Thursday, May 15, 2014

MFA Graduation! It's a WRAP!

                            Your's truly giving my thesis talk at my wall doing my best Shatner

The dust and shreds of the past month of school are finally settling down a bit a week after my final MFA thesis defense/critique in front of my wall, the Women's Board Preview Night, the ASE Opening and my graduation from PAFA with my MFA. It was like a Dagwood sandwich of art school all served piping hot and fast.
                                      The opening night of the ASE was swelled to capacity

Only now am I able to start really processing the events and my exit process or exodus from Art School. I'm sure I will continue to edit, reflect and sort my"Art School Experience" even more in the coming months after I have completely moved out of school and resettled home and started the rebuild of my studio and my life.  I started moving out of my studio today and took a full carload of books and paintings as well as supplies home. I have to shed some more, and well let's be honest, a lot more extra cargo before I can embark fully on the next stage of my Art Journey, for the sun is already starting to lower in the sky of possibilities.

I will have to work even harder if I hope to catch a good wind and reach my future goals. I can't wait to start painting again, from life, models, the outdoors! FROM PHOTOS! I am chock full of ideas and inspiration. I'm thinking I will have two separate studios at home, one for comics and such and one for just painting. I am aware of time, ageism and the narrow window I face. By some standards I've read I am already too old to be successful as a painter, but I'm going for broke. One of the things I became very clear on is my idea of success doesn't gel with the NYC orbit outside of a handful of galleries. I am not an installation artist or a modernist.

The past month of school was literally just put my head down and keep running and try not to let any of the spinning plates slow and wobble. Honestly I'm still exhausted from the whole process and I know that having my great friends, who had my back and came in to assist and give me encouragement helped me a lot.

Having done two ASE's before and hung several shows in the past few years also helped me as well as my years of professional experience in dealing with multiple deadlines. I worked hard early so calling it a day and framing my wall early did help a lot.

I will openly admit I have pretty mixed feelings on my MFA experience and my final crit and exit from school. I have always been honest about my experiences at PAFA. I have always talked about what I like and dislike. The MFA was not as much fun as the undergrad, and maybe that is the nature of an MFA program, to make you feel uncomfortable and challenged.  Defending your process, goals and ideals is always a good thing--at least that is what the story we are told always says.

But it can also take the fun out of it as well and I have very little patience for art speak. talking about art, yes, but the idea that so many final critiques used the same language to describe so many different disciplines was rather frustrating. I attended as many crits as I could, even those that featured work I didn't care for as hopefully you learn things you can take with you that will help your process and journey as an artist, structures you can continue to build on, and I think this is true. But a lot of this is also a "school thing", the part of the process that really lives in an institution and not in your personal studio space and not in the world outside of school. I will say as well that right now there is an aftertaste I am not finding very palatable and want to wash out of my mouth right away.


I was very disappointed in my final review and in my critics that were selected for that review. Some people got who they wanted and some like me didn't, and that's the way it rolled. When I got my list of critics I knew it was not going to be a favorable exit review. So many just didn't know me or my process so having them as my exit crit I felt would be dicey, though I was glad that Dan Miller was the head critic for me. I love Dan, that man is really an amazing artist and human being.

I have always felt that I was 'out of sync" with the modernist or post, post whatever we call this time in the  MFA program, since I am both a figurative and narrative painter in the land of the Modernist. Worse that I like to paint women. I felt downright conservative at times. At times it reminded me of what I disliked so much about art school the first time back in 1980. I quit then.
                                    My friend Jessica giving me some feedback on my wall

 However I felt right at home in undergrad at PAFA and its the continuation of my relationships with the faculty, especially with Scott Noel that kind of saved me in the MFA. It was that ability to continue my dialogue with Scott for two more years that was the most beneficial aspect of the program for me, along with the new voices of the MFA critics like Martha Armstrong, even Denise Green, who I didn't always agree with. Scott and I battled a lot, but in a good way, he pushed me, challenged me more than any other teacher and I owe him a bigger thanks that I could ever pay him back.

For our final reviews once again we had our system of double crits going on at the same time. This meant critics were split into groups, this created issues as you'd have crits with two friends going on at the same time. I would rush back and forth between crits to try and catch as much as I could.
When Scott wasn't on my final crit I was very disappointed as I feel he understands me the most of any teacher in school. He "get'"s me, which I feel it was pretty evident in my final review.  That wasn't the case with most of the critics who had never seen my work before.

Dan Miller was the head critic and I know Dan gets me and was one of  my critics last semester. But I felt in the end I was basically going over old ground, "why work from photos, etc." They didn't even talk about my figure work at all. Tom Ceszar did put forth some good feedback, but it wasn't what I had hoped.

Ugh. I mean come on, why are we even still having this discussion about photography at this point when I've been doing this for years in school and decades as a professional? The idea that craft is some kind of handcuff on creativity is just bullshit! Only in art school do we talk about such dumb ideas. You don't tell a singer  or a musician to not practice and that doing so makes them weaker artists. You don't tell an athlete to not practice. But we are always ready to shit the bed and toss out skill as some form of freedom when skills in the end frees you to execute and express your desires and impulses in the way you want. Its not some constant missing of the mark or qualifying or lawyering. That's a modernist argument/stance I 1000% disagree with.

 Craft alone is not enough, certainly, but then ideas without craft to execute them is garbage. Failure. Craft is the vehicle, the software that either helps you deliver your idea of fails you in my book. Its pretty simple, and so the review was pretty bad and I knew it would be so.

 I however wasn't going to take the idea that skill was bad laying down, and it did get a bit combative. A word of advice to any student reading this is to never let a critic take control and steer the crit in a way you don't want, or get away with stating things you honestly don't feel are true or valid about your work--and you are free to take any opinion in and also reject any opinion if it doesn't work for you. I was told basically my work is cold and unemotional, great skill but nothing personal to say. I of course don't feel this way and neither did Scott, but oh, well.

I again was disappointed and knew I would be, but that didn't make it any more enjoyable. I know many students who were at my crit felt the same way as I did, and I was disappointed some of my former teachers and critics didn't say anything at all. I would say over half of the critics in my review didn't say anything. Not one word. Why even show up then? They just sat there....

I was pretty mad for a few days after about how it all rolled out, disappointed, but I'm a pro, so you choke it down and move on to better things and tasks at hand. The fact that I had exactly the opposite reaction to my work during both the Preview party and ASE opening, the very pieces the faculty disliked selling first was the best validation of all for me.
David Brigham addressing the crowd of graduates and parents
People got my work, they saw the emotion in my work my critics simply could not, would not see. I had so many talks in front of my wall about what drew me to these subjects and the emotional response to the places, events I am painting.

I had many, many people trying to purchase the same pieces and the strongest reaction to any of my work to date.

 I sold half my wall during the Women's Board  Preview and even sold a piece earlier in the week to one of the Super Donors to the Academy. I felt good, great even for the moment that I had such a strong response and I also made some good contacts and commission as well.

The public reaction to my work was 100% the opposite of the faculty's ...why is there such a disconnect? Is it merely the BS of art school, academia and the lingering radiation of the modernists distaste for figurative or the classical approach? Its not contemporary--the most stretched out term to describe a philosophy or work. Is it that old saw again? I just feel so glad I will not have to go through that again. I  love and will miss PAFA, but not that type of atmosphere.

The crowd sang happy Birthday to Nancy

                                                       Dean Carr waves goodbye to us

In the next week I cleaned up, got some sleep and fought my Judge Parker Deadlines and went to as many of my fellow MFA's crits as I could. I also tried to battle the piles of laundry and house chores that had been put off in the past weeks.

Graduation day went fast, it seemed like things slowed down for a spell and then gravity suddenly let up and it was a whirl, class speakers, guest speakers then I was standing and the next moment getting my diploma and shaking hands. I think this year went faster than my undergrad ceremony. in 2012. It was great my parents could make it out and they really enjoyed the event and the show. I know so many of us students were so happy for this moment to be here and to while a bit sad to leave, to also be looking forward to what's next. I answered that question a 100 times that day. Its pretty simple, I will be doing what I have always done, just not have the plate as a student to keep spinning. That plate can now be washed and put out to dry. I will always be a student, but just not in school.
I had a great time and dinner with my family and friends at my favorite restaurant, Little Saigon, and I got a lot of great presents and a awesome cake. I know things will continue to settle into whats to come in the coming weeks. 
I am moving my studio home from school and have a lot to rearranging to do at home and head wise. I will continue to blog as I set up and set sail to the new horizons. Happy Graduation to the class of 2014!

Nancy B and giving out the Aluni Award that Peter is holding and Phillis giving her talk for our graduating class

Here I am seconds after getting my diploma.

My dad and and my best Bud Jamar Nicholas
My friends and family gathered at Little Saigon for the celebratory meal ( best spring rolls on the planet!) Ed even got me a cake!

                                                    Here's to a bright future as a painter!


Nancy Bea Miller said...

Great post Mike, on so many levels. Your honesty is always refreshing! Congratulations on becoming a Master!

Fred Pittsburgh said...

I am WITH YOU! on so many of these points... the "art b.s." stuff has driven me nuts all my life...
You have a great future ahead of you for MANY MANY years Mike!
There are a LOT of examples of artists who struggled for years and found their greatest success, both artistic and financial, much later in life than where you are now.
One of my teachers (won't name him here) at PAFA, once discussed with me that "younger artists" get all the attention... he seemed dispirited and as if his career had peaked and was receding... He was probably in his 60s at the time...(where I am now) about five years later, he did a brilliant series of pastel landscapes which got a lot of acclaim, and continued that thread for another 10 or so years...selling regularly, showing and getting the recognition he thought would never come...Don't even think about your age. You have awesome talent. Just do great, work like you had on your wall. Congratulations on the degree... glad the "Academics" did not wreck you!!!

Mike Manley said...

Thanks Nancy!

Mike Manley said...

Thanks Fred! I am going to give it my best shot and it's true many artists i admire like Hopper were successful later in life.

SNeelyArt said...

Congrats, Mike! Sorry to hear your critique didn't go as planned. The 'why work from photos' question that you still get from the reviewers there are just flat out retarded in their thinking. I guess they don't like Norman Rockwell either since he worked off photos as many other greats have. Gil Elvgren worked with models but worked off photos as some compositions took time to get right. Plus they never literally traced the photos perfectly, as they tweaked and finessed the images using the photo as a base to work off of.

Ah, the modern art world! Congrats for all the time you spent enriching your life these past several years! Onwards and upwards!

Melissa said...

Nice wrap up.I hope I'll see you around!

Mike Manley said...

Thanks Scott. They hate Rockwell or any illustrator. having your work described as "illustrative" is meant as an insult. Elvgren's work even worse as it would be seen almost as a hate crime by it objectification of women. Now do the same thing but make it gay, then its OK. I'm glad to be done an sailing away from the island...

Mike Manley said...

See you around Melissa, hope you enjoy the next step of your evolution ;-)

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