A couple of years ago I wrote How to apply (and not apply) to an MFA program
. If you're interested in the topic, I'd suggest taking a few minutes to read the advice in that post. What follows expands on what I wrote there.
To have a really effective application you need to understand that people have many motivations for applying to an MFA program. Some of the reasons people have for going back to school do not necessarily lead to a great educational experience. There's a good chance that whoever is looking at your application is trying to figure out what kind of student you will be.
What kind of students are professors looking for? Generally, professors want students who are making interesting work, who are ready to experiment and break out of their artistic routines, who are open to feedback & critique, who have some self-direction & backbone, and who are ambitious for their art to be successful.
What kind of students are professors looking to avoid? Ones who are defensive and do not want to investigate taking their art somewhere new.
So when looking at a portfolio and artistic statement, the admissions committee are not only trying to figure out if you're a promising artist, but also whether you'll benefit from graduate education.
Here are some particular things for you to consider when putting together your application:
- In my earlier posting I suggested that the portfolio should be 2-4 series of work. It is important not have only one series of works. Why? Because if all the artworks in your portfolio are too similar, the admissions committee may take that to mean that you've settled on making art in a particular way and are not interested in exploring new avenues.
- If you are an artist who is already experiencing some success, be careful about how you present that. The admissions committee may worry that in light of your success you may be reluctant to try new things and may be unresponsive to their attempts to guide you. Also, graduate school is intended to be a safe place where you can explore without worrying about how the outside world reacts to what you're doing. If you're showing and selling work you may be a bit risk-adverse (or more responsive to the market place than the education). You should try to make it clear that you truly want to be a student and that you're ready to take your art somewhere new.
- As mentioned in the earlier posting, avoid mentioning teaching as a motivation for going to graduate school. There's nothing wrong with that being something you'd like to do, but if it's your primary motivation then it may indicate that you're not onboard for going on the artistic journey.
Before applying to graduate school, you should ask, "Why?" If the answer isn't to take your art somewhere new and/or deeper, then you should not go to graduate school. Also ask yourself whether you're prepared to be pushed and pulled and have your art challenged. If the answer is no, then you should not go to graduate school.
Be honest with yourself. If your art is in a place where you're happy with it, and you're not interested/comfortable with taking it somewhere new, there's not necessarily anything wrong with that artistically, but it isn't going to lead to a happy MFA experience.