What is the importance of an MFA to a visual artist?

A few questions rolling around in my mind this week:

    * Of artists who studied studio art in college, how many of the most successful visual artists around today don’t have an MFA, but just a BFA?

    * Does an MFA give an artist a distinct advantage, or is it just that most people really serious about art-making go on to earn an MFA? (What about people like me who don’t go after the terminal degree just because of the cost?)

    * What kind of artistic notoriety is equivalent to an MFA in the eyes of, say, a university administration looking to hire a professor?

    * Is an MFA today’s equivalent to yesteryear’s apprenticeships?


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

3 Responses to What is the importance of an MFA to a visual artist?

  1. techne says:

    all i know is that an mfa does have a certain cache — it definitely seems to help with institutional appointments (mfa = tenure). unless, of course, you are already exhibiting on more than a local or regional level. you can’t really argue with international exhibitions.

  2. jart says:

    I went back in my 40’s after 20 years as an illustrator and art director. They were pretty sure I couldn’t make it with my background. I am teaching now at a University that won’t hire without the Terminal degree MFA. It’s debatable if they actually accept it as such, cause they have a “formula” and everything has certain points…add em up and that’s your salary. How much work experience, How much teaching experience. With the right school, I’m sure that salaries must be higher, but the fact my children practically go to school for free is a huge incentive.

    Because of the MFA, I have shown work all over the country, and even Europe. Those were things that were only a dream years ago. It takes a lot of time when you are teaching and trying to prepare for a show, but the dangling carrot keeps you moving.

    As far as your question about being similar to the old apprentice…I didn’t see it that way. No teacher on my graduate committee pushed their style on me. They would give me things to always think about, but for the most part the experience was enriching, stretched me to go down the creative journey full steam. Something that no one can teach you. You have to experience that life of an artist, know your “what if” questions and never stop in spite of a job that you use to make ends meet.

    Good questions.

  3. acoustiss says:

    I have an mfa and bfa, i design part-time now and run a café part-time too. I did the mfa for two reasons, firstly they gave me a scholarship, secondly I didn’t know enough to satisfy myself about my own work. It was a good thing to do. Just the extra time in study allows your own approach to grow without commercial restrictions.

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