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Get an MFA - or Learn Online?

Aug 26, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Art school can be a difficult proposition for people who are really committed to being working artists. Artistic fields rarely pay off—becoming a working artist is about as likely as becoming a professional sports player—and going to school for art can saddle graduates with thousands of dollars in debt. The debt can make it even less likely you’ll ever make it as an artist—because getting a steady, decent-paying job right out of graduation will become a necessity. Student loans can set back your art career years or even decades.

The good news is you don’t need to go back to a traditional or accredited online school and get an MFA to become a working artist. Your audience or customers are not going to care whether you have a degree—as long as you have the talent and skill to produce successful work.

But if you still feel you need or want an education in the arts in order to hone your craft, there are plenty of online options—many of them free, and all of them cheaper than a four-year or two-year degree—that will help you. Here are a few options.

Online courses

There are plenty of courses out there that can help you with any artistic pursuit—from designing clothes to composing music. Not every course is free, but these will cost you hundreds, rather than thousands, of dollars.

See Also: Online Courses and Classes

Community college courses

Community colleges often offer courses in everything from figure drawing to creative writing on a weekly basis. Call around to various local schools in your area to see what’s out there. Many community colleges are friendly to adult students who want to take classes on an individual basis, rather than enrolling in a full program.

See Also: Online Colleges and Universities

Open Source classes

Open Source lectures are available in everything from music and theatre arts to photography. These courses are often available from top-level schools such as MIT, and they are always free.

Online forums

Working with and around other creative types can fuel your own creativity. Luckily, you can find communities of artists around the world in forums such as Crimson Daggers or There are many different types of forums for different types of art and creative pursuits—so if you don’t already have an online community, it’s because you haven’t been looking.

Local museums, galleries, and artists

There’s no replacement for going to museums and analyzing the work of masters. But if there are no museums in your area—or it’s too expensive—you can also visit art galleries. In addition, it may be possible to seek out and form mentorships with working artists in your area. Ask around at galleries and attend art openings in your area, and see who you meet.

Business classes

The Small Business Administration runs classes all over the country in topics such as marketing, web design, and other aspects of running your own business. This is an area where many traditional art schools fall flat—in failing to teach students the business aspects of becoming a successful artist. You can learn on your own for free at the SBA, or seek out books and classes more specific to your particular industry.

You don’t need an MFA to be a successful artist—and you definitely don’t need the debt that comes with it. If you feel you need training, you can get it for much cheaper using both online and local resources—and develop your skills without graduating with a huge student loan burden. Keep your debt levels low, and you’ll have much more freedom to pursue an artistic career.



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