Montclair State's MFA Program Celebrates 11th Year

Students and alumni have garnered many accolades since the program's inception

Part of the exhibit at the MFA Open Studio.

Montclair State University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program celebrates its 11th year in existence. Since its inauguration, the program has invited an exceptional group of artists, curators, and visiting critics to work with the students. Included among these are Roberta Smith, Jerry Saltz, Elizabeth Peyton, Eleanor Heartney, Arthur C. Danto, James Rosenquist, Phillip Pearlstein, William Wegman, Julie Heffernan, and Dana Schutz.

Asst. prof. Andrew Atkinson, program director for the MFA in Studio Art program, said having access to such a high caliber of artists is just one of the big perks to students enrolled in the program here at Montclair State.

“We have a remarkable array of visiting artists with diverse careers, aesthetic interests, subject areas, approaches and methods. We pride ourselves upon this,” Atkinson said. “On average, our MFA students attend lectures from more than 20 different visiting speakers a semester, with most visiting their studios,” he added.

Recent speakers include Vito Acconci, Reverend Billy, Nick Cave, Leonardo Drew, Ken Johnson, Jeff Koons, Shirin Neshat, Trevor Paglen, Victoria Sambunaris, Eve Sussman, Jean Shin, Denyse Thomasos. The seminar class is taught by Heartney, the eminent critic.

Atkinson is quick to add that these distinguished visitors are in addition to “an excellent and very diverse part- and full-time faculty” -- all of which serve to enrich the student experience here at Montclair State.

“Students will create several extended bodies of work, informed by the visitors and faculty, and are presented with regular opportunities to exhibit and work with notable artists, critics and curators,” he explained. “Through the faculty and visitors, they [students] will build an extensive image of the contemporary art field, its concerns and methods through working directly with the artists, curators and critics that are forming it.”

Another big perk, Atkinson added, is the campus’s proximity to the cultural mecca that is New York City.

“The program is 14 miles to the art world center of NYC, a short drive or ride by bus or train,” he said. “Many of our visitors come from New York, and many of our students exhibit there, including the final thesis exhibition which is always in New York.”

As a result, Atkinson said, students are thoroughly prepared for a career in the field -- not only as artists but also for a variety of career paths -- when they successfully complete the program.

“The remarkable thing about the MFA program is that students are prepared for the diverse and interesting careers that include exhibiting their work, teaching, working with other artists, as curators and in galleries, and parlaying their material, aesthetic and intellectual skills into many other fields,” he said. “By the end of the program, students are ready to emerge as working professionals in the visual arts, with a command of the art field’s concerns and ideas, and with the ability to apply these skills across the many areas of the world,” he added.

A 60-credit program, the MFA at Montclair State is unique in its interdisciplinary approach, thereby, giving the student access to a more diversified faculty and contemporary ideas. Studio opportunities are offered in painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, papermaking, filmmaking, video art production, photography, ceramics, fiber forms, jewelry/metals, and multimedia. The program further includes specific interdisciplinary courses, such as Computer Generated Art, Art in Public Places, and Performance Art, that allow students and faculty to explore concepts not rooted in a specific genre. Students are permitted to work in any studio area in a given semester, provided it relates to their ongoing project.

As a result, the ability to work across a variety of genres is among the qualities needed for students to succeed in the program.

“We're looking for candidates who work well in an interdisciplinary environment, and who can show their potential as nascent artists - through their portfolios,” Atkinson said. “They should have a strong undergrad background in the visual, aesthetic and criticality, with appropriate technical and material skills. These will keep any candidate in good stead along the transformative MFA journey.”

Also required are dedication and hard work.

“They need to be able and willing to participate in an intensive full-time program.”

In the 11 years since the program has been offered, students and alumni have received many recognitions for their accomplishments including Joan Mitchell Foundation grants, solo exhibitions in New York galleries and critical reviews by major press.

Montclair State University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program held an Open Studio at the MFA Gallery, in Finely Hall, on November 11. The event showcased work by current students from the classes of 2012 and 2013 pursuing their master’s degree in studio fine arts at Montclair State University. The open studio event gave viewers intimate access to a diverse and international group of artists working in a multitude of mediums, reflecting the interdisciplinary focus of the MFA program. Accompanying the event was an Art Silent Auction featuring selected pieces by the MFA students, faculty, and visiting artists who support the program. The proceeds will go to a department scholarship fund that will support outstanding students in the program.

For more information about the program, contact Louise Davies at 973-655-4074 or, via e-mail, at daviesl@mail.montclair.edu. Or, visit the program’s Facebook page.