Interview with Mr. Mike Rivas, MFA Graduate

Interview with Mr. Mike Rivas, MFA Graduate

at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles

Why did you choose to pursue a graduate degree in the visual arts?

While an undergraduate, I simultaneously began to discover my relationship to the creative process as well as begin establishing an artistic practice. By the time graduation arrived, I realized that my practice, and pursuit of a personal dialogue within the larger context of art making was only at a baby step stage. I owed it to myself and my work to push the limits of art making by placing myself within the rigorous critical environment of a graduate program in studio art.

How did you decide that it was the right time for you to pursue one?

My age (I was in my late twenties at the time) and the momentum that I had generated through my undergraduate studies made it clear to me that this was the right time to pursue a graduate degree.

What are the most important factors that you considered when evaluating and choosing a graduate program in the visual arts?

By far, the most important factor in deciding which school to attend was the balance between dialogue (theoretical, critical), and practice (the environment that I would be making work in-"How receptive are people to discussing the 'object'?"). I was interested in a place that would entertain the importance of both without placing one above the other. A close second would be the faculty. It was important to me that I work with someone that understood what I was trying to do with my work, and could challenge me to experiment.

Were there any important qualities about your school which made it stand out more than the others on your list of possibilities?

Yes. The fact that the program was small and I had the opportunity to interact intimately with both my peers and advisors on a frequent basis was definitely a positive. Also, having my own private workspace provided by the program was crucial to the type of experience that I was looking for.

Given what you now know, what are tips could you provide for other students with regard to choosing and getting accepted into school?

I would suggest making a point of visiting the programs you think you may be interested in. Think about possible peers, faculty, facilities, location, and reputation. Be prepared for rejection; apply to more than one school. Just because you think that you're perfect for the school, the school may not feel the same way about you.

How did you fund your graduate education? How available were scholarships and other forms of financial assistance?

I was able to pay for school through federal loans, some very generous grants (generous being a relative term), and a teaching assistantship that I received from the school. Although I received a nice grant, it doesn't mean that all schools have the same type of funds available, nor does it mean that all students at the same school will receive similar awards. Smaller institutions (such as art schools) aren't always endowed like larger schools, but a smaller school may have the advantage in that it may provide a stronger, more focused program, with easier access to the advising staff.

Exactly what is your graduate degree?

I decided to pursue an MFA because my interest was primarily in studio practices.

What advantages have you found in the professional world from having earned your graduate degree?

The traditional image that society has of the fine artist is that they are starving, and suffering for their work in a garret, when in reality they may be extremely well prepared to make a living in various fields. Being a successful artist means being a creative problem solver, and depending on the institution, a career services office may be overflowing with many, eclectic opportunities. Because I attended school in Los Angeles, work in the entertainment industry was always an option, but it wasn't my only option. Education was another opportunity. Teaching K-12 or high school is an option that many of my peers have taken. Opportunities in the commercial art field are another option. I took a job doing outreach for an art school. I find the opportunity to be satisfying on many levels, and funny enough; the job has even become a part of my artistic practice.

Tell us about your education at your graduate school. What did you like and dislike about it?

My experience at Otis has been like a roller coaster ride. I began the program over-confident not understanding the pressure cooker like environment that I was now in. I underestimated the challenges I would face and soon found myself in a crisis struggling to find my artistic identity. I'd have to say that one of the definite pluses was having the constant support of many of my peers and advisors. Not only did I have their support, but I also had the opportunity to develop strong relationships that remain strong today. On the other hand, one of the things that I have struggled with in my practice since attending school is the academic trend of over-intellectualizing. It's a practice that has stifled my creative process, and has taken time to overcome. In a funny way, grad school was almost like opening Pandora's box. Once the ghosts where let out, it's impossible to ignore them. The only way to deal with them now is to give them their place, but return to the serendipitous nature of creating for the sake of experimentation; be that conceptually or aesthetically.

How much difference does a good teacher make? Tell us about one good and one bad experience that you had.

A good teacher makes all the difference in the world, while a bad teacher can foster some heavy confusion that takes a lot of doing to get over. A positive experience that I had was with an advisor that I ran scared from for a year. I was having a hard time asking some tough questions of myself, and I knew that he would absolutely not allow me to avoid dealing with the issues if I met with him. He recognized my fear and made a point of tracking me down and cornering me into dealing with some of these issues. Ultimately, it proved to be an amazing form of tough love. He confronted me head on, but then took extraordinary measures to work with me in dealing with the problem. Although I was doing most of the work on my own, his guidance and support allowed me to get past that dark spot and move into a more productive mode.

On the other hand, I had experiences with instructors having problems dealing with the institution and taking it out on students, or advisors with inflated egos too involved with themselves to take part in a discussion with the student.

Please write and answer three other questions you think of that would benefit prospective graduate students.

  1. What do you expect to get out of the graduate school experience?
    Unless you're prepared to participate seriously in some soul searching about your personal practice and relationship to art making, I would reconsider applying. The desire to simply get a paper degree could cause some problems. It takes someone that is passionate and open minded to do well in an MFA program. Besides, there is no rule that says that you must have an MFA to be an artist.
  2. How much time and money am I willing to spend to get an MFA?
    Consider the cost and time difference of a program. An educations value cannot be determined by the cost. There are some amazing programs in the country that are very affordable, and vice-versa. Also, MFA programs tend to be 2-3 year long. Consider the difference between both 2 and 3 year programs. Is one more intensive than another? Will I be able to complete the program in 2-3 years? Will I need summers (or another term) off?
  3. Where would you lie to live after completing the program?
    Attending a school in a specific geographic location means that much of the community/support system that you build while in school is generally going to remain in that area.

Graduate Program Profile: Otis College of Art and Design

Enrollment: 24

School Tuition (in-state/out-of-state): $20,840

Student/Faculty Ratio: 2.5:1

Graduate degrees and programs offered in visual arts: M.F.A. Fine Art (multidisciplinary)

The mission of your graduate art school: To provide an environment in which personal artistic practices are developed through a rigorous dialogue, intensive critique, and creative approach to problem solving.

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