Re/Collecting : A Reflection upon Graduate School

Conversation between Shawn Spangler and Jake Boggs

Jake Boggs is a current 3rd year MFA ceramics candidate at the University of Hawaii Manoa.   Jake’s innovation in the form of creative practice is demonstrated through his authentic research into memory and mapping and the role the materials play in contemporary art marking. 

ss: What were your expectations prior to entering into a graduate program in ceramic arts?

jb: Entering into grad school, while I had an affinity for functional vessels, my BFA exhibition had developed and grown into an exploration of objects that mirrored my interest in travel and nature.  Through reflecting upon my time spent traveling through Europe, Asia, South America, and the United States; I was curious in the ways I explored these areas and how the objects I encountered possessed the ability to construct a narrative. I believe this cultivated an unrealized potential that opened the opportunity for my ideas to flourish, germinate and grow the conceptual roots of my current thesis. 

I decided to attend graduate school directly after receiving my BFA at Eastern Kentucky University. I recognized the necessity to continue to be a part of an environment where I can deeply focus on my interests in ceramics; a place where I could continue to realize concepts that needed more time and consideration. I believed graduate school at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa would give me the opportunity to write and speak extensively about my work as well as to broaden my world perspective; skills which I thought crucial for myself as an artist to possess. 


ss: How has your drive in the studio changed through your graduate experience?

jb: I don’t know if I had a clear goal in mind for what I would become throughout my process of earning an an MFA. I spent my time exploring and experimenting with a variety of methodologies, materials and philosophies, introduced to me by my mentors and peers. I was giving myself a chance to find new path of artistic expression, and sometimes those paths lead away from clay. The learning environment at UH Mānoa has been incredibly open to my experimentation and I think that the opportunity to explore whatever direction necessary was crucial in creating my ideal educational environment. 

Not only the classroom environment at UH has been beneficial, but the multi-cultural social landscape of Hawai’i has given me the chance to expand my world perspective, something which would have required more effort on the mainland. Here I can interact with a variety of people practicing art from a multitude of backgrounds. I have studied the Korean Onggi technique for making Kimchee jars as well as attended workshops and lectures from world renowned artist of all mediums. 


ss: How has your work changed throughout grad school how do you think it will change outside the safty-net ofacademia? 

jb: The academic environment has definitely given me the opportunity to develop work that isn’t necessarily commercial or practical for a market environment. I have been given access to ceaseless flow of recycled clay, so that alone has been a motivator to work in large scale as well as in multiplicity. Our facilities are also conducive to work at a larger scale so utilizing that equipment has been crucial during my graduate career. I have also branched out to experiment with a variety of forming techniques from, casting/mold making to having access to 3D printing technology. I think that the academic environment allows for me to have access to a fully outfitted ceramics studio with any kind of materials and unlimited access to gas kilns; facilities that I might not be able to afford if I build my own studio space. Also having access to fully stocked glass, metal, wood, fiber, and computer studios allows for multimedia experimentation. All of the standard equipment in the art department is something that will most likely rarely be as conveniently accessible outside of academia. So I try to use it while it is at hand. 

More importantly than the machines, materials or technology available in grad school is the community. To be immersed within a critical artistic environment allows for interesting and unexpected discourses to occur. Not only my fellow MFA’s, but the professors, technicians, and local artists all play an important role in the process of the program. Without these people to interact with the experience would be lacking and most likely inept. Although I have gained considerable knowledge from the structured program, the relationships outside of class have proven to be the most rewarding. Having friends and peers to discuss pertinent art topics is something I find crucial to the experience, that may not exist outside of academia. 

I imagine outside of academia my work will scale down in size, depending on my working environment. I will have to work within the parameters of a salary or budget that will be more restricting than the free-for-all of grad school. I got into ceramics because I was fascinated with the idea of the utilitarian vessel, the strictly functional yet sacred pot. I would like to utilize what I have learned through graduate school and apply the concepts I have been researching to the vessel. I am attracted to my work being part of peoples lives, whether to be admired or to be used. I think, for me, it is a way of sharing my experiences and stories through these objects, while creating a narrative or relationship centered around the art. So I would imagine I will continue on doing that within whatever means I have. 

ss: Where do you see yourself wanting to end up?

jb: Its hard to predict the future but if I had to say where I want to end up I would like to be making work, financially stable, recognized within my field, and content with the life I have designed. I can image a couple possibilities in which I would be doing those things: as an educator or as a studio potter. Each option presents me with the ability to share my skills and interests as well as pursuing a well considered life practice. Making that decision has proven more difficult than presumed, especially with the light at the end of the MFA tunnel growing closer. The decision between the autonomy of the studio or the community of academia will be made as my chips fall. Both options present the opportunity to share my passion. In the studio I share the physical manifestations of that idea, and in the classroom I pass on the philosophies and skills that are necessary to foster a new generation of artists. 

However, during my teaching fellowship, I have found a more lively and invigorating dynamic within the classroom. Transferring the notions about ceramics that I am passionate about to my students has been extremely rewarding for me. Watching people coming into a course knowing nothing about clay and methodically developing essential skills to create interesting ceramic work. Not only do I present information to my students but they also inspire me to try new or strange ideas within my own studio practice. It is that dynamic in the classroom that keeps my ideas fresh, and subsequently informs how and what I teach. The educator and the educated seem to be one-in-the-same this way.  

Jake Boggs is a third year graduate student at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in Honolulu Hawai’i. You can visit his website here: