Is an Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree worth the cost? Opinions vary. Here are a few comments, both pro and con, from artists and professors of art:
No MFA for Me!
Many young artists who decide against an MFA seek out communities based around studio space. One such operation is Chashama, a nonprofit that rents studio space in Brooklyn, New York, where artists pay an average of $180 a month. The facility at the Brooklyn Army Terminal includes exhibition spaces and its location makes it easy to attend openings and to network into the art world. Some of the artists spoke enthusiastically about their decision.
“I’ve weighed the pros and cons of an MFA and the inevitable student loan debt. One pro argument if I were to consider pursuing an MFA would be that it would open up teaching possibilities that an MA does not, but given the scarcity of teaching positions, that would scarcely enable me to pay off the student debt. At $20 to $30K+ per year, an MFA isn’t very cost effective, is it? And as artists I think it really pays to think of ourselves as small business owners, promoting our work and ourselves. The question becomes, does the potentially substantial debt of an MFA degree further or hinder your art career?” -Gina Fuentes Walker, Chashama studio artist
“I considered going for an MFA at two points since receiving my BFA. The first time was immediately after college when I knew I wanted to continue to study life-size sculpture from a model. I applied to the New York Academy of Art (NYAA) but was uncomfortable making the financial commitment to go there. I decided to move to New York, try to work on my own, and consider their program again later. Within two years I was taking classes at the Art Students League for a fraction of the price and studying with some of the same teachers who taught at NYAA.” -Elizabeth Allison, Chashama studio artist
“An MFA is a noteworthy achievement and an invaluable tool in pursuing a teaching career, which sometimes even enhances your career in the “establishment” art industry. Ultimately though, a laser-like focus on creatively marketing your work, paying attention to current moods and trends in the field, networking at openings, private events and engaging people in conversation that can also create exhibition and sales opportunities—from my personal experience—is the key to progress in this intensely competitive arena.” -Ademola Olugebefola, Chashama studio artist
“I ask applicants who come and see me, ‘Why not take the money you would spend for tuition and rent a studio, surround yourself with fellow illustrators and find a cheaper and less demanding way to get an MFA? The answer is always the same. I have tried that; for me it doesn’t work. I have taken continuing education classes, I have shared studio space, I have attended numerous panel discussions, and my work is stagnant. I need a full-focus, day-to-day program with a clear intent that allows me to explore who I am and what I want to illustrate for two years.” -Marshall Arisman, Chair of the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program, School of Visual Arts, New York
“Getting an MFA is not only about furthering one’s career, but also about growing as an artist, developing a supportive community of peers, and gaining access to rigorous critique. It is difficult to put a dollar value on those things, but I do believe they are important, and very valuable.” -Mark Tribe, Chair, MFA in Fine Arts Program, School of Visual Arts, New York
“There were so many, many times along the journey that I looked at the cost and borrowed money and simply froze into an overwhelmed state much like catatonia. I still do. And many, many times I asked myself what the f$*#% I was doing. But we do the things that are right for our lives, then figure it out. … I feel, in my experience, that you seek education where you seek a personal change. As artists, do we need an education to participate in the art world? I don’t have the answer to that other than it was what I sought out; for me it also helped to realize that I was employing these people for my artistic and intellectual growth.” -Michael Severance, recent graduate of MFA program, School of Visual Arts, New York
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