Studio Art Pre Grad Intern Elizabeth Williams

Elizabeth WilliamsMy experience with the IE program put me in intimate contact with graduate students in the University of Texas Studio Art program. Not only my mentor, but a collective of graduate students have aided in shaping my ideas about professional art and practice. I had applied for graduate school the semester before this and I treated the experience as a warm-up to entering a master's program. I wanted to work closely with graduate students so that I would be required to think about the work that I was making on a higher level, and so that I could gain an understanding of the mentality of a graduate art student: how they worked, what was expected of them, what their academic goals were relative to the idea of making art.

The curriculum that I established with my mentor, Christopher Culver, revolved around structured readings, scheduled critiques, gallery openings, lectures and discussions. While many of these opportunities are open to all students, this program facilitated my attendance and discussion specifically with graduate students. I found that in the undergraduate program there is a lot of "likes", whereas graduate students are more prone to question and critique. I attended lectures and shows as I have in previous years but instead of leaving thinking "this is what I liked", as I would have with my undergraduate peers, I left these events thinking "this is what works, this is what is questionable. This is what I can do with this information". Where I had previously taken small steps, I found graduate students were leaping.

My own artwork was put into a new context with this program. I was forced to defend my work to a number of graduate students on a regular basis. These individuals knew I was involved in this program and treated my work as they would a fellow graduate. I was called on to defend, think and contextualize on the next level. Answers that sufficed in previous classes were not good enough now. I was truly asked upon to answer "why", and to place my own work in the context of contemporary art history.

During this program I was invited to interview at Hunter CUNY for their graduate program in painting. I was so thankful to be involved in this program because all my questions found answers with the aid of these graduate students. Before my interview my mentor set up a "mock interview" with a panel of four graduates. I presented photographs of my work and statement just as I would for the real thing. These graduates forced me to talk about my work, goals and objectives on the spot. They questioned me and shared their own interview experiences which gave me an idea of what to expect. My mock interview went a little shaky. I was uncertain. I stuttered and stumbled over my ideas. I was horribly nervous. Luckily though, when I got to the real interview I felt totally prepared, having done it before. I walked in and spoke with confidence. I spoke too much! The interviewers were impressed with what I had to say and told me that I gave them more information than was expected (in a good way). A few weeks later I found out I was accepted to the program starting this fall. I was so happy and was able to share this success with a supportive group of graduates who helped me achieve this goal!

A large portion of my program was also based on the travel grant that my mentor and I proposed. We traveled to Los Angeles to experience the art world on the west coast. I had previously visited New York with a group of undergraduates on a separate travel grant and I found this experience to be very different. I was expected to respond to the work we saw on a much higher level. I made connections with artists who had previously been graduate students at UT-- individuals who had shaped my work and ideas years before. Now, I was able to show these people how I had grown and what I had learned. Their work meant so much more now that I had background knowledge to fall back on and a supportive cohort. I was able to see artists working independently after graduate school. The experience changed what I thought being art young artist out of graduate school is. I was able to really visualize the possibility of working independent of an institution. This is a feasible possibility. This is a goal I can achieve.

I was most surprised at the importance of networking in the visual arts. Now that I have been accepted to graduate school, the networking this program has facilitated holds new meaning. The collegiate relations I have formed with these graduate students are relations that will be maintained after I move to New York. I feel as though I have shifted gears and am now able to take my ideas to a professional realm. The experience has trained my eyes and my intellect and strengthened my outer shell so that now I can enter my masters program well prepared, loosened and excited for the potential for success this program has facilitated for me.