Andrew Buck Ceramics
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A QUALITATIVE MULTIPLE CASE STUDY OF
FOUR ADULT GRADUATE CERAMIC ART STUDENTS
ENROLLED IN DIFFERENT
MASTER OF FINE ARTS (MFA) DEGREE PROGRAMS
Andrew S. Buck, Ed.D.
This research endeavor sought to understand the distinct journeys of four adult graduate art students as they developed their ideas and artwork in relationship to a variety of personal, material, social and cultural forces situated within the university ceramic art studio. The research took the form of an exploratory, descriptive multiple case study of four graduate level students who completed their different MFA ceramic art programs in 2014. It was found that several areas influenced the emergence of the students’ artwork and ideas. The students’ biographical and artistic histories with which each began their respective MFA ceramic art journeys appeared to have a significant relationship to the trajectory of their artwork and ideas throughout their MFA experience. The students’ highly motivated and ambitious exploration of materials also appeared to contribute to their artistic development. The continuous production of new work by adult students in the graduate studios was critical to initiating dialogical teaching and learning which precipitated critical inquiry, reflection and revision. Two distinctive features appeared to characterize these university ceramic art studios. A high level of aesthetic risk-taking was fostered in these particular studios. This appeared to emerge from deep levels of mutual trust, respect, encouragement, and dialogue between graduate students and faculty. Also within the university ceramic art studios, the students appeared to mobilize their ideas and artwork through rigorous, critical inquiry. Research for the graduate student artists took several forms including felt experience, material and technical investigations, reading, aesthetic inquiry, conceptual development, and personal reflection. The contemporary art world and ceramic art world contributed to the conditions through which these four MFA ceramic art students cultivated their unique, dynamic aesthetic sensibilities by leaving open the frame of possibilities for emerging three-dimensional artwork. The research argues for the possibility of an emerging mindful aesthetics, a dynamic state of knowledge and awareness, which served as the ground upon which graduate adult students made and advanced their artwork. The educational implications of approaches to research for graduate students in the visual arts and the importance of the studio as a sanctuary are discussed based on the findings of this research.
Excerpt from Discussion section of Dissertation
Summary of Individual Biographical Conditions as an Area of Influence
To summarize, the artist-as-graduate student’s artwork, ideas, and creative processes develop out of unique, particular initial conditions. One distinctive and powerful feature of these initial conditions was the artist’s accrued biographical experience which included a pre-existing body of artwork, ideas in which they were interested, and ways of working. Their individual artistic history appeared to foreshadow the conceptual landscape, materials, and iconography which they were to investigate throughout their MFA learning experience. The data suggested that the accumulated personal and artistic histories of these particular artists-as-graduate-students appeared to be a primary force in shaping the direction of their artwork which emerged throughout the two or three year span of their MFA experience. This may appear obvious to those who work with MFA students on a regular basis; but for others, this may come a as a new insight and has many implications. For example, it appears, in most instances and for most of the time for these particular students, new artwork and even seemingly radical exploratory work was connected to existing artwork or ideas. Connectedness or continuity of experience does not necessarily dispel uncertainty (being unsure of what you are doing), or minimize risk-taking, or ensure that the artist is consciously aware of what is going on in the act of making (at the level of being able to talk about it discursively). It does suggest that students may look to their past and present life experience and artwork as a means of finding direction for their future artwork.
If it is the case for these artists-as-graduate students that most of their artwork and ideas grew out of their existing and expanding body of artwork and ideas; how and in what ways did their teachers, the materials and technological resources of the ceramic studios, the cultural of the ceramic and fine art worlds, and the institutionalized context of the MFA program appear to influence the development of their artwork and ideas? How did these artists-as-graduate students individually and uniquely respond to these diverse conditions? While we might be led to believe that artwork grew exclusively from the artist’s vision or ideas, there are compelling reasons to think otherwise particularly in the context of an MFA program.
Culture as an Area of Influence: Western Art History, Contemporary Fine Art, the Ceramic Art World and the University
Cultural features of the contemporary fine art world, the ceramic art world, and the university appeared to be pervasively
present in all aspect of student learning. Several characteristics of contemporary and modern art influenced the thinking, practice, and experience of these artists-as-graduate students during their MFA experience. First, visual art, as a cultural phenomenon and profession, appeared as an open field of practice. Secondly, the Western tradition of visual art, which embraces modern and contemporary fine art and the history of American ceramic art, centers on individuals as the loci of practice (in contrast to teams such as movie or music production crews). Thirdly, the paradigm of contemporary art, within which these students create work and within which these MFA programs are situated, is highly conceptual in orientation. In today’s art world, ideas drive the making of representational, symbolic, or interactive artwork. Additionally, the ceramics art world has its own unique culture which values technical knowledge, craftsmanship and materials knowledge. Lastly, cultural traditions of studio art in higher education placed particular expectations and demands on students by expanding their knowledge of art and engaging in critical inquiry. These expectations along with rituals and routines of the MFA programs appeared to influence how these students approached thinking about and making art.
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