art is “something that you do on your
Believes that growth is painful
Said that she was surprised by positive comments
Medium of choice is
painting and drawing
Influenced by work of
Freud, Kariversky, Bayles
The time in your studio is
when you make your
creative decisions and put
the time in; as well as deal
with your insecurities of
being an artist
Place, space, mapping,
exploring, memory – traces
of interpretation.
Architecture conceals
human frailty.
Abstraction, tension,
implied narrative
Being intuitive and
Triptych of “place”
Studio visit
C7: did a VJ drawing
about a jaded force
where she’s on the edge
of something, then, I’m
being hit, come here and
think awhile, then
making images of
myself, reflective
thoughts, the process and
figuring out clarity (she
describes this entry as
more of a conceptual
interpretation of her
about works that she was planning to throw out
Feels that art making isn’t spiritual however, when
it’s really working, there is a ritual process that
gets J there
Wears the same outfit every time; there’s
something psychological about putting on the
music and the outfit; the ritual helps to guarantee
that I get there
Goes through a whole cycle including self doubt,
losing track of time, she becomes fluid, the same
smells are there
She sets up her days so she has school for two days
and three days in a row for art-making
She’s obsessive about having several works going
on at the same time
Gets inspiration from walk and taking pics
Sources for creative motivation come from trees,
leaves, shadows, water, identification, how I’ve
lived, memories, change, texture, line,
brainstorming, growth, knowledge, freedom of
“Nothing else commands me in this way”
She’d like to be able to talk about her work in a
more educated way, better vocabulary (she feels
she should); I think I should be able to talk better;
she’s dong a lot of research
When she feels frustrated she’ll look at
contemporary art and read artist statements
Doesn’t consider postmodernism today’s
movement; she doesn’t know where we are today
Where am I and what was done before me? I look
for where I fit in, 16-17 C painting
She’s been confronted with “why painting” so she
has to know the history or painting and be able to
say something different
She wonders what is new about her?
She admits to being hard on herself and her worst
I’m painting and these shapes come out; she
wonders where they are from, Pollock? Dimitri?
Everyone likes my color palette “The anxiety of
influence fits into the bigger question”
As of C4, what’s going well is her new supplies
(canvas and paints)
She’s putting a lot of money into her work right
now and it’s scary
The sensory overload of her new materials is
exciting as she’s having to learn how to use her
new materials
“It’s hard and a good thing”
“If I work, good things might happen”; she’s
making “tons” of work and making different
connections and thinking of more things she wants
to make; priorities
Agreed with my buzz words from their statements
and listened closely as their peers interpreted their
work; found it very helpful to know what others
see; she trusts us (these peers) and in this
environment, she said the interpretations mean
C5: she’s considering what I’m hiding behind the
buildings she paints
Shared the list of steps in her process from getting
coffee to meditating; she sits in a chair and moves
the work around (like doing a ritual); chuckles
about how loud (specific describe) her music
informed is a good thing
and can make really good
She wants to buy her own
copy of On Longing as it
relates to her ideas of
landscape, longing,
“blindness for place and
our narrative we place
ourselves in.”
She talks about before
having been inspired by
nature, growth, and
knowledge, but at this
point she was motivated
by color, her bike, urban
sprawl, decay… impulse,
skilled, feeling of
renewal, “expressing my
truth visually”
Teacher (J)
“must” be
Considered reading On Longing, a gift; the writing
exemplified what her work is about very well
Said that it was weird that one time when she
presented her artwork from her high school days
up until now, “it all connected”
C6: after orals, shared that Dennis thinks she’s
Having worked so hard on a painting (for
candidacy), she welcomed her new expectation of
herself to work that hard all the time; she explains
that that level of bring “on” was needed for her
candidacy but still feeling like “no, I can’t take a
day off”
C7: did a VJ drawing about a jaded force where
she’s on the edge of something, then, I’m being hit,
come here and think awhile, then making images
of myself, reflective thoughts, the process and
figuring out clarity
She talks about before having been inspired by
nature, growth, and knowledge, but at this point
she was motivated by color, her bike, urban sprawl,
decay… impulse, skilled, feeling of renewal,
“expressing my truth visually”
She says that she paints because she wants to
communicate as painting has done throughout
history; it’s the best way to talk about complex
She talks about her letter to her artist, “you are a
maker and no one can take that away”; she believes
that her art has moods, “yeah I mean it” and “I
don’t believe you, someone more important needs
to say that.” (Shocked), I respond ‘who’s more
important than you?’ J responds, “I don’t know;
I’m trying to figure that out”
She said that her artist self needs reassurance…
this is who you are and it’s okay… if I move
forward in this direction, maybe…
In her own work, J facilitated safe environments
and wants to do that for her students
Ultimate MFA Course design
Likes being able to teach and being taught at the
same time
She tries to share with her students the same things
she’s learning in her own classes
When she critiques her students aesthetically, she
believes that (like her once) they hear, “you’re the
worst artist ever”
Believes that growth is painful
She believes that teaching can be like doing a
Doesn’t spend time to address work of students
that have not been respectful of her time
Finds it hard to talk about students’ work when it’s
just bad; she feels she is humiliating her students in
doing so
She appreciates students that “speak up” to their
As time would run out and we didn’t get to all that
I wanted to… we talked about what we’d do at our
next session ex: at C5, we’d talk about my books
that each of them borrowed; and adding to the ult
MFA course (so we decided that that would be our
“final” project for the course
Feels badly for giving her students D’s (I said,
good for you!). She stresses when her students
Ultimate MFA Course
Expectations (syllabus and
assignments) provided in
FYE handbook for TAs
Likes to work one-on-one
with her students, have
them make lists of words,
thoughts, colors, actions,
etc. and then discuss how
they could portray those
things; she asks lots of
questions; playful
exchanges using students
Believes that she must
come to class excited so
her students do the same
She has the idea for
incorporating writing and
reflecting exercises in her
classes going forward. At
the end of class students
would discuss their freewriting and help them learn
to communicate
VJ entry about overlap of
teaching and being an
artist, she makes lists to
get going and when her
students don’t know what
to do she has them make
She read the list of words
that her teaching employs
but also sometimes
shows up in her work;
with shapes that she drew
Plans to do more demos in her classes like
demoing making shapes like in her work
C7: complimented by N as she has been offered to
teach a painting class above the FYE level
She values the ability to connect with others; being
a part of someone else’s artistic process, watching
and guiding them to a place where it can change
and do something else; “that’s rewarding”
She wants to help students think through things
that feel impossible; “as a teacher and as a student
I am asking questions and doing this intense
thinking that doesn’t happen outside of the
She likes to provide that space, “intimate space”
where people can think and be inspired
She values how the classroom is a collaborative
She believes that it is important for students to
know the academic history of painting if that is the
medium they are working in
Before now, J’s teachers didn’t teach her how to
paint; so “I painted circles and I didn’t know what
I was doing” she felt lost and was criticized about
it; but she felt that she wasn’t given any options; so
she doesn’t want her students to “flail” around;
“being a teacher, you can ask really important
questions so students can make those leaps
She does a lot of self-reflection activities with her
students including how they feel about a certain
critique as a whole; she asks what make a good
She believes that it is important to be transparent as
a teacher (Teacher are sometimes competitive and
keep secrets about their skills in painting)
In her own work, J facilitated safe environments
and wants to do that for her students
She’s disappointed when students don’t show up
for class
Prompted by A saying that she feels like a different
person when teaching, J said that you have to walk
in to class with enthusiasm even if you’re not;
otherwise, “the whole day can suck”
A doesn’t know how to motivate unmotivated
students; N says he acts excited; j says that it
depends on who it is (ex; a musician or film maker
has to get through her class so she’ll make the
project relevant to their discipline)
Believes that there can be real reasons why a
student becomes stumped so she’ll “flip the
question around”
If students are stuck, she says she’ll tease them too
(like me) and says, Are you kidding? You showed
up this morning, you’re motivated.
When a student wants to use a broken heart to
represent divorce, she’ll sit with them to work
beyond the cliché to get to the “good stuff” “it’s
okay, it’s part of the process”; When this upsets a
student, she responds by saying that their idea
deserves more
Says that talking helps to get students looking at all
the angles of an issue and when they say, “this is
really hard” she tells them that it’s worth it
C8: VJ entry ‘overlap’; she was thinking about one
Liked the ideas of having
MFA students do a VJ
entry that describes their
frustrations as an artist and
another entry to visually
respond to a critique
Believes that students need
to realize how crucial their
own experiences and
beliefs form who they are
and individualize their artmaking
“I think that going through
the process of hard work
with an idea and problems
solving to create a finished
piece can be transformative
as an artist.”
of the levels in her image as the artistic process and
how it needed to merge with the other levels; being
a painting teacher she is confronted with things all
the time and I’ve realized that I am a critical
thinker; I can solve that and help you get through
as it helps me figure out my belief system about art
and making art. Thinking and considering rules;
I’m always having to articulate things that I hadn’t
thought about “There is an intense truth in the
moment of when I’m speaking it”
Finds that when she’s writing out feedback to her
students and the same four things over and over,
she thinks to herself, I must believe this right! I
asked myself if I was evaluating my own work
would I say that it needs more detail, better
craft…; she’s trying to hold herself accountable
in the Visual
Arts (J)
SOS= “A series of
thoughts, ideas,
concepts that are
either picked from
other source or
created by you that
you relate to, agree
with, and live by.
It also involves a
healthy amount of
confidence in the
validity of these
decisions mixes
with just a bit of
skepticism that,
well, you could be
What about “nuts & bolts”?
Worked with the group of participants to design
the syllabus and curriculum for the “Ultimate MFA
She would break up her triptychs to sell if needed
She sometimes wonders, “What am I doing for the
She says you spend a lot of time and money as it is
still a gamble because you don’t know what’s
going to happen afterwards
Feels that functional art is important and can see
herself making knives to help her to earn money in
the future, “I could be my own boss”
She asked, “What do you do when you’re done
with your MFA?”
Asks, “Do I apply everywhere?” will you have
time to make your art? It’s hard because she’s
married and they’ll go somewhere for her or for
him “how are we going to work that out? It’s hard
to know. What makes money? We haven’t worked
that out.
Says that she would happily teach and meet gallery
deadlines; however, I’m told that teaching isn’t
realistic. Some teachers say, “oh yeah, you’ll get
something just work hard” and others “there’s so
much competition… it’s unlikely”
Her teachers encourage her to understand that a
future takes time
She know that she could (possibly) go back to her
job in science; “I don’t want to go back”
Wants to make art
everyday in her future
Wants to sell her artwork
Teach college students
skills to further artistic
ideas and techniques
Doesn’t want to throw her
intuitive “raw” parts out
sacrificing them for a
“flashy” successful life.
Success can be defined in
many ways
Unsure demeanor
MFAP see instructors as
role models
Postcard for Rombach
Very hard worker
Not shy / abrupt /
Willing to share
time, ideas, skills,
etc. / professional
Proactive on his
artistic fronts (FB
and video crit)
Consistent attitude
Student (N)
Shares topics about being married: moving for her
or him
They enjoy spending time together and doing so
takes away from studio time
Nate as he said that he isn’t fragmented, that all his
characters are the interconnected
Jokes about his scooter being a ‘tricycle’; provides
tool to control room temperature
Believes in a disconnect between the things we buy
and where they came from
Doesn’t believe that idealism moves us forward or
is emotionally productive
You have to carry yourself being prepared; be
clear, genuine, and honest and not hiding a bunch
of stuff
You have to communicate out in the real world as
Takes a long time to get to know a person and have
good conversations
Said that he would hate having to do morning
pages; he doesn’t journal but writes; has bad
coordination in the morning
Was reading Walden at this point (coll 2) in our
Talked of the fishing industry and his piece about it
Shared random facts about dinosaurs
He has tried to meditate
Enjoys teaching
Spoke of the different roles we play when we
interact with the world: front stage or back stage;
like a restaurant’s “front of the house”
Motivated by “the uncertainty principle”
Has to cross off and then throw away his lists;
sometimes he’ll add taking a shower just so he can
cross it off, “Son of a bitch, I can cross that one
Keeps his schedule and his wife’s on an Ipad
Believes that there are many ways to be successful
Says that it doesn’t take much for him to live,
“food, art supplies”
Thinks that doing yoga with others is creepy..
reciting things makes him uncomfortable
He’s freaked out by designer apples
When he proposed his digital “sketches” I
concurred, “it’s you”
Found On Creativity inspiring, Was relieved to
read it as she could see that others think as she
Doesn’t like the term “heroes” but mentions, Kurt
Vonnegut, Einstein, Kali Lama, science, those with
a poignent sense of humor, and art that is
disarming and endearing at the same time
C6; was curious about what sort of job I wanted in
the future (prompted by our discussion about
professional practices)
In terms of dealing with opposition; he promotes
collaboration with others over “in spite of”
C7: he smokes a pipe to help him slow down and
think of good ideas; he likes the smell and the
challenge to keep it lit as it provides him with a
task that is constant but not too challenging
Couldn’t “get into” the activity to write to his artist
self; “it’s hard to separate those aspects of yourself
Talked often about getting everything he possible
could out of his MFA experience
MFA 3rd year
Between 27 – 31
He believes that our “selftheories” are fluid
He didn’t believe that 695
contributed to perceptions
he has as an individual
person – because he (and
the others) are already
Earning an MFA offers a
unique chance to “establish
a specific sense of self…
explore it more fully, and
articulate it”
Expresses himself as a
grateful and ambitious
person and artist
Nauman piece about
Studio visit
Scooter helmet and hats
“Threaded” pages of
autobiography images
He’s always the first to
arrive at class in the
Bronze cast mugs with
overt messages about
coffee consumption
Artistic autobiography
piece is made up of 6
different images; starting
in nature (green, trees
surrounding the entire
frame) and threads
through to head (selfportrait looking to the
right) then threads
through to another self
portrait of Nate looking
left and another page and
then the final image is a
garbage pile
VJ engaged colored
pencil, rope, ink, pencil
He questions whether or
not there exists “true
Studio visit
Gallery visit at Rombach
Reports of critiques specific to his MFA thesis
He was in 695 because he’s self-reflexive in
general and skeptical of everything in a healthy
way; so he considers others’ ideas and literal
methods of being self-reflexive.
He believes that broad exposure to ideas is a good
thing and “nothing but useful” and he thinks this
course might help him consider things he would
otherwise not
Appreciates the 3 year system of MFA program
Third year you really feel like you’re on your own
Criticism one year can become awesome later
Frustrated by peers to water down his degree by
just getting the piece of paper; it devalues his
Unlike A, he didn’t think that school would help
him get to what he “wants to say”
Believes that “true education” is a suspect term
Thinks MFA program is compact but the
progression makes sense as you are questioned a
lot up front and then it peters off so you can work
more on your own
Thinks the ‘theater’ of harsh critiques is not
necessary; not productive
Appreciates a prof that said ‘flat out’ not to be
offended by feedback or take it personally
He’s going to grad school partly to become a
Thinks students should have to make their own
websites and professionally document their art
Self-direction is important
Has good momentum going with his thesis project
as of C4
Finds it a pain to have to check out a video camera
especially since he hasn’t figured out a good idea
yet (this comes after A suggests just working)
Having others interpret our work is good to do now
as that’s what happens in the real world
Realizes that part of what profs are training them to
do is to be able to be open minded and filter out
negative critiques; in the moment, when they don’t
like it, it’s hard
GSDS: went to a yoga class; didn’t like group yoga
but liked the “child’s pose”; he sat in the corner
and kept his eyes closed; and came up with an idea
for a book work where he records everything he
thinks and how the different things interrelate to
each other cross-referencing them
Thought themselves too hard on their peers during
the video crit they organized with other video peers
Because there were no teachers there, they were
super harsh, it was “so real”
C5: tells J and A that they have something to look
forward to, their 3rd year in the program as he
believes it’s refreshing
Won a Medici award
C7: was told by a committee member that he’d
seen part of his thesis project at World Market
Wasn’t sure what VJ entry to revisit; he did a
drawing of his pipe that helps him to slow down
and think of good ideas; “it’s a ritual”
Was told by GS to use language such as not “art
can be anything” rather “are is versatile” He said
that he needs to be sensitive to others who don’t
He believes that education
in just about any discipline
benefits other disciplines
Is not sure about the
specific advantages offered
by arts education
Believed that the ultimate
MFA course would be
titled, “My ‘Ulti-maf-rse”
He once had to collaborate
(which he prefers not to do)
for 24 hours with one other
student in his class; it was
adventurous, quirky, had a
time limit, and allowed for
reduced pressure on the
quality of the work
He is frustrated, even
insulted, by poorly planned
or executed classes. It
shows when a prof isn’t
He believes that the very
fact that he’s in grad school
indicates his seriousness
and he expects the same of
his teachers.
He liked 695 readings and
resources and wanted to
talk about them in class
He learned much from the
process of writing about his
peers works and hearing
them read what they wrote
about his work
See the role of professor to
design the course rather
than having students
involved in teaching,
learning, reflection, and
assignment activities
He wanted to meet more
often as he enjoyed our
time together
Shared that 695 provided
more time to reflect than
most classes as well as
much needed information
of art pedagogy
“For the most part I really
loved it! Thanks Barbara!
You should convince the
school to start a course
about teaching for MFA
students. I think one is very
much needed.”
Didn’t find writing to artist
self engaging
He shared Mars Rover
Curiosity video over D2L.
also, Heisenberg’s
uncertainty principle,
Quantum Foam and
Cosmic Inflation
think as he does
He stuck around after class to work through his
teaching philosophy; A helped with examples to
Isn’t sure what to say to his committee meeting
tomorrow; I encourage him to think about what is
most important with regard to his piece’s message,
and let them put him outside of his comfort zone to
help inform his direction for finishing
Asked if we were having second studio visits; I
said that I could; yes, N wants to go over some
further ideas with me
C8: feels stuck after his committee meeting as he
believes that his piece has broad potential
meanings yet he wants it to be “poetic, ritualistic,
and indicate the significance of time”
His committee thought that his vials for the saw
dust were too pretty
Says that time is the most important element of the
Artist (N)
Doesn’t like “personal” work; “you have to have a
leg to stand on”
Nate as he said that he isn’t fragmented, that all his
characters are the interconnected
Work deals with how people interact with the
natural world sometimes directly but most
powerfully through the things we consume
Speaks to American over-consumption
Believes in a disconnect between the things we buy
and where they came from
He wants others to know that disconnection though
the “system” obstructs this understanding
He introduced himself with bronze mugs
representing different things “wrong” with coffee
consumption (he very much elaborates on the
He thinks his work is hard to think about and most
people don’t want to “do hard”
Believes that you have to sit with works sometimes
in order to let them “speak” to you
Thinks his ideas are too complex and it is his job to
simplify them so he doesn’t “lose people”
Seeing progress takes time; being in school can be
hard as you’re asked to solve something emotional
and intellectually now
Thinks it’s healthy to separate yourself from your
work especially during a critique
As a sculptor, it takes a long time to get something
out: stupid ones and all
Considers teaching closely related to making his
artwork. They are different but not separate.
Says that he thinks in terms of “how is this
influencing or informing my other roles. If not,
then perhaps you move away from it”
Believes that art makes you pay attention and that
can be transformative; it makes you look closely at
the world
Pulls up Nauman’s piece; “the job of the artist is to
reveal mystic truths”
Believes that art can communicate intimately with
Inspired by CNN news, how FOX news upsets
him, being informed, being exposed to what you
Does not focus on using an
one media
Inspired by work of
Goldsworthy, Goff, and
Consumption awareness,
personal response to nature,
economic success in US
ignores environmental
Shortsightedness, need vs.
He recycles
Sometimes art making feels
like a slog or you are
unhappy with your work
Needs to control his sense
and methods of motivations
He currently engages the
“binge and purge” method
of art-making
“My Artist Self is my self,
is my student self, is my
teacher self, is my husband
self, is my musician self…
695 did not change his
perceptions of himself as
an artist
Three coffee mugs about
coffee consumption
Pipe image for getting
Computer “sketches”
Studio visit
Shared his “real” skbk at
coll 2 that starts with
drawings and ends up as
Writes down 5 ideas and
then returns to one of
Unique step in his
process is smoking his
pipe (wavy image)
Artist and teacher images
hardly overlap
disagree with, looking at things from both sides;
tree ring lab, camping, talking with other artists, art
books and random tasks like vacuuming when he
can let his mind wander
“all science things inform my artwork so [On
Creativity] was relevant”
believes that art is social, not universal; says we
need a cultural upbringing to understand our
culture; define universal and social
believes that art is a crap shoot; you don’t have
control over who likes it; he may respect it for
being creepy, etc. but if it doesn’t mean anything to
you, the artist has no leg to stand on
C4: recognized when he gets momentum going, an
anxiety goes with it
Agreed with my buzz words from their statements
and listened closely as their peers interpreted their
work; found it very helpful to know what others
C5: comments that J’s ritual practices in her studio
would likely feel very satisfying: however, he’s not
good at that
Inspired by Einstein, physics, (while talking about
On Creativity) and how space itself is “blending”;
it’s a process, satisfying; artists and scientists are
doing the same thing
Favorite tool is a sketchbook
Appreciated 7 traits reading as it added support for
when “defending” what you do as an artist bring
out in the real world
Uses many materials broadly so doesn’t feel he
needs to justify “why clay?” or “why painting?” he
said, “if it propels you to make art; there is no
other justification” (am I seeing his own use of
“absolutes” here; something he criticized early in
the semester?)
C6: Discussed technical difficulties of his head
Had a show previously in Ann Arbor and
complained about how hard it was to get a
response from them in terms of getting his work
Believes that his work is partly inspired by where
one lives (looking for job “somewhere” matters)
C7: Wasn’t sure what VJ entry to revisit; he did a
drawing of his pipe that helps him to slow down
and think of good ideas; “it’s a ritual”
Wishes he had the discipline to work at least a little
bit every day; he thinks he needs around 4 hours to
get going with something valuable; however,
knows that the little things are important too
A valuable aspect of his research is how new ideas
come about when considering new materials; he
believes that others can make quality decisions
about their artwork when they have a working
knowledge of what’s out there, method and
concept exploration
He considers his thesis project a memorial to time,
the tree’s years (wood shavings); more than just
the process of sanding and sanding
C8: feels stuck after his committee meeting as he
believes that his piece has broad potential
meanings yet he wants it to be “poetic, ritualistic,
and indicate the significance of time”
His committee thought that his vials for the saw
dust were too pretty
Says that time is the most important element of the
He likes the suggested strength (and timeenduring) in works from black-smithing (black
metal, glass) [I shared ginkgo leaf project, my
“tribute to time”]
Teacher (N)
Ultimate MFA Course design; wants works to be
finished before a crit; wants to challenge students
with giving time limits (hours or a week) to work
on a piece
“Son of a bitch; I want to teach this class!”
Offers advice on motivating students,
communicating with students, and leading critiques
with undergrads
Nate as he said that he isn’t fragmented, that all his
characters are the interconnected
Considers that the FYE students he’s teaching are
understandably much like high scholars as only 3
months separate them from that place; therefore A
need not be upset being told her work is like that of
an undergrad in her first year
As a teacher, he is an “explainer” and has
conversations with students
Asks that his students do not take critiques
personally but rather see them as a chance to gain
important information about their work
Tried to have his own students lead a critique
session once and it didn’t work; students expected
him to do the talking
He will broadly use prompts to trigger crit
discussion; starts with what is strong, what needs
work and then open the floor to the student artist to
talk about their work
Sometimes does written crits
Enjoys teaching
Thinks that teaching is hard up front but it gets
easier as time goes by “Preparing doesn’t take any
time after the first couple years”
C7: believes that teaching and learning provide an
awareness that is satisfying, open-minded,
empathetic, learning anything in general
Believes that the classroom is a unique space to
explore materials; researching how new ideas
come about when considering new materials; he
believes that others can make quality decisions
about their artwork when they have a working
knowledge of what’s out there, method and
concept exploration
He likes teaching in the FYE program because it’s
fast and intense and introduces student to many
options; he shares that he started out as a painter
and that knowing about more materials sooner
would have been valuable to him
He believes that learning to draw (well) is an
important part of your “toolbox”
It’s hard to teach students that are doing viscom so
they can make money; they say things like why do
I have to make that stupid sculpture?
He offers assignments that excite his students and
says that they understand that it’s up to them; “it’s
their fault if they don’t like it”
He asks students why we should care as viewers of
their art and asks them to help him feel the emotion
that the student felt; say something new; use a new
Ultimate MFA Course
Expectations (syllabus and
assignments) provided in
FYE handbook for TAs
Before starting crits with
his undergrads he believes
that talking with his
students about not taking
feedback personally is
crucial. He explains why
crits and being openminded are important
Has idea to bring in peers
as guest artists and to do
demos in his classes
He expressed wanting to
learn more about being a
teacher and believed that
this popular job for
graduates is “tragically
Can be challenged teaching
while being “neck-deep” in
everything the degree
Wants his students to walk
away from his class having
made work about topics
they care deeply for.
Artist and teacher just
barely overlap; he
wanted to talk about his
as it was a Venn diagram
and wasn’t happy with
the image; he wishes that
they overlapped more
because he finds himself
not following “my own
advice when I’m
teaching occasionally”;
he pointed out that a lot
of things do happen
when they overlap
(literally and
figuratively); he added,
“I don’t always think
through my own work in
the same way that I ask
my students to do”; he
said, this prompt was a
really important thing to
consider but he didn’t put
in the time; he didn’t
finish this VJ image but
thought it was fun
way to tell us that the holocaust was bad
I asked him to consider how he assesses his
students and include that in his teaching
Finds it difficult to assess as how well a student
does in class is not necessarily an indication of that
student is as an artist; they “feed” one another but
they’re different; some can talk about art; some
have great ideas; some can’t write about art
Says that there is meaning in the structure of a
class (classroom) so to be a teacher, “you pay
attention to their absences and as an artist you’re
helping student s learn to communicate using art
Nate believes that his students need to know the
value of having success in his class as well as how
doing so is different from having quality ideas and
growing as an artist
He sees value in being up front and sticking to his
guidelines; you are grading the learning that took
place rather than the artwork [I suggest that he
includes acknowledgement of the ambiguity of
teaching art as well as the responsibility of being a
teacher (of art)
“thank you so much” he said
he thinks it’s good to have to think about what
works and what doesn’t in his classroom
in the Visual
Arts (N)
He was in graduate school to become a teacher
Wants to live somewhere inspiring, not just move
for some job
What about “nuts & bolts”?
Worked with the group of participants to design
the syllabus and curriculum for the “Ultimate MFA
You have to carry yourself being prepared; be
clear, genuine, and honest and not hiding a bunch
of stuff
You have to communicate out in the real world as
In a job situation, social interaction can be hard
and it takes a while to have a good conversation
Enjoys teaching
“we have to go where the job is”
says he and his wife want to teach and she’ll be
done with school in two years. Our dream is to
teach at the same university
it’s hard because apps are due in December before
his thesis show (strongest work) is up on April.
Says doing job applications is a whole job in itself
G told him, “oh yeah, most people don’t do that
their thesis year” he said “so wait, you just float
around for a year while you’re looking for jobs?”
G says, “I guess” Nate says he needs to make
He considers residencies
Thinks getting out of Tucson would be good from
a career standpoint as well as look good on his
resume; however, his wife is still here!
He developed a FB page to share show suggestions
with peers
He’s a bit stressed given he wants the 2-3
unfinished works in his studio to be a part of his
teaching position application portfolio images
C5; explains digital mock-ups and shares that when
Ultimate MFA Course
Would like to teach where
students may not have
much exposure to art; to
teach them a wide variety
of media
Wants to show his work in
wide venues “beyond
Asking why on the job
seems like a challenge to
Is not sure what is meant
by “entrepreneurial
In his future, a more
established studio is less
likely to lead to frustrations
or slow-down because of
missing tools or lack of
proper materials
Keep your fingers crossed
and collect and keep useful
materials as space and good
sense permits
Believes it can be
challenging however
surrounding yourself with
other hard-working, kind,
open-minded and eager
artists is important going
He expressed wanting to
learn more about being a
teacher and believed that
this popular job for
Computer “sketches”;
mock-ups of sculpture
work ideas
MFAP see instructors as
role models
Postcard for Rombach
an idea for a huge project that costs thousands of
dollars is presented… this is a great way to get his
ideas across
C6: still working on apps for jobs to teach in
higher education; he had his teaching philosophy
and said he’d love my input; G gave him advice on
how to re-word his statements
“I want a job”
apps due in December and will be missing his
strongest piece (thesis project)
applying for a job is a full time job; is challenged
by collecting images of student work
C7: his is applying to foundations jobs
Anxious / nervous
Open to any / all
Chip on shoulder
Why an MFA?
I pay too much each month to store my thesis
project but I cannot let go of it
Why a PhD?
I am nervous and note my voice crack – thinking it
sounds insecure on my part
I realize that I’m overwhelming the situation with
too many book readings that are good, so I said I’d
post them and that reading them is optional
Ask yourself what is important; how do you spend
your time? Is it something that is activated in your
art or could be activated in your art?
Talked about free-writing and how hard it is to do
morning pages or meditate
Nature is my “sanctuary”
Feeling fragmented in all my roles; specifically the
hats I wore as an MFA student
Shared my colored chart of what I was planning to
accomplish for the next year (dissertation writing
C6: Seems like forever since I’ve seen you!
Once colloquium started, I still felt awkward
C6; noted that atmosphere at colloquium had
become laid back and comfortable
I promote being proactive, not reactive
C7: I tried to point out that their “to do” lists might
be a list of “opportunities”
Shared how the small of dad’s pipe contributed to
feeling of being car sick on Sundays; admits to
being a bad “back seat” rider
Student (B)
Shared who I was as an MFA including the website
image of my thesis desk piece
Brady Bunch station wagon
Wanted to make a big statement with my thesis
I loved every minute of being in MFA school
(BFA too)
Shared who I am as a PhD: I am here because that
graduates is “tragically
695 helped to confirm that
he wants to be a teacher
and understands that
teaching at MFA level
would be ever-evolving
correspondence, lists,
memos, precolloquium plans,
modified and postcolloquium plans,
reflection worksheets)
demarcated course
documents, my
works of art, site
Coll 1:I wrote down the
prompts to introduce
myself and research
project; shared my
motivations for being there;
shared my artwork; listed
my goals for the semester;
shared what I might do
with the collected data
from this study
I hoped to “fit in”
Jazzed, fuzzy-eyed, formal
At end of coll 1 we had
“established” our selves
Coll 3: wanted to “let it all
hang out” but was hesitant
given how deep I knew my
head and heart were
Coll 6: awkward today;
parking ticket in loading
dock and ticket to pay at
garage; felt I shared too
much even as I believed
that all of my contributions
were relevant
I feel self-conscious; don’t
want to sound cheesy,
stupid, unprepared, or
motivated by negative
things. I hope my anxiety
doesn’t show. Don’t feel
very good about “winging”
it; exhausted today!
I was bummed to have
missed Annika’s InFuse
Final Reflection:
Self-conscious about being
a grad student teaching
grad students
Lists of potential readings
GSDS and Mr. Brenner’s
class’ Walden assignment
in high school
Harbored pieces concept
Confident demeanor
Simple and open yet
private classroom space
to spread out and be
Confident demeanor
Artist (B)
Teacher (B)
process of going through all that art schooling and
walking away from it, not finding the time I felt
my art deserved. I’m interested in the experience of
the MFA and how we as artists interpret the
experience and put it in our artwork in the end
Talked about my study and how I want to go
forward with adding to MFA curriculum
Shared that I wrote in my VJ, “why am I doing
Shared how I get a “kick” out of art school
vocabulary (document, monofilament, recontextualize, etc.)
I shared my Walden Pond assignment from high
school and how it changed me
Referenced the same professors we had in MFA
school and wanting to be like them
Shared that at SAIC, I “took” a class with J Elkins
yet he was never there
As a student, those were the best years of my life;
everyone was geared up to finish and freaking out
at the same time. I was so proud: I loved wearing
my graduation gown
Shared being a student in 632 and about how
studio graduates (both of them) were employed by
the semester’s end
C6: As a PhD student, I’m not rushing because I
want my dissertation “to be awesome!”
C7: I hate that I received a parking ticket however,
I rationalize not getting too upset since the money
goes to the university (I’m glad about that)
Always trying to organize chaos
Success in AZ biennials
Not wanting to be craft artist or gallery artist; I
wanted to be an artist making work that would
someday be in museums
Not a practicing artist
Elevator answer is that I make art as an attempt to
organize chaos
Always trying to “get on top” of life but the effort
never ends
Trying to always sort out my mess in life
First inspired by Henry Rollins and Agnes Martin;
seriously, this is art?
By default, we are contemporary artists
Shared my 1.000 Things piece, Spin video,
evidence of my fragmentation
After I earned my MFA I had to decide if I wanted
to make art for galleries and craft fairs (for the
money) or museum biennials
J encouraged me to consider the world of ceramics;
but I thought it’d be a sell out to make mugs for the
money “I would be sacrificing the authentic me
and be making work for someone else”
I wasn’t willing to make mugs, missed the
community of artists, missed having money to
keep up my artistic “stride” and had to work
multiple part time jobs
I complimented participants about how they were
the “stars” of the Rombach gallery this semester
C5: I shared how writing sometimes help me
address certain reservations and ideas
Shared that materials (many of them) are important
in my work including wedding gown of porcelain
and teacher desk of oak wood
Believe that teachers and artist have same innate
motivation: to communicate something worth
Final Reflection:
Lists of potential readings
Was reminded and brought
in book, The Artists’ Way
Final Reflection:
Email: responded to J about
her idea of working on a
piece for an hour; I shared
with her the 1-hour
ceramics inch cube project
I responded to their ideas
of what makes an artist
tick: prompts, noting the
value of your instructors,
“containing chaos” with
my harbored pieces
Simple and open yet
private classroom space
to spread out and be
comfortable; very similar
to the “feel” of my
Reflections like crazy!
Coll 1: classroom
Confident demeanor
Modeling listening,
knowing to an audience
Shared background in education K-12 and left at
30 years of age
This class, 695, if about paying attention to you
You are artist who have chosen to educate
yourselves; that’s huge; congratulations; the fact
that you are here is an honor
We’ll look at your experiences and how they feed
aspects of you and your future.
We’ll look at your artwork the ways that you have
learned, what professors and learning experiences
crits, trips, lectures, etc have made an impact on
We’ll pay attention to how you learn; being
conscious of how to you learn; how others impact
your artistic “voice”
Be honest with me in terms of what is too much
given that your artwork is what is most important
If I get carried away, you won’t offend me by
saying it’s too much
Talked about books, CAA talk, informal platform
of our semester, VJ to keep a bird’s eye view on
Oral, written, and visual communication to get to
the “heart and soul” of why you are here
My responses to students’ participation is
affirming, “wow, well said” and “thank you for
letting me know” and “healing involves coming to
terms with the way things are”
I address the importance of being “objective” and
learning from what might feel negative at the time
Brought in several books to share and read part of
them to class
Didn’t mean the design the Ultimate MFA class
assignment to be so challenging, so worked with
them on each syllabus prompt
Changed thought to extend the amount of time
taken for the MFA course design
C4: I was letting the conversation go; I had an idea
for what to do that day; however, our talks led
somewhere else; it was informative
It’s great to be a teacher as you have summers off,
opportunities for sabbaticals, etc.
C4: says that being nervous is part of the reason
you’re here; suggests that we talk about “talking”
about our work next session
I recommended that they not worry about
becoming burned out until after they graduate;
while you’re here let them say its good back try
video etc.; put yourself in those situations
“exhaust yourself and after you’re out in the real
world, decide where to put your energy
As time would run out and we didn’t get to all that
I wanted to… we talked about what we’d do at our
next session ex: at C5, we’d talk about my books
that each of them borrowed; and adding to the ult
MFA course (so we decided that that would be our
“final” project for the course
I noted the times participants suggested that our
class replace unproductive others (ex; crit class
depending upon who’s teaching it)
I noted that participants talked often about their
yoga (even Pilates) and thought perhaps this would
be a good pedagogy to add to this course next time
I teach it.
C5: said we’d be talking about work today
atmosphere 7.5 and my
energy/demeanor = 8.5
typed and retyped plans
At the end of the semester I
reflected that it would be
interesting to learn in what
ways studio art instructors
perceive that they are
effectively disseminating
master-level instruction
(opposed to ungrad)
Nate said that art has
helped him to see the world
in different ways – my
response is that of course,
that’s what my ART203
students would say (how is
masters level education
I sent out the poem from
Tony Renna’s funeral
From Nate, “Thanks for all
the awesome information
you keep feeding us and
the tasks we do in class,
which as I mentioned, have
helped me with my
teaching philosophy!”
Coll 2: classroom
atmosphere = 7 and
instructor energy/demeanor
I felt pressure to be chatty
and provide small talk as
students filed in; didn’t feel
prepared but that feeling
went away as the class
period progressed
Participants’ comments
prompted all topics today
Coll 3: atmosphere = 8.5
and my energy/demeanor =
Had more confidence in my
plan today
Coll 4: less rigid in
following plans around
research questions
Notes and scribbles were
multiple on class plans
I was writing down ideas
and prompts very actively
Coll 5: atmosphere = 8 and
my energy/demeanor = 9
Still nervous
very few notes to myself
for colloquium sessions;
mostly bullet points at this
point in semester
after coll #5 I made a list of
things that I wanted to
cover in #6
I made a list of “next time
at coll #6”
Coll 6: I want participants
to LOVE coming to our
importance of research,
appreciation for
Visual journals seem to
indicate evolutions of
self in terms of students
deconstructing processes
and thoughts,
motivations, etc.
Simple and open yet
private classroom space
to spread out and be
I talked about how I was nervous about the
midterm in my 203 class that day; participants
offered to change our class time; I appreciated it
but said no thank you; shared our art and discipline
paper assignment (203)
I expressed how I wanted participants to think
through the “hard questions” now so they can
speak to such issues in candidacy, in their
statements, etc.
I had to announce at nearly every colloquium
session when we were just about to run out of time
(it went very fast)
I read aloud the 7 traits of an artist that taught in art
class but are not written down in any curriculum
C6: Seems like forever since I’ve seen you! (I am
nervous for C6)
I shared that I felt awkward since it’d been so long
between our meetings “I feel really disconnected”
N said “me too”
C7: I ask them to consider the image that illustrates
their roles as artists and their approaches to
teaching; do they overlap or fight each other?
I observe that their letters to their artist self sound
as if they are “coaching” themselves (offering
I tell participants that their letters to their artist
selves show evidence of (perhaps a new)
awareness; I say that J’s serves (almost) like a pep
Talking about teaching philosophies, we looked at
questions from UM article “what do you value and
believe about teaching and students?”
I talked about how especially in foundations
classes I would tell students that I don’t care if they
ever touch clay again… that’s not what this is
about… while you’re here think about your story
as an artist, what does you voice look like? It looks
different on paper than on a pedestal
Shared that if a student is stuck, I’ll encourage
them to think about what they like to do on the
weekends… how might that narrative fit a book
project? “Are you kidding? You’re here!”
C8: I recommend that N look at Wolfgang Liab as
he’s deciding what his thesis is about
I shared that I had to sort out my priorities as there
were so many things that I wanted to do with the
class and participants on the last day; it flew by
I mentioned the Ult MFA course project; they had
worked on it but forgot to bring it to class
in the Visual
Arts (B)
Not to be an artist anymore; but an instructor in
Worked with the group of participants to design
the syllabus and curriculum for the “Ultimate MFA
I said “we believe in our voices, pushing it , and
being a professional on the other end.”
Offered advice to meet with critique groups as I
wish that I had: I would have approached things
C6: Talked about myself as a member of
colloquium sessions
Reflections indicated that
sometimes I taught “on the
fly” and other times it was
Important for me to set
“ground rules” even as the
process was awkward
Lists of potential readings
Very few notes made ahead
of time; more bullet points
and this time on scratch
Coll #7: atmosphere = 7
and my energy/demeanor =
Felt unorganized today;
sleepy; had a hard time
focusing; felt rushed given
there had only been one
week since we last met
This colloquium, I noted
that though I had thought
that students had little
contribution to the
pedagogy of the course, I
realized that in fact that
was not true
Opening question = weird
I told students that I was
impressed that they
believed themselves to be
“I’m friggin’ exhausted
Coll 8: very curious to get
feedback from participants
however, I noted questions
and placed them on the exit
survey; this included ‘ what
are the expectations set out
for the professors in their
profession according the
MFA students?
Final Reflection:
Email: asking A about her
curriculum for Ult MFA.
In general, as the teacher
reading these responses, I
often wanted them to
clarify how they keep
themselves from becoming
what they are critical of in
terms of their professors
and peers
Talking about becoming a
teacher was particularly
provocative topic as was
approaching galleries
Final Reflection:
Unsure demeanor but
aware of potential of
future possibilities
professional groups such as CAA, NAEA, FATE
Using layman’s terms on grant proposals (I note
here that I don’t feel confident in my voice and I
think that it shows)
Relationships with galleries, private dealers,
museums, etc. (gave them all handouts). I included
a handout about prices and buyers information for
selling work.
We talked about critique strategies
The question that guided this research study was:
How do the experiences related to personal and professional development within
an MFA visual arts program influence a graduate student’s individual sense of self?
Research sub-question two: How does participating in the course allow MFA
students to examine and reflect upon their personal and professional growth as
well as their graduate experiences?
in the course
allows MFA
students to
examine and
reflect upon:
(Audio-recordings of
each colloquium session)
(Surveys, letters to self,
reading responses, artist
statements, electronic
correspondence, lists,
correspondence, lists,
memos, pre-colloquium
plans, modified and postcolloquium plans,
reflection worksheets)
(Visual journal entries,
individual works of art,
demeanor, site images,
modeling, demarcated
course documents, site
In general, participants
appreciated having a space to
reflect overtly.
Offers a safe place to do such
an investigation
Offers prompts to trigger
reflections that perhaps they
didn’t realize were so valuable
Provides a place where they
and their peers can meet to
discuss issues of concern or of
Offered a quiet space to
share works with a small
group and to answer their
questions about individual
art works
Sharing answers to opening
questions / intro prompts
Ex. What have you learned
about yourself in the last two
Always willing to support
each other
We talked about our “selves”
at every colloquium
Sharing stresses
Ultimate MFA Course design
(share this course using
narrative rather than bullet
points); in this course,
participants employed the key
concept of “self-direction,”
gaining confidence, readings
pertinent to them and other
class mates; partnering with a
peer to write a review of one’s
work; to focus on research and
Most written data regarding
this question were notes from
my responses as conversations
amongst the small group
during class was needed in
order to consider their personal
growth as a small group
They could decide together
Sharing about relationships
with professors and how they
have supported their “self”
Articulating experiences out
Appreciated the space to
share and talk
JC helps her…
GS helps him…
Offering of recommendations
for the Ultimate MFA Course
Realizations for what’s
“missing” in terms of
professional development in
their MFA program
Realized that they have more
planning to do in terms of
what would be productive in
terms of curriculum and
pedagogy about “self”
Writing letter to “self”
Electronic correspondence
Process of building an artist
Lists in visual journals such as
the steps they take in their art
making process
Intro survey questions
Exit survey questions
Offers participants a safe place
to make claims and share
personal stories
Talked about her
undergraduate experience and
how it was advantageous to her
education; also how it
contrasted to the type of
“grading” that happens at the
MFA level
Annika’s letter to herself was
Offers participants a safe place
to make claims and share
personal stories
Really picked herself apart
within all the pedagogical
exercises from the semester
She was made more aware of
how her personal life has
affected her personal progress
to this point
Offers participants a safe place
to make claims and share
personal stories
Gave him an opportunity to
share what he has learned over
his experience with those
behind him
Offers participants a safe place
to make claims and share
personal stories
I am able to see just how much
I appreciate the opportunity to
have gone to MFA school
I am relieved that others, even
those in the thick of the degree,
are aware of the significant of
this question in the first place
I learned that others genuinely
care too
Offers a safe place to do such
an investigation
Offers prompts to trigger
reflections that perhaps they
didn’t realize were so valuable
Provides a place where they
and their peers can meet to
discuss issues of concern or of
Visual journal entry about
their overlapping artist self
and teacher self
Sketch from “go
somewhere, do something”
Art accompanying their
Art accompanying a
reflection of the semester
Visual Journal entries
They were curious about
each other and their
They were all good listeners
Dark lines and doodles in
the university = having no
idea what motivates her coll
“Nothing else commands me
in this way.” Coll 3
Confident and poised
Out spoken
Visual Journal entry of
swing in the tree regarding
what inspires him including
News coll 3
Modeling ways to share
Talking about and
explaining studio art works
at different times during the
gaining professional futures
Collaborating on video
critique with MFA peers
Always willing to support
each other
Realized what they didn’t
know ex. new pedagogies
FYE TAs were provided with
projects and syllabus as 200level courses for TAs didn’t
TAs were not evaluated at the
end; just observed
FYE TAs have perhaps never
written a syllabus
I can teach them the history
of the MFA degree and its
purpose, assumptions and
Realizations around teaching:
responsibilities, time, care for
Sharing new and effective
pedagogical practices
Participants asked questions
of me, the ATR
Sharing individual critique
Practiced communicating
with different audiences
Shared she was interested in
learning more about
Realized that she is good at
teaching and shared her
success stories
Asked, “what do you do after
your MFA?”
Reflecting on her candidacy
meeting, our colloquiums
about how to talk about your
work helped
Wants to establish herself
amongst the history of
Cannot take course in
Psychology because she’d be
required to do so at the
Ultimate MFA Course design
They knew and shared what
would help make their MFA
programs stronger
Having professionals come in
as guest artists to teach website
Interpreting each other’s work
by writing reviews for each
Readings; required and
optional supplies, and the key
concept of building a
professional artist presence
Electronic communication
indicated that all three
participants had a hard time
with the discussion questions
to design the Ultimate MFA
Course as it was overwhelming
to try to do so
Some written exercises helped
to write artist statements
TA FYE handbook
Participants had the floor to ask
me whatever they wanted in
terms of their professional
What is most important for
their students to learn
Best and worst pedagogies that
they have experienced as
Process of building an artist
Writing artist statements
Updates to artist statements
Intro survey questions
Exit survey questions
TA FYE handbook
Provides feedback on artist
statement in a way that
includes interpretations of
Helped her consider what’s
ahead given her pursuit of
work in the field of visual arts
She benefitted from hearing the
issues that Nate was facing
Provides feedback on artist
statement in a way that
includes interpretations of
That others struggle to define
what they futures are as well
and that perhaps, there are
many that are unsure about
what an MFA artist’s future is
She benefitted from hearing the
issues that Nate was facing
The colloquium could help
break down for her the “Black
and White” issues around
having a career as an artist
Visual journal entry about
their overlapping artist self
and teacher self
Art accompanying a
reflection of the semester
They were curious about
each other and their
Confident given her
experiences at the photo
conference: compliments
and curating opportunity
Confident in her curricular
and pedagogical choices
made as a TA
graduate level = too hard
Reality of getting a teaching
job in VA HED including
moving and “having to work”
Discussion of meaningful as
well as hurtful critiques
I shared my story of self as
student and as graduate
I am a teacher and can
therefore teach MFA students
to be teachers too as they are
usually un-trained
I can talk with them about
career choices before it’s too
A priority in their lives
Little social time with friends
What hurts what’s helpful and
what’s not effective either
Talked about classes and how
their being good or bad
depended much on who the
professor was
Regarding electives and
taking classes outside of SoA,
must take grad-level classes
therefore more challenging
(ex. Psychology). Program is
not set up to help MFA
students in this sense
We talk about who decides
what it means to have an
MFA today
Why earn an MFA degree?
They were able to address
specific professors that were
affective and those that were
Written teaching philosophy
Wrote his own lessons for his
FYE class
Provides feedback on artist
statement in a way that
includes interpretations of
The colloquium series gave
Nate a chance to ask questions,
get advice, and begin to
experience that unpredictability
of his future as an MFA
He learned of options and help
sources through handouts and
recommendations I gave
This experience helped me to
more clearly see the need for
guidance of MFA students in
their MFA programs in terms
of professional futures.
I genuinely felt confident that
my PhD topic of study was
relevant to this under-studied
group of students.
I witnessed how intense MFA
students are regarding getting
their “voice” out there and
heard as artistic people
Confident and poised
demeanor when sharing
success stories
Out spoken
Shared computer “sketches”
or mock-ups
Missions of MFA program and
Dedicated to colloquium
series by never being absent
In general, all participants
were busy, motivated,
active, and had a sense of
Intro survey: answering the
survey, in general forced
participants to evaluate and
comment on their current MFA
experiences and how it feeds
their interests, inspiration, and
Participants listed goals that
they had for their futures with
an MFA degree in hand such as
teaching, selling artwork,
entering gallery shows, sharing
work with “wider” audiences
Exit survey: going through the
exit survey forced participants
to reflect on their experience
both in the colloquium series as
well as the MFA program
itself; it allowed them to look
at what pedagogies were
meaningful and which ones
were not; they considered what
they would include as teachers
of the Ultimate MFA Course;
Participants were able to offer
advice and write down what
they would express to their
peers as well as what they
wanted to say to me and one
who might teach a similar
course in the future; they were
able to reflect on the specifics
Modeling my professional
Shared my individual
Being playful with Henri
addressed in their current
programs with regard to their
D2L prompts: This “space”
offered participants a place to
express what they have
benefitted from as well as what
they would do differently as
teachers of undergraduates as
well as when they might have
the opportunity to teach MFA
students themselves
Ultimate MFA Course:
participants agreed on what
was missing from their
experience thus deciding it
would be a part of their
ultimate course. They missed
opportunities to develop
websites, take photos
experimentation, working
amongst other artists indicated
other media that might be
relevant or of interest to peer
art students
Participants wanted to take
field trips to major art centers
such as LA
(the only 3rd
Roles that others (Mom, Dad,
wife) play in their lives
Okay to switch media focus
Gave up domestic duties
Appreciates the honesty of
Appreciates the steps (years)
of the program design
As third year, he feels on his
He offered support for what
his previous years had been
like esp. year 1
I shared how much I loved
and considered the time the
best of my life
Offers participants a safe place
to make claims and share
personal stories
She could see the efforts of
others and do her best to
participant or at least be better
Offers participants a safe place
to make claims and share
personal stories
She had a place to ask
questions about professional
Offers participants a safe place
to make claims and share
personal stories
Had a chance to share what his
“professional” progress was at
the time and share his advice to
Offers participants a safe place
to make claims and share
personal stories
I was able to appreciate my
MFA education in a way that
perhaps I had not before
I was able to see the
insignificance of the MFA
degree in terms of a future; I
saw the passion to be artists in
the eyes of my participants
almost snarky noting that they,
like me, will not “make it.”
Gallery exhibition
opportunity with Jenna
Gallery exhibition
opportunity with Annika
Gallery exhibition
The question that guided this research study was:
How do the experiences related to personal and professional development within
an MFA visual arts program influence a graduate student’s individual sense of self?
Research sub-question three: How does my role as the teacher-researcher-artist of
the course enable MFA students to critically examine and reflect upon their
experiences and their developing sense of self as MFA students?
My role as the
enabled the MFA
students to
critically examine
and reflect upon:
Their experiences as
MFA students.
Their developing
sense of self.
(Audio-recordings of
each colloquium
(Surveys, letters to self,
reading responses, artist
statements, electronic
correspondence, lists,
correspondence, lists,
memos, pre-colloquium
plans, modified and postcolloquium plans,
reflection worksheets)
(Visual journal entries,
individual works of art,
demeanor, site images,
modeling, demarcated
course documents, site
Pedagogical activities
Pedagogical activities
Giving participants the list we
made of critique strategies
Thank you notes from
Participants earn credit to do so
Providing students with D2L
correspondence opportunities
Writing Ultimate MFA Course
forced participants to commit
to curriculum and pedagogy
that they believed would be
Reading reflections On
Longing, Art & Fear, and On
Pedagogical activities
Sharing book list and readings
Thank you notes from
Ultimate MFA syllabus to
promote organized
investigation of self
Participants earn credit to do so
Reading reflections On
Longing, Art & Fear, and On
Modeling support for what
they are doing
Handouts, books, and snacks
Charts to organize topics
along the way of study’s
Collected postcards in support
of university exhibitions
Saw me visit their studios as
another “voice”
Proactive on their behalf
Relate SOS to teaching
Pedagogical activities
Intimate setting of classroom
Handouts, books, and snacks
Proactive on their behalf
Their experiences as
MFA students.
Their developing
sense of self.
Their experiences as
MFA students.
Their developing
sense of self.
Addressing the research
about significance of
changing the MFA
Sharing book list
Thank you notes from
Introducing previous research
that MFA students were not
aware of (SNAAP)
Sharing book list
Thank you notes from
Asking participants to reflect
on their SOS on introductory
Proactive on their behalf
Telling them to plan now
Let yourself “burn out”
after you graduate
Studio visits one-on-one
Thank you notes from
Reading reflections On
Longing, Art & Fear, and On
My changed SOS shortly
after I graduated
Relate SOS to art making
Practice being able to
communicate effectively
Asking personal
questions so that
participants can use
answers to build artist
Studio visits one-on-one
Favorite artist should be
Sharing book list
Thank you notes from
Written communication with
self through letter to artist self
Reading reflections On
Longing, Art & Fear, and On
Opportunity for them to
create an artistic
Saw me visit their studios as
another “voice”
Proactive on their behalf
Practice being able to
communicate effectively (I’m
modeling this)
Willing to add my work to the
Proactive on their behalf
SOS is worth researching
Motivation to do this
project stemmed from
noting my SOS
Students shared
existential perceptions
and experiences
Proactive on their behalf
Issues of Relevance and Character in Fine Arts
Art and Visual Culture Education Division
School of Art
The University of Arizona
Fall 2012
ARE 695a 002 Colloquium
Thursdays 9:00am – 10:45am (every other week; see dates below)
Graduate Student Studio Art Laboratory Rm. 119
Instructor: Barbara Bergstrom, MFA MEd
Office: 128 Harvill. Please email for appointments as needed.
[email protected]
Symposium Overview:
This symposium extends reflective thought practices concerning the experience of
earning the MA, MFA, or any art-related graduate-level degree. Throughout the
semester, students may address relevant literature, personal and peer visual responses,
reflective writing, contemporary art, and personal motivations for pursuing art in higher
Course Goals / Student Outcomes:
Identify oneʼs current position in the 21st century art world while simultaneously
developing oneʼs individual creative “voice”.
Consider self-awareness.
Practice informal oral, written, and visual communication.
Prepare methods for maintaining meaningful art making inside and outside the
studio classroom.
Prepare methods for maintaining a meaningful professional life after graduate
Discuss individual strategies that empower and promote individual artistic growth.
Course Calendar:
Colloquium #1, August 23 and Colloquium #2, September 6.
Discussion topics:
• What is your “Mission Statement”?
• Values and beliefs.
Visual Journal Entry:
• Autobiographic reflection
Written Assignments:
• Introductory survey
• Informal autobiographical statement
Potential Reading Topics:
• Self-awareness and self-analysis.
Colloquium #3, September 20 and Colloquium #4, October 4.
Discussion topics:
• What does it mean to study studio art at its highest academic level?
• How does your artwork contribute to or inform life in the 21st century?
Visual Journal Entry:
• Reflection on sources for research and/or motivation.
Written Assignment:
• Stream of consciousness.
Potential Reading Topics:
• Excerpts from ArtsEngine initiative at The University of Michigan
• Excerpts from Pocantico Gathering at Vanderbilt University
Colloquium #5, October 18 and Colloquium #6, November 1.
Discussion topics:
• Written, oral, and visual communication.
• How would you explain your artistic pursuits to a group of museum-goers? A
sixth-grader? Your grandfather? The University of Arizonaʼs Art Advisory
Visual Journal Entry:
• Process and investigation
Written Assignment:
• Artist Statement
Potential Reading Topics:
• Excerpts from: Madoff, S. H. (2009). Art school: (propositions for the 21st
century). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Colloquium #7, November 15 and Colloquium 38, November 29.
Discussion topics:
• Studentsʼ choice.
Visual Journal Entry:
• Consider the relationship between your art making and your teaching practice
(if applicable).
Written Assignments:
• Student-designed peer interview protocol
Potential Reading Topics:
• Excerpts from Survey of National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP)
Course Assignments:
• Bi-weekly visual journaling.
• Bi-weekly discussion participation.
• Bi-weekly D2L correspondence.
ARE 695a 002 has a designated course site within the D2L system. ALL students are to
use D2L and have a University of Arizona email account. Information, announcements,
notes, images, and class activities will be posted on or linked to this course homepage.
Check the ARE 595a 002 homepage frequently.
Required Readings and Materials:
Several optional readings will be available on our D2L site during the semester. We will
consider websites and other relevant resources.
As we examine art and visual culture materials, some students may find certain images
offensive. Please contact me if you have concerns about the use of any controversial
S = Superior: all course work is performed at a clearly outstanding level.
P = Pass: all course requirements are met at a satisfactory level and the student
has passed the course.
C = The grade of “C” is viewed as unsatisfactory at the graduate level.
D = Poor: this is viewed as a failing grade.
E = Failure, not meeting all of the course requirements, and/or doing so
Attendance and Participation:
Attendance will be taken at each colloquium meeting. Please inform me through email in
advance of anticipated absences. These include sickness, religious holidays, and preapproved absences from The Dean of Students.
Cell phones are to be turned off upon entering the classroom and remain off during class
time. Please do not eat during class time.
To endure a respectful classroom environment throughout our semester, please
follow these professional expectations.
Students with Disabilities:
If formal, disability-related accommodations are necessary in order for you to fully
participate in this course, you must be registered at the Disability Resources Center
(621-3268; drc.arizona.edu) and notify me of your eligibility for reasonable
accommodations. You must also request that the DRC send me official notification of
your accommodation needs. We will work together to coordinate any determined
adjustments. Please see: http://drc.arizona.edu/teach/syllabus-statement.html.
Be aware of University resources for counseling (CAPS), library updates on-line, and
tutoring options (Ex: writing center).
Student Behavior and Responsibilities:
In the university classroom environment, all students are expected to behave in ways
that are respectful, honest, and ethical in terms of their responsibilities toward all
classmates and the instructor. Students are to maintain the policies outlined in The
University of Arizonaʼs Codes of Conduct and Academic Integrity. Please note the
Student Code of Conduct
“The aim of education is the intellectual, personal, social, and ethical development of the
individual. The educational process is ideally conducted in an environment that
encourages reasoned discourse, intellectual honesty, openness to constructive change
and respect for the rights of all individuals. Self discipline and a respect for the rights of
others in the university community are necessary for the fulfillment of such goals.”
Code of Academic Integrity
“Integrity is expected of every student in all academic work. The guiding principle of
academic integrity is that a studentʼs submitted work must be the studentʼs own. This
principle is furthered by the Student Code of Conduct and disciplinary procedures
established by ABOR Policies 5-308-5-403, all provisions of which apply to all University
of Arizona students.” Students caught cheating on tests and/or handing in papers that
are fictitious or plagiarized from books, journals, the Internet, other student papers, or
other sources, will receive a failing grade for the course, no exceptions.
Both the Code of Conduct and the Code of Academic Integrity can be found at
Contents of this syllabus are subject to change at the digression of the instructor.
“Art provokes the mystery without which, the world would not exist.”
Reading list:
Kabbot Zinn
Parker Palmer
Diderot encyclopedia books from SAIC JFABC
Secret Knowledge of Instructions
Hockney, “working with lenz”
Dimitri article, “Anxiety of Influence”
Ontological holism via entanglement and emergence
Oxygen and hydrogen make up the elements of water, but the “wetness” of water in an
“emergent property” of the system not reducible to hydrogen and oxygen. (Palmer 2010,
Erickson’s: Multicultural Artworlds
Hanh’s: The miracle of mindfulness
Susan Sontag’s: Regarding the Pain of Others
Nartha Nussbaum’s Upheavals of thought: the intelligence of emotions
Check out:
Sharon Daloz Parks has written extensively on mentoring and the search for meaning by
young adults.
Contemplative pedagogy (contemplative training of attention) is a promising addition to
HEd pedagogical strategies. (p.72). Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher
Education www.acmhe.org.
Robert’s Rules of Order
Aims of Education by Alfred North Whitehead 1929
Contemplative, spiritual philosopher Rudolf Steiner
Kronman and Lewis wrote about the soullessness of the university as the institution
believes that offering “their students an education on the meaning of life” is not one of its
Carnegie Foundation on “the scholarship of teaching and learning” (It has tested and
proven disciplines for creating the communitites of practice needed to evolve new
pedagogies. (Palmer p. 45))
C. Wright Mills’s notion of “the sociological imagination” as a way of seeing and being
in the world
Princeton University’s Project 55 = alumni and alumnae can be significant partners in
transformative conversations on campus.
Highlander Conversations (included Rosa Parks and MLK Jr.)
ARE695a Colloquium #5
October 18, 2012
Reflective class questions to prompt clear communication about your artwork:
What is your favorite tool? Why?
What is your favorite material? Why?
What do you like best about what you do?
What patterns emerge from your work?
What do you do differently from the way you were taught? Why?
What absolutely fascinates you?
List 3 of your values.
What is your favorite color? List 3 qualities of the color.
In a simple statement, explain why you do the work that you do.
Explain how you make decisions in the course of making your work.
How does your artwork grow out from your life experiences?
What does your work signify?
What does your work mean to you?
What does your work do for you?
Who are your heroes/heroines? Why?
Data Summary Chart Form 1
Document* _________________________ Category** _______________________
Theme 1
Theme 2
Theme 3
Theme 4
Theme 5
Date: ________________
Research Question:
In what ways does a student’s sense of self evolve while earning an MFA degree?
*Summarized documents: Introductory survey; oral, written, and visual bi-weekly
responses, D2L correspondence, and participant-designed exit survey.
**Categories of data: 1st year, 2nd year, or 3rd year graduate student, art medium (2-D, 3D, visual communications), age (less than 26, 27-31, 32-36, 37-42, 43 and over), and
professional goal (teaching, non-teaching).
Data Summary Chart Form 2
Document* ______________________________ Category** ____________________
Lg. Group
Sm. Group
Date: ________________
Research Question:
What teaching strategies promote the evolution of an MFA student’s sense of self?
*Summarized documents: Follow-up notes indicating actual symposium happenings,
written observations.
**Categories of data: 1st year, 2nd year, or 3rd year graduate student, age (less than 26,
27-31, 32-36, 37-42, 43 and over), professional goal (teaching, non-teaching).
Professional Artist and Studio Practice Development
An “Ult-ma-urse” course for MFA students
Course Description:
Exit survey: they agree that course could be described as personally reflective an
supportive of the vocation of teaching. I responded to Annika, “I appreciate that you’re
promoting the individual studio space as more than a work place and emphasizing it can
also be a platform for research and reflection.”
Rationale for the class:
There will be a range of exposure to different working methods and professional skills.
Focus will be on self-reflection on an artistic platform.
Students will be learning some nuts and bolts and also “digging keep into yourself.”
Building professional artist’s presence, write reviews of each other’s work, make a
professional website, time management, how to photograph (document) your work,
exposure to different working methods and professional skills. Focus on self-reflection.
Key Concepts:
Self-direction, experimentation, introduction to research, building professional practice
Goals and Objectives:
The students will gain confidence in who they are as an artist.
Pilates and yoga practice.
Required Readings / Text:
Students are responsible for picking readings pertinent to their artwork and will discuss
how it informs their work.
“readings that help students to understand the growing process in the MFA and its
relationship to students’ work, their research and their personal lives.”
Optional Readings:
A book that another student in class has read and thought would be pertinent to others.
Required Supplies:
Sketchbook for writing, images, process, notes, etc.; new materials that are free or cost
between five and ten dollars.
Optional Supplies:
As needed for work. Cross-assign materials. Sticks and sand.
Challenge students with 1 hour projects that challenge working methods that best fit
students personalities. “run a couple of group critiques of the students artwork.. that they
consider well thought out and finished.”
J - “Create a piece that is about the process of your MFA and the emotions and thoughts
around it.”
Write proposal suggestions for Grants.
Impossible Art Piece –
Experimental Work Processes –
Partner with a peer and write a review of the work of one another –
Pick a material you have never worked with before and make a small project – “Sticks
and sand” or plaster if your’re a painter. In other words you’re trying something new with
your media
Group Project:
Exhibition of class work installed by class and curated by the teacher.
Final Project:
Website. Informal presentation of your work from start of class and how it has progressed
reaching the end of the class; share where you believe your work is going with focus on
research and self-reflection.
Grading and Student Assessment:
Evaluation, “evals” transcribe discussion about a and j’s evals.
Guest Speakers:
Web designer to teach students to make a professional website.
Photographer to teach students how to professionally document your artwork.
Class commences twice a week. One session meets in a classroom and the other
session is spent in individual studios. The professor floats around to each student’s
studio. Oral answers to Introductory questions at start of each colloquium. Annika:
“Having casual conversations with prompts was really helpful.”
Field Trips:
Los Angeles or another major art center
Art Fair: Art Chicago, Art Miami, etc.
Public art projects
CAA conferences,
Professional oriented pedagogy:
Potential interview questions for a job in higher education.
Teaching Artist Journal article about where to go for grants, residencies, other projects
“include group experiences in galleries and museums in large cities.” How to
communicate about your work to peers, possible buyers, galleries, visiting artists, and
teachers. Long-term professional relationships (especially with galleries/business). Nonprofs, museums, etc. Valuable advice therefore you get the whole chapter. Gallerist
expects exclusivity. Private dealers… B mentioned open studios, have sign in book,
cards, email address so you can send announcements for shows. I created a document
noting the price and the buyer’s information for selling work
Research Question: In what ways do curricula of American MFA programs support a student’s developing
sense of self while earning an MFA degree in studio art?
Research Sub
Intro Survey
Letter to
artist self
MFA course
How do
of selfperception?
All are between
27 & 31 yrs.
Issues of time
often surfaced.
Being late to
class. Being
out of town
during one
changing the
You are
who you
are and that
is a
Keep being
All found
to be
They didn’t
know where
or how to
All have a goal
to teach studio
art “to help”.
All have goal to
(working with
galleries &
other venues,
selling their art,
& writing
Having a sense
of self includes
confidence and
knowing who
you are in
Appreciation of
le world,
Education holds
potential and
mystery, &
there is not an
absolute system
of gaining an
education or
being “tested”
within it. Views
of education are
narrow given
Lots of well
wishes and
thank yous.
challenged by
having to
using only one
Caring about
ideas and
is important to
Hard work of
creating a
finished piece
from problem
solving their
own idea is
the hard or
“bad” times
ng that they
are helpful.
you can’t
answer are
concepts of
reasons for
making art.
There is a
sense of
in all the
letters. 
like the
way you do
things but
that’s okay
for now.
to work
(turning it
on and off).
We all (PI
included) put
off this
during the
is only
required art
ation is
use of new
using found
chosen by
concepts for
& peer
ed to
s as
d to
Exit Survey
g of
Most engaging
activities were:
class time
discussion and
studio visits with
y and
Use of
s for
omy of
life and
D2L was not ideal
for holding
Using text to
respond instead of
visuals was desired
for discussing
sources of research
and personal
Processing (list
form and visually)
personal steps to
one’s art making
was engaging.
Participants’ least
favorite visual was
journal entry was
interpreting their
between being a
teacher and being
an artist.
The least interesting
activity was
dialoguing with
their own “artist”
selves. It forced
feeling of
separation that
made them
(Quote from
SNAAP 2012 p. 27,
“Moreover, for
Thoughts of our
selves (“self
theories”) are
fluid, can
hinder us, &
hold us back.
Concept of
authority & as a
culture, we
don’t ask. There
is a generally
perception of
the way things
All agree that
studying the
arts is beneficial
to dealing with
Responding to a
statement such
as “Art school
taught me how
to do art. It was
only later that I
learned how to
be an artist” can
be more
answered in a
place beyond a
written survey.
given students
One theme
what one thing
they’d like
their students
them by is that
of teaching
them the value
of caring
deeply about
the art they
There is
some sense
of psyching
up though
e of the
artists and
people that
n for their
futures and
how their
to it;
and going
with the
Slow down
and trust
Wanting to
know their
training on
on of one’s
work, & how
to talk about
Selfreflection in
general &
working in
objective of
includes time
alone in
studio as
them and one
day a week
together in
No specific
of semester’s
focusing on
research and
thought that
exposure to
many arts
satisfaction is more
a function of
whether they can
express creativity in
their work, their
opportunities to
contribute to their
communities, and
the extent to which
their work is
congruent with their
personalities and
interests.” Thus…
not being
Discussing teaching
and artist statements
was the most
interesting to
Pedagogies that
stood out were the
positive small group
conversations; even
requests for more
group discussions
on specific topics.
Advice to others
includes being
open-minded about
activities to get the
most out of it as
each person gets
back whatever they
put into a course
like this.
No strong interests
for participants
being more
involved with the
course planning.
(Interesting as their
MFA ultimate
course is student
All agreed that
more time on
aspects of teaching
and what it is like to
be a studio art
student in HED
would be helpful.
Participants agreed
that meeting more
often and/or
spending more time
together doing a
show, field trip etc.
is important.
is preferred.
were to be
assigned for
such as
making work
to sell and
work that
would never
sell, website
group trip to
LA (or major
art center or
art fail),
curated final
All agree they are
stronger teachers
having taken this
field trips,
critiques, and
The course
itself and the
projects =
The class did not
contribute to
perceptions of self
as artist (just maybe
some “nice”
additions) or to
perceptions of
themselves as
Students thoughts
about wanting to be
teachers (as
indicated on Intro
survey), became
stronger, confirmed
their desire to do so.
Ways to teach are
informed by their
studio practice.
All participants
agree that their
MFA program has
encouraged them to
explore personal
values and beliefs &
that the purpose for
an MFA degree has
been addressed.
Participants agree
that the course
could be described
as personally
reflective and
supportive of the
vocation of
The course helped
participants get to
know each other
better (PI included).
PI was encouraged
by participants to
implement a course
on teaching for
MFA students.
All agree that
earning an MFA
(more than other
degrees) helps
students to establish
one’s sense of self
(knowing oneself
better), and to be
able to effectively
articulate what
students care about.
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