A Master of Fine Arts is a postgraduate qualification that enables students with a bachelor’s degree to further their education and dedicate themselves to a specific area of study. This type of degree usually requires an additional two or three years to achieve and students are typically assessed by portfolio or performance as well as report and journal writing and a viva voce examination. As this is a postgraduate degree, applicants are required to have a bachelor’s degree, although this qualification does not necessarily have to be in the same subject they will be studying at the postgraduate level.
A Master of Fine Arts is sometimes confused with a Master of Arts but, while the latter is primarily an academic program of study, the former concentrates on practice and developing skills within a particular field. Students choosing this type of advanced education specialize in a certain area, such as photography, choreography, creative writing, fine arts or animation. Most programs are flexible and encourage students to structure their own learning in order to become a professional, creative person.
In the United States, a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is known as a terminal degree, which means it’s the highest available qualification within a certain field. There are some universities, however, that are now introducing PhD programs in some of the fields that were previously exclusive to MFA programs. In the past, doctorate programs focused exclusively on the academic side of the arts, such as art history or theory, while the Master of Fine Arts courses were specifically for the practice of the arts. The introduction of doctorate courses in these fields further cements the growing connection between creative production and advanced academic study.
Graduates with a Master of Fine Arts degree in, for example, fine arts or photography, apply the self-motivational skills they have developed during their studies to set up their own studios and establish themselves as professional artists. Others go on to work in advertising or marketing, fashion or interior design. There are also many graduates working in museums or arts administration – fields where they can apply some of the knowledge and skills acquired during their studies.
At the beginning of their course, Master of Fine Arts students are presented with a broad range of options and are encouraged to choose modules that will enable them to explore an area of specialty. Certain subjects will be compulsory for all students and these include the basic requirements of being a professional artist (such as studio methods, practices and procedures), building a portfolio, and the business of being an artist. At the end of the course, a final exhibition, portfolio or performance gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their level of professional expertise.
Master of Fine Arts programs focus on developing and strengthening the student’s art practice by encouraging creative exploration and experimentation. For the most part, students are expected to work independently on their own projects, with individual support from lecturers and other faculty members. The most popular courses, and subsequently those with the most distinguished graduates, are those that are located within some of the world’s leading creative arts centers.