Getting my MFA at SAIC

So, I’ve been thinking of starting a blog on my website for a couple of days now. The first thing that came to mind was my education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, so I figured I’d start with that.

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, otherwise known as SAIC, is a fully accredited private university associated with the Art Institute of Chicago- the major art museum in Chicago. SAIC is known as one of the top MFA programs in the world, alongside Yale, the Rhode Island School of Design, Columbia, etc. I’d probably initially had an interest in the school from attending SAIC’s portfolio development programs in high school. These classes were an arduous three-hour commute from my hometown of Warsaw, Indiana and my parents selflessly made the drive up there every weekend for roughly six weeks. I also went to SAIC’s booth on National Portfolio Day (at this point, I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio) and showed them my work.  

My real interest in SAIC, however, probably began the summer after my freshman year of college. I remember going to Chicago to visit and specifically wanting to look into the university. As I was already doing my undergrad, I was interested in their Master’s program. I was probably a bit young to be considering a Master’s already, but I wanted to see the school’s programs anyways. 

Fast forward to Fall of 2016, and I’m starting my Master’s degree at SAIC. SAIC was an exceptional school. I distinctly remember the freedom that I had in my practice- the freedom to explore whatever path or artistic discipline that interested me. My first studio in the school was on the 15th floor of the Maclean building, and it was tiny. I didn’t mind this, however, as most of my practice was making digital paintings, (paintings made on a computer with Adobe Photoshop). The only thing I felt I needed was a table and an outlet for my laptop. Luckily, I expressed an interest in making oil paintings a couple of weeks into the semester. Due to the lack of proper ventilation on the 15th floor for oil painting, I was granted another studio on the 12th floor of Maclean. This studio was much larger than the first, which was awesome! 

Probably the most distinct pleasure I had from going to school at SAIC was access to the Art Institute of Chicago. As a student there you had a pass to the art museum and could go whenever you please (when it was open). The school and museum host a ton of exceptional events for artists, including some fantastic lectures. The extended amounts of time spent in the Abstract-Expressionist section of the Contemporary Painting wing of the Art Institute brings back good memories. I think the fact that I had access to a world-class museum that was literally across the street from my studio made SAIC worth it. 

Also high on the list of exceptional experiences at SAIC were the artists I met through the graduate degree program. Before I went to SAIC, I took two years off from school, in which I mostly worked different jobs in restaurants and other odd things. Something that was missing from my art practice at that time was the inspiration from being connected to a group of artists around you. That’s something you take for granted when you’re in art school, the fantastic community around you. It was truly amazing to be back in an environment where I could discuss art theory, history, and philosophy with other creators. Being in that created a stimulation that I felt was cut short after finishing my undergrad. Being at SAIC was a time of freedom artistically and philosophically. It was great to take the time to explore myself, other artists working with similar ideas to mine, and schools of thought related to art. 

my second year studio at SAIC

a walk next to the Art Institute of Chicago

All that said, there were some issues with SAIC. Top of the list as I’m sure almost everyone will say is the cost. SAIC estimates it costs to be around $60,000 a year! The amount is huge, and I agonized over the decision of taking on a large amount of student debt before I started the degree program. At the time, I was making the decision I was living with my parents, which had thankfully allowed me to save up a small chunk of money. I was planning on doing something; I just wasn’t sure yet. On the list were going to SAIC, moving (back) to New York City, moving to Denver, or moving to Chicago without going to SAIC. Ultimately it was the encouragement of my mom and my brother that propelled me to go back to school. Was it the right decision? I don’t know. But I do know that school gave me a structure and intellectual stimulation that I might not have had had I just went out on my own to another city. 

With more thought, I do feel that SAIC was a good decision. That said I do have a chunk of student debt now. But all in all, I’m glad for the experience of SAIC. It gave me two years to focus on my art practice, which is something I wanted to do at that point in my life. It also gave me a structure around a goal that I wanted to achieve in the long term, so I felt I was heading in the right direction. Very luckily, I was able to start working with Art of Estates, in a field that was related to art within a couple of months of graduating. I realize that some of the fears I had about not being able to find a job might have been overblown (although I do admit it is difficult and not everyone is so lucky to land something quickly). Final note- if you are considering going to SAIC, also look into public university programs. I wish I did this as I would have had more options when I made my decision as to where to attend school. Upon getting two degrees at art schools, I am convinced that I could have gotten one at a state university for half the price and probably would have gotten the same amount of training and stimulation. 

So, SAIC- worth it, for me. I’m glad for the experience, studio time, and extensive exposure to the Art Institute of Chicago. What’s your opinion? Feel free to message me your thoughts on going to SAIC or where you are studying art. Thanks! 

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