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Grad Program: Studio Arts (M.F.A.)

Basic Information

A graduate program in the studio arts beckons many artists because it allows them to dedicate a few years to their chosen medium and gives them an entrée into a teaching position at a college, university, or art school. In most cases, the graduate school route leads to a Master of Fine Arts degree, or M.F.A.

While a few M.F.A. programs will allow you to choose several concentrations, most will require you to focus on just one—such as painting, or ceramics. In the program, you’ll take advanced seminars in history and theory, and maybe pedagogy, but the core of the program will hinge on your hands-on studio work. M.F.A. students will be expected to participate in campus art shows, often as exhibitors, curators, or guides. The goal, of course, is to foster artists; but it seems that many programs also feel an obligation to give students a bit of the practical experience that they’ll probably need to get a job that pays the bills.

It’s worth taking the time to find a program that has grants and assistantships more readily available. Paying for an M.F.A. out of pocket is costly and not particularly practical, so programs offering assistantships have a double benefit: you gain marketable teaching experience and earn money toward your tuition. There are more graduates than job opportunities for graduates—especially at the college level, where the competition can be fierce—so every bit of experience will count.

Finding an M.F.A. program that suits both your academic and economic needs may be tough. Research what sort of artwork a program’s faculty tend to like and do a comparison with the work in your own portfolio. Figure out what sort of accessibility to the professors you’re likely to find, and see what sort of studio space the program guarantees its students. Basically, determine what’s most valuable to you in a program, and then leave no stone unturned until you find the programs that match your needs.

Degree Information

Most students wishing to pursue Studio Arts on the graduate level pursue an MFA. Under the canopy of fine arts, the M.F.A. options seem endless. There are programs in painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, printmaking, photography, video, metalwork, jewelry-making, stained glass, woodworking, weaving, bookmaking, and more. The M.F.A. is a terminal degree, meaning that once you earn the degree you’ve completed the full course of possible study in that field. If you want to teach at the university level or higher, this is what you’ll need. Most M.F.A. programs take two to three years to complete.

The M.F.A. degree often culminates in an exhibition of the student’s work, accompanied by a written thesis and, most likely, an oral critique. There are many variations in M.F.A. programs out there, but this is one aspect of the degree that you’re not likely to escape.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Who are the faculty members and what have they accomplished recently?
  • What sort of access do you have to faculty members—especially any big names?
  • What about the students? Where are they from? What are they doing?
  • What have the graduates done since leaving the program?
  • What sort of assistantships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities are available?

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