Even though an MFA is one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, achieving success in the arts requires far more than a degree. If you want to make a living as an artist, no matter what kind of art you create (visual, written, performance-based, or design), you must have exceptional skill. Can you get the job you want with this terminal, graduate-level degree?
Considering the Value of an MFA Degree in Light of Your Portfolio’s Relevance
The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is a highly regarded graduate degree. In the arts, this degree isn’t something to take lightly, and neither should you, the student. However, being an artist does not necessitate a degree in order to be licensed or to be listed as a job candidate. MFA degrees can demonstrate that you’ve put in the time and effort to develop highly advanced artistic skills, but they don’t reveal exactly what you’re good at or what you excel at. An employer’s impression of you is formed by looking at your best work, whether it’s in the form of an online portfolio or a physical collection of your work.
What matters most about an MFA is not the prestige it bestows but rather the quantum leaps in artistic proficiency it allows you to achieve. According to The Washington Post, many MFA students also experience a great deal of personal growth while pursuing an MFA, which can include learning and confronting their own weaknesses, insecurities, and anxieties.
It’s common for students to question whether an MFA is more valuable than just a portfolio, but the two are not mutually exclusive. Your portfolio will grow as a result of the work you do as an MFA student. When you finish your MFA program, you may find that your previous best work is no longer as good as it used to be because your skills have improved and you have learned new techniques.
No, you don’t need a master’s degree to build a strong portfolio. Even so, you may not be able to improve your skills as an artist and learn new techniques unless you have access to professional critiques and guidance.
The Sort of Job You Can Get With an MFA
The combination of your MFA degree and your enhanced portfolio can help you pursue any creative position in your field. Artists, authors, actors, and dancers are all examples of professional occupations. However, if you’re looking for a job where your MFA degree will give you an immediate advantage, you may want to rethink your career path.
When it comes to working as an artist, you don’t really have “employers” so much as “agents” who represent you and companies where you use your skills to create art. Employers who prefer more traditional work arrangements are more likely to be impressed by a college degree. If you’re looking for a job in the publishing industry, for example, having an MFA in creative writing could help you stand out.
Even if you only have an MFA, your portfolio still matters in the job market. Your MFA may get your resume a second look and even lead to an interview, but your prospective employer will likely want to see evidence of your abilities.
What You Can’t Expect From an MFA in Creative Writing?
It isn’t a given that publishers, galleries, or agents will come knocking at your door to offer you work as a recent MFA graduate. A graduate degree does not guarantee you a book deal with a major publishing house or a lead role in a Broadway production with one of the city’s top directors. Having an MFA does not grant you access to opportunities that otherwise would be out of reach based solely on your abilities and portfolio. To get a job like this, you’ll have to stand out from the crowd and make your own way in the industry.
Planned teaching careers that don’t pan out are another potential pitfall. According to Inside Higher Ed, jobs for MFA professors, particularly those in creative writing, are scarce and highly competitive. Academic jobs are even more difficult to come by. According to Inside Higher Ed, only a quarter of all college faculty positions are now tenured or tenure-track, indicating a lack of job security for professors everywhere. Adjunct professors are used by many colleges. If you’re looking for a way to supplement your full-time professor’s salary and benefits, you may want to consider taking on a part-time role.
Art students need to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of going back to school, especially if they will be taking out loans to do so, because the payoff isn’t always immediate or even obvious.