Friday, December 17, 2010

Slate Article, MFA vs NYC

My friend Elisabeth Condon recommended this Slate article about the MFA in Creative Writing, found online at Excellent food for thought regarding MFA programs in the Visual Arts.

Passages I highlighted with a few thoughts below...

- analysis would be to lay to rest the perpetual handwringing about what MFA programs do to writers (e.g., turn them into cringing, cautious, post-Carverite automatons)

- ...even if the writer has somehow never heard of an MFA program...if she's read any American fiction of the past 60 years, or met someone who did, she's imbibed the general idea and aesthetic. We are all MFAs now

- lax and laissez-faire as to have a shockingly small impact on students' work

- ingenious partial solution to an eminent American problem: how to extend our already protracted adolescence past 22 and toward 30, in order to cope with an oversupplied labor market

- what percentage of the total income of American fiction writers comes from the university, and what percentage from publishing contracts—but it's safe to say that the university now rivals, if it hasn't surpassed...

- the diffuse network of provincial college towns

- each affords its members certain aesthetic and personal freedoms
while restricting others; each exerts its own subtle but powerful pressures on the work being produced

Regarding the article’s short story vs novel debate, perhaps it's ok to let the system evolve as it will. I do, however, have a problem when the explosion of MFA programs cultivates artwork that is didactic and too burdened with theory. If the MFA programs could support their faculty, giving them ample time off for studio production that seeks breakthroughs with formal-conceptual synergy, the quality of artwork in our country would be improved. Germany, with a strong safety net of basic social service and belief in the value of cultural production, is an excellent role model.