MFA vs. artist

I’ve been asking myself a question this past week:

    What, in my own life, holds the greater potential influence to foster an artistic renaissance in the American Church: Working as a full-time artist or working as a professor in a BFA program at a Christian college?

Unfortunately, this isn’t really quantifiable. I asked a friend this weekend, a design professor, what he thought of my predicament. He prefaced his answer by saying it’s a loaded question to which he’d give a loaded answer, and proceeded to say that working as a professor brings you into contact with a lot of people in a short period of time. He then suggested I would be a very good prof for reasons x, y and z. My friend then cited local Christian painter Todd Williams saying he makes a good living for himself but doesn’t necessarily exert a lot of influence in the way I desire to.

This may suggest the role of teacher holds greater promise for change in the Christian community, but it’s by no means certain. While I know nothing of Williams’ intent, his website openly states that he’s not out for notoriety as an artist. Neither am I — save for the fact that the more well-known an artist is the more opportunity they’ll likely see to be involved in reforming the culture around us for the better. In this there is an enigmatic tension between narcissistic self-promotion and self-defeating humility. An artist has to market him or herself.

Should I even be asking myself this? Is the answer different for different people? If my intent is to influence does it matter which I do?

I’m worried that I’ll choose the easier of the two options, but I don’t know which option is easier. Teaching — which requires a costly degree up front (assuming you aren’t able to get a decent fellowship) — offers more reliable and steady income and thus might be easier in the long-run. Working as an artist might be easier in the here and now assuming I begin by building up a portfolio while continuing to work an eight-to-five during the days.

I wonder if I’m destined to be an ignoble pot (read Romans chapter nine, verses 20-21), living comfortably but never making an opportunity to step out into either of these options. Is accepting a more ignoble role the same as humility, or is it the same as ignoring your God-given gifts?

A lot of other thoughts are playing into the banter inside my head:

  • What about my idea for a Christian artist retreat?

  • How does my present role as a mission mobilizer play into this decision?

  • Is it a viable idea to work to raise up a healthy art community in a small town?

  • Can my wife and I find a place where both of us are accepted into graduate programs with fellowships?

  • Is an MFA in studio art the best option for someone like me, whose interest extends to architecture and interior design?

Unfortunately there aren’t any easy answers. No doors are opening or swinging shut to indicate one idea is better than another. This may still happen in the next couple months; my present job situation isn’t sustainable past December at this point, forcing a decision in the very near future.

We press on. We try to wait patiently. We brainstorm for new ideas, which come all too slowly.


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

2 Responses to MFA vs. artist

  1. balm says:

    Todd is a friend of who is the gallery owner of which is showing work and my work . Small world.


  2. jdcid says:

    Art is communication. The gospel needs to be communicated. Your unique artistic gift will not probably effect everybody, but it will effect the the people it needs to. Perfect your skill, give glory to God with your life. He will do the rest.

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