The practicality of an MFA degree
September 17, 2007 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I recently received my Masters of Fine Arts degree from a fairly well known program here in Chicago. I'm kinda second guessing if the whole thing was worth it. Do employers/gallery owners actually care? I know everything hinges upon my portfolio, but do I really have a leg up on the competition?
posted by inkfly to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
In reality? No. Your degree means squat.

However...the school you attended (Art Institute?) will look good on your bio. It might open a few doors, just as a mark that you're a "serious" artist. And, if you happened to study under a well-established artist or two, that will look good, as well.

In the end, as you said, it's all about the portfolio.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:18 AM on September 17, 2007

I would say 80% of it hinges on your portfolio. I'm not in the biz, but my sister is, and its become clear to her that at LEAST 20% of it is, like many other biz's, about who you know. She elected to not go for the MFA, and although she's pretty talented and has a great portfolio, she's quick to admit that much of her success has not been so much about her work as it has been making the right connections with the right people at the right times.

I'd suggest that you use your program as best you can to contact those (previous alum, current profs, etc.) who can help you out, or at least can help you get connected with people who can.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:35 AM on September 17, 2007

As someone who is considering getting their MFA (after 10 years or so of being a graphic designer), the only thing I think it is good for is to be eligible to apply for any university type positions that open up. You can certainly teach part time with just industry experience, but to even get into the door of the ever so competitive (and cushy!) ivory tower...MFA. (and even then it still comes down to who you know and portfolio).
posted by Wink Ricketts at 7:43 AM on September 17, 2007

do I really have a leg up on the competition?

It depends what you take away from it...

An MFA is good for some things:

It has hopefully exposed you to a higher level of discourse/thought about art.
It has given you time to concentrate/raise the level of your own work.
You have met serious artists (at your level and a higher career level) who will continue to make serious work.
It gives you the opportunity to teach.

Is an MFA alone going to make gallery owners think you stand out? No. In fact, an MFA is pretty common at certain levels of the art world, at least in NYC. (Some folks start with an MFA, then try to add places like Skowheganto their training). What matters is what you took away from your time in the MFA program... and how you now use you knowledge, friendships, determination, and thicker skin.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:07 AM on September 17, 2007

I would agree with the first two commenters above: where you went to school can help if you connect with profs and alums. But your work will seal the deal. If it's good and you're well-connected then you have a chance.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 8:38 AM on September 17, 2007

Dan Pink's most recent book theorizes that the MFA is the degree of the future.

Might not apply directly to the gallery world, but it might be an interesting read regarding the usefulness of creative degrees and skills in general, and how to apply that background to your career.
posted by COD at 8:57 AM on September 17, 2007

If it's all about your portfolio, then going to grad school gave you a great opportunity to make a killer poftfolio.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:02 AM on September 17, 2007

It may induce a gallerist to give your submission a second look, or to make a visit. So not worthless. Far more important is your portfolio, which presumably has been improved on the mfa. But also, if you are in the fine art scene, your shows (including such details as the venue, who curates, who takes part), your reviews, the buzz that begins to surround your name (yes, small and local at first) are of vital importance.
posted by londongeezer at 4:11 PM on September 17, 2007

Outside of more traditional jobs, an MFA does afford you some important advantages if you're looking to be a working artist who's not just dependent on gallery sales to make a living.

It is often a requirement (even when it is not officially one) when applying for consideration for grants for large-scale projects, fellowships, public art opportunities, etc to have a MFA.
posted by ryanpmack at 12:20 PM on October 8, 2007

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