CCAD Stories: Jiahao Peng
When photographer Jiahao Peng (MFA, 2019)
was researching graduate programs in the United States, CCAD stood out because of its location.
“Columbus is a special city for me,” he says. “There is a diversity of opportunity and people.”
The city—and CCAD in particular—represented a sweet spot to Peng: There were many Chinese students who studied and were successful here, but there was also a wide range of other student populations represented both in class and off campus.
“I wanted to really feel like I was studying abroad,” says Peng, who entered the program following a gap year after earning his undergraduate degree in China in 2016. He used that time to study English and work in film.
Since coming to CCAD, the school’s unique MFA projects program also allowed him to explore a diversity of disciplines, an opportunity that has developed not only his photography skills, but his artistic practice and visual voice as well.
How is art school in the U.S. different from what you experienced in China?
I never had to critique before! I didn’t know how to critique. In China, class is more like what you should do to finish an assignment, not to try to feel more independent. Here, they’re not just technically teaching you the skills. Critiques are diverse and you have a chance to ask students in other programs to give their ideas.
What has been your biggest challenge in graduate school?
Language is the biggest issue for me. The language test is different from real-life talk. The second thing is how to attend off-campus activities and events, how to balance life with class, and how you arrange your life to make full use of your time here. There are visiting artist talks and one-on-one studio visits on campus. It’s a great opportunity to talk with great artists. You should never miss that chance.
What has been the biggest difference between graduate and undergraduate school?
The biggest difference is you’re not just learning right or wrong. In graduate school, it’s about how you can bring yourself to the work. You need to talk, listen, argue, be brave, and communicate with the work. That’s what I’m trying to practice now. A lot of great photographers can do a lot of things by themselves, but graduate school enables me to talk more and express my ideas to others. I’m also learning I shouldn’t only do photos—I can use other media. It’s not just about screens or chasing an image. I now think more about the art and creativity behind the work.