The M.F.A. is a 60-credit graduate degree in studio arts offered by Johnson State in conjunction with the Vermont Studio Center both in Johnson, Vermont. Students work with resident and visiting artists from both programs and typically finish their studies in three to four years.
Founded in 1984, the Vermont Studio Center is an ideal creative community embracing serious, advanced artists and writers of different ages, approaches and levels of development. Sharing a commitment to the creative process, these artists come together at the Vermont Studio Center throughout the year to develop their work through distraction-free, intensive studio work in drawing, painting, sculpture and mixed media.
Admission to the Program
Applicants to the M.F.A. program must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and must apply for acceptance as master’s degree students through the Office of Admissions at Johnson State College. The Office of Admissions will review completed application portfolios in collaboration with M.F.A. faculty and Vermont Studio Center staff. Applications should be submitted to the JSC Admissions Office by March 1st. The program begins for each student with a one month residency that needs to be scheduled between May and November.
Advising and Evaluation
M.F.A. students work closely with an advisor from the JSC studio arts faculty to plan an overall approach to meeting degree requirements and to navigate any special challenges that arise. Because of the nature of graduate work in the arts, program session credits are offered on a Pass/No Pass basis only.
Although M.F.A. students have a program structure that differs significantly from traditional Johnson State College programs, it is important and helpful that students are aware of the College’s policies, opportunities and other general information included here. Also, because much time is spent at the Vermont Studio Center, it is equally important to be familiar with the Studio Center’s handbook, available through their office.
Vermont Studio Center Residency Sessions
(six 6-credit sessions, for 36 credits)
During the months of May through November, we run concurrent M.F.A. programs during the Studio Center’s seven 4-week sessions. In each session a different group of prominent visiting artists offers individual critiques and group sessions. As part of the M.F.A. program, it is important to see the resident critics once a week to get varied feedback. The Studio Center will provide an annual listing of their visiting artists.
Typically, students complete two sessions per year for three years. These residencies need not be taken consecutively. While some students prefer the eight-week continuity, others like separating their residencies, with anywhere from one or more months back home in their studios. Factors influencing a student’s choice of residencies include convenience for their home life, job flexibility, travel expenses, the schedule of critics and scheduled plans of other students. Space at the Studio Center is limited for each session. Students are encouraged to contact the Studio Center as soon as possible to reserve available space. Upon request, students may enroll in more than two program sessions a year if space is available at the Studio Center and if such a plan is approved by the student’s advisors. Taking fewer than two program sessions a year is also an option.
During these program sessions, Johnson State College art faculty, Professors Ken Leslie, Mary Martin and Michael Zebrowski, will visit to confer with students and facilitate M.F.A. critiques. Please check the current Vermont Studio Center brochure for further details and a roster of visiting artists.
M.F.A. Components During VSC Residencies
Each month M.F.A. students in residence at the Vermont Studio Center participate fully in the scheduled offerings. This is a time for full immersion in that intensive studio experience. Students benefit most from making strong connections to the visiting artists that are special to each program session at the Studio Center. While faculty offer the strongest voice when critiquing the out-of-residency independent studio component, they do visit students each week while students are in-residence. JSC faculty most often visit on Wednesdays, with a version of the following schedule tailored to each month’s residency group:
- Week 1: Meet at 1 p.m. in the lounge of the Studio Center Dining Hall. Introduce new students, share news, concerns, special notices, events in the region, etc. Generally there are no studio visits this week, but visits for the following weeks are scheduled. Meet with returning students to complete out-of-residency requirements either week one or week four.
- Week 2: JSC faculty visit M.F.A. student studios, by appointment as arranged during week 1.
- Week 3: JSC faculty visit M.F.A. student studios, by appointment as arranged during week 1.
- Week 4: Group critiques at the Visual Arts Center, JSC campus. Students bring a representative sampling of their month’s work. Guests may be invited to these critiques ONLY with the permission of faculty and participating students. Occasionally it is necessary for the group critique to move to see a student’s installation elsewhere but, for the most part, all students need to take their work out of their studio and install it at the Visual Arts Center galleries.
We do not encourage two-week residencies. We do strongly encourage students to follow the four-week format (i.e., arrive for week one, leave on week four; any deviation requires permission from JSC faculty).
Up to two residencies can be completed at places other than the Vermont Studio Center, to meet the particular needs of the student’s work. The first three residencies must be completed in Johnson, chosen from the May through November sessions. Thereafter, with approval of the faculty advisors, students can select programs from around the world that are equivalent in nature, or students can select sessions at the Studio Center from the December through April sessions. To receive credit from non-VSC residencies, or December through April residencies, students need to document work done during the alternative month with 20 images, a one-page narrative and the name and phone number of a contact reference at the alternative program.
What faculty are looking for in any alternative proposal will be a situation that is comparable to the Studio Center-you in a community of artists, working on your own vision, intensively, away from the distractions of home, for four weeks. Over the years students have done all sorts of interesting and valuable alternatives. Faculty will discuss whatever options you are considering.
Independent Studio Work
(Six 2-credit documentation packets)
Students will be complete two independent, out-of-residency terms. By setting up a working studio in their community of residence, students will mail documentation of new work to the Johnson State College faculty serving as M.F.A. program advisors. Each packet is worth two credits. Generally students should schedule packets and residencies to keep pace with one another. In other words, if you’ve completed two residencies, you should next work on two packets.
The Independent Studio Work term is designed to accomplish two primary outcomes - a professional, active studio and an articulate, sophisticated skill at documenting the work. Both outcomes are of paramount importance to future career success in the arts. Students are responsible for documenting their work six times to fulfill the requirements of each of the two credit out-of-residency components. No partial credit for partial fulfillment is possible. As a general rule, there will be no extensions allowed. Under certain circumstances we will assign an “Incomplete.”
Students “contract” with faculty advisors for deadlines to submit documentation packets. These deadlines are chosen to be well distributed around the year, leaving at least three months after the last VSC session and at least three months between each deadline. It has been our experience that people juggling full-time jobs with M.F.A. requirements quite likely will need more time between deadlines and more than three years to complete the program. A contract is filled out which obligates the student to meet these deadlines. We must receive a contract a minimum of two months before the first chosen deadline. If personal circumstances require a student to change a contracted date, then such change must be requested at least two months prior to the original deadline.
All documentation packets must be postmarked or hand delivered on or by each due date. Missed deadlines result in failure. Late packets will be returned unopened. All packets must be sent to: Graduate Office, Johnson State College, 337 College Hill, Johnson, VT 05656.
To be accepted, documentation packets must include all five of the following items:
- 20 Images of New Work
New work means work completed since the last Studio Center residency or documentation packet. The twenty images need not be of twenty newly finished works, but rather document the range and depth of what is happening in the student’s studio. This can include works in progress, preparatory drawings and no more than a total of five details or multiple views of three-dimensional works. Details of 2-d works are no longer useful in this zoom-able digital world. Choose images that will assist in giving the faculty a clear understanding of what is going on. Do not send more than 20 images. Credit during out-of-residency periods is dependent upon the quality and thoroughness of ongoing studio work and creative investigation.
High quality documentation is crucial to the success of the out-of-residency component. Students should always check images on the disk-we require JPEGs. Be sure they open in numerical order and right side up.
- Image Identification Sheet (2 copies)
One page listing the images, numbered 01 through 20, giving title, date, medium, and dimensions (height X width X depth). Additional notes about individual pieces are optional.
- Artist Statement (2 copies)
No more than a one-page description of current, primary studio concerns, as reflected in the slides. Address the intention of the work. This should be written to illuminate the work in a professional setting and not as a personal letter. Think of the statement as what you would write to accompany this work in an exhibition.
- Recent Art-related Activities (2 copies)
This should include a list of professional activities, exhibitions entered, books read, lectures or workshops attended–in short, all those out-of-studio activities that contribute to your artistic growth. This can also include progress made, struggles undergone, influences felt and/or plans for the future.
- Updated Resume (2 copies)
Add what is new, clean up what is old.
- Optional Letter (2 copies)
All the above are more formal in character, but faculty are always glad to get an additional letter with less formal or more personal information than what is appropriate to the documentation.
Evaluations are conducted in person or as a scheduled conference call to your home. All conference calls will be scheduled in Eastern Standard Time. Students project a duplicate set of images during the hour-long conference call, so students and faculty are all looking at the same work. When possible, conferences will be scheduled as SKYPE calls. Faculty review the images and read all the documentation. Reviews are preplanned jointly, following extensive discussion until consensus is reached. In instances when they have differing views, they will indicate that. Reviews discuss any number of issues, including the technique or content of the work, must-see shows or must-read books, image-taking technique, etc. Between the office mechanics of receiving and processing packets, viewing and scheduling conferences students should expect to wait approximately three weeks for reviews.
In-person reviews may be held when students are in residence at the Studio Center, generally during the first or fourth week of the residency. Students will be contacted about a date and time for this appointment with JSC faculty. Students must indicate when submitting the packet, if a phone conference or an in-person review is preferred.
Faculty prepare for an in-person review in the same way they do for the phone reviews and then they meet with the student to view the images together. The discussion is informal, but thorough, regarding progress. Expectations may change in the last packets to reflect focus towards thesis exhibition.
Contemporary Art Issues (6 credits)
Students are required to enroll in two art history seminars (each worth 3 credits) during the M.F.A. program. The first course is an online course introducing contemporary art history and theory. The second course is an individual research and writing course that will be overseen by two professors.
ART-5311 Contemporary Arts Seminar I: Theory & Readings
The theory and readings course will require reading a list of books and posting comments on the M.F.A. Art History website where students read comments by other M.F.A. students. The purpose of this is to read about the theories of the art world and think about how they as contemporary artists react to them. They should question why they reacted positively or negatively to an artist or a reading. What does that say about his or her own work as a contemporary artist? The course concludes with a take-home exam. At least two graduate professors will read all of the comments and make their own as well.
ART-5312 Contemporary Arts Seminar II: Research & Writing
The second course consists of formal contemporary art history research that concludes with the writing of a paper. The topic of the research will be suggested by the graduate professors. The student is expected to check in throughout the semester regarding her or his research. The course concludes with a formal paper using Chicago style footnoting, images and bibliography. At least two graduate professors will read the paper and grade the course.
M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition (6 credits)
At the completion of 36 credits of residency sessions, 12 credits of out-of-residency packets and 6 credits of contemporary art study, students will present an exhibition of new work in Johnson at the Julian Scott Memorial Gallery at JSC. While a student prepares the exhibition, no documentation packets of progress are required. JSC faculty will be available for informal conferences if requested. The emphasis of the exhibition will be on independent work completed after the final residency session at the Studio Center. A minimum of six months following the final Studio Center session or out-of-residency packet is required for preparation of the thesis. This six-month rule is strictly followed so students can work freely through residencies and packets without the pressure of a looming exhibition. The student will produce an announcement and install a comprehensive, professional exhibition. The gallery director, will give each M.F.A. candidate advice and guidelines to help in this process. The exhibition is the equivalent of a written thesis and should be treated accordingly with students responsible for completing all tasks associated with mounting the exhibition.
It is the student’s responsibility to contact the gallery director to schedule the exhibition. To do this one needs to submit an “M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition Application.” Students may only submit this application when they have no more than two residencies or two packets remaining. All thesis exhibitions must take place during JSC’s regular school year and not during the summer, so exhibits must be scheduled between the beginning of the fall semester and the end of the spring semester.
Students, with advisors, will schedule a gallery talk to occur during their show, usually just before the opening reception. Students must also produce a set of twenty images of work from their thesis exhibition along with a one-page artist’s statement and submit the images within one month after their exhibition. Acceptance by M.F.A. program faculty of this M.F.A. thesis exhibition, artist’s statement, images and a gallery talk will earn the remaining six credits toward graduation.
REQUIRED: This gallery talk is not a critique with JSC faculty; it is a discourse on the conceptual, ideological and formal issues as evidenced by your M.F.A. exhibition. Gallery talks will be scheduled to accommodate undergraduate attendance. Exhibition opening receptions are optional. The best attendance has proved to be Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays between 3-5 p.m. While faculty may be present at the openings, this is not the optimal time for discussing work. Gallery talks are much more conducive to in-depth dialogue. Faculty will gladly meet with the students for further in-depth discussion and an informal review of the exhibition. The student should contact faculty if such a meeting is desired.
We have a collection of videos of some thesis talks. You may view them in the JSC’s Willey Library/Learning Center; simply ask for them at the front desk.
Advising, Evaluation & Communication
M.F.A. students work closely with JSC faculty to plan an overall approach to meeting degree requirements and to navigate any special challenges that arise. An actual “Plan of Study” will be developed and approved. All credits will be evaluated on a pass/fail basis, with attention paid to focus, risk-taking, resourcefulness and effort. Email is best for quick questions and setting up appointments.
Connections with other M.F.A. students
Faculty encourage informal meetings between M.F.A. students, including regular correspondence between students during the out-of-residency periods, as this is beneficial to all. (Students may opt to have addresses and phone numbers kept confidential). It has been found to be very vital to students to have an ongoing dynamic with other Studio Center participants as well.
Leaves of Absence
Students in good academic standing, who wish to interrupt their studies for a period not to exceed one year may request a leave of absence. Students on a leave of absence will not need to reapply for admission. Students may apply for a leave of absence by submitting an electronic Student Exit Notification Form/Leave of Absence Request Form to the Registrar’s Office. The leave is not official until the request is approved by the Registrar. If a student takes more than the allotted time for a leave of absence he or she must re-apply to the program.
Graduate Assistant Position
During the fall and spring semesters, the Fine & Performing Arts Department reserves at least one section of foundation classes for an M.F.A. candidate to teach. This is a three-credit undergraduate class. All interested M.F.A. candidates are encouraged to apply for the part-time faculty position.
As you register for your last six credits (ART-5912 M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition ) you must also file an Application for Degree with the Registrar’s Office, which will then conduct a degree audit using your approved plan of study. You will be contacted directly if they discover any discrepancies during their audit. Students are required to complete their degree requirements no later than five years after starting the program.
We expect Students Graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in Studio Arts from Johnson State College to be able to:
- Articulate informed and ideologically sound ideas about art, both historic and contemporary and connect those ideas to the wider world
- Create artwork that is technically proficient and imbued with meaningful content.
- Demonstrate a general understanding, ability and resourcefulness with a wide range of art media, as well as a deeper understanding of at least one medium such as drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, ceramics, digital media, etc.
- Have an openness to ideas other than their own and a willingness to take risks with their own work.
- Have established regular studio practice, which will hopefully be life-long. Students will be aware of developing issues in their own work and know how to continue on their own in the pursuit of that vision, with strategies for maintaining self-awareness.
- Be familiar with the professional art world, from the perspective of career options, including exhibition venues, graduate and grant opportunities.
- Know how to assemble a professional portfolio.
- Understand the mechanics of setting up a safe and functioning professional studio.
- Know how to produce a professional exhibition of their art, write about their art and speak about their art at a public event.
M.F.A. in Studio Arts
Cost per credit:
- Vermont Residents: $511
- Out-of-State Resident: $1,103
- New England Award Recipients *: $767
M.F.A. in Studio Arts: Estimated Program Costs *
||Out of state Residents
||New England Awardees *
||Two month studio sessions at $3,950 each (Comprehensive charge, including room and board)
||JSC studio session tuition (12 credits)
||Independent Study (6 credits)
||Contemporary Art Seminar (3 credits)
||Total Year 1
||Total Year 2
===Studio sessions & JSC tuition (estimated 21 credits)
||Total Year 3
Studio sessions & JSC tuition (estimated 18 credits) Independent Study replaced by 6- credit master’s exhibition; no seminar.
* The New England Award is available to eligible students from Canada (all provinces), New Hampshire and Rhode Island. It represents 150% of the in-state tuition rate.
** Estimated program costs are based on current-year tuition rates for a student completing the 60-credit program over three years. Tuition increases can be expected in subsequent years. Additional costs for program completion not reflected on this schedule, include travel and art supply expenses, postage, shipping, etc.