So You’re Thinking about an MFA...

Me at my bench at Kent State, 2012.

Me at my bench at Kent State, 2012.

Where to begin? The first step of this process is quite basic: Why an MFA? You’ll want to make sure that graduate school is the right step for you and that you’re “all in” before you take on this huge commitment of time and money. You may find that your career goals do not require an MFA, or that the timing isn’t right and you’ll return to the idea at a later time. I’ve done some research on this common graduate school question and tried to adapt the information to be more specific to studio art MFA’s.

We’ll start by analyzing why artists choose to enter MFA programs: Unlike with lawyers or nurses or grade school teachers, there’s no prescribed route or even job description to achieve the status of “Professional Artist”. Some have MFA’s, some are self-taught, and of all the artists I’ve spoken to over the years, no two have the same story of how they came to be. An MFA program is a great opportunity to build a body of work in a safe “bubble” environment with constant feedback from faculty and peers, to gain exposure to new techniques and processes, to network in your field and to perhaps gain teaching experience and credentials. It is not, however, a place to figure out whether you’re interested in a career in art, a free and easy passageway to a successful career, or a way to pass the time because you can’t think of anything better to do with your BFA. An MFA is time consuming and expensive, and you can’t go back to do it over again! It can be a period of enormous growth, but entering into a program half-hearted won’t be constructive. Make sure you’re ready to give it your all so that you can take full advantage of everything the program has to offer.

Grab some paper and answer the questions below. Don’t worry, it’s not a waste of time – if you do decide to apply, you’ll have some great brainstorming ideas to start writing your Statement of Purpose!

Relating to your career:

  • Are there other fields I’d like to explore or things I’d like to do before I begin on a serious career path? (i.e. Experiment in other media, travel, etc.)

  • What are my career goals?

  • Can I achieve my career goals without attending graduate school?

  • How would graduate school help me to achieve my career goals?

  • Am I willing to commit to full-time study for the next two to three years? (There are also a limited number of one-year programs. I’m personally not aware of any part-time programs, but please comment below if you do!)

Relating to your artwork:

  • Am I interested in and able to create my own self-directed body of work?

  • Am I capable technically in my field or do I need more instruction to master fundamental techniques?

  • Am I open to growth in my work or am I happy with what I’m making now?

  • What would I like to explore in my work during graduate school? How would access to the facilities and faculty facilitate these explorations?

Relating to finances:

  • How will I pay for graduate school and am I willing/able to take on student loans?

  • Will my art career after graduate school be inhibited by the need to pay back loans?

  • Will I need to find a school that offers financial assistance via assistantships, scholarships, etc.?

  • Am I willing and able to put in the extra hours for an assistantship on top of my regular workload?

Take some time to write and really think about your decision. Sometimes we can get so set on doing something that we forget why, and there’s no shame in changing your mind or admitting to yourself it’s not right for you! That being said, if art is truly your passion and you feel that an MFA will give you the opportunity for growth that you need in your work, and your only hesitation is fear of rejection, failure or whether or not your work is “good enough”, then my advice is to make a plan and go for it! You have nothing to lose except not spending your life doing something you love!

My next blog entry will ask similar questions, but directed toward current undergrads specifically to caution those students who are considering going straight into graduate school after graduation.