My father’s side of the family at the airport in Hong Kong before immigration
I’ve been watching this blinking cursor, wondering how to begin this post . It’s been just about 8 months since my last blog entry. Here’s the deal about my brief stint in applying to graduate schools.
In the winter of 2009, I decided on a whim, well, maybe more than a whim, to apply to a few grad schools. Requested recommendations, wrote essays, and got my portfolio ready for the applications. I thought this was the boost I needed and was a bit excited with a tinge of questioning. Well, I sent everything in before my trip to Hong Kong in January of 2010.
Spring came and the responses started rolling in. Both rejections and acceptances. Surprised at some, expected from others. Now came the tough part going to interviews and visiting schools. I narrowed it down to two schools, at opposite ends of the US. Stay close to New York City and live in Boston or make the leap to the West and live in San Francisco.
I visited both and met many people who encouraged me to go here or there. It was all really exciting. If I go to Boston, it will be so convenient to go home for shoots, if I do continue my photography on my family. If I moved to San Francisco, I can be challenged with finding new projects to explore, considering the large Chinese population already there. The professors at both schools were so kind and generous with their feedback, I was very much falling in love with the idea of going back to school. While I was genuinely thinking about the concept, some times I felt the whole meet and greet at the schools was very car salesmen-like.
While it all seemed like flowers in bloom, the large investment cost of school wavered over my head. Maybe it’s the way I was brought up, with immigrant parents who never splurged on anything. Maybe I was feeling guilty about going to school for photography and not say, for an MBA. Close friends, family, and professionals gave me their opinions but ultimately the decision was with me. Some say that an MFA is not worth all the money especially with a degree that doesn’t guarantee any more security in life, and actually will be more frightening than anything. Others told me that this was a great opportunity to grow as a professional artist and treat it as a moment where making/thinking/and questioning about art was full time. It could be a 2-year art residency or it could be me constantly wondering if this was a route willing to take, a $100K investment.
The gamble seemed too large. I would love to believe I’m a risk-taker in aspects of my life, but to be honest, anyone who knows me well will know I dot every “i” and cross every “t” before committing to most things. So when faced with such a large decision of going to graduate school or not, the romance of going to school as an artist full time didn’t attract the practical me.
While I sent in my decisions to schools, I did receive some phone calls from several concerned professors, people who I admire and whose work are studied by students everywhere. Money was the problem and lack of funding made the idea of graduate school pretty much impossible for me. I did secure several small grants here and there, but nothing that would actually make that much of a difference. I felt incredibly sorry to say I can’t go to graduate school because of money because it made me sound like I was putting the profession to the grave over something that seems so trivial.
I am still at a crossroads, where graduate school will always be there, it is my decision whether I need it or not to continue my work.
After the whole graduate school stint, I went to the Fotofest Biennial 2010. I never really wrote a recap but I will say I was asked where I graduated from many times, to the point where it was frustrating. Galleries, museums, collectors, and many others did not ask about my BFA degree, rather they were specifically looking for an MFA. I can understand how some may feel that having an MFA on a CV gives a bit of notoriety and secures the idea of that person being “committed” to the profession. However, starting a conversation right from the start with it is a bit tacky and to write an artist off right away from the beginning is rough.