Department Dossier: David Shirey

September 17, 2010

The latest in a series of one-on-one conversations with SVA department chairs.

The College currently has more than a dozen graduate programs, but a little more than a quarter-century ago there was just one: the MFA Fine Arts Department. David Shirey was there from the very first day as department chair, and continues to oversee the studio-based program and its students. The department provides dedicated studio space for each student, where they are free to experiment and develop a fully realized artistic voice; twice a year, the program hosts Open Studios events in which members of the art world and general public are invited to see this work in the studio environment.

Just before the start of the fall 2010 semester, Shirey spoke with the Briefs via e-mail about the MFA Fine Arts Department.

Most of your courses are not in a traditional “classroom” setup. What are the advantages of having your faculty teach with this studio-centric approach?
The MFA Fine Arts Department studios foster, among other advantages, two outstanding requisites for formative artists: community contact and solitary existence. Since the studios are open and easily accessible to all students, faculty and visitors, they promote vital, vivid interaction, a fecund interchange of ideas and therefore more vigorous options for creative development. However, students each occupy alone their assigned spaces and can, without hindrance, if they so wish, avail themselves of the absence of others to seek their individual goals and personal objectives. The studio-centric approach engenders a more direct, intense and personal relationship between the instructors and their students, undergirding and strengthening the individual artistic evolution of the students.

What do you think your students get out of the twice-yearly Open Studios events?
The program is a virtual embodiment of the art world, a miniature reflection of its dynamics, enabling the students, once they are graduated, to function more efficiently and fully in their professional lives as artists. The open studios are an indispensable component of this notion. They provide a public arena for art world professionals—curators, dealers, art collectors and other artists—to view and assess the students’ work. The open studios have repeatedly proved their worth through the profitable contacts students have made and through the resultant success and recognition they receive.

What is the biggest change in fine arts practice you’ve seen over the years?
There has been a magnification of aspects and facets in fine arts practice. As the practitioners of art have proliferated, the stylistic persuasions and media they work in have multiplied and the number of exhibition venues—galleries and museums—has grown. The concept of what art is, its facture and manners of execution and forms of realization have broadened and amplified. There has been a noteworthy dissolution of its boundaries, a more remarkable amalgamation of its possibilities and a richer, more comprehensive panoply of visual expressions and experiences.

What impresses you most about your students?
Their consummate creative talent, the extensive spectrum of their creative thought, their protean capacity for expressive exploration, their inexhaustibly brilliant resources of invention and the superlative achievements they have attained over three decades.

What are you looking forward to in the 2010–2011 school year?
The feeling I experience at the outset of a new academic year is one approaching exhilaration, one close to euphoria, ineluctably emanating from the new faces, the new minds, the prospects of new creations and new discoveries. And, as importantly, new friends.

Image: ©2010 Visual Arts Press, Ltd.

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