Why an MFA?

by Troy Colby

I was recently listening to a Podcast over the weekend called, “On Taking Pictures.” It is one of those podcasts that comes out weekly always right on time and I tend to listen to it every week. This last week they briefly discussed the idea if getting a MFA in photography is worth it.

Immediately my defenses went up for I am in the middle of this pursuit and have spent hours and many late nights working towards my MFA. So of course I blurted out, “YES.” The argument was that the money would be better spent elsewhere and how you can make good work without it. I sensed a bit of jaded feelings towards having a fine arts degree, for one of the podcast speakers had a fine arts degree and wasn’t using it. On the up side they did mention how it might be needed more for academia purposes.

So is it worth it and why should one consider it? Well the most obvious reason is that having a MFA will allow you the opportunity to teach at a higher level. It is pretty much required anymore even for adjunct instructors. But well past this I feel there are other reasons that should be looked at. For me personally it is this higher level of conversation that can take place in the classroom and internally. I didn’t really experience this in my MFA studies until recently. There is something magical about being in a group of other like-minded artists. We can all take a good image and we are not here to become technically better. Even though that can happen as well. We are here to learn more about the inner workings of the photographic image and to know why or why isn’t this working. This allows you to have a better understanding of your work, which will allow you to speak about it fluently.

Jesse Burke, Clover

Jesse Burke, Clover

In a 2011 interview with A Photo Editor, Jesse Burke had this to say about getting a MFA. “I think of graduate school as a business decision. It was the first major business decision that I made. It’s so incredibly expensive in terms of finances and emotion and time commitment. If you’re ready to make that decision, then graduate school can be incredibly beneficial.”

Some of these thoughts had never really crossed my mind until I was in the midst of the work. I expected the workload to be a tad bit more than a BFA program, I was wrong, it was a lot more. Which left me mentally drained many nights. Many nights I felt like I am getting nowhere.

Lenscratch has recently been posting a blog by Sarah Stankey called “On Getting an MFA.” So far there has only been two posts. I was excited to read this when I first saw it and wondered if it would mimic some of my thoughts. There are some similarities, such as being introduced to new artists all the time, showing your work to your new classmates at the beginning of the semester. Along with the excitement that comes with being accepted into a program. There will always be differences from program to program. In the end I think we are all searching for more, more out of life, more out of our photography and more understanding of the world around us. We are also building connections and relationships that could last a lifetime, even if it is virtually.

Sarah Stankey, Install Shot of MFA Students

Sarah Stankey, Install Shot of MFA Students

I think going after a MFA is a choice. It is a dedication to your practice, a lifestyle choice and shows that you take this very seriously. In a way we are the like the pupils that traveled to Paris to study under the great painters. Now if we could only teach others and society the value, time and dedication it takes to get a MFA.