Psycho-Philosophical Musings upon the Existence of Post-graduate Visual Arts Degrees

by Jeanne Randolph



I do not think an MFA is a waste of time and money. I do believe a PhD in the studio arts is probably a waste of time and money, or at best a once-in-a-lifetime luxurious divertissement. I do see the value of both to delay one’s inevitable entry into the Hell that is toiling for money.

In my limited exposure to art schools as institutions, my impression is that the education they offer is conducted on a myriad of unspoken assumptions and unconscious motives, none of which are likely to be openly discussed (in any school there will be a few brilliant and hardworking teachers committed to imparting knowledge).

Twenty-first century Canadian culture, like societies most everywhere, is under massive pressure to conform to a Corporate Ideology, to organize bureaucratically, to embrace a Technological Ethos and to produce mentally comfortable products. Universities seem to be failing financially; they might be clinging to life by transforming themselves into technical schools—and by disguising Humanities as social outreach, political analysis and a source of elite socio-political experts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Do artists, however, flourish more creatively because of better business plans, more organized bureaucratic methods, accelerated technical innovation and extended reliance on socio-political analysis?

There are contemporary Canadian artists who are world-renowned; their financial situation more often than not is a secret. These artists are a credit to the country. But who among us are the 99% who will never be world-renowned and whose financial situation will at best be described as livable and at worst as pathetic? I am. Are you?

The question to ask when considering whether to enroll in a graduate program is “What difference will this make to me, who at the moment is in the 99%?”


Here are some questions relevant to your contemplation of the above:

What do I want to learn?

a) The historical context for my own work

b) How to take time to contemplate, experiment and evolve my art at a natural pace

c) How to make my work suitable for gallery exhibitions

d) How to develop my work for a commercial gallery

e) How to employ a variety of materials and media to embody my ideas

f) What senior artists/professors think are promising further developments of my work

g) How to develop an effective peer group

h) How to get access to curators and art critics

What can I expect to be taught because I cannot learn it on my own? See a) through h)

In what ways would the things I can expect to learn and to be taught differ from what I might learn if I don’t attend a graduate art school program?

What are the personal/subjective reasons I believe grad school is necessary to my artistic development?

About what aspects of the art I make am I confident?

About what aspects of the art I make am I insecure?

For what reasons—that have nothing to do with my artistic development—am I considering grad school?

What psychological, subjective effect on me does making my art have?

Do I know what it is like to make art against all odds?

What would it be like to quit making art?

What do I actually believe constitutes success as an artist?

What do I actually know about the economic realities of practicing artists?

In what way (and not) is practicing art a career?

How committed to the idea of art as a career is the Art School I want to attend?

In what way (and not) is practicing art a business?

How businesslike are the principles my preferred Art School promotes?

What are my wildest fantasies about the effect on my art of having a graduate degree?

What are my wildest fantasies about the effect on my life of having a graduate degree?

How important is it to me to have artists as friends?

How will I pay back all the money I borrow to get a graduate degree?

How and when will I develop a skill for which I will be paid while I am a practicing artist?

Where do my parents stand regarding my choice to become a practicing artist—

If I pursue a graduate degree?

If I ask them for a graduate school tuition sum of money to support artmaking on my own?

If I get a semi-skilled job and choose art as my vocation?

Am I afraid to develop an art practice now, on my own?


Jeanne Randolph is a cultural critic, art writer and performance artist whose most recent books are Out of Psychoanalysis: ficto-criticism 2005-2015 and Shopping Cart Pantheism.

Citation: Jeanne Randolph, "Psycho-Philosophical Musings upon the Existence of Post-graduate Visual Arts Degrees," Syphon Issue 3.2 (Spring 2016), Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre.

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