Is an MFA Necessary?

small devil man with a shovel

I met a person with a doctorate degree. I was in graduate school at the time. He said, “I don’t get why anyone wants an MFA. Do you teach?”

A painter once told me they’d never go to college for an MFA, because no school can teach a person how to make art, or how to be an artist.

A professor with an MFA told me he’s been on many hiring committees, and that having a degree didn’t matter, because the very first thing they look at is the job candidate’s portfolio of artistic work.

“If the work isn’t there,” he said, they “don’t get considered for the job.”

However, I have experienced and seen the exact opposite. Colleges and universities ask that candidates have terminal graduate degrees as a matter of requirement.

Consider the following art professor job search:

a job description requiring an MFA

The very first thing listed under qualifications is a Master of Fine Arts.

The last thing they listed is that the candidate must be a working artist.

They want a college educated, working artist to teach. That makes total sense. What doesn’t make sense is why so many MFA holders pretend that the MFA isn’t a tool for career advancement. It’s your hard work that gets you the job but it’s your MFA that gets you considered for the job.

An MFA is definitely not necessary for you to become an artist. It is, however, necessary for securing a college level teaching position—that is, unless you’re already famous first, like Allen Ginsberg was.