Does Professional Artist Need MFA Degree?

Connie writes:
I’m 29 and I have finally realized my ideal profession is to be an artist.
However in addition to the late start I’ve had no formal training (only
inherited talent) and becoming a painter seems to be a bad financial
move. From my research a MFA is necessary to be considered a
professional artist. Do I really want to spend $40000 for a degree that
doesn’t guarantee any return? But I just want to paint and I’m so tired
of working in offices… How can I have a struggling career when I can’t
afford the training?

The Career Doctor responds:
I think having a career as an artist is a career made by following your passion
and you may only be happy with a career somehow involved in the arts. Take
the time to investigate now or you could be miserable for the rest of your life.
My advice would be to start by having your talent evaluated by some professionals.
Consider seeking out the opinion of one or more art professors from a nearby
college and/or the curator of a local art museum. Yes everyone has different
tastes and opinions about art but I think these folks can recognize talent — or
potential talent.
And you certainly do not need a MFA to be an artist. You don’t even need a college
degree! However if you plan to supplement your art career by also teaching or curating
then you will most certainly need the advanced degree.
For example at my former university is a great artist who is also passionate about
mentoring younger artists and thus he balances both careers — as an artist and as a
professor of art.
Thus your next step should be a few informational interviews with these same folks
who critiqued your artwork. Ask them about careers in the arts. Your quest should
be to look for creative solutions to transitioning to a career in the arts.
And if you do find that the MFA is necessary to pursue your dreams you should be
able to find a program that offers financial assistance in your quest.
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