As I've told lots of new students at Bennington, you'll find the writing to be worse than you expected, with blinding exceptions.
This is my last residency, and god willing, my last workshop. Ever. I'm taking away a group of trusted, objective readers and that'll be my "workshop" from now on. At this point I'm totally cynical about the workshop method. I've heard too much that's been just plain wrong. In two of my four MFA workshops, teachers have caught me in the hall after my work has been up and said, I hope you're not going to take most of that advice, I tried to stop it. Imagine if they taught music or painting this way, with a bunch of other beginners telling you what to do. When people ask me why I'm so prejudiced in favor of low-residency programs, the first thing I say is, you get taught primarily by the people who know what they're doing. What a concept. My top advice to anyone going into an MFA is to listen carefully to the teachers, draw them out on your work, and run any advice you're taking from anyone else past them first. Not that they're always right, either, but their batting average is way higher than your classmates'.
I am bumping this thread, because your post resonates with me, and confirms what I've come to realize--a lot of workshop feedback from peers is harmful.
Specifically, what I've realized over the years is that work that takes chances with language and style is bound to have at least one or two harsh critics. You could turn in the first chapter of Lolita, and some moron who hasn't read anything other than Ray Carver stories will rip it to shreds.
I actually had a person in my last workshop (I'm a PhD student who takes w-shops with mostly MFA students) say that "once the language, voice, and style is stripped away, the narrative is pretty barren."
Well, duh--it was a voice driven piece; there are countless examples of stories and novels that are driven successfully by narrative voice, as opposed to traditional character and plot. Needless to say, I'm done with workshops after this semester. Forever.
I don't have an issue with harsh critique, but nothing is more annoying than harsh critiques by someone who isn't well read.
My advice for potential MFA students--be prepared if you actually want to write something in a distinctive voice and style, rather than safe, McFiction.