"You are going to SCHOOL!" "but what is a school?"
June 24, 2012 9:31 PM   Subscribe

Got into an MFA! ...now what?

I recently got accepted into an MFA program in San Francisco which involves looking at how my arts practice connects to social issues (and vice versa). I'm pretty keen on the program as it'll give me the space and opportunity to develop my creative work further, in a city that I know has plenty of resources and avenues for the sort of work I want to do.

However, I do feel a little lost on what I can or should do in preparation, especially since it's less than two months away and I'm also moving overseas (most of my time has been spent getting my visa sorted). It's been a few years since I've had to do university study. I applied for this program *because* it was predominantly creative and not just writing one academic paper after another, but I'm having a hard time thinking about prep beyond the "read all the things" approach. I also have a major case of impostor syndrome, which isn't helping.

I feel like I'm a kid who got plucked from a mountaintop, being told "You're going to SCHOOL!" and thinking "but what is a 'school'?". Or, as a fellow Potter-fan friend noted: being told you've been accepted to Hogwarts when all you know is the Muggle world.

What can I do to feel more prepared and get primed for my MFA? My advisor suggests I think more about what I want to achieve artistically, since I'm pretty clear already on what my social-justice goals are. There's going to be a 2 week bridge program before classes proper, to get reacquainted with American academia, which is good. I've connected with some current students who have been helpful too.

Any other ideas? Especially for overseas moves and dealing with attendant culture shock? If you've done an MFA, what did you wish you knew before you started?
posted by divabat to Education (7 answers total)
Will you be teaching? Because teaching tends to be a lot more difficult than people think it will be. That's what I'd want to be ready for.

I had a lot of MFA friends in grad. school. (Creative writing types.) It's really best thought of as two years to create and do things that you wouldn't be able to otherwise with a full-time job. The ones who seemed to get the most out of it were motivated self-starters with fairly concrete goals -- finish my first novel, put together my first chapbook and try to get it published, send out work to literary journals, etc.

The professors are great resources but they aren't going to put a fire under you ass (they're too busy with their own stuff). So I'd try to be less philosophical about the whole thing and more focused on what, specifically and concretely, you want to have created/accomplished in the next 24 months and then do it.

Which is to say, there are a lot of distractions in a city like San Francisco and it's easy for a whole day to go by and you haven't really gotten anything done.
posted by bardic at 1:04 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

if you will be doing social practice work, then how about for the next 2 months volunteer at a local homeless shelter/clinic/animal shelter/soup kitchen/parkhouse/anything community-serving. So when you travel form abroad to SF you will be able to tell the difference between your region's community services and SF's.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 5:19 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think I'd be teaching, though I would like to build on workshop-delivery skills. I do know that my main outcome is some sort of creative project (Rather than a thesis per se). I am quite an active volunteer already :)
posted by divabat at 6:07 AM on June 25, 2012

I don't have any advice for the MFA bit of your question, but I went abroad on a cultural exchange recently.

- You will experience culture shock. No matter how Westernized you are, no matter how familiar you are with the place you're going to, actually living there is intense on a level you just can't imagine from your home country. The best way to deal is to just ride through it. Have a good cry, talk to friends/family on Skype, maybe do something that reminds you of home, and then do something to take your mind off it. Don't be like my friends who spent so much time missing home they never really got to experience the awesomeness of their new (temporary) home.

- Speaking of culture shock, expect to be thrown by the /stupidest/ things. Whenever I travelled by car, I'd automatically go to the driver's side even though I was always the passenger, since people drive on the right in France and on the left in India. You'll get used to #newthing just in time to go back home and get confused all over again. Don't sweat it.

- I see from your profile that you're from the subcontinent. If you cook a lot of desi food, it really helps to take a spice box from home. Granted, SF is likely worlds better than small town France (I had to get my mother to mail me spices from home) but there's very little that makes a bad day better than to have the food you grew up, made like it's supposed to be made.

- Pack as little as you can. Moving halfway around the world is infinitely easier when you have one suitcase and one backpack rather than two cases and a massive rucksack.

-Finally, relax! Part of the fun of going to a new place is all the crazy hijinks that happen when you're there.

Good luck!
posted by Tamanna at 8:06 AM on June 25, 2012

In that case I think it will be important for you to become familiar, and quickly, with the city's alternative and independent art venues, including domestic galleries, activist centers, the "experimental community centers," non-commercial and small-edition publishers, the public art groups, and the artists, curators, and advocates of your particular genre. Knowing who these folks are and what they're doing/have done will put you in a good position. Look outside the city. Lots of good things happening in Oakland, for instance. Actually Oakland is where you will probably find yourself on Friday nights for openings.

Also check out the more traditional resources for artists. I think the Legion of Honor (or another museum) has a work on paper study center. It's a nice way to spend a quiet afternoon, just you and some art in an intimate setting. Check out the sculpture parks. See the historic architecture. etc.

You might also want to scope out the city's creative re-use materials center (if there is one, which I'm sure there is), and like-minded places for resourceful people in need of strange materials.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:13 AM on June 25, 2012

Also, don't enter the MFA program with the idea that it will be 2 years of self-discovery and play.
Be very strategic during the next 2 years. Meet everyone you need to know. Take internships (if they seem relevant). Build a network of like-minded artists and compatriots. Be an active and contributing member to the city's art scene while you're in school. Good luck!
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:57 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Be sure to find your own active vibrant community of Not Necessarily Artists to hang out with in spare time.

But you know this already! :)
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:21 AM on June 25, 2012

« Older Wall-mounted 2- or 2.5-speaker computer setup?   |   Where can I find pregnant women like us? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.