An MFA Is Not…

I woke up this morning thinking: an MFA is not a stamp of quality. At least, it does not guarantee that the quality of work the artist has produced to earn the degree is any better (or even as good) as the work they submitted to get in to the program. That is because you simply cannot grade art. Efforts at doing so wind up comical or perverse, and no-one on the faculty wants to be the one teacher history remembers for failing Kandinsky for not painting real objects or failing Dali for painting real objects in an unreal way.

Whereas in MA programs you can pretty well guarantee the graduate’s scholarly skills are up to a certain standard, an MFA degree does not mean the artist actually got any “better” in the course of two years. If you do the assignments, attend the classes, at least try out faculty suggestions and generally cooperate with the process–including paying tuition–you will definitely get a degree. You will also likely get better as an artist–but that is not a guarantee, nor is it what the degree should be interpreted to mean.

An MFA represents a commitment to studying the making of art–a commitment of time, money and perseverance. Usually, such a commitment naturally and automatically produces an improvement, at least relative to the artist’s personal aims–and perhaps universally. Still, there are not–because there cannot be–any checkpoints of overall quality that would hold a student back for spending two years making so-called “bad art.” Therefore the degree simply says: I studied this much for this long with these people. The work itself says everything else.