Advice for students considering an MFA in visual art?
December 15, 2010 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone point me toward advice designed to help undergraduates decide if they should get an MFA / MA / other post-graduate degree in visual art?

I would be particularly interested in articles or book chapters that describe what it is like to be an MFA / MA student in the fine arts--both the good and bad. This is to help some students I know that are just finishing their BA in studio art in a small town at a liberal arts school in the US. They don't have any exposure to graduate students here. As such, they are prone to gross misconceptions about what graduate school is like. I want them to understand that the experience can be good, but that it is not paradise. I also want them to understand that graduate school is not about furthering a general education, but specializing and professionalizing. It is a means to an end. To that extent, articles that discuss practical information about career paths, and career prospects, for fine artists would be appreciated too. Thanks!
posted by mortaddams to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Advice from every visual art person interested in higher education that I have ever known: don't do it unless someone is paying you to do it.
posted by phunniemee at 2:35 PM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I would basically agree with phunniemee. I would never recommend to a young person to take on significant personal debt to get an MFA. Unless you are independently wealthy, I would recommend that people pay extremely close attention to financial support, such as scholarships, fellowships, and TAships. Incidentally, how common are fellowships and TAships in MFA programs? Is there a way to tell which schools offer more financial aid to MFA students?
posted by mortaddams at 2:45 PM on December 15, 2010

An MFA is no longer a reliable entree to showing in great galleries. The only way it remotely makes sense to do is if they feel really deeply drawn to teach at the university level - and even then it's generally not a good financial move because there are so many more people with MFAs than there are teaching jobs. More and more teaching jobs are adjunct jobs as well - non-tenure track, teach one class a term, not a living wage kind of thing. [ I'm a visual artist - did NOT do grad work in art but rather in technology since that was the day job.]

Also - I don't think anyone should go straight into that sort of grad program right out of college all other issues aside. Not an answer to your question but hopefully relevant.
posted by leslies at 4:18 PM on December 15, 2010

Current MFA student here. Phunniemee is absolutely right. In my experience, I applied to 4 schools and was offered a full scholarship to 3 of them. If you are looking at going to school for MFA, consider a few things:

1. If you can't deal with criticism, don't pursue a MFA. You're presenting your work to new people and a good portion of people won't like what you're doing. Learn how to weed out the stupid comments and hear the good.
2. Every grad student in the MFA program at my school is there on a full-ride. All of them. I go to a state school and a lot of the time, state schools are more generous with scholarships than say, private "art-label" schools.
3. Know that having a MFA in now way guarantees rock star art status (think Damien Hirst). Some top-tier schools (read: SAIC, Yale, VCU) tend to churn out "famous" artists, but more opportunities are offered to them because of the name on the degree at the top of the paper. The caveat to this is that private art schools generally charge accordingly and rarely off full scholarships/stipend/TA status (or defer it for half of your program) [(this has been my experience - it's different for everyone for a myriad of reasons)]
4. If a school wants you to come to their school, the ball is in your court. Tell them you won't come unless they pay for it. If they want you, they'll bend over backwards to get you there. A stipend is exactly what you're looking for. They usually don't pay too much, but it certainly helps.

A book you should look at if you haven't already: Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton. The first chapter is especially helpful in describing the atmosphere of a graduate-level critique (albeit with a famous artist).

I'm not aware if there is any definitive way to see if a given school offers more financial aid than another. You can read up on the school website about what they're willing to offer, or even call them up. The more contact you make with the school you want to go to, the better the chances are that they'll give you a shot at the MFA.

If you need more advice, memail me.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 4:28 PM on December 15, 2010

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