Due to the brevity and intensity of our summer sessions, we do not offer classes in technique, art theory, history, or the like. Instead, students receive their instruction through the formats listed below. We are likewise unable to accept transfer credits from other institutions. To get a feel for one student's navigation through the program, see the article Figuring It Out
by Steel Stillman in the December 2012 issue of The Brooklyn Rail.
The Conference is a one-on-one meeting between a student and a member of the faculty. It is the heart of the student's activity and the fundamental means of instruction; the Conference dialogue is where teaching occurs. During each summer session, the student meets frequently with faculty within his or her chosen discipline and at least once with most of the artists on the faculty in other disciplines. First-year students are expected to meet with at least 20 different faculty members over the course of the eight week summer session.
These Conferences provide ideas for development and steer the student toward aesthetic goals; through these discussions, the student can relate immediate discoveries to achievements and problems within the chosen discipline and throughout the arts. The student prepares work for the Conference; writers are expected to submit samples of their work to faculty members prior to the Conference, while students in other disciplines may prefer to display works in progress in their studio or at another location.
In the weekly Caucus, faculty and students within a discrete discipline meet to discuss topics of interest. At the beginning of the summer session, each discipline considers the form and content of the Caucus, offering an opportunity for students and faculty to determine together a desired activity or interchange within a structured format. The Caucus is also an occasion for each discipline to host visiting artists, read and discuss relevant articles, view faculty work, critique student work, and share information with others practicing in the field. Caucuses are open to all students and faculty, regardless of discipline, whenever a visiting artist is presenting. At other times, students may attend a caucus outside of their discipline upon invitation of the discipline chair(s).
In the Seminar, students and faculty from all disciplines explore intersections of aesthetic, intellectual, and societal issues that confront all artists.
Preparation for the Seminar is done during the Independent Study period, and will focus either on a close reading of a singular artist or artwork or on a more extensive or theoretical consideration. The following summer students and faculty will meet in person in small interdisciplinary groups to further discuss the topics presented during the Seminar.
For the 2018 Seminar students and faculty read Malik Gaines', Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible
The Conference, Caucus, and Seminar prepare the student for the widest form of participatory endeavor, the Presentation, or "crit." These are full-community forums in which student work is presented publicly and commented on by the entire MFA faculty and student body. Presentations show that questions of theory, genre, medium, and tradition in one art form may apply to others as well. Readings, exhibitions, film screenings, and musical performances are daily activities that draw the attendance and response of all students and faculty.
In the Presentation, a painter will comment on a poet's imagery, a composer on a film, a sculptor on a musical composition. By creating a shared vocabulary that combines the knowledge of multiple fields of expertise, artists are given the opportunity to understand their work from the perspective of other disciplines and to broaden their view, not only of their own work, but also of all artistic practice.
Students in their third summer present their winter Independent Study work to the entire school during the first two weeks of the summer session. First-year students present their summer work-in-progress to the school during weeks four and five. Second-year students receive an intense review of their summer work from smaller, mixed-discipline groups of students and faculty during the final week of the summer session.
In the winters following a student's first and second summers, they complete an Independent Study project. The Independent Study project generally consists of a body of work that reflects the concerns generated in the previous summer session. The student must submit an Independent Study project proposal to the faculty in their discipline at the completion of the summer; upon approval, the student undertakes the project during the fall, winter, and spring months and presents it to the MFA community the following summer. Students in their second summer present their Independent Study work to a private panel of three faculty members for review; students in their third summer present their work in a public Presentation ("crit"). Independent Study projects are completed off campus.
This period is designed for self-reflection and growth; students are not assigned a mentor and normally do not have regular contact with faculty during the Independent Study. Faculty may ask to review a student's progress during this period.
During the Independent Study period students may also be assigned readings as part of the Seminar or discipline Caucus for the coming summer.
During a student's final summer session, they present a Master's Project: a substantial body of completed work representing artistic activity over the span of the program. The project may be a collection of poems; an extended experimental text; a performance; an exhibition of painting, sculpture, and/or installation; a completed film or series of videos or films; a photographic essay or exhibition; or it may take some other form. Specific plans for the Master's Project must be discussed with and approved by the faculty before work begins.
The Master's Project is submitted toward the end of the student's last summer in residence, and a presentation for the greater community is an integral part of it. Students may either present their work as part of the annual Thesis Exhibition, or they may perform or screen pieces in a separate evening presentation. The Master's Project is accompanied by a short, written Thesis Statement.
The project is evaluated at two levels; the faculty recommends the project for presentation, and the Master's Project Review Board examines the presentation in detail.