A Matter of Degree: Negotiating Art and Commerce in MFA Education

Gary Alan Fine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Occupational socialization, when successful, permits an orderly transition from novice to professional, but sometimes the process is uncertain. Successful socialization is evident when workers are trained within educational settings where a path to future positions is clear. But how do emerging visual artists consider their post-degree lives in the absence of predictability or expected stages of advancement? In unpredictable careers, socialization becomes problematic. This hazy career path is further strained when people have diverse views about the moral character of a profession. Based on a 2-year ethnographic study of three MFA programs in the Chicago area, I examine how visual arts students imagine their futures. Students face an obdurate economic order that forces them to consider their identities as producers of ideas and images. Beyond this, to create a stable career and survive financially, they strive to establish a network, relying on school ties with students and faculty, building social capital, including links with galleries and museums. By depicting occupational imaginaries at the intersection of market valuation and aesthetic judgment, I analyze how students negotiate the demands of hostile worlds in their artistic identity and through their social relations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1463-1486
Number of pages24
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number12
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • education
  • network
  • profession
  • socialization
  • visual arts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


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