The question of the Master’s Degree as a necessary credential for a career in the arts is one that haunts me. I love the discomfort and challenge of learning new things, I love to read, and I very much enjoyed many aspects of my education. I love engaging with smart people about ideas and the work of other smart people. I find that ideas amplify and improve in the presence of other active minds.
But I hate debt, and I hate the commerce- and consumer-based systems that control much of the professional decision-making around art careers. I find universities can be somewhat self-reinforcing cycles, where the main skill set being imparted is how to remain forever in academia. I find that sometimes the people who do best in these environments are not the ones with the most far-reaching, risky, or interesting practices, but ones who are best able to social-climb and manage paperwork (arguably, these are very good professional skills for artists, but I am not interested in paying thousands of dollars a year to be subjected to their authority).
In 2015, I participated in the AICA-USA/Creative Capital Arts Writers Workshop, which paired me with mentor Susan Snodgrass, and encouraged me to work on a project (in a pretty open-ended way, I felt). I decided to use it as an opportunity to explore this issue in a long-form article, which incorporated interviews with several different artists, arts administrators, art professors, and multiple degree-holders, about their experiences with postgraduate degrees, and how it has impacted their lives and careers. You can read the introduction here.
This month, as another Fall Semester looms just around the corner, I made a decision about my efforts to continue my education. I don’t care so much about diplomas – some dumb people have them, and some smart people don’t. Any person or institutions that requires credentials to evaluate worth is not an entity I care to engage with, and is sadly excluding from their consideration a wide swath of humanity, creating another kind of self-reinforcing cycle. Master’s programs seem largely composed of deeply focused reading, writing, peer engagement, and development of a master work. I already do these things, and now I will make a redoubled effort to reflect upon them formally. I am declaring my MMOD in Interdisciplinary-Literary Collage.
Join me, if you wish.