Sunday, April 8, 2012

A bit of perspective

This is going to be another text post. Bear with me.

I've been going back and forth (and up and down and inside out) about how I feel about this MICA post bac thing. And to a lesser extent about being an alternate candidate at University of Washington, but I figure it's safer to assume rejected until proven otherwise with that one. But that's getting away from the point a bit.

This program is a good opportunity. It's a really good opportunity. MICA is a good school, and having them on my resume cannot hurt. They have access to many resources that I do not have that would make my life easier in both the long and short runs. A friend (Tracey Parker, go check her out) got accepted to the Hoffberger school of painting, so not only would I have someone familiar there, I would potentially have a pretty sweet roommate. They have studio space, which I need. The East coast is good. The East coast has a tradition of innovation.

Can you tell I've been trying to sell myself on this for a while now?

Because there are downsides. The biggest one is always going to be expense. $40,000 is a lot for a single year of education, none of which rolls over into a Master's program. There is no guarantee of being accepted into a Master's program after being a post-bac, even one of MICA's. I had thought that my next big move was going to be a long term move, but what if I only go there for one year? In fact, it will almost certainly be for only the one year (personal preference), and then I'll have to move again.

But the biggest, baddest tangle has been one that I didn't really expect.

In my natural state, I am viciously prideful, easily offended. These are not qualities that I appreciate in others, and I absolutely despise them in myself; I've spent a lot of time rooting out and getting rid of that sort of base reaction. Seriously, a lot of time. More than I really care to admit to. And I've done a pretty good job of it: I've never been personally offended by any critique, whether given by student or professor, and I consider rejection to be as natural an outcome as acceptance. But this....just....something....pinged.

When I got the first email inviting me to the post bac program, one of the things they said in the email was to feel free to contact this one guy on staff who had done the program himself. It was easiest for him to talk on the phone, so I called him, and this is where the seeds were really planted. He talked about how good an opportunity it was for him, about how it changed his life, about how the people he did the program with and people who have done it since have gone on to do great things. Ok, fine, I wasn't really expecting them to send me to someone who was going to spit on their program.

But he also said things like 'this is for people who show great promise, but just aren't there yet, and who we feel could benefit from just a little bit more time' and 'this program really demands a lot of hard work.'

And that, just.....yeah, no fucking duh it requires a lot of hard work. Some people apply directly to the post bac program, and so may not be aware of how bitchy the upper levels of higher education can be. I applied to their master's program. I was aware. I was ready. I already work at a pace and with a determination befitting a grad student. Before he said that, my mentality was just that the people who were chosen over me were better or more appropriate this year. Not that I was being perceived as lacking, let alone lazy.

So, yeah, I'm going to hesitate to give $40,000 to an institution if their first impression of me is that I'm a slacker. Because I'm not. That's the last bastion of my indefatigable pride: I may not always be the best, but I always work.

And heaped on top of all of that, I know that he didn't mean it that way. There are people who are legitimately not ready for the level of work that MICA demands. That any graduate program worth its salt demands. Warning people is only fair.

Except when it's not. So let's move away from this a little bit.

For people who are familiar with both my work and Terry Winters', it's pretty obvious that he's a big influence on my work. Not the only one, by any means, but a big one. He has a new show right now, 'Terry Winters: Cricket Music, Tessellation Figures, & Notebook' at the Matthew Marks gallery in New York. I haven't seen this show in person (ah, the midwest, so far from new york) but from what I'm seeing online, I quite like it.

There is a brief review of it on Two Coats of Paint, a blog for this sort of thing.

The review is...odd. I've seen others like it before, but I am always made uncomfortable by them. It starts off by citing other reviews, which are glowing, and then moves straight into exactly the opposite of that. Sharon Butler, the author of the review, spends time talking about the things that were good about Winters' old work specifically to illustrate how the new pieces don't measure up. It ends with a particularly condescending "Not many artists of Winters's caliber are willing to risk learning out loud, and for that alone, this show is worth seeing." 

This is a pretty nasty and fairly common 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation. On the one hand, if you become well known for painting in a certain way/working with a particular material/palette/subject/etc, and continue to do that, then you could be considered a sellout, lacking innovative edge. On the other hand, the moment you do depart from the familiar, you are no longer just compared (with an eye toward competition) with other artists, both contemporary and long deceased, but also with yourself.

Personally, I'm in the camp of innovation and risk being better than not, but I have no name, no following, no reputation to gamble, so it really costs me nothing to think that way.

Although I will say this: seeing this review and its sort of sly underhandedness made me feel a lot better about my own situation. It's not just me getting this sort of potentially demoralizing feedback, it's all of us.

Honestly, that needs to change, but for now, I will accept the solidarity.

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