Engaging a Sense of Self: Participatory Action Research within a Course for MFA Graduate Students in the Visual Arts
AuthorBergstrom, Barbara J.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThe purpose of this research study aimed to critically examine personal and professional issues related to a small group of visual arts MFA graduate students and myself as we participated in a semester-long course entitled, “Issues of Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts,” at a large public university in the United States. In the form of a colloquium series, the course aimed to explore a graduate student’s developing sense of self and its impact on the different roles he or she often embodies while pursuing an MFA in a School of Art. These roles include those of an individual, a student, an artist, a teaching assistant, and a future professional in the field of the visual arts. Employing a participatory action research methodology, I was also a participant in the study. I regularly documented the oral, written, and visual data that emerged from the participants’ considerations of their immediate circumstances both inside and outside the School of Art as well as their interactions with the reflexive pedagogies utilized in the colloquium sessions. This dissertation also reviewed research studies conducted on graduate student development, students in visual arts MFA programs, the historical development of the MFA degree, as well as faculty members in MFA programs and their curricular and pedagogical practices. Findings indicated the following: First, strong convictions seemed to be intrinsic to the participants’ pursuit of their MFA degrees. They appeared eager to learn about becoming a professional in the field, and each participant expressed interest in teaching the visual arts as instructors in higher education. Second, participating in a course such as “Issues of Relevance and Character in the Fine Arts,” seemed to offer the participants a receptive and reflective platform to convey the voices of the “characters” they embodied as MFA students. For example, the participants appeared to clarify intra- and interpersonal priorities, educational goals and artistic aspirations. Their personal and professional development was influenced by the complex relationships they shared with others in their MFA programs. The MFA participants grappled with the connections and disconnections that appeared to exist between their professors, peers, and themselves. A third theme addressed the impact of my participation within the study. With an established background in both teaching and taking courses in the studio arts and Art and Visual Culture Education, the findings suggest that I was able to empathize with the three other participants on several fronts. Fourth, the findings also address the curricular and pedagogical strengths and limitations of the course. The implications of this research study suggest the need for (a) more action research studies of MFA graduate students, as the methodology seemed to enhance the reflexive and exploratory nature of self-inquiry; (b) a series of required courses within MFA curricula that help graduates to systematically reflect upon their roles as graduate students in terms of their immediate goals, as well as their aspirations for the future; (c) research and professional development opportunities for faculty members so that they might become more aware of the ways that their MFA curricula and instructional practices influence a graduate student's sense of self both positively and negatively; and (d) research on how art and visual culture educators can be involved in assisting MFA graduate students and faculty members develop new perspectives related to their instructional and mentoring practices.
Degree ProgramGraduate College