Graduate Art Programs offer Masters of Fine Arts (MFA), Master of Arts (MA), and PhD Fine Arts degrees to help students refine their technique or study advanced concepts within a certain field. Art history, art education, visual arts, literary arts, digital media, and performance arts are several examples.
Graduate arts programs might prepare students to turn their passion into a professional career. Most fine arts schools offer programs that blend studio time, lectures, seminars, and internships. This type of curriculum may help students explore their creativity through new and refined techniques.
Also, fine arts graduate students may learn to think critically, and define their vision through the give and take of critique and feedback. Moreover, through practice of their medium and for-credit projects, students usually build a portfolio of their work. This could take the shape of a manuscript, photography, paintings, or other medium.
written by Rana Waxman
DID YOU KNOW?
Managers, clients, and others look at artists’ portfolios when they are deciding whether to hire an employee or contract for an art project.i
General graduate fine arts programs are often tailored to student interests. Typically a student works with the faculty to select courses that will support their capstone project or thesis research. While in their arts program, students may attend lectures, workshops, and student-led critiques based on their concentration.
Also, while topics vary between schools, a fine arts graduate student might take upper-level studio courses in drawing, printmaking, or design—classes that refine and/or teach technique.
Finally, fine arts electives often play a critical role in a graduate program. Through them, one might expand their viewpoints and approach.
In some graduate art programs, these electives might extend in to the disciplines of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, City and Regional planning, and Historic Preservation—all great themes to help build up potentially marketable skills. Contact fine arts schools to learn what specific electives and concentrations they offer.
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Most graduate fine arts programs ask to see official transcripts. They want to see proof of graduation with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from an accredited institution.
Also, students may be asked for letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and a statement of goals. What drives your artistic interest? Which artists or theorists have influenced or inspired you?
Moreover, future graduate art students usually submit an artistic/creative resume. This itemizes relevant experience; things like performances attended, places where art was made, exhibitions that were meaningful or times work was displayed.
Finally, applicants submit a creative portfolio of work samples, such as written, digital, video, media and promotional pieces. Of course every arts school had different criteria so be sure to speak with an advisor before applying.
We asked graduates of fine arts programs about how earning a master's degree in fine arts can build your skills to practice your passions:
"Earning a Masters of Fine Arts Degree helped me expand my horizons and train myself to be a writer. For me, the MFA program was not about a career goal, but about building the life I wanted with the skills and practice that I picked up during my graduate courses."
~Sarah Donawerth, Writer
The MFA degree is recognized as the highest academic degree in the creative practice of visual and performance arts. In some art universities, the Masters of Fine Arts is a 60-credit program and may take a full-time student about two years to complete.
Most MFA programs focus on the professional development of student artists. To that end, many fine arts schools offer self-directed programs. Students base their courses around their unique interests and goals. Faculty advisors often work one-to-one with each student, to help them define their vision.
Guidance may also be offered through open exchanges with peers. This stimulus often promotes innovation, and provides an opportunity to show one’s art to new networks.
While project-based, the MFA degree often concludes with a thesis project, written thesis paper, and oral defense. Master of Fine Arts programs vary, so be sure to read curriculum and inquire into exact program requirements.
The Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA) degree is a professional doctoral degree in fine arts. While academically equal to a PhD, the DFA may entail applied research or a practical approach to the arts. It is also sometimes awarded as an honorary degree to someone who has made a notable contribution to their area of art.
By contrast, PhD Arts programs offer a research-focused course of study where students often have to contribute original thought to their area of study (e.g. art history or archaeology). Typically students complete upper-level courses, seminars, research courses, and a final dissertation.
Time to completion will vary by program and student. In some universities, full-time students may take up to seven-years post-bachelors. Others may enroll after completing a masters program or require additional time for their dissertation. Contact individual PhD Art programs for details.
A graduate certificate in fine arts may cover theory, technique, and essential tools and ideas in a very specific area. Shorter-term than a full degree, a certificate program may offer several courses that highlight one theme.
For instance, a certificate in fine arts foundations might expose learners to color theory, drawing, painting, and live model sketching. This type of program may extend one’s expertise in various mediums, such as studio art. Also, it may help the budding artist work on their portfolio.
Certificates may be available at the graduate or post-graduate level. Students may also use a certificate to prepare for a later MFA program. In these cases, credits are sometimes transferable. Contact prospective schools to learn if you might be eligible.
Often, students choose to earn their MFA or doctoral degree in the specific field of study they aspire to succeed in. That said, more general graduate art programs may also be offered with a variety of concentration areas. This could provide a good differentiator between art universities, so let's take a look.
A focus in arts and culture explores the social significance of art and culture. As an area of emphasis, it might provide a solid base in theory and communication methods, especially for students who want to pursue a career in a creative industry, tourism, art history, or art policy.
In art education, students may develop the skills to teach art to elementary and secondary students. Usually offered as a focus area within a Master of Arts program, course work is often based on theory and current best practices. Topics of study tend to include strategies for art teachers to use in their classroom, aesthetics, art criticism, and therapeutic art education.
Graduate studies in art history often provide students with the opportunity to focus in on specific historical period, type of artwork, or museum studies. While topics may dive into the past to examine legacies, students are often taught to consider the past in context of the present. This may foster intellectual development as students expand their view and think critically.
The goal of the Modern and Contemporary Art concentration is to train students to be effective art world professionals, including learning how to navigate the marketplace. Students often take courses that are designed to foster connoisseurship skills. Other topics may be more organizational, for instance, how to catalogue and write about art history or current art business practices.
Interdisciplinary arts programs are often designed to help students articulate their unique vision. At the same time, they may work to refine their expressive skills and branch out into new artistic mediums. For these reasons, an interdisciplinary fine arts program might include discussion groups, a practicum, and engagement with a community of peers.
As a result, one might get the chance to study with artists from a variety of practices. Visual arts, dance, music, theater, performance art, social practice, design, digital media, and the literary arts are a few examples.
Studio and digital arts usually stress topics such as visualization, ideation, and creation of visual imagery. This may provide students with the opportunity to refine their graphic design, 2D, and 3D skills.
These are just a few examples of fine arts concentrations. Others may also be available such as glass or printmaking. Contact an advisor to learn about all your potential options.
Graduate art programs may be offered by regionally-accredited universities. Also, a school may be an accredited institutional member of the National Association or Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Both may be helpful in identifying a great fine arts school for you.
To begin your search, easily look through programs right here to find fine arts graduate programs at the degree level you need. Or refine the list by doctorate, certificate, or masters in fine arts programs using the menu bar.