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Student Perspective: Halle Dillon MFA 2020
December 7, 2020 · Student Perspectives
I first learned about the New York Studio School as an undergraduate through my college professors at Hollins University. I understood it was a serious art school for committed artists but moving to New York City for grad school seemed like an impossible dream to me at the time. After graduating from Hollins, I joined the corporate world and stopped painting for 10 years mostly working in the IT industry recruiting software engineers. I was on the wrong path and, after eventually reaching a breaking point, I saved money and moved to New York in 2016 with my sights set on the Studio School.
Once in New York, I fell back into working as a recruiter full time to pay the rent. At the same time, I started taking advantage of the incredible free opportunities the Studio School offers to the public like the Evening Lecture Series, where the world’s leading artists, art historians and critics speak about their areas of expertise. I also took Evening & Weekend Classes in painting and drawing where I reconnected with my artistic identity and knew that I had found a community where I could be myself, be challenged and thrive; so I applied to study full time in the MFA Program.
I was not able to afford the tuition on my own, and so the Studio School offered me a scholarship that made it possible for me to attend. In a world where so many colleges are run like for like for-profit corporations, the Studio School is so different. The intimate class sizes gave me the individual support and attention I needed. I could tell that the faculty, staff and Dean Graham Nickson, truly cared about me as a student and were invested in seeing me succeed.
The Studio School’s atelier system offers students an opportunity to study under a variety of instructors with different approaches. It was a safe place where I could experiment and play, make mistakes and also be taken seriously. I was pushed and challenged and no matter what I or my peers presented, the work was approached and considered with respect.
Between the Evening Lecture Series, the MFA art history seminar with Karen Wilken and world-class museums and galleries in New York City, my knowledge of the art world expanded exponentially. We were constantly viewing exhibitions with our classes, and learning how to navigate the New York art scene. I went in feeling very naive and left feeling completely confident in my ability to talk about art and my own work.
My MFA class was scheduled to present their thesis work and graduate in May of 2020. However, due to the pandemic, we were forced to retreat and isolate for quarantine. Classes resumed online and were completed from a distance. I was incredibly impressed by how the Studio School pivoted and adapted to the challenges of the pandemic. Even when our ways of communicating changed, I still felt like I was receiving the individual attention that I was getting while at school, maybe even more.
Rather than giving me the answers to my painting questions, the Studio School offered the right questions to ask myself. Like the old adage about teaching a man to fish, the Studio School gave me confidence to be a painter for the rest of my life, because I now know how to do the work. With this foundation, I am excited to see what discoveries I will make as I continue down this path answering my own creative questions.