The most valuable thing about an MFA—master of fine arts, just in case you’re reading this as a non-initiate/academic know-it-all—for most grads isn’t the time spent feverishly creating a cohesive body of work that is the culmination of your knowledge and insight and skill so far. It’s the network of fellow artists and future curators around you while you do it. That may be worth a few tens of thousands if you’re a genius and getting recognized for it. But for the rest of us, feeling like most trips to the canvas, computer, pad, or instrument is a baffling slog where even you don’t understand what it all means and where it’s going, it’s about the connections.
We need each other. But it isn’t just the social imperative, we help each other accomplish things in the world, sometimes without even meaning to. Most of the jobs I’ve fallen into over the years have been through knowing someone who already works there, or is close to someone else who does. Your work gets seen or heard more often because you’ve made connections with someone who has a space to show or who knows you and what you do. It’s important and fruitful to cultivate your friendships and contacts like a garden. (Resisting the urge here to write some piffle about weeding—let’s focus on the affirmative.)
Go for the scholarships, if you’re into the school schema. I certainly am by nature. But it isn’t the only path, and the lessons we can learn from what surrounds the art school paradigm can apply to us whether we get into Yale or not.
Meet enough people and show them what you do and something bigger will happen. It’s like a math postulate. Never mind that sometimes the thing is small. There’s still an element of luck in the universe, no denying. It’s just that it’s a lot easier to roll the dice when you’re at the table with some fellow gamers who’ve brought bags of them.