By Joie Rey Cohen, artist, photographer, and 2nd year MFA student
I used to dream of the day when I would enroll in a traditional MFA studio program and have the best photography equipment at my disposal. But when it came time to pick a program, I chose the interdisciplinary experience at CIIS.
Why did I choose CIIS? Because I felt that taking an academic approach to an MFA would give me the extra push I needed to create fabulous art without the crutch of expensive equipment. While applying for MFA programs, I became concerned that a traditional studio program may leave me too reliant on my tools rather than my skills.
I have always been a mensch: a person who survives the hard times when faced with them time and time again. Because I don't have access to fancy photography studios and equipment, I have become incredibly resourceful. I won’t lie and tell you that I don’t wish for a fancy studio, with excellent lighting accommodations and an abundance of props at my disposal (that would certainly make my life easier). However, being in a non-traditional studio MFA has forced me to make do with less, which is excellent preparation for the real world. I have a decent digital SLR camera, and a few studio hot lights which I purchased a few years ago. I tack up a flat bed sheet, and I'm good to go.
I am creating art about my family (something I have avoided in the past). Had I chosen a traditional commercial photography major, I might not have realized the photographic goldmine I was sitting on. During the process of deciding to do artwork about my family, I began sifting through four generations of snapshots. This was the genesis of my visual memoir, which is now going to be my MFA final project. I can't begin to do justice to the depth of the relationships and collaborative processes in a creative inquiry program. And it's hard to describe exactly what it's like being a graduate student/artist in this program. But if I had to describe it in one word, that word would be "inspirational."
I have grown so much in the last year, not only as an artist, but as a person. I have been constantly challenged about my creative process, and have been encouraged to think critically about my work and the work of others, including work that is not specifically in my medium. I am a resourceful, self taught, creative artist, who has never had anything handed to me--and I feel this is the right program for me.