Saturday, June 5, 2010

MFA in fibers

I have been kicking around the idea of getting an art degree. I have a sneaking suspicion that part of this has to do with my love of school and that going to school for a Masters of Fine Arts in fibers is really a way to delay some dedicated work in my own studio. However, another part of my brain wonders if there are things to be learned in art school that I have missed completely (actually I'm sure this is true) in my haphazard, cobbled-together art education. Can I find those things on my own (without a formal educational setting that is)? Probably, if I have a little faith and find the people who can help me learn them. But how do I continue to find those people?

A decade ago I visited Cranbrook with my artist/architect sister and wished that I could be part of that fiber department. The fibers instructor recommended I get a BFA before I came knocking on her door again (and admittedly at that point I had no body of work at all, so she was right). And the price of that institution now that I might consider trying to get in, is prohibitive.

The crux of it, I believe, is that I want to have the opportunity to become submerged in my own art-making. I think I have some notion that if I was in an art-school environment, there would be ideas literally bombarding me at all times and I would just have to reach out and pluck them out of the air and weave them into my tapestry. I suspect this is not the reality. On the other hand, my realistic self understands that making art is a difficult and sometimes painful process and that art school may only magnify that, perhaps to good end--or perhaps will simply frustrate me as I try to complete other people's assignments and don't have time for my own ideas.

I think this question of professionalism and art degrees is something that we (artists, fiber people??) don't talk about much. Are those who have advanced degrees in art afraid of devaluing them in some way? Is spending years working in photography, print making, or sculpture really helpful if we want to be fiber artists? I suspect there are great benefits to working in other mediums... but I also suspect that I have passed the place in my life where those pursuits are useful to me.

Still, the question remains, MFA or not? Any thoughts?


  1. I'm saying this as a person perusing a PhD but employed as a bureaucrat (and planning to stay in government service). The purpose of an advanced degree is to give one the credentials to stand alone in teaching and funding situations. For artists, they're much less useful unless you WANT to teach in a college or university setting.

    But, they do allow for networking. I'm all but dissertation, and I truly believe I could have found all of the networking/thinking through possibilities w/o the PhD. I think it's even easier now than when I started down this path 10 years ago due to the true MAGIC of social networking.

    School also takes time away from real thinking. Right now, my attempt to finish a PhD is keeping me from working on my own fiber art AND thinking on the magic that is Ravelry and Phat Fiber as social institutions.

    Most of the time, I'm glad I started the PhD, but not all of the time.

  2. The crux of it, I believe, is that I want to have the opportunity to become submerged in my own art-making---I think this sentence says it all, and it is something that I understand very well because I love school! I have also considered going back to school for art, but I also know that the classes would take me away from my main love of weaving. I would be immersed on those other subjects and do no weaving. I have only taken one college-level art class—a three week intensive photography class and it was exhilarating! The assignments were open-ended, so I really had to think. Our first assignment was windows, which made me look at windows all over town in a totally different, more observant way. But deciding on the pursuit of new degree takes lots of commitment. Could you get your feet wet by taking an art class at the museum or local community college? I guess you have to ask yourself what you would gain from that MFA and if there is some way to get some of the same benefits from a different source. And after saying all of this, I too wish I had more of an art background, but ...

  3. Rebecca, your thoughts & desires really resonate with me as I have struggled with the same feelings myself since leaving nursing in 2005! That somehow having a piece of paper would make me a more real/professional/focused artist. That the experience would totally immerse me & I would would become more enagaged. That I would gain validity, at least in my own mind.

    I have considered all of this for the last several years off & on & have come to these conclusions, maybe some of them will help you...

    Do I really want to be told what is correct/right & what is not when it comes to art?


    Do I really want to be required to study other media and/or non-art subjects when I don't really want to?


    Do I want to commit all of my free time to driving to classes, studying, writing reports, completing projects that are just exercises?


    What will I actually gain after spending so much money & time in doing this if my goal is not to become a teacher (which it isn't)?

    not sure

    So, how can I fill this yearning need I feel constantly to somehow become "more" of an artist (which I really think is a nagging search for things to feed inspiration & insight)? I have come to the conclusion very recently that other than the mentoring program I am doing with Heyden right now, I'm not interested in taking other & more tapestry workshops because I'm not sure that will give me what I am seeking.

    Here are the things I have decided to start pursuing in order to fill the void that seems to want filling...

    Try to get artist residencies... I think something similar to the residency at the Grand Canyon that I am doing would be right up your alley & I think you could arrange it to mesh with your work schedule. I've discovered that many of the National Parks offer residencies. Check this site out:

    Take singular non-credit classes in other media, like drawing, collage, mixed media.You'd be surprised at what you find nearby when you do searches for these types of things. Last summer I took a journaling class & a collage class & I couldn't believe how inspired & free doing that made me feel.

    Read books about the creative process. This is a little more tricky because you have to enjoy reading & also find an author that really speaks to you, but I have recently found a couple of books that have given me deeper insight into who I am becoming as an artist.

    I hope my thoughts help & I am looking forward to seeing you in July!

  4. Okay Rebecca and Lyn ~ I think you two have a great dialog here that needs to be played out further. I challenge both of you to continue discussing this on your blogs!

    A friend, Renee, has done this very thing ~ she and her husband left their life in Washington so that Renee could head to art school. Her blog,, is documenting the journey.

    Take care! -- Julie

  5. Juliet, I enjoyed looking at your friend's blog! I will read it over more closely later as the descriptions of art classes are fascinating to me. I couldn't figure out why she isn't continuing with school though!?

  6. Their inital plan was to sell their house in WA and she was going off to get her MFA. Then the housing market tanked. So they went off on a new crazy adventure. Here is her original blog which shows her weaving past and where she discusses her transition/decisions Renee has been an ATA member, is about "our" age, and is working through all the same issues related to creativity as we all are ~ is it an age thing? Mid-life crisis that isn't a real crisis but an exploration. I do think that we are all landing in a time in our lives where we have fewer superficial worries and there is a HUGE craving for knowledge at a different level. The fear of trying something new isn't the same as, say, in our 20s. So much of this dialog realates directly to one of my college design instructor's digressions in about
    1984. She looked at her class filled of 18-22 year olds and spent two hours lecturing about how creativity will come with experience. She told us that we could only draw upon our personal experiences and being that we had only been on this planet 20 years, that wasn't a lot to draw upon. She was right!
    In the end, Lyn's comments about continued exploration in workshops, lectures, etc. are a great approach. A degree means nothing unless you are going to use it to attain a tangible goal. Spiritual goals, creative goals: these can be persued independent of paying high tuition.
    This topic would be a great thing to play out in ATA's Tapestry Topics with you spearheading the conversation! Give it some thought....

  7. Hi Rebecca, Julie told me about you and your blog and conversation. I am the Renee she referred to. To answer your question, the school I am currently attending is a private art academy. It is founded, directed, and taught by a man who is originally from Russia and trained in the Russian art system. It is a family run school and they have decided to move the school to Maui for his health. I would love to go to Maui to continue my studies but it is not feasible at this time.
    Now, about the art degree. I would ask you what is it you are looking for? Do you wish to teach in a college? If so then you will need the MFA. Otherwise, there is no other reason to get one. I would not be receiving a degree even if I were able to complete my art school education! They do not give out degrees. I went to this school, after much research, to get the training that I could not get on my own or in a university. As Julie mentioned, it was not a smooth and easy journey but it is entirely worth it, to me! There are not a lot of these kind of schools in our country but they do exist. I was thrilled to find one in the Pacific Northwest. I have to say that I believe all of your concerns about going to school are quite valid! I originally started looking at universities and, after a time, realized that they would not provide the training I was looking for. The housing market tanking was a blessing in disguise for us as it made me re-evaluate. So, I have to ask, what exactly are you looking for? What skills? You don't need a degree to have validation in the art world, your work is your validation! The other comments all give excellent thoughts and points as well. I hope this helps (and makes sense after a long day at art school!). I will be interested in your thoughts and will visit your blog to see what you decide! Cheers, -Renee

  8. P.S. Your tapestries are beautiful!


This blog has been moved to Please visit there to comment.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.