Pugs (Daniel Seung) Pugliese, along with a couple of his peers, reflects on his experience. All photographs were taken by Pugs during graduating weekend, which took place in January 2020.
Three months out from receiving my MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from Goddard College, I find that the experience is still resonating within me. In part, it is echoing because there is an empty space in my life that was once filled with my studies and art projects for the program. More than that, though, I wasn’t prepared for how profound and expansive the impact of this program would be. “Transformative” is perhaps the best descriptor for it.
I entered the MFAIA program with the intent of earning a terminal degree to give myself teaching options. For over a decade, I’ve been teaching photography in continuing education programs and as the teaching assistant for undergraduate classes at a local college. In spite of a very successful Information Technology (IT) career I wanted to fulfill my passion for teaching, and in order to even pursue adjunct positions teaching photography, I needed the degree. Like IT and other professional certifications, I figured that I’d put in the time and effort, get the paper and move on.
It’s interesting that the unifying theme running through all of the graduate presentations for my cohort was identity. Of the six graduates, we had three movement artists, one theatre artist who also is a mover, one visual artist focused on paint and textiles, and one photographer, myself, who also developed a storytelling practice. Even with that spread of disciplines, every single one of us spoke deeply about identity and how we explored, investigated, shifted, transformed, and embraced our identities throughout our work in the program. This theme was not intentional. Obviously, throughout the residencies, the advising groups, the group studies, and the casual conversations, that we participated in resulted insome cross-pollination of ideas. But the work that each of us did was truly unique.
I came to realize that art by necessity includes examining who you are. Meaningful art is a reflection of the soul and reflects back to the viewers pieces of their own souls.
I started my artistic journey as a young boy with a camera. The camera allowed me to capture and express my world and offered an escape from the violence and uncertainty of my life by finding beauty in the urban/industrial landscape of Chicago. As an adult, I relegated photography to an occasional hobby in favor of pursuing a career in IT.
The artist would not be suppressed. In my thirties, I audited a couple of photography classes “for fun”, which led to helping to teach the classes, which led to teaching adult continuing education classes, which led me to the MFA-IA program. I wasn’t planning on leaving my IT career. I just knew that I loved teaching and wanted more teaching opportunities. That quickly shifted. In my fourth semester, I walked away from the corporate world to focus on art and photography full-time.
From my very first day, I found my sense of self shaken. One of my peers talked in his graduate presentation about feeling so out of place during that first residency that he found himself alone, sitting on the swings, thinking about how he didn’t belong. I found myself calling and telling my wife that I didn’t belong, that I was surrounded by real artists who were brilliant and creative, and that I was just an IT Manager with a camera. I was ready to sell all of my photography gear and focus on my career.
Throughout the program, I came to love those brilliantly creative people who intimidated me so much. First, I loved them the way that we love our unattainable idols, but eventually I came to love in the way that we love our like-minded peers. Their graduate presentations – their presentations of what they had learned and created throughout the program – were testaments to their brilliance and once again filled me with awe and admiration.
Compiled and edited by MFAIA-VT Lead Faculty, Ruth Wallen.
The Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts (MFAIA) program at Goddard College is a unique graduate experience at the intersection of contemporary art practice and Goddard’s landmark method of low-residency, human-centered learning and teaching. Information about Admissions to the program is available at goddard.edu.