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why go to grad school

updated mon 31 mar 97


Linda Arbuckle on sat 22 mar 97

In response to the question about why go to grad school ......

To broaden your outlook, learn more about yourself and your work, do this in
a research environment where you'll have colleagues with similar concerns to
learn with and from, and to (eventually) make better work because of what
you've learned.

The MFA is NOT a teaching degree, a Masters in Art Education is.
Universities feel that it takes the understanding of a practicing artist to
teach aspiring practicing artists. This, however, does not mean the function
of the degree is teaching. The MFA is a terminal research degree in visual
arts. (In the UK there are some programs beginning to offer PhD studies in
visual art practice, but in the US the MFA is the terminal degree in visual
art practice.)

Doing MFA studies is, for most people, a hot-house for their artistic
growth. It's also very frustrating for many. What to make, why to make,
issues of content are big questions. I've seen a lot of students get
artistically "constipated" their first semester or year, as they feel this
is now the time to make "important" work, and have to get past that to
realize that it work grows, and you have to start some place and keep
working while you're thinking.

The group dynamic in an MFA program is very helpful. One learns a great deal
by watching other people struggle and solve problems that you have no
inclination to address yourself. It sheds light on problem-solving in
general, broadens your own thinking, and is a resource for things you may
find out later you DID want to know about.

The title of the degree: MFA in Studio Art (or Fine Art) with a
concentration in Ceramics is as good as MFA in Ceramics. Symantics. But MFA
degrees are specialized, in-depth study, not a sampler.

Foreign degrees equivalent to MFA?: depends on the degree and place, I'd
suspect. Varies. Where a terminal degree is required for a job, something
similar from elsewhere may or may not be accepted. I've seen it go both ways.

RISD: I received my MFA from RISD in 1983, so my perspective is from that
era. It did me a lot of good, broadened my outlook on looking at art. In
spite of the fact that I had a VERY hard first year, flailed around a lot,
hated everything I made, it was a very good education that I value highly.
Very good faculty (Jacquie Rice, Jan Holcomb, Chris Staley). Larry Bush, who
is also there now, is a thoughtful, interesting artist and teacher. RISD is
quite expensive these days, my only hesitation in recommending it to some
students. Last I checked tuition was over $17,000. /year.

Many schools support students wishing to make functional pottery. Programs
benefit from broad approaches. I learned a lot at RISD from people who
weren't making pottery, and valued that experience as well. It's a very
personal decision to match yourself with faculty and a program.

Good luck in your considerations.


Linda Arbuckle
Graduate Advisor, Assoc. Prof.
University of FL Department of Art
P.O. Box 115801
Gainesville, FL 32611-5801 (This is a new e-mail address!)