This is Tatiana Berg.
I'm a painter living and working in Brooklyn, NY.

On Graduate School

from Two Coats of Paint:

How do you like graduate school? What’s the best feedback you’ve received about your work? What’s the most ridiculous thing you heard in the final crits?

I’m a bundle of doubts when it comes to grad school. You get a lot of conflicting advice when you apply, and I spend every day going, “oh god, is it worth it?! is this worth it?!?” because it’s an idiotic amount of money.

The best part of grad school, of course, is the other students. I like being part of a gang. I’m lucky because I entered in a year with a lot of good-hearted, hard working, painterly painters that I have a lot in common with. I had a certain amount of skepticism of entering an interdisciplinary program (as opposed to medium-specific one, like just painting or just sculpture) and indeed sometimes I sigh and after my tenth studio visit where I waste the first twenty minutes simply justifying the existence of abstract painting to, like, a video artist, I kind of want them to send me some more painters once in a while.

I like talking shop, and there are some graduate painters that come from non-art school background who could benefit from and are interested in some basic painting “tech support.” I would’ve argued before that grad school is largely past the time for that sort of thing but it still seems relevant, especially to the material-based, process-based artists

The big plus of being in an interdisciplinary program comes out not from the one-on-one faculty visits, but the group crits. You know how the audience on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is always right? That’s what the group crits are like. It course-corrects. You get the benefit of a wide variety of perspectives, but the group is thoughtful enough to stop the total run-away trains so you don’t spend two hours debating clear pushpins versus white pushpins, or something. I felt like it was my own thought process, speed up x10 and it gave me sooo many ideas.

The best advice I’ve gotten probably came from either Dana Schutz, who I was assigned as a mentor and who I AM IN LOVE WITH, and Keith Mayerson who is like an amazing, kind-hearted person and incredibly dedicated teacher. I’m trying to think of what his best advice is; in my case he plays the important role of cheerleadering that keeps me from being cynical or overly miserable about my own work. Like, “don’t swallow the bitter pill,” “don’t fall into the trap of production,” “if someone rolls you a ball, pick it up and roll it back,” etc. Stuff that doesn’t make sense out of context.

The bad advice comes from professors who are obviously tired from doing twenty studio visits in a row. I find that the worst advice is very specific. Like, someone will be talking and saying “these shouldn’t even be paintings, you should be making digital animations” or “you should use opaque colors, and tape off your edges, and use a grid…” and you realize that they’re telling you to make their work and you need to stop listening.

I had one studio visit where she kept on seizing on anything I said and taking it to its furthest, dumbest extreme. I said something about anthropomorphizing the canvas and she was all, “In that case you should make CANVASES IN THE SHAPE OF PEOPLE” and I was “ughghghghhhhghghh.”

I’m also a little tired of a certain pedagogical attitude I’ve noticed where the knee-jerk reaction is just to ask you to do the opposite of whatever you’re doing. Systematically. It’s intended as a “challenge,” but I look into their tired face and see that they haven’t really entered their work and are pulling from a bag of aphorisms.

I still feel like I’m at the beginning of this! After one semester I don’t feel like I’ve entirely made up my mind. I’m painting a ton and my work has been changing lightning-fast, but sometimes I think that’s because I was at a tipping point anyway. To be continued.

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