Continuing Education Led Aspiring Artist to an MFA

At the 2018 Annual Student Exhibition Preview Party, artist Kathy Putnam (MFA ’18) sold most of the paintings she was showing.

Just a few years ago, she never could have imagined herself as a PAFA graduate about to embark on an art career.

“I’m from Philadelphia so I always knew about PAFA,” she said. “I always thought PAFA was the Harvard of art schools and I occasionally took Continuing Education classes 25-30 years ago.”

  • Kathy Putnam at this year's Commencement exercises.
    Kathy Putnam at this year's Commencement exercises.
  • Kathy Putnam's work on view at the ASE.
    Kathy Putnam's work on view at the ASE.

Putnam’s art was always on the backburner as she focused on raising her family and a career in finance, but she kept getting drawn back to PAFA. A deeper interest in painting led her to more Continuing Education classes and eventually the Post-Baccalaureate program.

The Post-Baccalaureate Certificate program—commonly referred to as "Post-Bacc" around PAFA—is a one-year, studio-based curriculum of graduate-level study in studio art. The program often leads artists to MFA programs but Putnam still didn’t see herself as an artist when she initially enrolled in the Post-Baccalaureate program.

“I was really interested in the Post-Baccalaureate because I wanted some critical feedback. I felt like I was in a vacuum,” she said. “I definitely did not go into Post-Bacc seeing myself as an artist, thinking I would do the MFA program.”

Taking classes at PAFA helped Putnam expand her skill set. She said her previous work were renderings but she was looking for a change.

“When I started painting again a couple of years ago I kind of was like throwing colors up on canvas,” she said. “I didn’t know how to be purposeful with something that was completely representational. I came in really looking for how to do that and how to really get comfortable with paint and I feel like I’ve gotten that. I got more out of it than I even thought I would.”

MFA Chair Didier William has watched Putnam grow over the past two years.

"I've had the privilege of watching Kathy become an accomplished artist and thoughtful critic. She made use of every minute of her experience at PAFA. She's developed a painting practice that effectively maps her own personal narrative adjacent to a robust and thorough painting history," he said. "I'm thrilled to now count her among our esteemed alumni and excited to see where her work goes in the coming years."

Most importantly, Putnam's developed more confidence in herself.

“Even when I was in Post-Bacc, if you had suggested that I was going to do this, I would have said you’re crazy,” Putnam said. “I was serious about it but I don’t think I felt confident enough in it that I could actually be in the game, that my work could be out in the world with other artists I respected and now I feel like it is, and PAFA gave me that.”