Monday, October 28, 2013


I have trying to figure out why I am so hostile to MFA programs in writing. It may come in part from my college. When I was there, Swarthmore made a big deal about not teaching any "practical" arts, such as studio art or creative writing, though it did have an engineering department that was one-third of the student body.

I know part of it comes from the cost of an MFA, which is a very useful degree if you want to teach creative writing, but is no help if you want to be a writer -- is a hindrance, since you will have student loans to pay back on your miserable income at Starbuck's. I worked with someone who got an MFA in printmaking and was loud on what a mistake it was, since she wanted to be a working artist, not a teacher. She had $40,000 to pay back. In the end, she started a house cleaning service. Its selling point was all the products used were environmentally safe, and all the house cleaners were artists. Last I heard, she was doing fine, making money and art.

Part of it comes from a gut feeling that I would have done really badly in an MFA program, since I write genre fiction and play games when I write.

By playing games I don't mean I have computer solitaire on while I write. I play games with the rules of fiction. My ideas of art come from the visual arts in the late 19th and 20th century, when artists were challenging the idea of a painting as a window into a 3-D space full of solid and real figures. The Impressionists and Post-impressionists and their successors flattened space and broke it apart and broke the boundary between the art work and the outside world. I wanted to do something similar in writing, though -- because I wrote in a genre that was stylistically conservative -- I didn't want to be too obvious.


Blogger Unknown said...

MFA programs produce MFA professors, rather than fine artists. It's a pyramid scam, like Amway.

4:27 AM  
Blogger delagar said...

Well, I went to an MFA program because I had no other way to find a community of writers.

I came out of a culture that did not value books or writing, and I had no idea how anyone would go about becoming a writer.

I can still remember my first workshop: the absolute amazement -- the heady glee -- that filled me, to find people existed who took writing seriously.

And I also got to spend years studying literature and language with professors who cared about books and words. That was good for my skill set.

You may or may not make connections that will help you get published. You may or may not make connections that will help you get a job. (No one gets a job with *just* an MFA, frankly.) But the experience has other values.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Eleanor said...

delegar -- This makes perfect sense. I grew up in a house full of books and around visual artists. I had friends in high school who wrote and became published writers in later years. My friends in college were not aspiring writers, but when I was done with college, I began to look for writing groups and found them, and pretty much all my friends now are writers or serious readers. So I am underestimating the value of MFA programs. The problem of debt remains. But if an MFA is the way you find the world you want to live in, then the money has been well spent.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Eleanor said...

That should be delagar...

10:49 AM  

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