B.A. vs. B.F.A. - Does it really matter???

Discussion in 'Education' started by ann_m., Oct 1, 2002.

  1. Hi everyone,
    I am a sophomore photography major at a state school and I am
    wondering if getting a BA instead of a BFA will hurt me at all in my
    future career as a photographer?? I want to give myself the best
    possible chances in the job market. Is there any discrimination
    against a BA degree?? My advisor is telling me to get a BFA degree,
    but they also want me to stick around at their school for as long as
    possible. So I want some unbiased feedback from real working
    professionals. Doesn't it really come down to your skill and
    talent? Any thoughts or comments are appreciated! I am just
    anxious to get done with school and not waste my time in other art
    studio classes like sculpture and painting in order to get a BFA.
  2. Skill, talent, inspiration, drive, taste, etc. are what usually count, in my experience. What good is a degree if you can't deliver? Surely, a degree can't hurt, though. Photography is an uncredentialed profession, unlike law, medicine, or barbering. If you can do it, you can sell it.
  3. Your degree doesn't matter, it's your portfolio that will get you
    work. I would suggest getting a business degree along with
    your photo degree ... you will quickly find that you will need much
    more business accumen than photography skills.
  4. Depending on what type of photography you plan to go in to, your degree does matter. If you plan on going into industrial/aerospace/scientific photography, a BS in photography is your best best. A BA would be your second choice and a BFA would impress very few employers. I'm guessing that the same would hold true for forensic and biomedical photography, but I have no personal experience in those fields.
  5. Face it...eventually, most folks with advanced degrees at least consider teaching, if not as a career at least as an interim experience.

    If you've entertained the thought, evenly remotely, go for the BFA. It does matter to the folks who can hire you. My second wife has gone through the wringer trying to get a regular teaching position (let alone tenure) because she opted for an MA rather than MFA in theatre and communications. It would have required only a little extra time in school, which she enjoyed anyway. She's discovered that the MA really holds little advantage over a BA where employment is concerned.

    Does it really come down to skill and talent? Nope. The sheepskin really matters. The folks who will hire you got their degrees the hard way and have taken on elitist attitudes - they prefer to hire their own kind.

    As a journalism student - and a damned talented writer and photographer - I once had the audacity to pose the same question to an editor at a NYC newspaper. She actually seemed offended that I would challenge the notion that degreed journalists are better, despite the reality that some of these folks can barely spell or utter a grammatically and syntactically correct sentence.

    I ignored her obvious message and dropped out of school as a junior to take a position as a "correspondent" with a major daily paper. A correspondent was their euphemism for a stringer, a non-staff, non-salaried reporter paid by the column inch. I figured I'd blow 'em away with my talent and get a permanent position. While some of the editors were impressed with my ability, the folks who had hiring authority were not. They wanted sheepskin, especially from their own local alma mater. I was replaced by a fellow with less talent but the right credentials.

    Get the BFA, kiddo. You won't regret it. In the arts world you'll need every advantage.
  6. I have to go with Mr. Schrader on this one...the business degree will give you a definite edge in making a career as a photographer.

    I don't have one, wish I had known to get one, would have made the road a LOT easier for me.

    I have worked for extremely high profile clients for years, NOBODY has ever asked or cared about my education as a photographer, even though I devoted years to studying and learning everything I could about the art and craft of photography.

    My portfolio, people skills, and previous clients got me the gigs, nothing else mattered.

    But knowing more about marketing and managing a business would have gotten me there a lot faster I feel. I learned those things on my own, the hard way.

    I'm not saying young photographers shouldn't have a formal education in photography, quite the opposite, I think it's vital. But as long as you have those skills and knowledge, nobody will care how you got them or how long it took. The business skills will greatly increase the likelihood of success with the photo skills, you have to survive long enough to let people discover how wonderful you are at making pictures. MOST young shooters don't.

    And the other, darker side of photography as a career, is that it can become just another job. The thing you loved becomes the thing you have to do to earn a living, and I've seen that drain the magic of it for more than one pro.

    It would be nice to have some options if you ever get to that point, and a broader based education could provide that.

    Better to have a "day job" and shoot what you want as a hobby rather than having to drag yourself out to shoot something you don't care about and have no passion for.

    Food for thought...

    Best of luck to you.

  7. For what its worth, I have a BFA in photography (I jokingly refer to it as a Bachelor of Fusk-All). I did not get a single piece of business education during my schooling, which made it rather difficult post-school to figure out how to make a living at photography. If you plan to be an 'artist', and live off grants and loans, a BFA might help, but if you plan to be a professional photographer doing commercial work, a BFA might not be the right option. Here in canada there is distinct differences between commercial photo schools and artistic ones.

    I'm glad I took the artistic option myself, but i'm also not trying to make a living at the moment using photography, i'm working 9-5 to support my photographic habit ;)
  8. I haven't got much of an idea of what a BFA is or what advantages the paper might give you, but I'll just comment that there is a risk that classes like sculpture and painting wouldn't just be a waste of time.

    You could end up learning something you never expected and the extra knowledge could even improve your photography, giving you not only a degree on paper, but also that extra skill and talent that will give you a real advantage over others.
  9. Amy,

    All good advice, but this kind of advice is difficult to give. It depends so much on your own drive, ambition, talent, initiative, connections and your willingness to sacrifice. You've heard the old saying: it's usually "90% perspiration and 10% inspiration".

    As for which degree, a grizzled art professor I had in grad school once told me: "if you have real talent and drive, a degree does not matter...and it you have no real talent and little drive, then all the degrees in the world will make no difference". In a perfect world I suppose that the best situation would be to have lots of talent and the right degree. Most often, students begin with a promise of talent and a drive to improve themselves, and are given the opportunity to achieve their goals in an place that guides and encourages them. But there are no sure things when it comes to making a living at art/photography.

    And, of course, it would depend greatly upon the institution granting the degree. A BFA or MFA from a place like RIT or Brooks would definitely be worth the time, trouble and cost; a similar degree from one of the many State colleges/universities (with a few notable exceptions) would likely be less attractive to a prospective employer.

    The best schools have faculty that are working photographers/artists who do not depend upon their teaching jobs for a living, and are usually located in the centers of art/photography. The lesser degree-granting institutions of higher learning are generally nothing more than diploma mills, staffed by well-intentioned folks with BFA/MFA degrees themselves, who could not make it out in the real world if their lives depended on it.

    What strikes me whenever I speak to working, professional photographers is that a vast majority of them have degrees in disciplines totally unrelated to art/photography. Many of them have degrees in business, psychology, the sciences, law and so forth.

    Good luck.
  10. <<My advisor is telling me to get a BFA degree, >>

    Tell your advisor you understand perfectly, and will certainly elect to pursue a BFA degree if the advisor will just show you the data that supports the assertion that the BFA is more valuable than the BA. Employment results for recent grads over the last five years or so should do the trick.
  11. I was looking at the classes that I would have to take for the BFA at my college and they are more concentrated to what I want to do (photography). I am going for my BFA only to take those classes that I feel will help me understand my major more. With the BA classes I am taking classes that are a bit general like color and design.

Share This Page