Shiny Bright Summer Beauties

gorgeous back yard flowers in late afternoon light

The flowers out my kitchen window provide endless minutes of distraction for me. I love cosmos because they look like coloring book flowers, but are so much more delicate and graceful in the breeze. These tithonia have grown like mad and are overtaking our tomatoes. The bumble bees have seemingly become obsessed with them! Four big bees to a blossom at times, and the bees get into tussles with the hummingbird and various butterflies that drop by for a little time on the blossoms. Some mornings, I’ll find a bumble bee capping each flower’s ‘crown,’ asleep in an urgent embrace.

Wild.

I particularly enjoy the late afternoon light and shadows in this image; they give it an air of heightened reality.

My Best Day in Grad School

I had to change apartments between my first and second years of the program and my spouse came to the city I was living in to help me move. On the way down the stairs to load the truck, we saw that a cardinal had gotten in the stairwell and was frantically hitting against the window to get out. I got a towel and my spouse gently and loosely pinned the bird against the window within the towel. He held the bird firmly and took it down the stairs and out to set it free.

How to Deal

studio_8_2012

This is a shot of my studio as I started to move in. It was a noisy, noisome little room and I was deeply uncomfortable there for the two years I had access to it. I was 49 years old when I started the MFA program and found that my new environment was indifferent, on a good day, to my existence and that almost every day was a challenge to my acceptance of myself. I found myself in a filthy, brash and unimaginative place and I was exhausted by the pace of things, the unrelenting self-involvement of so many of the people around me and the demands of the 21st century university economy. This small space was where I would steel myself every morning and become someone a little different before striding out into my new world.

 

Ivy Leaguer Redux

“Anh, what am I supposed to do? This isn’t fair.” Li’l Yalie Print Studio Tech casts her eyes around the loading zone. She has a petite build and cannot get a good look into the tall dumpster. She loudly exhales. “I just wanna make some arr-rrt…”

Ever ready to help, I offer, “There’s gotta be something around–let’s look in 131.” I unlock the classroom door and suggest she borrow a stool. She grabs one and we go back to the dumpster and she starts digging around. I go back to scraping plaster messes out of buckets.

A week later, I see the stool still outside, its masonite seat warping and peeling apart in the steady rain.

Value for Money

Over the three years I spent in grad school and the time I spent earning a BFA , I heard a lot from faculty (mostly male) about life, education and art. A lot of what they said was worthless; some of it was insulting.

Most of the fulltime (teaching two or three classes a week plus committee work for two semesters a year on a nine or ten month contract) tenured/tenure-track faculty make VERY substantial salaries. Adjuncts, lecturers, staff and grad student instructors are generally treated with disregard by tenured faculty and administration and earn laughable wages. Well, if you can laugh through your tears…

Here are some of the words of idiocy directed at me through the years by art professors, accompanied by their salaries. Note that these professors, of various levels of experience, have ONLY MFAs; they do not have formal training/qualifications in education. They have not earned PhDs.

@Big Flagship State University:

Prof S, tenured:  $99k: Before I was a student, I visited BFSU and when a teacher was showing me around, we were approached by Prof S, who asked if he’d seen “Joe.” No, the teacher said, but do you have a moment to say hello to Aleka, who is one of our grad applicants? Without even glancing at me, Prof S sharply says, “No.” and strides away.

Prof B, tenured: $68k:  This professor was my faculty advisor and the Sculpture area coordinator.  A month or two into my first semester, having gotten no introductions or orientation to the program, I finally caught the ever-elusive Prof B and asked how charges for materials and facilities use were levied; were the seminar fees used to cover them. His response, the first words on this subject since I had arrived, was: “Your class fees are used to subsidize the undergraduate program and grad students get a lot of free stuff, anyway.” Contemptuous, uninformative and accusatory–With this response, he’d told me who he was —I should have believed him.

Prof P, tenure track at the time, $75k: Since the other Sculpture professor was nearly impossible to reach, I tried to ask Prof P questions about dept. procedure a couple of times. He was new, but I figured that he wanted tenure so he’d undoubtedly be learning all the rules, and should find out if didn’t already know, right? Well, when I asked, he didn’t know and never offered to find out. For two years, he made a point of not knowing stuff. (He’s tenured now. Lucky students.)

Prof F, tenured, $68k: My very first class of my very first day of grad school, I walked in the classroom and this professor actually sneered at me when I said ‘Hello.’ He told me I didn’t have the personality to be an artist and literally said “no” to every suggestion or question I ever presented him.

Prof/admin W, tenured, $102k: For the year he was on my Thesis Committee, he couldn’t bother to get my name right. He had a snit fit when I referred to him as ‘Associate Poobah,’ rather than ‘Assistant Poobah’ in front of my students, yet, in his very last email to me: “Have a good summer, Alekkeo.” How much more would he have to get paid to get it right? ffs.

Prof/Graduate Coordinator L, tenured, $106k: This professor, with whom I had never had a single conversation, emailed me this in response to my simple request that he change my presentation time (he’d not consulted me about it): “… there are other aspects of your question that concern me, and indicate a basic misunderstanding of the goals graduate school.   This initiative for students in their fourth semester is not only about giving a presentation, but being in professional dialogue with your peers. As such, it is important for you to attend and participate in the presentations by others. Peer to peer learning is important and I hope you see this in your own teaching responsibilities. 

I never got an apology from him. But then, maybe he’s not paid enough to be professional…

BFSU Chancellor, $434k  I’m just throwing this in for general knowledge.

BFSU Art School Department Assistant, $37k: This employee had 23 years of experience at BFSU. One of the very few reliably pleasant and friendly people in the whole building. She knew everything about the place. Invaluable.

BFSU Art School Department Accountant, $46k: This employee did everything money-related. She actually talked to me and got my name right every time.

BFSU Art School Museum Assistant, $34k: This person did the physical labor and artist relations connected to art shows, dealt with undergrads and grad students, grappled with faculty, did publicity for the Museum. She did LOTS of actual work, 40+ hours a week.

@Small Regional State University:

Prof/admin L, tenured $91k: (also my BFA faculty advisor) In response to my question about mixing ink colors, this guy, who had 17 years of experience teaching printmaking said, “I don’t really know anything about mixing inks, so you’ll just have to figure it out …”

Tech/prof K, $49k: I heard a young woman say the following about this middle-aged male studio tech/teacher whose inappropriate behavior I’d heard female students complain about every semester: “I don’t want to come to open studio hours, ‘cause he always exhibits this crazy sexual energy when I’m around…” This was undeniably true, too—I actually saw the guy talk to her once and he about busted out of his pants when he smiled at her… really disturbing.

Prof/admin T, tenured $80k: When I went to him to talk to him about sexually inappropriate behavior by a couple of instructors I had encountered/observed during my education (see above), he said: “What we look for is a pattern of behavior. Really, if you think you see something, you should just keep your head down.”

Dept. Assistant, $30k: This woman did all the heavy lifting and most of the student engagement for the dept. head sitting in the office next door, a guy who was making three times as much money and leching around after various women in the building to kill time on the job.

(This salary information is public—I attended public universities—and I present it here to provide further evidence that there is something broken in our university system when compensation is so unproductive and unrelated to supporting students.)

 

Stats

Currently at the alma mater for my Studio Arts MFA at Big Flagship State U., 12 of the studio art professors are male. Seven are female. Two of the last three hires (for tenure-track) were male.

Why? According to the school’s own 2016 statistics, the Studio Art Major undergraduate cohort is 69% female. There are 11 male MFA students and 18 female MFA students. This is all according to official findings by the university.

These numbers don’t add up. And they are NOT arbitrary.

My Li’l Ivy League Artist

I was involved in soliciting artists to come visit undergraduate Sculpture art classes and to give public presentations on their work. One of my related duties was swiping the IDs of those attending the presentations. One the our better-attended artists attracted a more varied than usual audience and I was pleased; some of my near-endless work was paying off! That evening, I swiped the IDs of a few faculty and staff, as well as those of the usual assortment of undergraduate 3D students. I was acquainted with most comers, a few of whom were students in my Intro Art classes even, but I barely knew the new young staff member who approached shortly before the talk started and handed me her ID. I took the card and, when I checked it to swipe it correctly, I saw that it was her Yale student ID. I laughed and handed it back to her. “Wrong school, but I bet that will get you in more places than your BFSU ID will! Ha!”

She visibly winced and said, “I can’t believe I did that. Argh. I’m sooo embarrassed…My ID must be in the shop. Gaaah…So embarrassed.”

“Nah, nah, no  problem; I’ll just swipe you as ‘general public.’ Enjoy the talk.’

She affected a self-conscious smile and disappeared into the auditorium.