On October 16, 2004, members of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) met to discuss Futures for the Terminal Professional Degree in Art and Design. The purpose of this discussion, according to the NASAD website was "to begin an exploration of the issues from a policy rather than an accreditation standards perspective" regarding the creation of a PhD degree for the arts.
That's right, the MFA may not be top dog much longer, and the consequences could be enormous. Many of us have worked hard for our 'terminal' degree, and lived for years (even decades) with the security that the MFA was the end-all for artists. In practice, that MFA held very little value unless we sought work in academia. Still, the finality of an MFA virtually guaranteed that no little kid was going to sneak up and steal the jobs away from our established professorial elite while they weren't looking.
The creation of a PhD in the arts is provocative, scary and more than a little awkward. Given the terminal status of the MFA for so long, how will institutions quantify their faculty, and what sort of advancement will be offered to middle-aged (or older) faculty with a mere MFA? Worse still, many of our best art instructors only hold (gasp!) a BFA, and might face serious dilemmas should the PhD now become standard. Yet another nasty side-effect would be impressed on those of us still young and fighting for jobs: the need to return to school to get (yet another) terminal degree.
Then again, I'm torn up inside. I would love to get a PhD and make my parents proud. It certainly wouldn't hurt in getting jobs, and 'The Art Doctor' sounds kind of cool.
But at the end of the day, this just feels like another maneuver by cash-strapped art schools to raise more money and keep their doors open a little longer. But what value is the money if the credibility, stability and security of their faculty and alumni is sacrificed?
Matthew Nash is the publisher of Big, Red & Shiny.