Illustration by Petra Larsen.

Illustration by Petra Larsen.


Etiquette for Artful Living

Dear Babs,

I’ll be getting out of the Army soon and was thinking about going back to school for an MFA. If I don’t apply to a grad school in LA or New York, what should I be looking for in a school outside of those two areas? I’ve heard it’s an ideal way to make connections or should it just be used as time to focus on art? My family is happy in North Carolina so I want to look into programs here, but I also don’t want to waste this one-time opportunity because I do have a GI Bill to pay for tuition.

—Nathan, Fayetteville, NC 


Dear Nathan, If money is not an issue, the answer to your question is almost a no-brainer: Get thee to the West Coast where the nations’ top art schools are. That’s where you will make all your connections, as the galleries are right here as well (and yes, it’s important). The direct analogy would be is it better to go to an Ivy League? Duh! But the second part of your question concerns me more: your family’s happiness (and essentially yours). Obviously you want to be successful and you have to consider everything when you make this important decision. I conducted an informal survey with 10 top Los Angeles art dealers: I asked them to respond on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest of priority, 10 being the highest): How important is the school where one receives their MFA? The result: 5.4—I have to say I was even a bit surprised at that result. I thought it would be a 9 or 10. Many dealers weighed in, stressing that it all boils down to how good the art is. 

I would advise to apply at schools where you and your family are comfortable with relocating. If it is in the South, then look at top universities in that area, researching the faculty and the proximity of major contemporary art museums. Look to see if the faculty has an up-to-date exhibition record and are involved in the current art scene. That’s the one thing you have to watch out for, that the school is not cut off from the rest of the world. But also ask yourself, what will it mean to become a successful artist? Are you expecting to support your family with your art? You will eventually have to be represented by a New York or Los Angeles gallery to achieve monetary success. Since you will have your MFA by then, that would also allow you to support yourself by teaching, an occupation of equal importance. 

Babs suggests you follow your heart and dig into making art. Find a good top school in the South by seeking faculty you want to work with, and keep a happy family. Although enlisting in the Army may have been a risky choice, entering the art world and depending on it for survival seems almost as perilous! I imagine the Army has prepared you for anything, though—be all that you can be, Nathan!

Babs cares.
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