April 15, 2010 7:01 PM   Subscribe

I've come to consult the hive for advice on undergraduate majors in the arts. As of yet I'm simply a B.A. Studio Art major, but if I rearrange my schedule I could take on another major. Anyone know the merits?

So, yes, a B.A. Studio Art major from a state school. Prestigious? No. Enjoyable? Yes. Beneficial to my future career as an artist? Questionable.

So, here's the deal. I'm going to be an artist. I do a lot of things, and I'm young so I know I will likely change my mind as to what I pursue over time. I'm okay with the uncertainty, and I've committed myself to following my dreams wherever they may take me. Maybe I'm being unreasonably optimistic, but I feel passionately that I will make it, in some form or another.

Which brings me to my main point. I'm not trying to go to graduate school, though being a professor is something I would consider in the future. For now I just want to get out, I feel school is holding me back from my full potential as it eats up all of my time. Getting a B.F.A. in anything would require another year of schooling, and I'm so itching to get free that it sounds like a horrible idea.

Now, if I did choose to pursue a B.F.A. in something it would be probably be photography. I love it, though it challenges me. Maybe that's why I love it. I currently work in the field in small ways, shooting for events, headshots, family portraits, etc. I'm becoming known for my work, and my portfolio is ever-expanding.

From what I've heard, when it comes to being an actual artist *yes I see myself as a jane-of-all-trades, the do what interests me when it strikes me type of gal* that in many cases experience is paramount to education.

Can anyone say, from experience, what the merit of changing from a B.A. to a B.F.A. would be?
posted by wild like kudzu to Education (14 answers total)
You don't really need more experience to do what you want to do. Working as a photographer will get you were you want to be. If you're getting work, it's not worth paying more for something of a marginal benefit. I mean, tons of people work as artists without any training in art! Not to say the degree is useless, but ultimately, there's no objective "this is what you need" factor if you can and are ramping up the business side of things.

Although what you're doing, at least in the photography section, isn't art. Artistic, yeah, but it's not art. It's just work like anything else. But that's another convo :)
posted by wooh at 7:40 PM on April 15, 2010

Oh wooh, why must you add on that little "isn't art" part? I disagree, but I won't get into it now. Thank you for your sound advice.
posted by wild like kudzu at 7:47 PM on April 15, 2010

I do hold a B.F.A. and am currently working towards M.F.A., and in my experience, B.A. is somewhat frowned upon. B.A. is a broad focus in the arts (in my experience, waffling in the arts), where as B.F.A. demonstrates a singular and perhaps more dedicated focus to your chosen studio art. It's also true that you don't need to anything more than a B.A. to be an artist (and there are also plenty of people who don't even have "credentials" and are artists), and it's also true that event shooting, headshots, and family portraits generally do not qualify as art (which is also another discussion). Further more, to teach at the university level, you do need the M.F.A. at minimum... but, you don't need to have the B.F.A. to transition into M.F.A. It's a matter of preference on your part and you have already stated that you no longer wish to be in school because you feel as though it's holding you back. There aren't any actual merits to having a B.F.A., but it certainly does look better on paper. If you have any further questions, you can mefi mail me.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:55 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Putting aside the "what is art," discussion, I think it IS germaine to say that should you want to get an MFA, they're generally (from talking to professors and whatnot in art schools, every school is different, who knows) not going to want the sort of photography that, well, makes you money. When I say "art" photography I'm talking about photos created with the intent of being art. It doesn't always have to be that way, but what I'm saying is that if you turn in event photos or wedding photos, you're not going to get accepted.

Either way, the truth of the matter is that the fact that you're making money with a lens makes you more successful than 99% of art majors! So keep doing that. What I would recommend is once you have a revenue stream you can live off, start to do some more exploratory projects just for you. This is going to be what really leads to your application portfolio.
posted by wooh at 8:02 PM on April 15, 2010

Also, to add on, you can't teach anything without a master's in something. You could certainly teach at some kind of non-profit type thing, but you can't teach K-12 or college/university with even a B.A. If you paired a B.A./B.F.A. with Art Ed, then you can. Food for thought.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:05 PM on April 15, 2010

Ahh yes, I see what you guys are saying. I don't mean to imply that it's the only kind of photography I do. While I do have a growing portfolio of those gigs I am paid for, they in no way outnumber my artistic photographs. If I were to apply to an MFA program I would have a variety of works to display, and I can see how showing wedding portraits would not be the way to get into a good program. I more mentioned those to illustrate the fact that I am currently working in the field, albeit in a small way. Besides, if I'm going to have to do something sell-able for now, why not be in the field I enjoy? That's all I'm saying.
posted by wild like kudzu at 8:10 PM on April 15, 2010

Oh, and I've had a few art shows of my own for my illustrations and artistic photography, I have another coming up in the summer and a group photography exhibit as well.
posted by wild like kudzu at 8:12 PM on April 15, 2010

I have no experience about the path to teaching, so you'll have listen to other people on this thread.

But your degree does not matter at all if you're going to be a commercial photographer. Zero. Less than zero. Take some business classes and get the hell outta there.

Also, read this: http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2007/11/11/advice-from-a-photographer/
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 9:33 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a nearly-30 type who has only pursued (lots of) art-type degrees, might I suggest the possibility of taking on a more...ahem...practical major? You may find later that you will be REALLY glad you did. Memail me if you want to hear the reasons I say this, and best of luck!
posted by nosila at 7:32 AM on April 16, 2010

It's not a second major, but one thing that would radically help your career would be to take some intro classes in business, accounting, and/or marketing, and perhaps web design. If you can imagine selling your art or selling your skills as either a business that you support yourself with, or as a sideline to a day-job, then it is really really worth your while to get some grounding in how all that works.

When you need to be doing the product side of your business to make ends meet, you'll be ina bad way if you're floundering around with a terrible website, vague accounting practices, no concept of how much you were supposed to have paid the IRS last year, and accepting work on verbal contracts that somehow never get paid.

I'd argue that this is even important if you're planning to go back to school and eventually teach, because even professors can have side-gigs, contract work, customers, and websites, and the more you know how to deal with that stuff, the less it will get in the way of you doing your art.
posted by aimedwander at 7:35 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

in the real world there is no difference between holding a BA or a BFA, you'll see job listings that say require "bachelors degree req." but i have never seen one specify the "F"

and bombshelter's comment that "you can't teach anything without a master's in something" is 100% false. i know plenty of teachers without a masters degree. what you need in order to teach K-12 is a state certification which you can get without a masters.
posted by swbarrett at 7:39 AM on April 16, 2010

It might matter what type of "artistic" photographs you make. An acquaintance who is a documentary photographer and photojournalist decided to go back and get his MFA in photography. His style is, as you might expect, closer to Mary Ellen Mark than to Cindy Sherman. This was, to his particular well-regarded MFA program, unacceptably un-artistic. The mindset seemed to be that photographers should not make pictures that document something that already exists or is happening, but should instead make pictures that document something they (the photographers) have constructed or fabricated (a scene, an object, a costume, a concept, whatever).

I don't know the extent to which this program's approach is generalizable to either other MFA programs or BFA programs, but I was struck by the fact that this person--some of whose work is commercial/journalistic and some of whose work is decidedly "artistic" (at least as far as many people would use the term)--was not considered to be doing artistic work. It would behoove you to talk to working photographers whose style is similar to yours before you put any money into a BFA or MFA.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:12 AM on April 16, 2010

Once upon a time I was in your shoes, and I decided to get a BFA in Photography. Here's why: If you do decide to go to a master's program (MFA of MA), they will require a BFA. There will eb some exceptions to this, but far and away any MFA program will require enough pre-reqs in studio classes that you'll only get with a BFA. Why is this mimportant? Only if you want to teach at the university level. IF you want to teach at the K-12 level, you can either get certified or find an MAT or MT program, and they won't care what degree you have. But the master's is a good idea for any kind of teaching, as it makes you more competitive and higher on the pay scale in most states.

Secondly: Specialization is for insects. Take all the classes you can in as many areas as you can. Take me, for example, I have a BFA in Photography, most of an MA in Ceramics, I've been a wedding photographer, a commercial photographer, a draftsman, a production and fine art potter and I'm currently a graphic designer and video editor. In the real world, if you say you're an "artist" you'll be far more likely to get a job if you can use your existing skill set to cover a lot of different bases. Most people (in my experience) hear "artist", and all they think is "creative" so you'll be expected to be able to whip up a print layout, shoot an event, or create a commercial, all in a month. The BFA program, allows you to do this, It may be an extra year, but it's a lot of time to learn many different things.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:31 AM on April 16, 2010

in my professional experience as an artist i have a BA from a prestigious school, double major art/english, and no one really cares that much, they just want to see my portfolio. makes sense, you know, if i have a fancy BFA or MFA but a shitty portfolio why would they hire me for creative work? though i think my school name and gpa helped with employers thinking i'd be reliable and hardworking.
posted by raw sugar at 10:31 AM on April 16, 2010

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