Open Enrollment

Life After MFA…What Next?

As summer wraps up, I’m slowly packing my bags and getting ready to move from the sunny coast of Marseille back to beautiful Montreal, where I will have to prepare for that ‘TBA’ thesis exhibition. When things are about to come to an end, I cannot help but ask myself if my MFA experience was worth it? These questions about my life, mainly, my post-MFA life, are constantly at the back of my mind. The prospect of being jobless and carreerless is something that scares me. I would honestly prefer to write about something more peppy, lively, and exciting, but the problems of a career search is a process that most MFA’ers will likely encounter at some point. Why not discuss it openly? So, here are my questions: What will happen to me after I finish my MFA? What will become of my art career? Will I even be able to have an art career? WHAT’S NEXT?

What is an MFA?

We walk through the doors of an educational institution for various reasons: for some, it is for networking; others, for higher educational reasons; whatever the reasons are, what can we do with an MFA? How do we make our MFA practical? As artists who are skilled in the milieu of sculpture, painting, video, or other domains, are there enough jobs in the marketplace for us? We are capable of thinking outside of boxes, seeing the world differently, more captivatingly, but do these qualifications translate into jobs? We are three-dimensional beings with histories and personal experiences that make us all unique, but when it comes down to the job hunt, our lives are reduced to a few sheets of paper called a resume. Our professional-artistic identity is dependent on our publications, and the famous or kind of famous galleries we have shown our art in. If we fancy the idea of teaching at a university, is it even possible considering there are so few postings for assistant or associate professors?

The other day where I received an email notice about the Alberta College of Art and Design is seeking a sessional fibre faculty for 2011, and I started to wonder how many other applicants are just as, or more, educated than I am are going to apply for this job. Has my university education prepared me for what is ahead? How are we to have a professional life when certain MFA programs don’t even offer teaching assistantships, giving us no hands-on classroom experiences or mentorship? Somehow we still believe that there is a career waiting for us in the educational world when we finish school.

Personally, I would like to live as an artist (may I put this on my fellow MFA blogger Jeffrey A. Songco’s Wish List for Santa?). I would like to continue traveling from one place to another, writing about my daily experiences, photographing, cooking allergy-free food, doing things that are meaningful and fulfilling; however, reality strikes, and I think of Charles Aznavour’s song La Bohème and how romantically tragic it would be to starve, be cold, and unable to pay my rent, despite the happiness it promises. I speak four different languages with one of them being a language that 1.3 billion people speak (Chinese), and the others include the two official languages of Canada (English and French). When I examine my CV, I am humbled and I know that it needs a lot work, and being multilingual with insufficient experience or skill sets doesn’t put me in a better position to achieve my desired career. Has the MFA done more harm than good? Transforming us into debt ridden, overly educated, excessively selective, unemployable graduates? Maybe I should have stopped my formal schooling when I completed my undergraduate degree and went out to make something artistically practical of myself, so my father would stop freakishly worrying about me and my livelihood. Then, there is the option of going away — far, far away and looking for ‘that’ job in ‘that’ different country — maybe China, maybe India, maybe who knows? The question is, are we willing to uproot all that we know for monetary gain?

So … I will continue to pass my CV around, packaging my portfolio with pretty little pink ribbons (I’m joking), applying for jobs and artist residencies across the globe, or maybe start a business? Truthfully, you might just find me diversifying that ‘portfolio career’ of mine, teaching yoga to über-stressed out corporate people, or serving up coffee with a splash of contemporary art theory. What will happen next? I do not know, only time will tell. They say the world is my oyster, but where the heck is that pearl? I guess for me the pearl is: time, space, and freedom to be creative. I would like to have my art practice to be part of my everyday — so I write with Mettã that may we all have happiness and joy in our TBA professional post-MFA lives.

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