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updated wed 23 aug 06


william w. weaver on sat 22 feb 97

In additoin to my previous post on terra sigg I have a more career oriented
question I'd like to put out for discussion.
I just turned 50 this year and have been in and out of clay for the past
20+ years. However, a little over a year ago my previous career as a city
planner/urban designer was promptly terminated as the result of a
re-organiation. After taking some time off it did not not take me to long to
get back into clay which I am trying to do more or less full time now. I
have also had a loong time affinitiy for teaching and because of two other
graduate degrees have been able to teach off and on. However, I have no
desire to return to my previous field in any manner but would like to
eventually teach.
ONe question I have concerns the usfulness of an MFA for a person my age and
the need for it if I were interested in teaching.
I have also been lookikng at an MFA as an opportunity to immerse myself
intensivley in clay. My particular interest is use of low fire techniques
from moilica to more primative processes.
I would appreciate any feed back and or wisdom any one has for someone
trying to make a change so late in life. I guess it is better late than
never!! Feel free to e-mail me privatly as well.

Thanks again this group is one of the high points of my day!!

Bill still in snow in Minnesota.

Donna L. Fenner on sun 23 feb 97

Bill - I believe that whether or not an MFA is importnt is going to depend
on whre it is you want to teach. If you wish to teach on the community
college, college or university level then I would say yes! Having an MFa is
an absolute advantage. If, however, you are interested in teaching through
a city arts program or working with some of the local school, geriatric
centers and other businesses, then not necessarily. All you will really
need to do is prove that you can teach.

At 39, I went back and am one semester away from finishing my BFA. I will
go on and finish my MFA. I have enjoyed school for the simple fact that
there was so much I did not know and my ceramics instructor whom I spend
most of my spare time with is superb.

Let me know what you decide to do and best of luck on your future endeavors.
By the way, my previous degree was in Public Administration.

Creative Ceramics
Greensboro, NC

At 08:42 AM 2/22/97 EST, you wrote:
>----------------------------Original message----------------------------
>In additoin to my previous post on terra sigg I have a more career oriented
>question I'd like to put out for discussion.
> I just turned 50 this year and have been in and out of clay for the past
>20+ years. However, a little over a year ago my previous career as a city
>planner/urban designer was promptly terminated as the result of a
>re-organiation. After taking some time off it did not not take me to long to
>get back into clay which I am trying to do more or less full time now. I
>have also had a loong time affinitiy for teaching and because of two other
>graduate degrees have been able to teach off and on. However, I have no
>desire to return to my previous field in any manner but would like to
>eventually teach.
>ONe question I have concerns the usfulness of an MFA for a person my age and
>the need for it if I were interested in teaching.
>I have also been lookikng at an MFA as an opportunity to immerse myself
>intensivley in clay. My particular interest is use of low fire techniques
>from moilica to more primative processes.
>I would appreciate any feed back and or wisdom any one has for someone
>trying to make a change so late in life. I guess it is better late than
>never!! Feel free to e-mail me privatly as well.
>Thanks again this group is one of the high points of my day!!
>Bill still in snow in Minnesota.

Doug Gray on mon 24 feb 97


The MFA is essential to you if you plan on teaching in a four year
college or university setting. I beleive that it may be less
important at jr. colleges and community college setting, but there are
a lot of unemplyed MFA's out there fighting for those jobs as well.
If you want to do community teaching through the local art council or
through some gallery, you probably won't need the degree at all, just
a kindly nature and a good grasp of the techniques and processes that
you will be teaching. These are of course gross generalizations and
may not be applicable to your situation.

As for using the MFA as a time to focus on your work, I say yes. You
will difinately be able to do that and hopfully have acces to
facilities and equipment that you might not otherwise have access to.
My personal opinion is that you would really enjoy that time to focus
your time and explore, I know I did.

Another option to teaching would be to make clay a full-time pursuit
and sell your work. A bit unpredictable, but can be very rewarding
also. Most commercial galleries, another generalization, won't care
about your education as much as your reputation and how quickly your
work sells. After all, they are business people, and the bottom line
usually reflects that.

Doug Gray
Alpine, TX

Robert S. Bruch on mon 24 feb 97

Bill: I was in a similar situation and decided to
take a semester in art school to gain some technical
expertise after years operating on a self taught basis.
Instead of enrolling full time in a degree program, why
not take a portfolio to the closest ceramics dept and
how and if you might fit in on a 'special student' basis.
I enjoyed myself enough to spent 3.5 years doing that.
I never attempted to get the BFA degree, partly due to
the fact that I already had two master's degrees and
partly because the school wanted me to jump through hoops
like taking first year sociology that I wasn't willing to
do. I feel like I got the same ceramics education that
the majors received with one exception, the BFA review
at the end of year 5 which I think would have been a worth-
while experience. In fact, I was able to concentrate on
only clay for the full time, although it could be argued
that a more rounded experience would have been beneficial.
If you like the initial encounter with the department, you
can always continue towards the degree. Also, you may not
need a BFA to get into some MFA programs if you have a
strong enough portfolio. But I wouldn't recommend that
without some serious concentration at the BFA level. At
anty rate, I wouldn't focus as much on the pursuit of a
specific degree - at your age - as I would in the pursuit
of ceramics knowledge. My feeling is that there are easier
ways to make a living for people in your position and it
seems like there are alot of extrememly talented MFA's
minted within the last 10 years who are seeking tenure
type positions.


Bob Bruch on mon 24 feb 97

As a 53 year old myself who wonders from day to day whether he will
be employed in a year as an arts administrator, or whether he should get
out now while his hands and back still function, I can empathise. Also, I
went to get an MFA when I was thirty something, after practising in a
different field.

The trouble I suspect, Bill, is that our timing is bad. I am not sure that
teaching ceramics is a secure profession either. Here in Canada it might
be different, but I know that major art schools here are threatened and
more schools have already more or less got out of the business in
favour of computer training, etc. More bums in seats for the same cost. I
am sure you recognise the logic.

Here, it is almost impossible to get a teaching post which is worth while
without an MFA and a substantial exhibition record. If I were in your
position now, I would not consider the possibility of a teaching job as a
major reward for the MFA. However, based at my own experience in
the ceramics programme of the Nova Scotia College of Art and
Design(NSCAD), I would consider the intellectual and visual education I
received there as a major blessing in my life. I literally could not see
before the MFA. I could perceive, but I could not see. It opened my eyes
to new visual experiences, and it has been invaluable since as providing
me with a whole new set of problem solving abilities. If you expect to
operate in the visual arts at all, you might seriously consider the MFA
from this point of view. Though I have no connection with NSCAD now,
you might look at them. They have an international reputation in ceramics
and specialise in low fire. Phone is 1-902-422-7381. fax: 902-425-2420.

In Canada at the moment, there is increasing interest in Design. This
general category includes urban design. Is there some way your next
step can incorporate your old qualifications with your new? You only
have to read this chat line to realise that there are lots of people who
need the kind of creativity and methodical thinking which planners can
provide. When I left my old field, I made a too clean break, because I was
so pissed off at what had happened to me before. Now, although things
have turned out pretty welI, I feel I could have managed the transition
less emotionally. I would have even more options now, and quite a bit
more money.

I've typed more than I intended when I began. I hope this is helpful, not

I wish you the very best of luck in your decision!

Erin Hayes on tue 25 feb 97

I have seen a couple of references to trying to find jobs without an MFA
and I thought it might help to know that an MFA is required for teaching
at most community colleges, too. Even our part time faculty are
expected to have an MFA, although for what we can pay them it is almost

I have seen people opt to take an MA instead of an MFA in order to avoid
writing a short thesis. I advise against this very strongly. An MFA is
a terminal degree. An MA is not. It is worth a little extra suffering
to have that terminal degree behind you - to be a recognized (at least
on paper) expert in your feild, whether it's clay or painting.


Eric Alan Hansen on fri 21 nov 97

Bunny McBride &
Chuck Hindes gave
an excellent pitch
here at KU a couple
years back. That's
the Iowa school at
Iowa City. Bunny is
traditionally functional,
Chuck less so, but loves
to build and fire
anagamas! So....
(yes I have word wrap
problems with email)
Eric Hansen,
Lawrence, Ks.
p.s. Hi Louis Katz
I went to KCAI too

Get your free and private web-based e-mail from our new partner at

JIMV062@AOL.COM on mon 5 jun 00

Through the years i have heard a number of people express their opinion that
a "Higher Education" is just not worth it..! I have heard people say.."I
wont send my kids to college because they are wasting their time and my
money....".. Or," I made it ok without spending all that time and money and
my kids can do fine too.". Or as has been said in the recent letters/notes
to Clay Art.. "the programs are no good..they dont teach you anything.. or
they dont teach the things you need to know.."..

Usually the people that say -- it isn't good..not worth the money, waste of
time-- , are those that didn't apply themselves and flunked out.. didn't have
a chance to go.... or, wouldn't bite the bullet to send their kids (maybe a
case of sour grapes). I suspect that if they had the chance to go..they
would go yet.!!. still.!!!.now...... !!!!!!!!!!!!! is worth it.. it is not a waste of time.. it will pay off for your
children and even for you (if you didn't go.. it isnt to late yet!).. Doors
will open ..that may not have opened.. but College doesn't guarantee
success.... Success is dependent on the individual..and what we do with what
we have.........And, having a degree in any field, gives one the chance to do
more with what he/she has... And, the opportunities that are there are to
numberous to count...IT IS WORTH IT....!!!


I'M OLD (one college student said .".ask Jim..he is older than god") AND
STILL GOING TO COLLEGE. There is so much to much to experience..
and our knowledge is doubling every few years. In truth, how can anyone
afford NOT to go to college?.. Or, for that matter how can anyone ever
afford to stop..................... ?

Pancioli on mon 5 jun 00

Dear Joyce:

I think you are right. There are more M.F.A.'s than there are teaching
jobs. Many more. I tell my students this fact early.

I help prepare some students to become independent studio artists
(two made that choice this year); some students prefer making their
livings other ways and create art work just for galleries and shows,
(rather than go into production).

I hope to give students the tools to support themselves with their
craft, if that is what they want. With that in mind, we are going to
add to throwing, handbuilding, pressmolding, and extruding, which we
already teach, both slip casting and ram pressing. We are also working
to initiate a 3-D computer imaging course.

I can hear the howls about "assisted technologies" now.

Joyce, thanks for bringing up this issue. It is a sticky one.
Another juicy tidbit for "As the Wheel Turns".


Pancioli on wed 7 jun 00

Dear Jim:

I agree. Going to school is great! I began again last year--this time
to study Chinese before I took a short trip to China. (And because I
wanted to at last be able to correctly pronounce the names from Chinese
ceramic art history.)

It was so revitalalizing, I almost floated home from that first evening
class. The trip to China is past but I continue to study Chinese with
the same enthusiasm. Hurrah for education!



John Baymore on wed 7 jun 00


but I believe it's more sensible for people to pursue a degree for the sa=
of gaining the knowledge and
experience available in a study environment than for the hope of raking i=
the bucks when they hit the "real world".

Very well put. It seems that in this day and age that many people seem t=
have lost the joy of learning for the learning's sake. Seems that the
pursuit of money and fame has tended to obscure that endeavor as either a=

possible or a desireable goal. As a culture, it seems to me that the USA=

does not tend to laud the learned individual as much as the affluent



John Baymore
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA

603-654-2752 (s)
800-900-1110 (s)

"Earth, Water, and Fire Noborigama Woodfiring Workshop August 18-27,

Snail Scott on mon 11 dec 00

At 07:13 AM 12/11/00 -0400, you wrote:
>Here's a question. What is the value of an MFA in clay?

>And so there is one area, the time and the space to work and experiment and
>learn. I get that. I understand its worth. And obviously, if this is the
>value of the degree, then I see it. But out there in the world, does the MFA
>degree itself have any value? If so, what?
>Best wishes,
>Carrie Jacobson
>Bolster's Mills, Maine

The grad-school experience could be very valuable in its
own right, but the resulting MFA? It's a teacher's
certificate for college faculty. Beyond that, it doesn't
seem to be worth much.

The CAA (College Art Association) has set a standard
which requires all applicants for permanent (college) art
faculty positions to have an MFA. (The only exception to
this is for people with truly god-like resumes and
portfolios - essentially a 'life-experience' MFA.) No
hardship to the CAA; U.S. colleges produce far more MFA's
than there are teaching positions at the college level
to employ them. Teaching-focussed MFA programs rather tend
to resemble a pyramid scheme!

The problem is that many current faculty go their degrees
when programs were expanding rapidly in the 60's and 70's,
and are preparing their grad students to enter the same
world. These people often went straight from their grad
program to a tenure-track faculty position, and against
all statistical probability expect their students to do
the same. These folks are often fine and concientious
teachers, but they never had to earn their 'monthly nut'
by selling their work, and don't allow such crass
commercial concerns to enter their critiques or instruction.

One shouldn't ever judge the quality of a work of art by
its presumed marketability, especially when that's so
difficult to predict. Still, would it hurt to offer a
course in small-business accounting and marketing?
If these shiny new MFAs can't find a teaching job, and
never learned to sell their work, then they'll have to
earn their living flipping burgers, and making art
on the weekends. Probably not what they had in mind?


john eden on tue 6 jun 06

With reference to the MFA discussion (and I might add many others on this
list) it never ceases to amaze me how nasty and mean people get when they
don't get the response to their message that they would like.
Cheers, John

John Eden
Department of Art
Lord Hall
University of Maine
Orono, ME 04469-5743

Marta Matray on tue 22 aug 06

thank you for your post, snail!
(i kept it in full length, see below)
i will print it in scary huge capital letters,
and nail it on my wall. :)
since i am jelous of kelly's bravery to go
for an MFA, i am kind of thinking or rather
dreaming of doing the same... maybe next year.
if any of you out in clayart-land have some
advice and suggestions, i am listening!
btw, i couldnt find an online list of schools
offering MFA programs in ceramics.
does that exist?
i think snail's post is very important to read
for those who think (or dream) of going back
to school after a "certain" age.
if it doesnt scare you off, then go for it!

>>> Snail Scott wrote:

>When I went to grad school, I quit making gallery
>work, quit trying to make any stuff to sell, quit
>having a social life, quit doing housekeeping,
>quit even trying to make it home some nights. There
>were a few times I went to Wal-mart on my way home
>and bought new underwear, for lack of time to do
>laundry. I didn't have dinner with my husband more
>than twice a week.
>I also had a one-hour commute each way, so I was
>out of the house by 7:30 am, and seldom home before
>10:00 pm. If I was working late or too fatigued to
>drive, I slept on a cot I kept stashed under a
>workbench with a spare toothbrush and toiletries.
>I went in to school at least six days a week, and
>often seven. Your work is more portable than
>mine, and you have a home studio, so those factors
>will probably help you a lot, but I do wonder if
>you'll be able to keep the hours you expect. I do
>hope so.
>Maybe you can put in fewer hours at school than
>I did, but I can't imagine how I could have done
>half of your list above, especially not a pre-
>holiday (think 'pre-finals') show. Some of my
>classmates made time for family and outside jobs,
>but they often suffered for it with missed
>deadlines and many, many all-nighters.
>You've done a graduate degree before, so you
>aren't a stranger to what grad school entails
>generally, but be prepared to adjust for what a
>studio degree requires. I'd never claim that an
>MFA is tougher than an MA in (say) English; I
>doubt it would be true, but in most disciplines,
>you do coursework, then thesis research, and the
>thesis work takes place somewhat outside of the
>school 'timeline'. You work until you are done
>and submit it for defense at that point, within
>some maximum allowable timeframe. I know many
>people whose graduate degrees in various fields
>have taken up to 16 years to complete, but they
>managed outside lives during that time because
>the pressure was much less intense - more like a
>regular ongoing (underpaid) job. MFA thesis work
>generally needs to be done within the specified
>duration of the program - either two or three
>years - and if it ain't done, you don't get an
>extra semester to work on it; you're out. That's
>part of what gives MFA programs their sense of
>frenetic effort.
>I hope you can make it all work, but prioritize
>now - something may have to give later, and if
>any of those things involve commitments to other
>folks, warning them ahead of time may make it go
>over better if you have to bail out.
> -Snail