Answers for Kristen

Kristen M. asked:
I was wondering what advice you could give on pursuing a greater education past earning a BFA. I'm attending an [undergraduate degree program now], and I plan on completing it, but I'm not certain where to go next! Would you mind terribly reviewing what you think the benefits of either pursuing an MFA or not pursuing one is? If you do support MFA's do you have any suggestions for representational schools?

Also, when you paint, do you find it better to paint large or small? I see a benefit in both, but generally I like to draw small and transfer it onto a larger canvas. 

Hi, Kristen,
Where an advanced degree would serve you directly is in certain specialized illustration fields, such as medical illustration, where you really need to go through the program of one of the handful of specialized accredited university programs. It also helps if you want to get a job working on the staff of a museum or a top-notch gallery. And the degree is very helpful if you want to teach art or art history at the university level, where you need the degree credentials to pass beyond the gatekeepers. 

But an advanced degree is generally not necessary for a practicing artist wanting to get illustration, gallery, or design commissions. Art buyers don’t care about your degree; they care about your portfolio.

You might wish to commit to such an advanced degree program if you have the time and money and if you are sure that the study program will really improve your art. Whether there is such a study program that will help you toward your goal is something I can’t answer for you, but some art schools do have some excellent advanced study programs for realist painters. If I were you, I would interview previous graduates and professors pretty closely and take a careful look at their work and see if that’s the kind of thing you want to be doing.

There are many other ways to get practical experience. I believe the best way to learn to paint is by painting as much from nature as possible, with a critical and open mind, and a sense of daring. If you supplement that by periodically visiting museums, reading books, watching videos, going to workshops, and hanging out with other artists who are also intense about learning, you can’t miss.

Although there certainly are a few exceptions, most advanced degrees in the visual art field in university settings are preoccupied with art theory and art history. Here again, you would be wise to closely interview the members of the faculty and read their writing to see if their style of thinking and writing is what you want to emulate. Personally, I feel the best way to learn history and theory is to dig for primary sources on your own and to trust your own independent thinking, unfettered by the constraints of contemporary academic dogma.

Working large or small is a matter of convenience in the field. I love to work small, as did Frederic Church and William Trost Richards, and that lets me paint any time and in any setting. Size is a marketing factor in a gallery. Bigger pieces usually (but not always) have larger price tags. In illustration, the size of the original doesn't matter. It's all about how tight your module is.
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