Can I get a job with a MFA in art?
August 3, 2014 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering getting an MFA, but I have some questions about my job prospects after I graduate. (I am posting this for my wife.)

I am interested in hearing from anyone who has an MFA in visual art (including painting, graphic design, ceramics, fiber art, etc.) I am 46 years old and I'm planning to start an MFA program in Integrated Visual Art (with a focus in mixed media and graphic design) and I'm wondering if it is realistic to think I will be able to find a job after I graduate. Ideally I would like a salaried position where I can earn $30,000 or more. Here's what I want to know:
What job opportunities will likely be available to me?
Have any of you graduated with an MFA and haven't been able to find a job at all?
posted by crapples to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have an MFA in Photography and I did not go into my MFA program thinking that I would definitely find a job afterwards. I went in knowing that I would continue my work as a professional artist and did it for my art. Generally the reasons to get an MFA are: 1, if you want to teach college, you need an MFA to get on the tenure track, or 2, if you want to try to be a professional artist working in NYC. I would think that if you want to be a working artist you would need to get your MFA from an art school in or close by NYC or at RISD.

I think you might be able to find a job, but getting the MFA isn't necessarily going to help you further. I have friends in my grad program who are currently wedding photographers, a job that you can successfully do without any type of degree, as well as professional re-touchers. a job that you would probably need at least a BFA to get hired. I would do a lot more research into the specific schools you are interested in and try to find out what type of jobs the MFA graduates get after they finish the programs. If it helps, I am currently an elementary school teacher, so not related to photography at all. I don't regret getting my MFA at all though, because it made me a better artist.
posted by ruhroh at 12:56 PM on August 3, 2014

Jobs for MFAs in visual art certainly exist, though given the wider economic realities of life in the 21st century and the number of people with MFAs, competition can be fierce -- so that may affect your definition of "realistic." That said, I work at an art museum and a number of my colleagues in various departments have MFAs, particularly in the education department, but also in graphic design, curatorial, art preparation/installation, etc. I also know people with MFAs who work at galleries, in artists' studios, and as teachers (though often this work is part-time and/or not salaried). And, of course, plenty of working artists, photographers, etc. have MFAs.

Some of this will depend on living in a community with an arts infrastructure in the first place -- there are going to be more job opportunities in certain towns/cities than others (though the competition in those locales will likely be higher).
posted by scody at 1:02 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

When you get out you will be nearly 50. You don't say anything about other skills, working background or experience in terms of what else you will bring to the table. What is your goal? Why are you considering getting an MFA? What are you giving up to get one?

The graphic design part has been commoditized and is now very, very tools heavy as a job. Ceramics and fiber are have pretty much never been job material.

If the goal is to make money, as is implied, the MFA at this point is probably a waste of time.
posted by rr at 1:37 PM on August 3, 2014

An MFA basically provides the resources to further develop your work. Everyone from my BFA program who went on to an MFA is either a trust fund kid hoping to become a gallery artist or is looking for a career as a tenured professor.

As above, I've used my BFA to work in art galleries, do retouching work, etc. I'd love to get an MFA for fun - to be a better artist, but unless it's free or you have the cash it's not worth going into debt for.

If she can't get a 30k job now, an MFA won't change that. Few jobs require an MFA. Lots of people have an MFA and an unrelated job that pays over 30k.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:42 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work for a digital agency in Portland, Oregon. All of our designers, past and present, have had only BFAs, with particular emphasis on things like graphic design, illustration, print design and photography. Both the Creative Director and the VP of all visual communication disciplines at our company only have BFAs, too. Even the most junior designer makes well over $30K. Senior designers, more than double that. Management makes quite a lot more still. Portland is more expensive than Iowa, I believe, but it's nothing like New York or San Francisco. I've often been involved in hiring creatives, and by far the most important factors have always been the quality of past work and interview skills, not their degree or school.
posted by thinman at 1:47 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might be able to find a position as an art teacher at a community college. The MFA would certainly qualify you for it. At my school starting salaries are around $41,000. Overloads and summers can increase that significantly.

Downside is that you'd likely have to move. There aren't many positions and lots of people would like to have one.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:00 PM on August 3, 2014

I agree that an actual MFA degree will not help a person get a graphic design job outside academia. However, the personal connections that a person might make during the MFA program could certainly be valuable in the professional world. Make sure that the school you attend has the most well-regarded, connected faculty and graduates, and your chances of finding work later will be increased.
posted by oxisos at 4:10 PM on August 3, 2014

Short answer: No. There aren't many degrees that lead to jobs these days - not even some of the hard core vocational ones. This is not really vocational at all. Any employment you get after the MFA will be heavily-if-not-wholly dependent on what other experience and skills you have. It is absolutely not a ticket to or qualification for a job.

The only MFA people I know are established artists and the like looking to expand skillsets in mid career, or undergraduates unable or unwilling to get a job, and picking one up for lack of other options.

Unless you are rolling in cash or are able to get a scholarship, I would think very carefully about return on investment, here.
posted by smoke at 4:52 PM on August 3, 2014

Most likely no, you will have a tough time getting a job. If you can minor in something else like design/interiors/product or specific to that then your chances improve a bit.
posted by jellyjam at 8:32 PM on August 3, 2014

As Scody mentioned, there are several jobs in the museum world that tend to get filled by MFAs. Most that I know of are installers and preparators, who do exhibit design, framing, matting, art moving, layouts, lights, etc for museums. It's a great (though very physical) job but many museums don't hire full time, or use a blend of full time, part time, and on call workers. Jobs in the museum world can be hard to come by right now so you would likely have to move to a job.
posted by PussKillian at 8:48 PM on August 3, 2014

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