Since graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from a private art school a decade ago, Joe Enos planned to refine his artistic vision through a Master’s in Fine Art program.
The problem with Enos’ plan was that most MFA programs are very expensive. Already saddled with debt from his undergraduate education, he was focused on paying bills rather than going further into debt, and his dream of obtaining an MFA was put on hold.
Then Enos discovered UC Berkeley’s Department of Art Practice, which is able to offer full tuition support for its students who are California residents. (Out-of-state students must pay nonresident supplemental tuition.)
Enos, who has been active in the Bay Area art scene since he was a kid growing up in Alameda, applied and was accepted to the program last year. Like all the students in the MFA program, Enos now spends most of his days in the studio provided to him at the Richmond Field Station, where artists’ studios fill three buildings within the complex.
Inspired by shapes he saw in cartoons when he was young, Enos sculpts pieces of discarded foam into wooden barrels, cinderblocks and crates. “I’ve tried to hone in on these cultural images that we all know from cartoons but have never seen in reality and build them into anthropomorphic shapes,” said Enos.
Since soon after its inception in 1987, the two-year program, which admits only six to seven students each year, has attracted applicants from around the world on the reputation of its flexible curriculum based on the practice of creating art in a variety of mediums, said Dee Levister, Student Affairs Officer for the department. “The MFA in Art Practice at Berkeley gives students the time to really focus on their own work and be encircled by a small community of artists,” said Levister.
During their second year, MFA candidates are required to teach an introductory art class (Art 8) to help them hone their teaching skills under the guidance of Lecturer John McNamara, who created the class in 1994. Because many of the MFA students ultimately want to land teaching positions, said Levister, Art 8 is a great way for them to enhance their pedagogical methods in a class of 25 to 30 students.
For Ehren Tool, the experience of teaching in the MFA program at Berkeley was critical in refining his approach and personal style of teaching. Since graduating in 2005, Tool was hired as the Senior Laboratory Mechanician in the ceramics studio where he is responsible for preparing the clay and firing the kilns for students. However, he noted that the MFA program also got him out of his ceramics studio and exposed him to other artists within the program who were working in other mediums.
“You can’t just come in as a potter and talk about teapots for two years. The program forces you to communicate with artists from different backgrounds,” said Tool. Another of the strengths of the program is it allows students plenty of time to actually work in their studios, he said. “The MFA at Berkeley is not just about talking about art; it’s focused on actually making art — which is good!”