10 Signs That Your Art School MFA Program is a Cult

dancing skeletons

Not all programs are money sucking cults, but beware. Graduate programs (in any major) can fall prey to a cult of personality who turns your school into their own personal penitentiary. Sadly, your tuition money helps fund the person if you stay. Here are ten warning signs.

1. The Teachers Aren’t Artists

You’ve paid thousands of dollars, but the people who are teaching you are not working artists. They have little or no history of art making outside of the classroom, and only seem to have created anything while at university. If you do not respect their work, why pay thousands of dollars in tuition to learn from them?

2. The Power Structure is Skewed

There is a person (or several people) in the program who—if you get on their bad side—can ruin your educational experience. As a result, the program goes in directions you and your classmates don’t care about, but nobody says anything because it’s best not to ruffle any feathers.

3. You Have Witnessed or Experienced Abuse

Power mongering is normal for the leaders of the cult MFA program. Because you’ve gotten caught up in the web, you act in a way that attempts to keep you from becoming the target of the abuse. There is no (actual) redress procedure—the abusers are also the redeemers.

4. You’re Required to Perform Invasive Tasks

Your teachers think their unorthodox methods make you uncomfortable, because they are so challenging. You suspect that the teacher doesn’t know how (or doesn’t have anything) to teach and therefore are providing students with an “art school experience” to justify the expensive tuition. Assignments degrade to dream logs, sex confessions, staff & student parties, and collectively scapegoating a perceived evil.

5. Everyone Pretends to Love Each Other

From the moment you were accepted into the program, you found yourself the recipient of an artificially manufactured camaraderie. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it wasn’t for the fact that any sort of questioning or dissonance causes the entire group to reject you.

6. Elitism Over Capitalism

The people in power say they are facilitating your artistic transformation, after which you will be an elite and enlightened change agent, but you feel like you’re heading for financial ruin, and a nervous breakdown.

7. Only People Who Are In It Get It

When your friends and family ask, you can’t explain what you’ve learned. Your classmates can’t articulate it either. You find yourself telling friends and prospective students that they’ll “just have to experience it” for themselves, or you say and believe postulations like “trust the process.”

8. There Are Little or No Graduate Services

After you finish at the school, you find that there is no alumni network, no job placement, and nobody bothers to answer your emails or phone calls. If there is a graduate services department, it’s made up of one part-timer who also handles social media marketing for the school.

9. You Question, Yet Ignore Answers

You’ve learned not to say anything out loud, but inside you constantly think about how it feels like the program is ripping you off. You see only two options: drop out or put your head down, shut up, and stick it out.

10. You Are Scared

Even after you graduated and have a diploma, certificate, or degree in hand, you are afraid to say anything negative about the program for fear of some form of long reaching retribution. You also avoid your former teachers on social media as well as personally and professionally.

Next: Artists, Student Loan Debt, and the Myth of Artistic Purity