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Before and After SVA: Gerald Sheffield on Professionalization & Art As a Job

Gerald Sheffield's trajectory path to the world of art is fairly unique. He came to SVA after serving in the U.S. Army for eight years, including tours in Iraq. Sheffield earned his BFA in Fine Arts in 2015, and went straight into a graduate program at Yale University, were he earned his MFA. We checked in with him and asked him about his experiences in and out of school and what advice he has for incoming students.

Congratulations on your MFA! Why did you choose to go straight to graduate school right after SVA?
My SVA teachers Peter Hristoff, Leigh Behnke, and Steve DeFrank and Visual Critical Studies chair Tom Huhn encouraged me to go grad school, and supported me throughout the process. They even provided an ear and guidance while I was in grad school.

Leigh is super supportive and caring and encouraged me to make many mistakes in painting that I could learn from. I learned so much from Peter in the Rome semester abroad program about being present, and his drawing marathons are a big influence in my studio. I relied on Steve to review my Fulbright application last summer, and after grad school, I corresponded with Tom when I was creating a syllabus draft for potential teaching positions. I could go on and on about those professors. They are so amazing!

What's are some of the differences between undergrad and grad school?
SVA provided a rich foundation for my curiosity and interest in experimenting with different building materials and techniques. Grad school was all about the execution of ideas (good and bad), and getting lots of feedback and criticism (helpful and not so helpful).

Graduate school is also a lot about the professionalization of the artist. There are lots of pros and cons; the business aspect can be disenchanting. However, it allowed me to consider how to present my work and speak about my interests to different audiences.

What are your plans now that your done with school?
Work, write, paint, build. I follow up with my professors as best I can and stay connected to the networks I formed in academia. But most importantly, I am interested in cultivating the ideas and skills I gained along the way.

Do you have any advice for incoming freshman to SVA?
Maintain a flexible short-term/long-term list of goals. Eat healthy, go for walks, go to museum shows, go gallery hopping. If an assignment is frustrating, it means you are learning. If an assignment makes you angry, walk away, it’s not worth it.

What do you wish you'd know coming into SVA that you know now?
Art is a job. Educate yourself and know what’s going on in the contemporary art/design/film/photography/animation/illustration world.

To read more Before and After SVA interviews, click here.

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