Working On The Statement of Intent: Getting the Juices Flowing

Alright- you’re going to live the bloody details with me, readers. Or, rather, I am going to publish them all on the internets as they happen and hope that someone will read them and think, oh, I can identify with that!

Seriously though, applying to grad school for an MFA in studio arts feels like such a mystery. There really isn’t that much information out there for students, or resources, or people to talk to. So if someone can learn something from me (and/or my mistakes) then I am glad to share this experience with you all.

I’m going to start by listing out some responses to the suggested points to cover in the Statement of Intent/Purpose. This is like stream of consciousness writing, so please don’t judge it too closely.

  • What do you love about this field?/Why do you want to do it for the rest of your life?

Ok, well art has been a pretty constant presence in my life since I was a small child. One of my earliest memories was sitting at the table in the kitchen and looking at a very brightly colored abstract painting my grandfather had done. I never met him, since he died before I was born, so those paintings were the only way I got to discover some sense of who he was.

I love that art is a different mode of expression. It’s not like words. It’s not wordy, you know? It’s guttural, somehow, more instinctual. The stupid saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is annoying, but you know, many of us are born with the gift of sight. We learn to see first. Language comes later. It’s an instantaneous communication. A direct connection to the brain of the viewer. I like what you can convey and choose to not convey in an image. I like that you can be just as ambiguous and confusing, in a painting as you can be in an entire conversation. Unlike the frustrating conversation, though, the painting still has the opportunity to be interesting and/or beautiful to look at.

Feminist activism is very important to me. And for a while I struggled between the two most important subjects in my life – activism and art. But I realized that art spoke to my spirit. I not only greatly enjoy art as a discipline, but I love to create art. It’s hard! Painting is far more challenging than anyone ever lets on, I swear. It’s the most worth-while challenge I have encountered. Artists like Marina Abramovic, Jenny Holzer and Nancy Spero showed me that art can also be very, very feminist and also very activist. The old feminist adage, ‘the personal is political’ gave me permission to consider my person narratives as worthy subject matter. Depicting them as works of art was, I discovered, political.

I cannot imagine a world without art. And I could not imagine not contributing to that world. I feel compelled to paint, just like I feel compelled to raise awareness around sexism, heterosexism, LGBTQ+ hate crimes, trans bullying etc etc. So many people feel compelled to make art. That doesn’t feel like a good enough reason. I mean, I know that for me, it does. Making art, even when it sucks, makes me feel better. More complete and like a functioning being. Committing to taking on that daily struggle of getting in the studio and facing problems on the canvas that mirror problems in your own head really is one hell of a commitment to make. But I am ready and willing, with no reservations.

I want an MFA because I feel like I need more instruction. I need the energy, focus and drive that an academic platform provides. I feel ready, after my thesis and taking some time off to seek new perspectives and guidance to becoming a better painter. I was really bummed out when faculty told me last year that I needed to take a year off after Undergrad before applying to Grad School. But now I feel like I have a completely new perspective on my work, and appreciate for the benefits of being in school.

  • What are some things you think an admissions committee should know about you?

I am very interested in the many facets of ‘gender issues’ – a theme clearly present in my work. (Systems of power, identity,body politics…)  However, this interest spans beyond just painting. I have immersed myself in this subject academically and through activism. (IE : My job at the SAGE Center & more briefly with the PSU Women’s Studies Council, my position as member and president of a feminist student group, my role as coordinator of the 2012 PSU Vagina Monologues)

  • What do you want to do with your MFA degree?

Oh that is such a loaded question. Of course, I don’t know exactly what I want to do (like many 23 year olds). I am almost certain, however, that I am really interested in teach art at the college level or equivalent. I really enjoy the collegiate atmosphere. Being an active artist, showing & selling work and what not isn’t quite enough for me. I want to be able to make some sort of impact in higher education. Based on research I have been doing lately, it is clear that men still make up the majority tenured art faculty, particularly in higher positions. (Side note: it pleases me to no end that the founding Dean of the Plymouth State University College of Arts&Sciences is my previous professor and advisor, Cynthia Vascak). In a Guerrilla- Girls-inspired sort of way, I want to take a bite out of higher education patriarchy, and art department sexism.

I’m inspired by Griselda Pollock. After her alcoholic, lime-light husband passed away, she blossomed as incredibly influential art historian and critic.

I also believe that the arts have the ability to empower the underprivileged and undereducated women and children of the United States. Community arts offer and opportunity of expression and unity that I feel is not only powerful but vital to the fight for social justice and equality. Feminist art has historically made room for collaborative works that formed a greater ‘womanhood’ narrative. (Woman House, The Dinner Party) I am interested in pursuing a ‘personhood’ narrative, which allows for gender&sexuality ambiguity and a greater emphasis on

  • Who are some artists that inspire you and why?

Jenny Saville – For having such an influential and brave undergraduate show. She was at the right place, at the right time, with the right talents.

Kara Walker – For dealing with gender and race politics without apologizing.

Louise Bougeois – For putting her personal narratives into sculpture. What a brave thing! She didn’t mean to be creating feminist work, but she is so vital in the feminist art cannon. Her work reminds me that art can be entirely about the artist. I’m not sure Bougeios gave a damn about the viewer.

Paula Rego- For being such a skilled draftswoman and having such command over the figure. And for working with gendered childhood narratives in a larger context.

Kiki Smith – For being creepy

Lucian Freud – For painting so damn much.

Lin Tianmao – For drawing on her cultural background, her personal background and gender identity politics to create works of art integrating textiles, self-portraiture and installation.

Lin Tianmiao, ‘Chatting’, [detail] 2004. Fiberglass, silk threads, mixed media, sound. Dimensions variable. “Non Zero,” Beijing Tokyo Art Project, September 18–October 3, 2004. Collection of the artist.

Lin Tianmiao, ‘Chatting’, [detail] 2004. Fiberglass, silk threads, mixed media, sound. Dimensions variable. “Non Zero,” Beijing Tokyo Art Project, September 18–October 3, 2004. Collection of the artist.

Want a blast from my past? Check out by blog from over 2 years ago, Journey of a Young Feminist. I didn’t end up having much time to keep it going (thus there are only about 5 posts) but it was helpful for me in moments of baby feminist angst and self-reflection.

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  1. […] kind of way. Alright, that’s not totally true. I have been busting my butt getting this statement of purpose/intent together, while still working in the studio almost every single day. I have four paintings that I […]

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