Interview with André S. F. van de Putte, Associate Director of Graduate Admissions

Interview with André S. F. van de Putte, Associate Director of Graduate Admissions

at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

What are the top three reasons that students choose to pursue a graduate degree in the visual arts?

Students pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in the visual arts primarily to continue to develop their artwork and to bring it to a professional level. This is accomplished through an immersion in an environment that fosters growth.

Students understand that they will be able to focus all of their attention on their own work during this time, and develop a mature understanding of what it takes to remain professionally active as they pursue a career in art.

Finally, the M.F.A, which is considered the terminal degree in the creative arts, is presently a minimum requirement in most colleges and universities for anyone who wishes to pursue a teaching career. Additionally, many private high schools are seeking teachers who hold this degree.

Professionally speaking, why should students pursue graduate programs in art? What advantages can they attain from it? When is the best time to pursue one?

Students should pursue a graduate degree in art if they have any intention of seeking a career in college-level teaching.

The primary advantage they will have is a stronger body of work, which will enable them to distinguish themselves as professionally emerging artists.

My experience tells me that students understand when it's time to go for the M.F.A. degree. The School of the Art Institute admits students who just received their baccalaureate degree, as well as others who are returning to their passion for art after successful careers in other areas.

What are the three most important factors that prospective students should consider when evaluating and choosing a graduate program in the visual arts?

The first thing a prospective graduate student should consider is the type of M.F.A. program they would benefit from. By reading the mission of the school they are considering, students will learn such things as whether the program is high residency or not, what amount of the curriculum is fixed and what amount is flexible or elective, and what the degree requirements are.

Another area of consideration is what could be loosely labeled "compatibility". This would include such things as: are there artists on the faculty with whom I'd want to work, will the facilities be adequate for the work that I am interested in creating, will I find myself challenged by the type of student who attends this school, and will the school have the level of diversity that I desire.

Furthermore, geographic location and economic considerations can be as important as any other factors in the decision to attend a graduate program.

How is your graduate art program different than those at other schools? How is technology integrated into your programs?

Within the M.F.A. in Studio program there are no declared "majors" at S.A.I.C. This is because we support the notion that artists' ideas about their work are ever changing, and that at times there is the need to pursue work in another medium. A large number of our students see themselves as interdisciplinary artists who do not fit into preconceived categories.

The School therefore offers a curriculum that provides a wide range of individually tailored options. Students are required to take 12 credit hours of graduate-level art history classes. The remaining 48 credit hours can be taken in a variety of ways. Most of the credits will be taken as "Graduate Projects". This is essentially independent work, with biweekly one-on-one meetings with a member of the faculty. The student selects one or two faculty advisors per semester, and they have the option to choose a faculty member in their department or one from another area. Students can also select a wide variety of seminars and studio electives.

Similarly, the students determine the nature of their semester critique panel; e.g. interdisciplinary, or specific department panels can be selected.

How selective are graduate schools for the visual arts, and what are some hot tips for getting accepted?

I firmly believe that selectivity depends on whether the program is in a professional art school or not.

Professional quality slides of current work are crucial to a successful graduate application. Applicants should realize that some schools will project the slides and that others do not. Therefore, they should look at the portfolio requirements for each school that they are applying to.

Selective editing should support the work and demonstrates technical abilities, in addition to conceptual exploration. Bear in mind that the work must make a statement about the potential of the student in a minimum amount of time, during a "cold" viewing. Juries may see each slide projected for a few seconds only and the review committee's interest needs to be peeked.

I usually recommend that prospective students show an academic or professional curator their work. These professionals see a lot of strong work, and they may be able to identify problems with the portfolio.

Additionally, many admissions offices have counselors who can offer critique and guidance in portfolio preparation.

How do most students fund their graduate education? How available are scholarships and other forms of financial assistance at your school?

Most students who seek degrees at private schools will need to understand that most of the funding for their degree will be in the form of student loans. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago offers a limited number of Trustee Merit Scholarships. These are awarded at the time of admission, and all admitted students qualify for these scholarships, which cover 100 % of tuition costs for the M.F.A. in Studio degree.

Most of our graduate students will apply for Federal Student Aid through the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

Students entering the School of the Art Institute of Chicago demonstrating the highest amount of need may qualify to receive institution grants, which constitute 20 - 40 % of their tuition costs.

Can an MFA include a focus on just about any visual art discipline? What's the difference between an MFA with a specialization and an MA in any given specialty?

At the School, we offer the M.F.A. degree in which students can work in any of the following departments: Art and Technology Studies, Ceramics, Fiber and Material Studies, Film, Video, and New Media, Interior Architecture, Painting and Drawing, Performance, Photography, Printmedia, Sculpture and Visual Communications.

Our MA programs differ in that they offer a more specific curriculum, which supports art practice while providing professional skills and experiences in areas such as Art Education and Art Therapy.

How does your school help its students to find jobs in the visual arts?

We have various resources that assist in student placement. Out Career Placement office hosts workshops and counsels students on how to prepare a resume, how to improve their interviewing skills, and preparing a professional portfolio. They post exhibition opportunities, grants, on- and off-campus full- and part-time positions, and fellowships/visiting artist opportunities.

Some of our departments' faculty also host networking sessions. These events bring colleagues in the field in contact with our graduating class.

One of the best means of exposure as an emerging artist is the MFA Theses Exhibition. Art Institute of Chicago Board members and invited guests, as well as prominent art collectors and/or professional curators, preview this exhibit. Thousands of visitors see this exhibit once it is opened to the general public.

Other resources provided by the School include COOP program, our numerous galleries, (internships for credit) and our active Alumni Association.

Tell us about some of your MFA graduates.

Many of our recent graduates are making a name for themselves as professional artists and in the design world. Please visit our website to see the work of recent alumni.

Tell us about some of your noteworthy faculty.

Our faculty is committed to professional art practice as well as first-rate teaching. Their work and biographies are featured on the SAIC website.

Graduate Program Profile: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Enrollment: Approximately 2000 students, approximately 250 MFA in Studio students.

School Tuition (in-state/out-of-state): Graduate Tuition is $23,700 annually for 15 credits per semester for all students.

Graduate degrees and programs offered in visual arts: MFA in Studio, MFA in Writing, MA in Arts Administration, MA in Art Education, MA in Art History, Theory, & Criticism, MA in Art Therapy, MS in Historic Preservation, Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Studio, Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Writing, Graduate Certificate in Art History, Theory, and Criticism

The mission of your graduate art school: To establish and conduct comprehensive programs of education including preparation of visual artists, teachers of art, and designers; to provide education services in written, spoken, and media formats. (Excerpted from the Art Institute of Chicago's Corporate Charter.) Objective: To assemble a diverse body of intelligent and creative students and faculty in an environment designed to facilitate and encourage the discovery and production of significant ideas and images and to provide for the development of individual excellence in undergraduate and graduate programs in the visual and related arts.

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