Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

Studio MFA Modifications: I Was Up Above It…

…now I’m down in it. 😉 …a sort-of NIN reference.


15164244994_1683842273_b(I started writing this at 34012 feet flying eastward, flying towards five days of New York City, Sept 4th.)


September. It’s what I’ve been waiting for, the time when I’d have days in a row available for me to go to the studio, to make, to read. Days for thinking, days for closing my eyes and breathing. It’s late summer, school days are up and running, and as a default parent artist, my days are mine again, to use or waste. (Well, I don’t do much wasting… but if I wanted to, I could!) I started my self-directed MFA work in the spring. I set up a plan for myself, selected subjects, started reading, writing, thinking. But then my two little boys stayed with me almost the entire summer and, combined with my still recovering energy (from post-cycling-accident), I really didn’t have it in me to self-direct anything, much less my MFA work. And yet…. some wheels kept turning nonetheless. And I dug deeper in my work when I felt I was doing barely anything (studio-wise) at all.


Early in the summer, I came across previews for a PBS Documentary on First Peoples. About the first modern humans, hundreds of thousands of years ago. Or tens of thousands. Something like that. A long time ago. So, because I love that kind of stuff, I watched each episode as soon as it came out. I hunger to know more, not only about where I come from (my parents’ and grandparents’ stories) but also about the long story that’s in my genes, the places I come from, the historical people (Natives of Mexico? Spain? Other parts of Europe? Where? Who?). Adding to that, I’m interested in the history of humanity as a whole (last year I took Coursera’s A Brief History of Humankind, and I loved it so much I ordered the book from the UK since it would be months before it was published here in the US. It’s arrived now, though, here.) I’m interested in the things I have in common with everyone, what we have in common with each other. What sets us humans apart? What is elemental within us?


When I watched those shows, I had just finished reading Leonardo’s Brain and had written several posts about the book as part of my Studio MFA. Some of what the reading had prompted in me was an understanding of my unique viewpoint as an artist. Since the book addressed some of the neurology behind creative looking, showing, and telling, I started to consider more about what was prompting the shapes I’ve been drawn to in my work the past couple years. What was I seeing in my world that kept me interested in the odd egg/stone shape that sometimes took on the appearance of a holding space, a type of natural safe place? I recently revisited my sketches from the 90s and I got myself intrigued by the shape again. (I did a largish oil painting of that shape in the 00s also, one that I’ve kept all this time, so the shape has sort of been hanging around for many years.)


First Peoples caught me at this point in time where I was thinking about this in the back of my mind. I watched these stories about the oldest bones on the continents, and I started to hear about early human patterns, places they traveled, things they did. And the cave started to figure in the story of human history as a place of retreat, a place to be protected from the weather, a destination place, and a stopping place from one part of the country to another. All of a sudden, this shape I’ve had living with me all this time, it found a home in this history of humankind, the subject matter that has been deep within me. The cave! Mother earth! Protection! Darkness! So many disparate pieces of inspiration came together.


In my next post, I will describe how these discoveries have led to a modification in my Fall semester plan for my Studio MFA (aka #StudioMFA, renamed from #exMFA.) Not a big change! Just a slight adjustment to allow time for subjects I discover as I go along. I’ll also jot a list of how I’ve discovered all the events (lectures, art openings, webinars, etc) that I located and added to my calendar. Oh! And I have a crit group ready to go, AND all I have left is nailing down a mentor for this semester. Hmm. How to do that? I have some ideas.


Tonight (Wednesday, Sept 16), I’m going to the opening for Public Works: Artist Interventions from the 1970s–Now, at Mills College in Oakland. It’s a perfect fit for my “Social Practice and Art as Activism: Ways Artists Bring About Change” class, yes?


photo credit: 2014_11_05_sfo-jfk_019z via photopin (license)



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