Friday, June 12, 2009

US News & World Report

Every year the US News & World report comes out with their list of the best graduate schools in the country. With the rest of the categories, they feature the best Fine Art programs, and further divide the list down into categories (i.e. Sculpture, Photography, etc.).

Now, a lot of people place a lot of importance in these types of ranking systems and hold them to be gospel. The truth of the matter is that the ranking systems for choosing these schools is based on many criteria that tend to give a general idea about the best. They send out surveys to current art professionals and professors - some of which send the surveys back. One theory is that alums or professors of the truly great schools may be too prolific or busy to answer the survey, or that some schools "strongly encourage" the surveys to be filled out.

The rankings also tend to take more value in physical considerations like studios, facilities, student:teacher ratios than other criteria that are harder to judge. For example, one school may have a great woodshop, while another is known for their stellar visiting artist program - the visiting artist program is very hard to put a numerical value on.

To give a specific example, this year's list ranks the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) as the best Sculpture M.F.A. program as 1st, Yale School of Art as 2nd, UCLA as 6th and Columbia as 9th. While it is true that VCU has incredible facilities, great shops, and a really good specific program, the overwhelming majority of the art world would consider Yale, Columbia, and UCLA to be much higher ranked. Yale sculpture is known for their rigorous critique program and conceptually theoretical philosophy, Columbia is in New York - projecting many grads into stardom, and UCLA's faculty simply is astonishing.

So as advice - use these rankings as a general idea for the best grouping of schools in the nation - but don't take too much stock in who's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. The simple fact of the matter is that they don't mean much. So if you're looking for a graduate program, just make sure you are really ready to go (and not just for a piece of paper, but to be open to learning and growing as a young artist) - and look into schools that you think would fit with what you're looking for.

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