But even if you end up making a choice you later regret, fear not! Any degree has value because education is valuable in and of itself.
Broad, big-picture education is becoming a thing of the past – as Slavoj Zizek warns, over-specialisation could lead to a decline in civilization because it puts puts blinkers on the eyes of the most capable in society. So by doing any degree at all you are doing your bit for society. Beware of specialisation though! As an artist you ought to be more rounded and knowledgeable about a broad range of subjects, otherwise your work becomes derivative.
The MFA or MA options usually pop up in an artist’s life when one of two things occur. First, they are not getting the recognition they feel they deserve so they assume that they are lacking something successful artists have and apply to college in order to acquire this skill. Or the artist is not sure how to take their talent and earn money from it so they enroll in courses in order to learn how to be successful.
The MFA is an applied course. It offers the student, for a cost of $20-50k the chance to…er… write, hang out with other artists and get tutored by with successful artists.
Trouble is the greatest artists don’t waste their time teaching, they’re busy making earth-shattering art. You would think, for that kind of money, you would get access to someone who has sold out shows and readings all over the world – not usually I’m afraid.
The MA option has more theory. There is more critical analysis going on. This course is useful if you want to become a teacher. Even if you don’t want to be a teacher it could still be useful in getting a teaching gig when all the time you wasted going back to university means you’re too far behind to earn your living from your art for a few years.
So which is best? Well neither. If you are serious about being an artist but you need someone to tell you if your work is good or not, or you need a “tick” from the establishment – pack up now. Do us all a favour, the world doesn’t need your art.
If the courses were more reasonably priced I could see some point. But at the astronomical prices involved – it’s crazy. Trust me, I have written over 300 poems in the last few years, hung out with the best poets in the UK, performed all over the land and attended many workshops with published poets. And what did this cost me? Nothing.
If I were you, I would take a degree. But in something interesting, something that will expand your mind and round your soul. William Burroughs took an MA in anthropology, Julian Assange took a science degree and Fyodor Dostoyevsky didn’t do a degree at all.
MA or MFA? Don’t waste your time and money.