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Student Perspective: Erin Miller (MFA 2021)

MFA candidate Erin Miller describes her experience in the MFA Program and Virtual Learning during the pandemic.

I first came to the New York Studio School to take part in a Drawing Marathon with Dean Graham Nickson. I was not sure exactly what to expect, but from reading about the Marathons, I was prepared for the experience to be intense and I was not disappointed! The moment I stepped into the building, I immediately sensed that it was a magical place steeped in history and creative energy. The first day we drew from seven models posing together, which was, for me, a rare opportunity and an inspiring challenge. It was (and is) such a joy to work alongside a fantastic group of passionate and committed artists from around the globe and esteemed yet generous and approachable faculty. Through the Drawing Marathons I learned to look at, think about, and discuss art in a more purposeful way. My experience during the Marathons was so transformative that when I returned home to Texas, I applied to the MFA Program and was thrilled to be accepted. Each semester begins with a Drawing Marathon, so I jumped into my third Marathon as I began the MFA Program in Fall 2019 and it was another unique and valuable learning experience. As I began the MFA Program, I was pleased to learn that the pace and intensity of the full-time program equaled that of the Marathons. The combination of fabulous teachers, illuminating critiques, strong emphasis on art history, long studio hours, and extremely focused, energetic work makes artistic growth inevitable at the Studio School.

The faculty, staff, and students at the Studio School community have always been extremely supportive and critical to my artistic growth so when shelter-in-place orders were instated and the School was forced to close the building temporarily in the middle of March, the loss of being in my studio alongside my friends making art and sharing ideas was a crushing disappointment. However, the NYSS faculty and staff did an exceptional job of transitioning the MFA Program to a virtual format. For the second half of the Spring semester, our teachers created a worthwhile studio-centered curriculum and instructed us remotely. Through virtual classes, my classmates and I saw each other often on Zoom and we did not lose our sense of community. We all set up home studios as well as we were able and I was grateful to our teachers for immediately giving us assignments to help jumpstart our home studio practices. Through Zoom and Padlet, we were able to share images of our work, and these tools turned out to be a great way to view and discuss works from art history together online. Looking at and talking about these compelling works inspired me to transcribe and draw from art historical references which opened up many creative possibilities in my work. In many of the online courses, models posed though Zoom, and while this was obviously different from drawing the model in the studio, seeing the model on a computer screen created crazy distortions and resulted in exciting drawings!

When shelter-in-place orders were first issued in New York City, adapting a studio-centered visual art program to Virtual Learning seemed like a foreign concept, but it was remarkable how our teachers made it an engaging and constructive experience. The city ordinances that forced us to abruptly vacate the Studio School building, in turn, prompted my classmates and me to experiment, dig deep, and wander in creative directions that might have otherwise gone undiscovered. I think we have all been relieved to find that making art in the face of this adversity is achievable. Although we are geographically apart, our beloved community is still together and I am excited to see what the Summer 2020 Virtual Marathons will hold. Our instructors have been incredibly innovative during this time and the sense of community within the Studio School remains strong despite moving to Virtual Learning and I expect great things!

Erin in her home studio in Texas.




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