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Q&A with Visiting Artist/Scholar Joseph R. Wolin

Joseph R. Wolin is an independent curator, critic, and art professor. He talks about the importance of mentors, the importance of passion, and how the two mix in graduate school.

Joseph R. Wolin is an independent curator and critic. He has curated more than 25 exhibitions and is the author of more than 200 art exhibition reviews for Time Out New York. He has also written for The New Yorker, Canadian Art, Garage Magazine, Glasstire, and Modern Painters. He currently teaches at Parsons School of Design, The New School, and in the past has held teaching positions at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Rhode Island School of Design, Mass Art, Drew University, and Fordham University.

Joseph Wolin
Joseph R. Wolin, independent curator and critic

Backed by his expertise in teaching and curating, Wolin took part in the MFA's acclaimed Visiting Artist/Scholar program. He has also served on end-of-semester juries for Lesley University's
MFA in Photography and Integrated Media program since 2012. He frequently shares his unique experiences, critique, and expertise with Lesley University students. In his Q&A, he provides insight into his experience teaching at Lesley, his approach to mentoring, and more.

Q: How do you approach mentoring and teaching?

A: My own approach to teaching and mentoring has been to try to help the students realize the most efficacious ways to bring their own interests, subjects, and crafts into the larger conversation of contemporary art.  

Sometimes this involves helping them put their work into a context they may not previously have considered. Sometimes it involves inciting them to think through various artistic decisions and details to help them see how their work may be received.  I always try to point them to an intellectual grounding that gives a depth and sustainability to their studio practice.

"I am energized by the proximity to the students' creative impulses, helping them figure out why they need to make things, and how to make those things speak more profoundly and effectively."
Joseph R. Wolin, Visiting Artist/Scholar, MFA in Photography & Integrated Media

Q: What excites you and energizes you about teaching in MFA programs? What keeps you coming back?

A: What excites me about working with graduate students in several schools is sharing my knowledge about the art and ideas that have mattered to me. An ever-growing list - of artists, works of art, moments and trajectories in art history, and the critical theory that helps us make sense of these things - has been important in my life and in my thoughts for many years. Teaching allows me to try to give other people a sense of the excitement that I feel.

Students, even graduate students, tend not to have much on their own lists yet, and I love being able to help them find the things that will matter to them. I am energized by the proximity to the students' creative impulses, helping them figure out why they need to make things, and how to make those things speak more profoundly and effectively.

Q: What do you enjoy about working with Lesley students?

A: Lesley students seem to have a relaxed but serious approach towards their craft - and the program encourages them to see their practices as craft. At other schools, concerns about marketability or professional strategy sometimes steer the conversation. The program at Lesley has always emphasized personal and material connections with art, and that has created a unique and somewhat idiosyncratic way of working shared by many of the students who have passed through.

Q: Do you have any advice for students looking to enter an MFA program from the perspective of someone who is so immersed in the contemporary art world?

A: My experience in the contemporary art world has taught me that in most cases artists are people who can't stop thinking about art and can't stop making things. For prospective students, I would say that if that sounds like you, an MFA program might be the right place to spend some time.

When I was an undergraduate, I asked my drawing teacher about a career as an artist, and he asked me, "Can you do anything else?" I found that I could have a fulfilling career in art without being an artist, but some people have a much stronger compulsion to think about the world, and speak to it, though objects, images, and extra-verbal ideas. Those are the people who become artists.

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More About the MFA Visiting Artist/Scholar Program

The Visiting Artist/Scholar program is an integral part of Lesley University's MFA in Photography and Integrated Media. Our visiting artist/scholars expose students to the rigors of a professional practice and work with students to facilitate their artistic development.

The goal of our visiting artists/scholars is to help our students move their art forward. Every visiting artist/scholar meets with all of our students in class and in one-on-one mentoring sessions. They also participate in critiques and juries and act as resources in support of the core faculty.