MFA or bust?
In response to a blog by Canadian artist Shary Boyle, someone with the avatar "Wrongtable" wrote, "I think that young people shouldn't hedge their bets by getting a Masters of Fine Arts. MFA doesn't imply talent. Talent comes from dedication and often desperation. Art funding spoon-feeds artkids, and the result is often wallpaper."
This response is typical and makes a comment on the changing face of professional arts. Common questions I'm asked these days are, "Should I go for an MFA?" and "Will any art degree help in my professional career?" The evidence is out there. There are now enough MFAs to fill the Astrodome, and most of them are doing anything but art.
Our world is coming down off a prayer-rug that faced New York, London and Berlin. For decades, a lot of poor quality art has emanated from these centres, and the world of art schools and University art faculties have encouraged the worship. This mass delusion has undernourished countless echelons of idealistic "artkids." Sure, some make it, often for the reasons Wrongtable mentions.
Don't get me wrong, academia has done a remarkable job of prying open the gates of imagination and broadening artistic literacy, but many of the artkids I'm talking to these days are asking for something else--how to create light, how to handle shadows, how to compose in a traditional manner, how to draw. "I want to draw like Ingres," said one.
Fact is, there's a rising class of home-workers and plein-air painters whose aims are the old fashioned ideas of quality and life-enhancement. Whether or not they have a MFA is immaterial. These days, people don't walk into galleries and ask if there's anything by someone with an MFA--although there are still many who would like to see it happen. Even in this distressing recession, art sales in many areas are strong, and young people who have dedicated themselves to developing advanced skills are thriving. In desperation, perhaps, these artkids decided to get good. Their reach may not always include the haughty halls of New York, London or Berlin, but they can be mighty celebrated out here in the backwaters.
Is this not enough? To be happy in our work and produce daily and freely? To be relieved of price one-upmanship, star-jealousy, the welfare of grants, and the poisonous-pens that hinder progressive careers?
Though we may hop in a small puddle, through the Internet we are still part of the great Brotherhood and Sisterhood and, who knows, little tads can sometimes--if they're not grabbed by the crows--become quite remarkable frogs.
PS: "If you fly with the crows, you get shot with the crows." (Old English idiom)
Esoterica: Of all of the advice I've dished out over the years, perhaps the most effective and commonly remarked upon has been "Go to your room." Aspiring artists, credentialed or not, who find it within themselves to do this are the ones most likely to get the "talent." Sticky word, "talent." But it's out there. We see it every day. And it makes for a great life.