Sunday, January 15, 2012


Foxessa made this comment on my MFA post. I am copying it here in full, because she is spot on:
The main reason for getting an MFA is that in the realm of academic credentials, an MFA is considered a terminal degree. You must have a terminal degree in order to be considered for an academic teaching position of any kind.

Writers and artists get tired as they get older. They don't generally make much money from their art or their writing, nor do they get health insurance, pension or other benefits. At some point teaching in some form can help one transition into the next phase of life with some financial security.

There also all kinds of grants and fellowships and so on for which you can't even apply without a Ph.D. So I know more and more artists in various disciplines who are getting themselves Ph.D.s one way and another.

I knew about the need to have an MFA in order to teach. I did not know about needing a PhD in order to apply for grants. I find this horrifying. I'm not sure why it should seem worse to make a living by teaching creative writing than by being a court poet for a Renaissance prince. It's all patronage, and no worse -- more likely, better -- than painting for the awful New York art market.

I am stuck in the old avant garde idea of the artist as poor, but independent. La Boheme. Most likely, this is silly.

I want to write fiction that is both popular and political; and I don't want to be part of a system that produces ever larger numbers of MFAs, who can only survive by teaching in creative writing programs that produce ever more MFAs.

There is one problem with being a college professor or a court poet. You have to write work your patron likes. Maybe there is more to art than the world view of the patron.

And debt remains a problem. It's hard to be a free spirit, if you have to repay large student loans.


Blogger Foxessa said...

It depends on.

It really seems to be the experience of our friends and ourselves that coming into the academic world very late, that we are taken into it, not BECAUSE of the degree, but because of the work accomplished outside of academia. This is the kind of Big Work hard to do in academia, which essentially forces you to focus on something very small.

What we do outside of academia is pull all those narrow focii into A Very Big Picture that comes up with a theory as well, a new way of seeing the past, or music or music and history and geography together, etc. And academia has adored it, but wasn't allowed to do itself.

But then they let us come in at the end of our game and teach what we learned to the next generations.

The payoff for them is that they've got a faculty member with a Name that is recognizable outside academia too, and so late in the game that these Names won't be disturbing the power bases that are already there by creating a challenge power base. So much of what is truly disgusting about academia is the power politics ....

Instead you are still doing work, teaching and going out doing presentations at other schools and conferences. And you are CHEAP.

Love, c.

10:25 AM  

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