Thursday, May 13, 2010

All I Really Need to Know I Learned While Getting My BFA

I've been thinking a lot about art education lately. In particular with regards to post-graduate visual arts programs and what they give or don't give artists in terms of expectations and preparedness for a career as a professional artist. I'll be honest, I am impressed to see on a CV that an artist has an MFA, all else being equal. It demonstrates a commitment and suggests to me that they're in this for the long haul. But, while I would say there does seem to be a more resolved sense of what they're exploring (or at least aptitude in talking about it) after graduate school, I have yet to see any correlation between an MFA and talent. Of course, in this town, talent and $2.50 get you a subway ride back to Bushwick, but...

One of the issues raised again and again during #class was how much it cost to get an MFA, yet how little that education (unlike if you get a JD or MBA) guaranteed any promises of a certain level of income. Now, of course, there's chatter about PhD programs becoming the new baseline, but not much yet in the way of widespread offerings for such. It's certainly not an uncontroversial issue, given the record of return on investment. Moreover, as plenty of artists only have a BFA (not sure how they stack up against artists with MFAs successwise...anyone?), and a few I know of do quite well, I began to wonder : is there a parallel in being a good artist to being a good citizen? Can the case be made that all one really needs to know you can get from a BFA program.

Robert Fulghum outlined in his wildly popular book "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" the basic tenants of being a good citizen and a successful person that apply all the way through life and indeed beyond individuals into societies and up through nation states and multinational corporations. He admits that living well within these guidelines...applying these notions...remains quite a trick, but that we don't really need to understand many more concepts than:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Dont' take things that aren't yours.
Say your sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life--learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out in to the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together
Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or shy, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and eent he little seed in the Styrofoam cup---they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you leaned---the biggest word of all--LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your wold and it holds true and clear and firm.
So I thought, in wondering how valuable post-graduate study is to becoming a successful studio artist, I'd see if the same idea applied? Are there things that you get in post-graduate courses you can't get by extrapolating the things you learned in a BFA program, in the context of being prepared for a career as a professional artist?

It's tempting to take Fulghum's list and see whether that alone provides some answers here. After all, the biggest word of all --LOOK--certainly still applies. But to make this exercise more useful, I figured it's perhaps better to use the goals and lessons of a BFA course as the standard and extrapolate from there. It's a little tricky though, as many art schools state up front that their programs are designed "as a preparation for graduate study." Still, Kindergarten is also designed as preparation for grade school and beyond, yet we learn the basics of good citizenship there, so...let's venture forward. The following list is likely not complete (I'll ask that you fill in any obvious blanks or point out items that are not universal), but it's edited down from the stated guidelines of a popular BFA program.
  • Understand the liberal arts context (understanding visual arts as it relates to other arts)
  • Know your art history
  • Expose yourself to interdisciplinary concepts and a wide range of media
  • Understand art as an intellectual activity
  • Learn about interaction between theory and practice
  • Spend time in your studio
  • Learn how to listen to (as well as offer) criticism
  • Meet and learn from visiting artists
  • Spending time learning about professional practices
So the question again (after you kindly, and gently, improve upon my list) becomes are there any lessons you cannot extrapolate from these items that require you to buy an MFA? I'm perfectly willing to accept that there are. But I want to ask those with MFA (or without) so the next time the issue comes up as to whether an MFA is worth the investment the discussion can be a bit more informative.

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55 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good topic. I did not get my MFA (yet) so I am interested what everyone says, but I am guessing that the grass is always greener on the other side. Of course I love school and think it is really missing the point to place a value on a good education only in terms of cost to income ratio, so I vote for it's worth it. On the other hand, I'm not paying off student loans, which is something I'm very thankful for at this juncture in my life, and it gives me more time to make art.
I also agree that getting a MFA doesn't necessarily make you more successful as an artist, and in fact I know several people who have MFA's and don't even make art (too busy working to pay off their loans, I guess) But yes, more schooling definitely takes discipline, and discipline is necessary to keep making art in most cases, so I can see why it's impressive on a resume. Standard education is not for everyone, though, and it is definitely possible to keep learning on your own, teach yourself, stay curious, keep growing as an artist and a person. For some, self-learning is even more effective. In my case, I think both are effective, but self-learning is sort of my only viable option for the short term.

5/13/2010 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh- and the greatest thing I learned from my BFA is how to think for
myself.

I have some very smart friends who went to ivy-league schools who never learned this.

-Anon 9:48

5/13/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger nkatz22 said...

-Building community

8 years out of my BFA and I was working so hard to pay off loans and live in NYC that I found myself without community.
The opportunity to open dialogue and build community was well worth my MFA, even if it will be many more years until it is paid off.
BFA was for being an egoist.
MFA was for meeting people.

5/13/2010 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

The best advice for an art career I over heard was from a chef ... " in the kitchen there are no secrets, only experience ..."

5/13/2010 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger LG said...

That list sums up my BFA experience at VCU. Although, some of the items listed were generally glossed over (for instance, I don't recall many visiting artists, only two to be precise).

That was then, this is now. Two years ago, I heavily weighed going back to obtain my MFA. I emailed several (37) artists whose work and careers I admired and asked what they had learned from their respective MFA program, why they went, do they feel it helped them with their careers, and ultimately are you still paying for it. Most replied (34) and the overwhelming majority said it "helped them learn to talk about their art" and that they were still paying loans back. Quite a few said it's only real purpose is if you want to teach. I decided not to pursue the MFA but instead to attend every artist talk I could, email and speak with other artists regularly, audit classes when available, reread my old art history texts, read critics reviews and blogs, and to generally stick my neck out a bit more. I can speak about my work (practice makes perfect however) and still make a down payment for a house. I realize that not having the degree will shut me out in some cases but I feel more financially sound to pursue my artistic goals. To each his own.

5/13/2010 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Julia said...

I am debating whether to get an MFA... as a studio artist, I know there are techniques that I could learn there, and as great as my education was, I feel like I didn't learn enough art history/contemporary art and especially how to speak about it... Maybe if I could find a way to build my skills without an MFA, I would do it. (but in Canada- it's a fraction of the cost!) I'm sure I'm overlooking good points. But I completely agree with nkatz22- community. A community sounds like a dream after 3 years in this cold city paired with my day job that's barely paying the bills.

5/13/2010 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger HMNA said...

I actually didn't finish my MFA because at the time I wasn't mature enough, not solidified in my own voice to make any good of it. Instead it felt like this huge pressure of time to create a body of work all the while often opposing views of your work being imposed on you by mentors that things became so convoluted. I was mentally paralyzed. For me I couldn't truly find my voice in that situation. I bailed.

With that said education is invaluable in that it taught me to think critically, what is the word critcality? I definitely make work differently because of school. I just needed to work on my schedule.

5/13/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger chrislandau said...

I think a lot of people get an MFA with the promise of teaching. I got my MFA from the University of Michigan which is focused heavily on an interdisciplinary approach. It ultimately sent me in a direction I probably couldn't have imagined beforehand. I'm now doing visualization for a landscape architecture firm. So, the moral of the story is MFA = JOB.

5/13/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello,
I have to admit, the portion quoted below bothers me:

"I'll be honest, I am impressed to see on a CV that an artist has an MFA, all else being equal. It demonstrates a commitment and suggests to me that they're in this for the long haul."

How exactly does an MFA suggest dedication over the long haul? Because of the cost? Because of the whopping two or three years required to complete an MFA program? Dedication over the long haul can only be determined by looking at the long haul. I admit my sensitivity comes from a particular position, not of bitterness, but because I have not pursued an MFA but I am still exhibiting in the same galleries with the same representation. My dedication comes from my studio practice, discipline and exploration. I still read critically, and I certainly have learned how to discuss my work (that did take some serious practice, and a couple of missed opportunities). Nope, not a senior artist either.

Is it not best to view an artists work without a CV, make a decision about dedication and intelligence and then for interests sake check out the old CV?

Maybe just my feelings. But, MFA for discussion, community etc.. sounds like an excellent choice. Good luck with the debt though.

5/13/2010 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

I think no amount of education can make up for lack of talent, and in addition the danger of some forms of education is indoctrination, especially in creative fields like art. Remember Albert Einstein's quote: "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school".
One can find indoctrination even in the kindergarten list of rules - I agree with all except for: "Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you." in no way are cookies good for anybody - IMO refined sugar is a poisonous, highly addictive, dangerous drug with no health benefits whatsoever, that should not be fed to children. Some people believe milk isn't good for you either, not to mention milk and refined sugar can be toxic for some individuals with food allergies or a genetic risk of type 1 diabetes, etc. But imagine what would happen to WORLD ECONOMY if sugar consumption was halted, a whole industry would collapse bringing a chain effect upon other industries all over the world. So there is no chance for legislating high taxation on sugar or limiting usage by age as in alcohol and cigarettes. Personally, I allow my kids to eat cookies and candy sometimes, because it would be unrealistic for me to completely prevent it, and I also push them like a bulldozer to study and get educated because it is one of the most important things for a parent to give their children, I certainly hope they will study for a degree, but if they choose any of the art fields (which I very much suspect they might) I am not sure how important even a college degree will be for them PROFESSIONALLY, except for the fact that it will make them more educated, well rounded adults, and will give them a 'plan B' option to fall on in case they want to teach, receive grants etc, or use their degree for other pursuits.

Unless I misunderstood, I believe in the #class final rant the sentiment was not to go to art school at all, even for BFA. I believe some of the very gifted individuals in the field of art, music etc enroll in higher education only for the purpose of fine tuning their talent (which they could do elsewhere too), and socially connecting with professionals in the field.

Of course a degree is necessary for doctors, architects, engineers, nurses, teachers etc, but in the fields of art, literature, music, theater, dance, it is optional and the way I see it, overemphasis on institutionalized education in those fields can at times contribute to stagnation, as in the example I've mentioned here before - at the end of the 19th century in Paris and "Académie des Beaux-Arts".

5/13/2010 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I have to admit, the portion quoted below bothers me:

Sorry. Just being honest.

Dedication over the long haul itself might only be determined by looking at the long haul (I'd argue that some actions are clearer indications than others generally speaking), but having seen visual artists leave the field because their day jobs started paying more or now they were more interested in their music does make someone considering whether to invest heavily in them look for such indications.

5/13/2010 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

I am impressed to see on a CV that an artist has 30 years' experience in the studio, showing, working her/his way up from local or regional exhibition to larger invitationals and to gallery representation; being reviewed; receiving grants and other honors; being part of the art community, possibly organizing exhibitions or events; possibly teaching or mentoring. Those actions, not a paper, demonstrate a commitment and show me that they're in this for the long haul.

It's ironic that experience comes with age, and that ageism is an issue in the art world. Another topic for another time.

5/13/2010 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but having seen visual artists leave the field because their day jobs started paying more or now they were more interested in their music
I've seen this happen to plenty of MFA grads, too. Of course bias towards an advanced degree is common, and like I mentioned earlier (anon 9:48), it's natural for people to want to make the correlation between the discipline required to complete an advanced degree and the self-discipline required to be "in it for the long haul". It's not always a correct correlation, but it is also easy to see why it happens. (After all you can't exactly put "wake up at 5 am every morning before work to spend an hour sketching and formulating ideas for my art." or "read art theory incessantly" on your resume.) Sometimes the discipline of school is a way to offload the responsibility of self-discipline onto the structure of school, and those people definitely won't make it through the long haul.

I think you have to give Ed some credit for admitting it is a bias.
And, I think many of us without advanced degrees recognize that we have to work harder to prove ourselves in some ways, but is working harder necessarily a bad thing? That's just life.

Just make better art than everyone else and it will all come out OK, right? There is definitely a unique path for each artist to achieve that goal.

5/13/2010 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an assumption in the BFA list that everyone receiving a BFA has gained wide experience in all of these areas. I think many get an MFA to brush up on skills that may not be fully developed from their BFA.
However when artists ask me whether or not they should get an MFA, I simplify it down to two possible needs. One, whether or not the artist is up to date/engaged with theory and /or proficient in talking about their work. Two. If they need the connections. A lot of MFA's are all about the connections. I wish someone would have told me that before I got my MFA in London and now being back in the states find it hard to utilize any of those made connections.

I'm also with Ed. Everything being equal, I'll choose an artist with an MFA over one without. I expect an artist with an MFA to be better prepared and completely professional, however, in reality that is far from true. regardless, the bias exists....

5/13/2010 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an assumption in the BFA list that everyone receiving a BFA has gained wide experience in all of these areas. I think many get an MFA to brush up on skills that may not be fully developed from their BFA.
However when artists ask me whether or not they should get an MFA, I simplify it down to two possible needs. One, whether or not the artist is up to date/engaged with theory and /or proficient in talking about their work. Two. If they need the connections. A lot of MFA's are all about the connections. I wish someone would have told me that before I got my MFA in London and now being back in the states find it hard to utilize any of those made connections.

I'm also with Ed. Everything being equal, I'll choose an artist with an MFA over one without. I expect an artist with an MFA to be better prepared and completely professional, however, in reality that is far from true. regardless, the bias exists....

5/13/2010 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger nina said...

I started out as an Art History Major at NYU then after a year I switched to their Photo BFA program at Tisch. I double majored in Art History and Photography and graduated early (I had extra credits from high school applied to my bachelor's degree and took summer classes). It felt a bit rushed and so I ended up getting an MA at NYU/ICP a couple of years after.
I do think if I had the full four years just at Tisch I could prob have done without graduate studies.
I opted for the MA program instead of the MFA program at NYU because of cost. An MA is cheaper than MFA, plus I had (again) credits left that I was able to apply towards my graduate degree, saving me money. NYU also allows to pay tuition on a monthly payment plan and the class schedule allowed enough flexibility to work on the side. So I managed to get through grad school without loans and debt. And I very grateful for that. Even though I really wanted the extra years in school I would have not done it if I would have had to accumulate debt. I also want to add that location was very important for me. I never considered applying to some of the 'better' schools such as Yale, because I felt it was really important to be in New York. So it had to be Hunter, NYU, SVA, Pratt or Parsons. I was sure that I would learn more by being here than away at a school.
I now often joke that I think that the money my family spent on my undergrad degree would have been better spent on buying an apartment in Manhattan. I made great friends and even connections while an undergrad. I really wasn't ready after highschool to enter the 'real world' so an undergrad degree was good for me. (But so would have been that purchase of an apartment).And it did help my work somewhat to go to graduate school. But not that much. And I feel the progress I made had more to do with me than with the program.I do think one can skip graduate school. One exception might be if one plans on attending a program such as NYU's ITP , where one also learns skills that translate into other industries.I just said to a younger friend that is considering getting her MFA that there is no rush. She has some momentum now and I think she will do better be out there, taking advantage of her momentum then by going to school again right now. She can always go later. It will be there.
One also has to consider family planning. I think graduate school can be a great way to re-enter the art world if one took a break for it to have or raise a child.

5/13/2010 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'll ask that you [...] point out items that are not universal

Here they are:

- Expose yourself to interdisciplinary concepts (a wide range of media is fine)

- Understand art as an intellectual activity

- Learn about interaction between theory and practice (this is redundant with "Spend time in your studio")

5/13/2010 01:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Marie Kazalia said...

When I was an undergrad, getting my BFA, working in a studio course w/ a mix of MFA students & undergrad, one of the MFA students had no BFA degree at all but was admitted into the MFA program on the merits of her studio personal practice/art work.

Across the hall from my personal live-work studio was a recent BFA grad in her new studio. She often stood out in the hallway in tears of fear, isolation, aloneness. Her cure? She got her parents to pay her tuition for grad school. She described her plan to me, to get her MFA in ceramics. She was not very convincing in her uncertainty. Many hard working artists see this sort of thing, and I've heard others say that graduate school/MFA programs area place for upper class parents to stick their upper class kids to keep them out of trouble/give them something to do. ( A well known writer said words to that effect). Also, there was a trend for a long time for grad programs to cater to this sort of student to bring in money to the university?! true?!
So there are quite a few MFA's programs in journaling! Would you consider this a rigorous or disciplined program --writing a journal? and doing lots of talking about it? (I did go to graduate school, BTW).

5/13/2010 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Left out of this so far seems to be working for artists or other art professionals. For example: painting assistants in Koons factory, art fabricators working on sculpture for more well known artists and gallery assistants and even those outside of the art field but working as welders, sign painters, printers, ad design, etc. I had people complain when I include work experience on my CV, but how many art students in school work directly with accomplished artists and see their thought process in action or the way their clients are handled?

5/13/2010 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Left out of this so far seems to be working for artists or other art professionals.

Good point, Bernard. I spent a long time working in galleries and on exhibitions in various capacities, and damn, did I learn a lot about how to talk about my art and other art, as well as theory, history, writing in general. But that work experience seems even more 'aside' than working for another artist, so I generally leave it off my artist cv. Actually, I have 2 cv's: an arts admin cv, and an artist cv, though sometimes, certain admin experiences actually seem more relevant to my current work than some of the older shows on my artist cv...

5/13/2010 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

The benefit of an MFA depends on the person and situation. The factors that made it make sense for me to pursue an MFA included:

1) I knew I wanted to teach higher ed
2) I knew I need to get out of the insular community I was involved in
3) and I knew I wanted to explore certain creative directions and needed the space and time to do that.

Even tho only that first point is exclusive to an MFA, its certainly a viable way of accomplishing the other two as well. so how did I end up fulfilling these goals?

1) I immediately got a teaching position (in fact 2)after grad school. I absolutely love teaching, the difficult part is that these are both part-time adjunct- Low pay, no benefits. The market for full-time professorships is incredibly tough! I now have a temporary visiting artist position, which gives full time pay and benies without the security. After that? who knows.I love school, im inittowinit!

2) Getting away to a different community was really important for me to try on different clothing per say. Just having a change of scenery is great for the creative soul. But now I am back in that same community, trying to make a mark in different ways.

3) Grad school provided the time, space and critical responsiveness i needed to go to the next level creatively. It was a catalyst. Again, not that couldn't have been achieved other ways, but an MFA program should be readymade to bring this.

Depending on how successfully I obtain that coveted teaching position, the 3rd factor may end up being the most thoroughly achieved one. And ultimately worth the 5 fig. loan debt.

5/13/2010 02:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bias exists that dealers deem MFA grads more professional. I have seen this first hand when someone's mediocre work is exhibited because of the Yale/Columbia stamp on their CV. I guess everyone wants to be affiliated with an ivy league institution, if only through their artist's resumes and not their own education. Please don't mistake my tone for criticism of Ed's efforts at the gallery or on this blog. I do admire quite a lot, but the MFA issue is ridiculous.

5/13/2010 02:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question: What if two artists come highly recommended and are perhaps represented by other galleries elsewhere. One of the artists has an MFA and one does not. You like the work equally but cannot take on both artists. Will the MFA make that choice for you?

5/13/2010 02:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

am an MFA graduate and I still feel so screwed...I have more friends now though, all of whom feel so screwed.

5/13/2010 04:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I managed to do two MFA's for reasons that aren't very clear even after 10 years after graduating the second time. I found that being paid to go to school wasn't horrible. I was a TA both times and managed to get a free studio from both universities. I can't say I would be better or worse off had I not gone to grad school but I can say I met a lot of very talented and brilliant people while in school. These were often times artists and were sometimes friend's of friends who were making art. Some of these people had BFA's and went on to show with solid galleries and some wound up in the the Whitney Biennial. If I could complete my time machine I would have done it all over again but spent more time in the studio and less time busying myself with trying to please faculty.

5/13/2010 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger VisuaLingual said...

Just a couple of comments [from someone who has an MFA, if that makes a difference].

The statement that some BFA programs consider themselves "a preparation for graduate study" seems inappropriate, since a BFA is a professional degree -- it ostensibly prepares one for the profession. A BA or MA might be considered pre-professional or preparation for further study, but a BFA is supposed to be adequate preparation for the "fine arts profession," whatever that means.

One thing to consider about the value of an MFA is simply the timing of the experience -- not just that it's after the more foundational coursework of undergrad, but that it's a bit [or a lot] later in life. I was 24 when I entered Cranbrook and had a bit of professional experience under my belt. Being in school again, I found that my level of focus and productivity was worlds beyond my undergraduate performance, although I'd always been a good student. I think students older than me benefitted even more from their life experience and maturity, coupled with the intensive studio setting.

5/13/2010 05:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably not the most educated comment here but I have a few friends that persued art in their education and the one thing they seem to agree with is BFA = Bachelor of Fuck All.

So potentially MFA would be a Master of Fuck All, or the BFA process is there to skim out those who didn't get it.

5/13/2010 05:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Matthew said...

One of my thesis advisors told me once that there is nothing I could gain from my MFA program I couldn't eventually get elsewhere, but I would get it faster in the program. And I believe she was completely correct. In those three years I made the progress in my art practice, as well as in understanding my relationship to academics, theory and history and my ability to discuss my work, that I would have made in ten years without the program. Or at least that is how I feel, and it isn't that what really matters when determining if it was worth it?
I often tell my BFA students considering going on to their MFA that they should take some time off first though. I waited three years, and sometimes wish I had waited even longer. And, since I was going mostly for myself, with little concern about the name of the school on my CV, I chose a state school with faculty I respected and a culture I felt was a good fit for me. I ended up with an assistantship, learned I really enjoyed teaching, and was paid to attend school.
The MFA isn't for everyone, and not all MFA programs offer the same thing. But if you find the program that is right for you and your long term goals, it can definitely be a great choice.

5/13/2010 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger The Reader said...

"there's chatter about PhD programs becoming the new baseline"

This is already the case here in Australia. The fact that universities receive government funding for completed research degrees means that many waive any fees for MA and PhD students. There is also a system of scholarships that means that it is relatively easy for a student who excelled at undergraduate level, or an artist who has a solid record or professional practice, to get paid to do a post-graduate-research degree.

Is this a good thing? Depends who you talk to. I've spoken to gallery directors who think that it is problematic for young artists to go straight through from undergraduate to doctorate. They argue that many undergraduates aren't ready to spend three or four years producing a coherent body of work, not to mention writing a 60 000 word thesis on it.

I did a doctorate with a total of three years between my undergraduate studies and my post-grad work. For me the value of post-grad study really depends on the type of practice you are developing.

For someone whose practice is intricately bound to the theoretical and conceptual then the process of writing an extended thesis that deals with the ideas and concepts around your work can be very beneficial.

For someone who works more exclusively on an intuitive level then post-grad study can actually be crippling. The weight of not been able to clearly articulate what you are doing can eventually poison a practice.

I fell into the first of those groups and found the task of writing a book-length thesis incredibly enriching for my practice.

5/13/2010 08:28:00 PM  
Blogger Jane Waggoner Deschner said...

I agree with Matthew. Figure out what your goals are. I was (still am) older and from an obscure place. I found a distance learning MFA program that offered me what I wanted…the opportunity and challenge to make better art.

A rigorous program, MFA or otherwise, asks you do to things you might avoid if they didn’t make you take/do them. Never hurts!

5/13/2010 09:37:00 PM  
Anonymous marc said...

I got my MFA in the late 80's with minimum debt. I suppose the MFA contributed to whatever shows, grants and sales I've received over the years. I like that MFA allowed me to pick up many years of adjunct teaching gigs. While I find teaching fun and important, the temporary and low pay nature of adjunct teaching can be unsettling. If I had to do it now, I tell others that I would only go for an MFA if the school offered me a free ride. (I'm glad that I'm not in a place to make that choice again.) By the way, the art dept. in my current school is more selective in accepting MFA candidates than the med school is picking its class.

5/13/2010 09:44:00 PM  
Blogger Mat said...

Can't speak for Yale, et al, but LA is the biggest college town in the art world and the only thing they teach the diploma mill elite to do is argue that the work must be good "because I have an MFA".

Combine summer camp with an EST course and you have all the rigor and structure of a SoCal MFA program in art.

5/14/2010 03:03:00 AM  
Blogger Judith Schaechter said...

I was also a bit alarmed by "
"I'll be honest, I am impressed to see on a CV that an artist has an MFA, all else being equal. It demonstrates a commitment and suggests to me that they're in this for the long haul."

I have a BFA, no MFA but I teach in an art school (University of the Arts, Phila) and have taught MFA students as well.

I deliberately didn't go to grad school, although I adored art school, because I felt I was ready. Ready to be a studio artist, ready to begin my career. And I also felt like more critique would undermine the fragile, newborn path I was on as an artist.
I truly believe an MFA can be an indicator of many things and sure, one of those is commitment to the field. But there are other indicators of that and an MFA can also indicate one is insecure and two more years will solve everything.

Secondly--I passionately disagree that art is an intellectual practice. I'm against stupidity--but art is often blind intuition into the unknown and nonverbal. To me, intellectual is based on words.

5/14/2010 05:48:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'd offer you another statement on that Judith, if it were true, but as I've noted, I'm just being honest. I do have to say that I think folks who are "alarmed" are overestimating what that means and entirely underestimating the caveat "all else being equal."

5/14/2010 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger Judith Schaechter said...

I have problem with being honest--as long as you don't mind those trying to change you mind. Which, obviously you don't! So thank for letting me say my opinion!

5/14/2010 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

I feel I should explain my previous 'alarmed' response, although I post comments here often and thought my message was clear, it may not have been to all. What I meant by indoctrination and art schools is relating to what I find the state of the art world these days to be, having a greater emphasis on the verbal-intellectual element to a degree that the visual language is lost to visual art. Visual language is only being put to use these days as a secondary tool in the service of advertisement, film and other art forms, including the secondary use in what is taught in art schools today. What today is called visual art and what is taught in art schools should be better defined as 'Verbal art', or as an artist here calls themselves 'Visualingual'. Part of Webster's definitions of the word language: "a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.../the suggestion by objects, actions, or conditions of associated ideas or feelings... /the vocabulary and phraseology belonging to an art or a department of knowledge"

The visual language is a language that communicates in it's own way, the art of communicating through using it (as Judith Schaechter above mentioned): "is often blind intuition into the unknown and nonverbal". It is the POWER of visual art, and by giving up this element - there is indeed a new, wonderful art form created, but it is not visual art. It is a fine art indeed, the lingual art, I absolutely don't undermine it's importance, validity, meaningfulness and it's own power and beauty, but it is sad that many visually talented students enrolling into these schools in order to learn and improve their visual-language skills and abilities have no other choice but to either neglect the visual (if they are able to) in favor of the verbal art, or else neglect fine art and find an occupation which will better put to use their visual talent skills, such as graphic design etc. Of course there are still many fine artists working with their visual elements as a fine art, but the world of high art is practically oblivious to what they do, making their language, which as any other language is first and foremost a means of communication, invalid and therefore causing it to lose much of it's own power.

5/14/2010 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

I liked rule number one: "Share everything". I don't think artists do that very much. Which is a loss for all.

5/14/2010 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger chrislandau said...

A very small percentage of art students go on to make a career of their art. We all know this. There are simply too many students of art.  
If 100 percent of art students became career fine artists, society would cease to function. But I think there is a huge value in educating so much of our society to be creative and appreciate art. There are more people to appreciate art, buy art, and do artful work in other fields. Creators, designers, entrepreneurs, deserve art-respect too.

5/14/2010 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

chrislandau says:

"If 100 percent of art students became career fine artists, society would cease to function."

I find this an interesting idea. I am picturing something like the PB oil spill only with art instead of oil. Where would we put it all? Who would pay for it?

Or were you imagining a catastrophy of a different sort?

5/14/2010 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

HAHA John! an art spill! what a disaster!!

I think he meant the notion that society needs other, 'more important' work accomplished in order to survive because, as we all know, art is useless...

5/14/2010 01:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Amos said...

I see a lot of people talking about the cost of the MFA being too expensive. My opinion is that there is no reason to pay for an MFA. There are plenty of graduate programs that offer graduate teaching assistantships and fellowships. Do some research and you can find them.

The problem is that people think that they have to attend a prestigious program at any cost. This is because they look at the MFA as a fast track for advancing their careers.

5/14/2010 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger chrislandau said...

There is such a thing as "too much of a good thing". I like to see art permeating everything. I just think there are diminishing returns to the group when everyone wants to do the same thing.

5/14/2010 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate Joanne's comment that doing the art over many years, through thick and thin is an indication of commitment to one's studio practice.

I am 50 and just now starting to get some recognition after 25+ years of working on my art, developing a little freelance graphic design business, and continuing to learn as much as I can about the things I'm passionate about, both inside and outside the realm of visual arts.

I find I'm much more interested in seeing people's work as it evolves over time and I love the freshness that can come from someone who hasn't been overly taught, to the point that the work becomes primarily an intellectual exercise and secondarily a visual one.

I have a BFA that I worked really hard for, and have frequently felt inadequate for not having an MFA. Then I am reminded that I'm still at it, while many of those I knew who pursued the MFA path are doing something completely unrelated to art now. (By the way, I didn't apply to grad school back in the day because I finished undergrad in debt and really struggled on my own to pay off the bills, and I just couldn't imagine going further into debt and limiting my options for several years. Instead I spent 3 years living overseas, which was my own form of grad school.)

Maybe it's been harder this way, but I'm content with my choices.

5/14/2010 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger JMF said...

I have an MA in Studio Art and am attempting to get my portfolio together to apply to MFA programs. The simple experience of applying challenges me and exercises atrophied muscles.(I graduated ten years ago) Any situation that forces you to explain, conceptualize or contextualize strengthens your work if you really listen (to yourself and/or to others) and diligently work the process.

I learned the importance of the excellent archiving. In college, I just threw finished sculptures away just as I would a finished poly-sci paper. My improvement over the first 9 years since graduation pales in comparison to my improvement over the last year. I remembered how much growth can be achieved through artist statement writing. Sure, everyone knows about being distracted by days jobs and relations et al; we also get distracted from some necessary and fruitful aspects of being an artist by the act of making art.

I do not know if an MFA program will improve me from a D artist to a C or a C-plus artist to an A, but I know it will improve me. It already has and I am willing to risk substantial debt and substantial time to find out. Taking personal risks and traveling journeys without destinations seem to be two of the core tenets of artistic exploration.

5/14/2010 03:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If 100 percent of art students became career fine artists, society would cease to function.
Ok, because I'm a numbers person, I looked up the statistics, and in 2006-7, 6% of students graduating with bachlor's degrees earned the degree in Visual or Performing Arts.
http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d08/tables/dt08_271.asp

That's up from 5% of grads getting these degrees when I graduated 10 years ago.

I doubt the world would cease to function.

Our world is smaller that we like to realize, but now, does anyone know how much of GDP is represented by the arts? Are there really too many of us to share the wealth, or is the wealth just too unevenly distributed?

5/14/2010 03:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

... and 2% of masters degrees were given in Visual and performing arts.

5/14/2010 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Judith Schaechter said...

I'm a bit late--but sorry for my typo: I meant to say I have NO problem with being honest" ....yikes.....

5/14/2010 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Taking time off between the BFA and MFA is productive. Travel, you'll get a chance to grow up and will be more focused for the advanced degree.

Art PhD's are a joke. I honestly believe that great artists are unlikely to emerge from Art PhD programs. Art is not like science, and unless you want to be an academic, what is required for success as an artist is the opposite of "studying".

The biggest advantage that comes with a MFA degree may be the thesis exhibition. It provides a point of focus for the working process which many young people may not have already established.

5/14/2010 06:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The MFA is only important because people look at CVs in the professional, commercial world (dealers, collectors, curators) as a measure of your intelligence, knowledge and talent. It's used to sell art or offer credibility. That's just the way the system works. But as an artist, you should probably spend your time thinking about more important ideas.

5/15/2010 02:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great topic Ed.
I would like to add that many artists continue for a more terminal degree to work with a teaching artist mentor as well as the community feedback. You are not working with the school you are working with the artists that teach there. The other artists in your group may contribute nothing and it's really on you to find what you need. These can be achieved outside of the institution if one was so inclined but is by no means easy. Some programs boast really unique programs like MIT for example. If each program was notably unique in some way we could truly tell something about the artist from looking at their CV.
In any case, being totally dedicated to something can mean paying for more school or deciding one can develop outside of a particular institution. If you ask most professional artists if they think upcoming artists should have an MFA, they would say no, why?. It just doesn't matter as far as talent and the development of one's art because it can be done without the extra two years of school.

The more interesting question is what the galleries think...
It's a selling point, pure and simple. Selling the artist as someone who had the time, money and talent to be accepted into a MFA program, a privilege. Other selling points that don't require talent include but are not limited to : being a foreigner, working in a middle eastern muslim country, being Chinese, being good friends with a famous person, showing with a prestigious gallery, being gay, being a women, being a man, being a hot dog on a stick...
Art is something that does not require school to develop. Also it should be noted that outsider art does not mean you don't have a MFA or BFA. One would be surprised to know that many of the conservators and restorers have no degree, they apprenticed. If you can't discern talent without looking at a CV you have no eye for art or talent for that matter. When you look at a CV one should know who is teaching at a particular institution and look for their influence in the art. Getting one's MFA or PHD or whatever should be a continuation of an education, whatever, wherever.

5/16/2010 02:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that this entire conversation is predicated on the fact that every artist has earned a BFA; ie, made their decision about being an artist at about the age of 18. It seems to me that many, many artists I know got a liberal arts degree, and then went on (or didn't) to an MFA program. For these folks, the MFA program might be the first time that they have learned about professional preparation or been exposed to rigorous critiques.

I'll also say that some PhD programs in music composition (which is perhaps the closest comparison to a visual arts PhD) allow students to spend almost all of their time in the studio, without racking up debt. If the PhD in visual art followed that model, I don't think it would be so bad.

5/19/2010 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who needs an art degree at all? Which great artist ever had one? Seems like it just guarantees a lemminglike mindset, and commitment to mediocrity. All about career, not making works of art that humanity needs.

With the access we have to museums and excellent reproductions in media, what do we needs beyond a good applied arts program for real skills, and some fine art for creative classes on the side as the Bauhaus did with Paul Klee?

Stick to skills that are for the real world, creative and fine art are learned though living first, few artist ever went to an art school let alone actually finished with a degree, and when they did it took years to get the blabber out of their heads. Things are no different now than one hundred years ago, the salon types thought they were the bee's knees too. Those who can do, those who cant teach, so why lisiten to nice people with sterile ideas?

5/19/2010 10:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am with Judith in that "intellectual" statement. I spent a long, long time purging the art school vocabulary from my own self-critiques when painting. It took a long time to get out of my own way and just paint. I chose not to do an MFA because I feel once you know how to stretch a canvas and which end of the paintbrush to use, there isn't a lot to be taught about painting. You learn by doing it. The rest is talking about it, analyzing it, polishing the turd to find Big Art Words to justify the work. To some saying the work should speak for itself may be a cop out, but personally I don't want to hear what the artist has to say about work. It will either move me or it won't, it works or it doesn't, and hearing a 50 cent explanation about the work rarely will convince me of something if the work isn't working. One of my art school teachers told me it takes 20 years to be a painter and 25 years out of a BFA program I know that is true. I felt doing an MFA program would cripple me from trusting the process and just painting. I'd be intellectualizing it too much because that is what talking about it all the time does. I think MFA programs can remove you from your work and your natural process, at least that was my fear.

5/23/2010 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous An Artist said...

This is such crap. I tried to read all of the comments but just couldn't stand it anymore. You do NOT need to go to school to be an artist. Going to school will NOT make you an artist. That is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard. You are born an artist, period. Whether or not you're a successful artist depends on how you define success and I think any true artist would define it as selling enough to be able to afford to make more.

As far as being able to speak about your work goes - if you have to explain it, it's not art. Your art should do all the talking.

1/13/2011 08:14:00 PM  
Anonymous BWW said...

I'm one of a rare breed that finds themselves teaching with only a BFA. It was my choice to not persue an MFA for the precise reason that everyone attending seemed to be doing so out of survival and they were neither committed to art or teaching. As an instructor with no terminal degree I am forever at the mercy of institutions and will never be offered tenure or any thing more than what I have now. One thing I do have over many of my peers is a better connection to my studio practice mainly because my time away from the classroom is not bogged down by meaningless meetings. And I am employed doing something I absolutely love to do, and that is teach about art. So that's the cake.

1/16/2011 11:36:00 AM  

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