Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) Employment Opportunities
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated August 2010
It’s something every artist studying in graduate school has to struggle with as the days count down to graduation; namely, what to do next? What to do on the day after graduation?
For recent law, medical, or even business school grads, that same question is a little less subtle; there are professional analogies inherent in their course of study. But for someone who has pursued an advanced degree in the arts, parsing the various fine arts job opportunities after graduate school can be a little less intuitive. After all, a career as an artist is not even strictly contingent upon a degree.
For many recipients of a fine arts degree, the time spent in the program is perceived as a valuable end in itself, regardless of any doors it might open. But, after the sanctuary of school, there is always the real world, where those doors still remain. So what fine art job opportunities are out there? What are the different routes a graduate might take? What jobs require or encourage a fine arts masters degree? And what can a recent graduate do to go about making him or herself attractive to potential employers? In short, where are the doors, and how do they open?
The field with perhaps the most—or most obvious—job opportunities in fine arts is education, whether at the high school, college, or graduate school level. In academia, the MFA is recognized as a terminal degree, connoting not only the degree-bearer’s accomplishments as a working artist, but his or her abilities to teach in the field as well. Many universities require an MFA in order to teach, and it is universally difficult to get a job teaching fine arts at the undergraduate or graduate level without one.
At the college and university level, most fine arts programs are defined by the mentor/mentee relationship, that of an established artist working closely with a group of talented apprentices. this means that, although the job market for a full-time or adjunct post within a university’s art or theater department is certainly competitive, it is not unusual for a recent graduate armed with an MA or an MFA to make the leap from mentee to young mentor, especially if he or she has found some measure of professional success.
At the high school level, or even in middle school or lower, the MFA degree can open doors as well. Many private and parochial schools fashion their art departments after the university model and actively search for working artists to fill mentoring roles. The MFA can also help one get a head start on a teaching certificate or an MA in education, if one wishes to teach their craft at a public school.
Art as commerce
Another area where the recent graduate would do well to search for fine arts jobs is within the broader context of the artworld; that is to say, within the channels through which art is disseminated. For a studio artist, this might lead to the the design department of a museum, a sales position at an auction house, or an administrative position at a gallery. Again, since the MFA is a terminal degree, it may provide a candidate a leg-up over someone with a more traditional MA in art history.
Putting your skills to work
With an MFA or a fine arts MA in hand, a recent graduate can, as they say, “dine out” almost anywhere, in any sphere of business, on the fact that he or she is now considered an expert in the field. And an expert in the fine arts can be quite attractive to a company looking to fill a related role within its department. A studio artist may link up with a company in need of a graphic designer or creative director. An MFA degree in theater has for many led to work as a private acting instructor, or as a public-speaking coach in the corporate world. As a creative thinker and artisan, you will find that the specific skills you posses are, in fact, rare and in-demand, and the ability to see yourself and your abilities as a commodity will go a long way during the inevitable interview process.
A career in the arts is, in a sense, inherently unconventional; as such, many MFA grads in the pursuit of a sustainable living end up walking an unconventional path. Extending on the writing workshop, which has by now become a phenomenon, community programs and even prisons have become viable places to teach one’s craft in an intimate setting. Actors and studio artists may find workshop opportunities in community theater, local galleries, and myriad regional public arts agencies. Administrative work in the university setting can also be an attractive option, as a clerical job in a school’s art or theater departments typically provide access to libraries, studios, office space and other amenities, as well as comprehensive health care.
It’s who you know
In the end, what may truly open doors for the master of fine arts is the network of fellow practitioners met over the course of his or her studies—both students and mentors alike. All advanced graduates of art school understand the challenges of balancing employment with the demands of one’s craft, and as such there is a palpable desire on the part of those who have, in some sense, “made it,” to help grease the path of those who are as yet on their way. Many emerging artists have found gainful employment working in the studio of a mentoring master. So don’t be afraid to reach out to former teachers and students. Excepting your own competence and creativity (which, of course, both go without saying), your friends in the field are absolutely the best resource you have.
Post-MFA job resources
Check out: Art and Fine Arts Programs
Photo by NIOSH