Master of Fine Arts program begins with summer-intensive session
By Courtney D. Wolfe '12

A red string with seemingly random objects dangling from it stretches across a bulletin board in Lortz Hall. There are drawings and cartoons; a large, lacy piece of bark and notes of all kinds. A student enters and attaches a plastic bag full of freshly mown grass to the string and then sits down.

The last week of the summer-intensive residency for Wilson’s inaugural Master of Fine Arts program has begun.

The M.F.A. program at Wilson is designed to be completed in two years with 20 courses, including two required, four-week summer residency periods when students live, study and work on the Wilson campus.  After the summer semester, the M.F.A. program will provide a Wilson-approved faculty mentor near the student’s home, giving each student one-on-one personal contact with a professional who can offer ongoing advice and motivation, an aspect that distinguishes it from other M.F.A programs.

Wilson’s program is also designed to be interdisciplinary, offering concentrations in both visual arts and choreography, continuing Wilson’s tradition of multi-disciplinary liberal arts discovery by exploring the intersection of choreography and visual arts, and of art and the world.

“We’re asking questions about how visual arts and choreography are related, and how they are the same,” said program director RoseAnne Spradlin. “The M.F.A. has the ability to bridge the gap between artists working in both mediums.”

The interdisciplinary approach is cutting edge, according to Wilson Associate Professor of Fine Arts Philip Lindsey. “The approach fits into what’s happening in the art world right now. Artists today are much more interested in bringing more to the table,” Lindsey said.

The 2015 M.F.A. program enrolled an even split of choreographers and visual artists—three of each. But it was the interdisciplinary approach of the program that attracted Mandoline Whittlesey, who currently lives in France and had been thinking about graduate school for a decade before applying to Wilson’s program.

“If the program had been just choreography, I would not have applied,” Whittlesey said. “We’re looking at the how the art world is of the world; every walk of life is connected and interrelated. We’re seeing how art is a part of everything else and everything is becoming multifaceted in dialogue and those blurry edges are happening everywhere, not just in art.”

And so the red string. The M.F.A. students said the objects hanging from it reminded them how all things are connected and reinforced the elimination of boundaries, and so pushed them to explore the relationships that exist in the world.

The curriculum for the summer-intensive session illustrated the breadth of studies for the program: history and philosophy of art, current trends in art and performance, media techniques and the meaning of embodied movement and human form are all topics the students immersed themselves in during the four-week period. In addition, the students spent hours in their studio, producing art that reflected their experiences in the program.

“Our students bring different experiences to our M.F.A.,” said Department of Fine Arts Chair and Associate Professor Robert Dickson. “They are learning to translate their experiences and to find their voice.”

Students in the program will continue working throughout the 2015-16 academic year in online classes and producing artwork in their home studios with the guidance of a local mentor, allowing time for the students to explore the lessons of the residency
in their work.

How visual arts and choreography interconnect will be the first lesson the students explore in their home studios. The four weeks at Wilson have sparked a reevaluation. "Art is not what I thought it was," said Rebecca "Beck" Metzbower '14, whose focus is visual arts. Feeling inspired by the discussions in her classes, Metzbower has a journal full of ideas to explore in her work. “I can’t wait to get back into my studio to see how this experience has changed me as an artist.”