M.F.A. in Studio Art vs. M.A. in Studio Practice for Art Educators: What’s the Difference?

13 March, 2024

Educator studying for M.A. in Art EducationIf you’ve ever thought you don’t have enough time to really focus on your own artistic work, or you’re having trouble balancing your responsibilities as a teacher with your passion as an artist, you’re not alone. One of the challenges of both teaching and creating art is finding the right balance between developing artistic and teaching skills. It can also be especially difficult to find quality professional development opportunities that are geared toward artists.

In fact, in 2013, researchers noted many professional development opportunities for artist educators had little to do with art at all. In a 2019 survey of teachers, personal learning and development was one of the top five concerns for the coming year,—ahead of even essential job duties like preparing students for state assessments.

In part to fill this gap and, due to increasing pressure on teachers to develop their skills, many art educators pursue graduate education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of people completing visual and performing arts master’s degrees in the U.S. has been steadily increasing since the early 2000s, and education master’s degrees show a similar trend.

This presents two broad pathways to consider: Should you pursue a program like an M.F.A. in Studio Art that empowers you to elevate your personal creativity, or should you opt for a traditional master’s in art education program to focus on your ability to inspire creativity in others?

At Teachers College, we decided to create an option that gives you both: The M.A. in Studio Art for Art Educators. For this article, we’ll focus specifically on comparing the structure and outcomes of our Studio Practice for Art Educators master’s program to a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Studio Art.

Master of Arts vs. Master of Fine Arts: Understanding the Difference

Many artists and art educators choose to pursue an advanced visual arts degree, such as an M.F.A. for holistic purposes. An advanced degree in visual arts can provide a way to connect with other artists, hone your own craft, and learn proven strategies for inspiring creativity in yourself. Graduate education can also help you advance in your career.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, art teachers have a projected job growth of 8% over the next ten years.

Both a traditional M.F.A. and the Teachers College M.A. in Studio Art for Art Educators can help you grow as an artist and take your art education career to the next level, but they’re designed to help you excel in different ways.

What is an M.F.A.? A Master of Fine Arts is a specialized graduate degree focused on artistic and creative fields, emphasizing hands-on practice, studio work, and creative projects within a specific discipline.

What is an M.A? A Master of Arts degree is a graduate degree that typically encompasses a wide range of subjects and includes coursework and research.

Degree Overview: M.F.A. vs. M.A.

M.F.A. M.A.
Time to Complete 2-3 years 2 years
Part Time or Full Time Full time Part time or full time
Credits to Complete 60+ semester hours 32 semester hours
Areas of Study Artistic studies like dance, filmmaking, theater, design Humanities or arts
Terminal Degree? Yes No

What is an M.F.A. in Studio Art?

If you want to teach at the collegiate level, have the time to focus solely on graduate studies, and are interested in specializing in one particular type of visual art, an M.F.A. might be the right option for you.

An M.F.A. in Studio Art is a terminal degree, similar to a Ph. D., and it’s often the minimum requirement to teach art at a four year university. Most in-person M.F.A. programs often require a full-time commitment. According to CAA, the preeminent international leadership organization in the visual arts, an M.F.A. degree requires 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours of credits.

An Master of FIne Arts degree can typically be completed in two to three years, full time. In addition to in-person M.F.A. programs, there are low-residency programs, which are a hybrid of online learning and in-person residencies once or twice a year.

As referenced in the name, students in an M.F.A. in Studio Art program tend to focus on either one artistic medium or pick a combination of a couple. Some potential mediums include painting, drawing, illustration, ceramics, photography, video, printmaking, and textiles.

What is an M.A. in Studio Practice for Art Educators?

The M.A. in Studio Practice for Art Educators combines the parts of an art education degree with the aspects of an M.F.A.

The breadth of this degree makes it an excellent option for art educators who work in primary and secondary education, as well as artists or teachers in the public, non-profit or private sectors.

While an Master of Fine Arts tends to have a more focused curriculum, an M.A. can give you the chance to take coursework in a variety of studio arts. In the case of the M.A. in Studio Practice for Art Educators (Hybrid) from Teachers College, Columbia University, students are able to take a blend of diverse studio art courses or focus on one area while also completing classes in key art education topics.

The average length of an in-person M.F.A. degree is two to three years, and often requires a full-time commitment. By contrast, an Master of Arts degree can often be completed part-time while you work. This gives you the opportunity to advance your skill set without sacrificing other parts of your life.

An M.A. in Studio Practice for Art Educators combines coursework on education with coursework in visual arts. Since many of these programs offer in-person residencies, they are also an excellent way to build a network.

“Students who have some experience as teachers, might be unsure of themselves as artists because maybe it’s been a long time since they’ve actually done a lot of art work. They are re-engaging, and there’s a whole bunch of people who are doing the same thing,” said Mary Hafeli, professor of art and art education in the Teachers College M.A. in Studio Practice for Art Educators (Hybrid) program.

Besides helping students refine their artistic style and explore new mediums, an M.A. in Studio Practice for Art Educators may also give students practical skills to assist with their job search and help them position themselves for advancement.

“We have a whole course called professional practices, where students learn to develop an artist CV, an artist statement about their work, a website that showcases their work,” Hafeli said of the M.A. in Studio Practice for Art Educators (Hybrid) program. “They learn how to enter their completed works into juried exhibitions, and they learn how to write grants for special projects.”

In addition, if the Master of Arts program features online learning, art educators are able to take what they learn in online teaching methods and apply it to their own classrooms.

“There have been some things developed that allow the kinds of experiences to take place in an online community that didn’t exist before,” said Hafeli. “Especially since we had to go online last year, that has pushed that development forward quite a bit among all of our instructors.”

About the M.A. in Studio Practice for Art Educators (Hybrid) from Teachers College, Columbia University

The Teachers College M.A. in Studio Practice for Art Educators (Hybrid) is a 32-point, studio-based program. The hybrid structure gives students the best of both worlds. Students take classes online during the academic year, and attend Summer Residencies on campus in New York City. During the Summer Residencies, students have opportunities to hone their craft alongside a community of their peers.

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