Meet Ted Purves

Background & Influences

I earned my MFA in 1989 and, as I was gaining experience in a variety of art-related jobs, spent the next ten years trying to work out what my practice should be. Over time I became interested in self-publishing and more DIY approaches to production.

My background in the punk scene during graduate school certainly influenced this kind of resourcefulness. It taught me a lot about how you can make your own culture and find your own channels of communicating, which was particularly important while living somewhere like the Midwest.

Over time I starting thinking more about how MFA programs can prepare students for existing and sustaining themselves in the world. Building on my own post-school experience, I realized how important it is for artists to be prepared to take advantage of unexpected opportunities, to create opportunities for themselves, and to be able to adapt to changing conditions within the art world and culture at large.

Being prepared for how to recognize and respond to opportunities out in the world allows for a more sustainable and creative practice to evolve.

About CCA’s MFA Program in Fine Art

In the Graduate Program in Fine Arts, students and faculty strive to engage critically with the notion of practice in ways that intentionally open the dialogue about what practice means, or what it could mean.

Moving beyond just thinking about how to establish oneself within the gallery system and the production of art objects, we are interested in the notion of practice also being a way of having critical opinions and interests that will ultimately produce and sustain finished work. We look to engage in honest and critical dialogue about what a future art career might look like.

CCA’s MFA program features two distinct program tracks -- Studio Practice and Social Practice -- and each is actually dependent on the other. While some students certainly might focus more on a particular mode of production, students in either track take 80 percent of their classes together. Furthermore, we are all concerned with this critical notion of practice.

The program’s Studio Practice track has, over time, moved intentionally toward emphasizing more of an interdisciplinary, nonmedium-based curriculum. We are interested in fostering a critical approach to making and thinking across various media that support our continuing dialogue about what it means to have an art practice in contemporary culture.

This interdisciplinary direction and critical focus was initially heralded by former program chair Brian Conley.

The Social Practice track has its roots in the art movements of the 1960s and 1970s, when artists were situating their practice outside the gallery system at alternative sites such as earth works, and within temporary situations in public that often involved the public’s participation.

This program takes advantage of the sea changes that have occurred within the art world, in which the meaning of practice has become more nuanced and complex. Artists working mostly within the public sphere need a different set of tools and they look at a slightly different body of theory. The Social Practice track allows for a more intensive and expansive study of this kind of practice.

On Building Real Experience and Connecting with Community

At CCA we want to challenge the traditional way of thinking about graduate school, which supposes the work you do here is somehow separate from the outside, is not real, or that the work you do somehow does not count once you complete the program.

Namely, we are interested in fostering real-world situations and projects in which students are situating their practice outside the college and are making work that has a direct effect or connection to the world. We do this through a variety of means, including partnering with community organizations or offering project-based seminars in which a visiting artist mentors the students in an actual site-based work.

Such activities transform into legitimate résumé accomplishments that can be build on after graduation.

Program faculty members also encourage students to take advantage of opportunities that might have traditionally been left to other fields or disciplines. For example, a growing trend exists toward MFA students taking on curatorial projects and roles or working in collaboration with other disciplines such as curatorial practice, design, and visual and critical studies.

This reflects what is happening in the art world itself, where traditional definitions of artist and practice become more sophisticated and multifaceted. These collaborative projects emphasize a critical dialogue and push the possibilities of exhibition and publication in innovative ways.

The connections our students make with each other and with the surrounding art community continue long after they graduate. They are empowered with an entrepreneurial flare that is primed to create an art world around them, as opposed to simply waiting for the art world to invite them in.

All of these challenges make my job as chair that much more interesting and exciting, as these different areas of focus and concern intertwine and sort of fold in on each other.

We commit ourselves to infusing the program with a special kind of value, one that extends beyond the walls of traditional art school. Our efforts resonate through the Bay Area art community in ways that matter, and with an immediacy that is much more difficult to achieve in denser art scenes such as New York or Los Angeles.

On the Future

CCA’s Graduate Program in Fine Arts will continue to ramp up the opportunities for partnerships and entrepreneurial efforts, to critically examine what it means to be an artist and to have a practice in the 21st century, and to plug our college into the larger global dialogue that includes not only art world issues but also larger cultural concerns and trends.

We also will continue to provide innovative curriculum opportunities that will support our commitment to providing students with the experience they need to embark on meaningful, sustainable art practices.