Jobs with a MFA
April 16, 2007 3:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering getting a MFA, what kind of jobs can you get with that?

I would like to teach art on a college level and have considered getting a MFA (in drawing) to acquire this. I am also interested in seeing what other jobs are available to those who hold a MFA as well.
posted by Hands of Manos to Work & Money (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I can tell you that an artist friend of mine, who has an MFA and has shown his work at galleries in Manhattan, can only find part-time work as a college-level art instructor.

Don't expect that such jobs are at all lucrative or easy to find. My friend is reluctantly starting to think about moving to some podunk little college town somewhere, because it would be the only place he could get a teaching job that would be compatible with the local cost of living.

That's assuming he can find such a gig. There is fierce competition for them.

I myself have an MFA in Film, and found upon moving to New York City that it qualified me for the lofty position of... production assistant.

I value my time in film school for the technical and creative knowledge and experience it gave me, and for the (eventual) maturity and insight that I gained from all the stupid mistakes I made along the way.

But the degree itself has done very little for my employment prospects.

(Still, if you DON'T have an MFA, I would guess that your chances of getting the kind of job you're talking about drop from slim to none.)
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 4:04 PM on April 16, 2007

(P.S. FYI, if you don't know, a production assistant on a film or TV production is a gofer -- the person at the very bottom of the totem pole, who runs around doing random errands.)
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 4:06 PM on April 16, 2007

Response by poster: yikes. that's not good.

I do know you can teach (and if I can stomach it) high school as well.
posted by Hands of Manos at 4:17 PM on April 16, 2007

If an MFA in art works like an MFA in writing, then it may not get you a job teaching college, but you'll be very unlikely to get a job teaching college without one -- most colleges require that one have the terminal degree in one's field in order to teach in that field.

Also, as far as the arts and humanities go, it seems to me that most colleges are moving away from the tenure model toward a part-time contract model. You teach one class here, one class there, and probably do something else on the side to make ends meet. After 15-20 years of doing this (and building a solid reputation for yourself as an artist), you might be lucky enough land a full-time/tenured position, assuming that such positions won't have completely been phased out by then.
posted by treepour at 4:28 PM on April 16, 2007

Response by poster: well these answers sure aren't optimistic by any stretch of the imagination. Oh to have not been blessed artistically and in something else like math or something.
posted by Hands of Manos at 4:33 PM on April 16, 2007

This isn't going to be much help, but I know there are conferences you can go to where colleges recruit MFA candidates for teaching positions. I have several friends who just went to one - in NYC I believe - and the name escapes me (sorry, I am headed for the commercial market not the fine art one so I don't know much about this stuff).

Looking for organizations for your field would probably be the best idea (for example, the Southern Graphics Council for printmaking or the Society for Photographic Education for photography). They all have conferences and things like that that are basically giant job networking events.

I don't think your situation is as dire as other posters are making out. I know for instance that my (art) school is growing so quickly that they can't hire professors fast enough.
posted by bradbane at 4:56 PM on April 16, 2007

Oh to have not been blessed artistically and in something else like math or something.

I hear you. On the other hand, cobbling together a life of part-time teaching gigs and something else on the side still beats cubicle life, IMO.
posted by treepour at 5:02 PM on April 16, 2007

In addition to the MFA you also need solid working artist credentials including major metro area (NY, Chgo, LA, Kansas City, Montreal, Toronto, wherever) one-person shows, although not necessarily gallery representation. Also what treepour said re contract hirings.

You should look into getting a job at a reputable alternative gallery like Artemisia or Contemporary Art Workshop in Chicago; (? there must still be others out there--been out of the art world for a while, so I'm not up to date on the current crop of alternatives) or even at a commercial gallery. Your MFA will look good on the resume there. You should also look into backstage stuff at museums. I know a lot of sculptors who ended up building miniatures and other displays at the Field Museum in Chicago (very cool job).

Here's why I know this stuff: Out of school lo these many moons ago with my fancy litho and painting degree; no one in Chicago legit art world will hire you if you didn't get said degree from the School of the Art Institute. This may also be true for other institutions in other localities. If your MFA is from the favored one, great, otherwise, get creative (you're an artist after all).

So I got jobs at the alternatives, learned to write grants and manage fundraising programs there and now am a highly paid fundraising consultant.

In other words, totally sold out. On the other hand...gainfully employed.
posted by nax at 6:32 PM on April 16, 2007

I'll second what everyone else is saying about the MFA and teaching jobs. It's like winning the lottery to win one, but you can't have even the slightest chance of winning if you don't buy the ticket. My advice would be for you, however, would be to not treat the MFA as a means to an end if you go that route, but to use the process to hone specific skills and a high level of craft (yes, gulp, craft) in order to maximize your chances of finding something that allows you to use those skills to earn a living should the teaching gigs be few and far between.
(FYI, I went into an MFA program as a painting major, decided I wanted to learn sculpting techniques while there, and was able to parlay those skills into a good few years of making props and scenery for major theatrical productions. I taught foundation figure drawing to college art majors for a year, but in the end found it more gratifying to create work, even if I considered it "my craft" instead of "my art" rather than instruct others from above.) And yeah, treepour, I'm in a cubicle instead a lot these days and you are absolutely right.
posted by stagewhisper at 6:34 PM on April 16, 2007

For my flavor of MFA (poetry), you usually need the degree plus a couple of well-received books to land a good teaching gig. Without the books, your driver's license will get you more jobs than your diploma.

What an MFA program really gives you that's hard to come by is the opportunity to build a professional network. At my university they didn't teach us much in the way of craft, but oh my land did they make it easy to network. I think that's a big part of the reason people with an MFA from that school do pretty well. Then again, some of us became programmers because there's less in the way of politics.

But it's a great life, getting an MFA. They paid me to spend a few years doing what I do for kicks -- talk to people about books, read cool stuff, teach, and write.
posted by amery at 6:48 PM on April 16, 2007

I do know you can teach (and if I can stomach it) high school as well.

I am about to graduate with a BFA in Illustration, and I want to teach art as well. An MFA will only allow you to teach college, in order to teach grade school or high school you need a teaching certificate, which requires different schooling. This is at least in Illinois, it may be different in other states.

I am not sure what job positions having an MFA in drawing would open other than teaching...
posted by Becko at 6:56 PM on April 16, 2007

In my experience (art history Ph.D., museum curator), the other posters are absolutely right in that an MFA is more about the specific program than about the degree. As you're doing research, find out where recent grads are -- I went to Stanford, and they have a very decent track record of getting their MFA grads into teaching at various Bay Area schools (and sometimes at Stanford) although generally not in a tenure-track way; they also seem to be good at getting their grads reputable gallery representation (and therefore shows, museum acquisitions, etc.). Of course, it's Stanford, and very competitive -- the people who get accepted to that MFA program generally already have professional experience and credentials.

With an MFA you can also become a contemporary art curator, either independently or at a museum; like any field in the arts this is competitive. You'll have better luck if you have the freedom/opportunity to do a lot of work for very little financial reward in order to establish a reputation/gain experience. But, it's not impossible -- especially if the MFA program you choose gives you that great network.
posted by obliquicity at 7:50 PM on April 16, 2007

For teaching at a university level with an MFA I think is well summed in this comment from this question.
posted by sailormouth at 8:45 PM on April 16, 2007

As a Fine Arts major (Creative Writing, majoring in fiction) who went on to get a Bachelor of Education (in Canada, teaching wages are high enough to make it seem like a good idea), all I can say is, sell out and be entrepreneurial.

There is no future in teaching at the college level. Or, there is, but picture yourself at 35 (that's me) or 40 years old. Stability would be nice. Health insurance is nice. So are retirement savings. The ability to buy a house. Spare change so you can go on a trip once and a while.

If you're going to be a graphic artist, plan on starting your own shop. Be the boss. Root, hog, or die, man. Money is great! Because it buys security.

Otherwise, it's all a Raymond Carver short story...
posted by KokuRyu at 9:36 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

teaching positions are indeed scarce (i'm starting my MFA in visual arts this fall, but i'm already reading up on job postings in the chronicle [of higher education]). you can most likely look forward to a couple years of living in adjunct-professor limbo (at least in the US).

i cannot speak to the job situation in Mexico, but, in the US and Canada, i can say that you'll likely receive preferential treatment in a number of fields: working at galleries and arts organizations, curatorial positions and the like. with a fairly minimal certification process, here, you can teach at the primary and secondary level. and there are the "art-related fields" of... framing and art-moving and painting stupid murals at restaurants and wineries. if you have experience in design fields (web design, magazines, etc.), you'll have somewhat of a leg-up on the competition.

but, here, at least, mostly an MFA qualifies you to compete for positions in post-secondary education. also, even a BFA can be enough to land you a job at a sympathetic private primary or secondary school.
posted by wreckingball at 10:12 PM on April 16, 2007

Out in the non-teaching world, an MFA means only slightly more than a BFA...which is to say it means nothing at all. Occasionally, you might run across a job posting that has a BFA as a requirement, but that's mostly done just to ensure that the candidates have some formal training. In my umpteen years in graphic design, I've never been asked if I had a degree in my field.

An MFA will be a door-opener to a teaching job (or, on rare occasions, some other art-related position...a docent at a museum, for instance) Unfortunately, our culture really doesn't see much value in an arts education...let alone an advanced degree in the arts.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:36 AM on April 17, 2007

Best answer: You should view an MFA program as a way to develop the skills/tools you need to do your job. You need to find a program that will give you the type of learning you need for your particular type of work and then try to evaluate if the resulting improved ability is worth the cost. Outside of postsecondary teaching, there is no door that is closed to you because you don't have "MFA" behind your name. But the things you learn may open doors for you.
posted by winston at 8:23 AM on April 17, 2007

(I would mark winston's answer as "best" if I could).
posted by stagewhisper at 9:52 AM on April 17, 2007

It's not on exactly the same topic, but there was lots of help in this old AskMe question (for my brother) about how to get a tenure-track job in art.
posted by ontic at 10:33 AM on April 17, 2007

Winston is right on.

I have an MFA in Playwrighting (or more generally, theatre). After trying for teaching jobs and finding them few and far between, I found that my finely honed skills ( playwrighting, directing, auditioning, acting) didn't appear on any job description, but they allowed me to give terrific job interviews!

22 years later: I'm the VP of Marketing and Operations at my company.
posted by cptnrandy at 10:59 AM on April 17, 2007

On Car Talk, their Unemployment Representative is named Art Majors.

An MFA will qualify you for, and tend to limit you to, work in the arts. A job in the music business used up all my music energy. A writer friend left jobs in editing and advertising for the same reason. Instead, go into something different. I became a lawyer. My oboist nephew is a salesman.

Like music, art is a great major but a lousy way to make a living. On the other hand, a serious art major, in which you learn to draw and paint, teaches complex skills that can't be learned except by long practice. This is just what businesses look for.

Good luck.
posted by KRS at 11:45 AM on April 17, 2007

my cousin with a honours MFA is a tourist guide ... the job options were not too good.
posted by jannw at 2:05 PM on April 17, 2007

« Older A person who sets music to moving picture is...   |   Patella fracture. Share your experiences during... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.