27 January 2009

Researching MFA Programs in Creative Writing

I did go to an art gallery/market last Saturday, but it was so small (about one-tenth the size I was expecting), there’s not much to say about it. Three tables outside and about fifteen square feet of gallery space inside... *yawn*

Luckily, I did have some fun last week, researching Master’s programs in creative writing. My undergrad program (BA in English) was focused on both creative and technical writing, and I still love writing more than any other art or occupation. It's what I've been doing the past ten years (marcom), and it happens to be what I do best.

But enough about me. Let me share with you my top picks so far. Most are MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs, and two are low-residency programs. I’ll list the low-res programs first, followed by the MA/MFA programs in alphabetical order, since it’s too soon to rank them.

Antioch University, Los Angeles, CA
MFA in Creative Writing (low-residency)
According to their website, this is the “world’s only MFA program specifically devoted to literature and the pursuit of social justice.”

Pacific University, Forest Grove, OR (near Portland)
MFA in Writing (low-residency)
This program “celebrates writing as an art that has the potential to make a difference in the world.” I’m seeing a bit of a theme here, but I like it.

Boston University, Boston, MA
MFA in Creative Writing
From what I’ve read about this program’s director, I’m in awe of the guy. I also love the school’s literary magazine, AGNI. But the best thing of all? It’s a one-year program! Rock!

Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
MFA in Creative Writing
While great on its own, this program has the added benefit of being associated with FSU’s top-ranked film and theater program. Also, the charming, Gulf-Coast location appeals to the southern writer in me.

New York University, New York, NY
MFA in Creative Writing
Great program, great school, great location (Greenwich Village). *sigh*

San Diego State University, San Diego, CA
MFA in Creative Writing
I like this program’s global approach and their summer study program in Ireland. Also, I like that San Diego is the #3 biotech hub in the US (behind the Bay Area and Boston). In case I don’t get a book deal or a university teaching job, I can continue copy/technical writing for industry, and biotech is one industry I love.

University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
MFA in Creative Writing
This is the only program (I know of) to provide a look-book showcasing its graduates to prospective agents and publishers.

University of California, Davis, CA (near Sacramento)
MA in Creative Writing
UC Irvine (near Los Angeles) has a higher ranked program, but I wanted at least one school near the San Francisco / San Jose area, because of the biotech (and tech) industry clustered there. I also like having an MA option amid all these MFA programs, to “erase any divide between writer as artist and writer as reader and critical thinker.”

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV
MFA in Creative Writing
Similar to SDSU, this program has a global approach and a requirement to “spend at least one semester abroad in a non-English speaking country.” South of France, here I come. :)

University of North Carolina, Wilmington, NC
MFA in Creative Writing
This new program looks promising, according to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs: "Although UNCW's MFA program in creative writing is a young upstart... we know of no other program that has achieved so much, so well, so quickly.”

University of Texas, Austin, TX
UT provides two Master’s-level options for writing:
MA in English, Creative Writing (two-year program)
MFA in Writing (three-year program)
From what I’ve read so far, both programs are exceptional and have excellent funding. When you factor in the appeal of Austin, what’s not to love?

Well, those are my picks for now. I’m amazed I found eleven great programs to choose from, but surprised there’s not a highly ranked program in the Atlanta area. Very surprised. Anyway, I’m waiting for An Insider's Guide to Creative Writing Programs, by Amy Holman, from the library. Her reviews may change my mind about my picks, especially since she covers not just MA/MFA programs, but also colonies, residencies, grants, and fellowships. If I discover anything new and exciting, I’ll share it here. Plus, I’m sure this new endeavor will lead to many new things: taking the GRE, applying to programs, getting accepted and making my choice, moving to a new city...

20 January 2009

A Look at Tibetan Contemporary Art

After browsing the zillions of goings-on posted on Creative Loafing’s and Sunday Paper’s local events pages, I decided last week’s New Thing would be the Tibetan Contemporary Art exhibit at Oglethorpe University’s Museum of Art. The combination of the words “Tibetan” and “contemporary” had me pretty curious, as in, What have they done to the Buddha?

Well, they’ve done quite a few things to the Buddha: a collage of beauty product advertisements and road maps (with Philadelphia cleverly located at Buddha’s heart) in one representation, and a silver circuit-board overlay in another. On one hand, I was expecting something like that, but on the other, it seemed trite. I was hoping for something a little harder to pull off. Maybe a beautiful, breathtaking rendering of what Buddhism represents—that pure element that is impossible to put into words, but could possibly be glimpsed in art. Of course, religion isn’t the entirety of Tibetan culture, and religion isn’t the only theme of the exhibit. Definitely. Still... nothing wowed me.

But this New Thing was not a letdown. Far from it. The gorgeous Gothic revival architecture at Oglethorpe is reason alone to visit the campus. As I was walking through the narrow alley from the parking lot to the museum entrance, I felt transported back in time about 100 years, to New England or possibly England itself. Hmm, I guess I was wowed after all.

By the way, if you’d like to read an expert’s review of the exhibit, check out Dr. Jerry Cullum’s Counterforces blog. As I’m typing this, his review isn’t yet posted, but he was at the exhibit taking notes while I was taking photos. I think I talked to him longer than I looked at the art, asking why he liked this or didn’t like that. Anyway, I suspect his review will be way more informative than my three-word, “nothing wowed me” review. I’m looking forward to reading it.

13 January 2009

Researching and Choosing a Camcorder

I know what you’re thinking: How is this a New Thing? But oh, believe me, it is. Not only have I never owned a camcorder before, but this took so much time last week, I had no time for the other New Thing I had planned... or for many Regular Things, like laundry. I wish I could say it was fun, but I’d rather have been doing laundry. However...

I did learn an awful lot—about consumer camcorders in the $200–500 range, at least. The first thing I learned is that high definition (HD) is the hot new trend, and standard definition (SD) is old news. But hot new trends make me a little nervous, so I dug deeper and discovered the technology is not without fault. The main complaint is incompatibility, as footage shot in HD (at least on the budget models) may not play on your DVD player and/or your TV without first being downgraded, which defeats the purpose. HD also requires a lot of battery power for filming, as well as monster processing power for editing on your PC. Plus, HD is still pretty expensive, since it’s new. So nah, not for me just yet. I’d rather learn my way around an SD camera while HD technology moves forward and prices fall back. But if I were going the HD route, the top contender would be the Canon VIXIA HF100. Currently priced around $500, that is one sweet machine.

So then, with SD chosen, I was presented with an assortment of recording formats: flash, hard drive, analog 8mm (wow!), VHS (WTF?), mini DV, DVD, and something called Digital8 I had never-ever heard of. I mean, do we really need all this? Well, let me just tell you right now, flash is the way to go, at least today. It could all change tomorrow. But all of the other formats require moving parts, which can be noisy, can use more battery power, and are probably more likely to malfunction than the still-and-silent flash format. Some tapes do offer better image quality than flash, but tapes and DVDs are more fragile, and they generally don’t hold as much footage, depending on what size flash card you buy. Plus, I wouldn’t want to keep reusing tape... or DVDs, for that matter, so flash ends up being cheaper. Obviously, I decided on flash, but if I were shooting professionally, I would want at least one tape- or film-based camera.

So, I’ve got SD, I’ve got flash memory. Now for the onslaught of brands and models and features, oh my. Inhale... exhale... Based on reviews and ratings, Canon and Sony appear to be the top-tier brands, with JVC, Panasonic, and Samsung very close behind in the second tier. Sony doesn’t currently offer a flash-based SD model (that I know of), although they plan to introduce three new models in March, with prices ranging from $270 to $370... Wow! But I’m not sure I can wait that long to get a camcorder, now that I’m all excited about transitioning from still-image photography to video.

Speaking of brands and still-image photography, both of my still-image cameras (film and digital) were made by Olympus, and I love them. I was hoping Olympus made camcorders, but they don’t. My SP-500 UZ does shoot video, but it’s pretty low-tech compared with what’s available today. So, with Olympus and Sony out of the picture (for now), I was left with the Canon FS100, the JVC Everio GZ MS100, and the Samsung SC MX20 to choose from on my budget. (Panasonic’s offerings weren’t quite right for me.) The prices, respectively, are currently around $280, $250, and $220 on Amazon... which reminds me of the most important thing I learned: If the price seems too good to be true, it is. If you want to compare prices, I wouldn’t use anything but Computer Shopper. Otherwise, you may get so-called “gray market” vendors in your results. As with any other purchase on the Web, if you don’t know the company, research it before buying.

Anyway, with such a close price range, I needed to read qualified reviews to help me choose, and camcorderinfo.com quickly became my favorite review site. Their reviews are extensive. But even they don’t name a clear winner among the three models I was considering. The Canon has a remote control and the highest pixel count (1,070,000 gross), along with great handling and manual controls. Plus, it’s a Canon. JVC has the best night vision. Samsung is the sexiest, looks-wise, and is easiest to use. None have a viewfinder, which is something I wanted. It was a close race, and then I happened across a very useful bit of info: Canon is releasing a new FS200 model (and other new models) any day now. Well, really I don’t know when—can’t find a release date anywhere—but what I’m thinking is, the FS100 price may drop a bit. Yay for research.

Armed with all that knowledge and some “field testing” at a retail store, I made what I believe is a well educated decision: to wait, if I can, for Canon’s FS100 price to drop or Sony’s DCR-SX40 to be released and tested. Canon’s VIXIA HF100 (flash HD) is still on my radar as well. One seriously fine machine.

Whew! After this week, my next New Thing should probably be a spa day. :)

06 January 2009

A Look at the Louvre... via Atlanta

For my first New Thing of the year, I decided to look back (way back) instead of forward... but not for some grand reason. The first weekend of each month, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art offers free admission for Fulton County residents and Bank of America credit card holders. A free look at precious masterpieces? Sure!

Of the many new exhibits, I was mainly interested in Louvre Atlanta: The Louvre and the Masterpiece, as well as Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Forster 1 in the Medieval and Renaissance Treasures exhibit. (Check out the link if you'd like to flip through the pages and see translations.) In the Louvre exhibit, my favorite pieces were...

Barye's Lion Crushing a Serpent: This bronze sculpture is the first thing you see in the Louvre exhibit (if you start at lobby level), and I can see why. It is both beautiful and terrifying with its exquisite, life-sized detail, and it was created using one bronze pour into a single mold, which is uncommon for such large works.

Vermeer’s L’Astronome: This painting, as with most great art, is something you absolutely need to see in person to fully appreciate. Vermeer’s masterful use of light gets a bit lost in photography. In person, it’s breathtaking.

I also loved Hutinot’s Time Revealing Truth and Love of the Arts (a marble relief), but I can’t find any images of it online. Très bizarre. :)

Of the museum’s permanent collections, my two favorite pieces are Chauncey Ives’s Undine Rising from the Waters (replica) and Anselm Kiefer’s Dragon. Undine, a marble sculpture, is actually translucent in places, as you can see in the photo. The replica alone is one of the most fluid sculptures I’ve ever seen, so I would dearly love to see the real deal. Dragon is an extremely detailed, extremely huge (~15 feet) painting of a dark sea and sky. The waves are full of texture, and the stars... There appear to be thousands! But, for me, this painting suggests so much more than what is apparent, and I think that’s a hallmark of great art: To suggest, rather than merely to be. To stir emotions and senses, rather than merely the sense of sight. To remind us of things we mustn’t forget. To show us what we might become.

Yep, I’d say this particular One New Thing experience was a great way to start the year. I hope to keep doing at least one new thing each week and sharing it via blog. Stay tuned...