College degree programs in the arts are diverse. The degree you choose will depend on the course of study you wish to pursue -- whether you want to focus on creating art, or understanding and analyzing it. In addition, different types of bachelor's and master's degrees are available, depending on the course load you wish to take on.
Fine Arts Programs
Two main study paths are open to you if you want to study the arts. You can either study the technique and creation of an art or arts, or focus on how to interpret and understand the work created by others. Most degrees in a creative field, such as photography, painting or sculpture, are simple noted as an arts, studio art or fine arts degree. The degree program usually allows a student to take courses in multiple specializations, but only requires specialization in one field. Arts degrees typically require a studio exhibition of a student's work to be completed before graduation.
Analytical Arts Degrees
Not all arts degrees train students to become artists -- many focus on teaching about the historical and cultural contexts and uses of art. The most common type of program in this category is art history, the study of how art developed and was understood through time. Other art-related degrees include art therapy and art education. Instead of emphasizing creative work, these degree programs emphasize research and analysis, and may require a thesis essay or similar research project before graduation. Because of the close relationship between these subjects and the creative arts, some colleges and universities offer combined creative arts and applied arts programs. At one of these schools, a student may obtain a fine arts degree and art history degree simultaneously.
Bachelor's and Associate Degrees
There are two bachelor's level degrees in the arts -- the Bachelor of Arts, B.A., and the Bachelor of Fine Arts, BFA. The difference is one of course load. A BFA indicates more intensive study, usually mandated by more course credits -- the BFA is thus a more valuable degree. Some schools offer both B.A. and BFA degrees in arts subjects. The same core courses are usually required for both programs, so you can wait until you've completed your initial coursework to decide which degree you want.
Two-year associate degrees are also available in the arts. These are typically offered by technical schools or community colleges, and are equivalent to freshman and sophomore level college arts programs; the degree is usually obtained in anticipation of transferring into a bachelor's degree arts program.
Graduate Arts Degrees
The most typical graduate degree in the creative arts field is the Master of Fine Arts, MFA degree. The equivalent degree in analytical subjects such as art history is the Master of Arts, M.A. Master's degrees typically take two years, but may be longer or shorter depending on the program or the pace at which the student obtains credits.
The advanced graduate degree Doctor of Philosophy, Ph.D., is relatively rare in the creative arts, but is becoming more popular as artists look to compete with artists with MFAs. Ph.D.s are more common in the art history field, since its emphasis on research and analysis is similar to that of other liberal arts, such as English or philosophy. Ph.D. programs are typically five years, with students focusing on coursework in the first three years, and then spending two years largely teaching younger students and working on a lengthy final research project or exhibition called a dissertation.
- All Art School: Guide to Art and Design School Degree Programs
- Top Universities: Art Degrees
- World Wide Learn: Guide for Art Majors
- Barry University: What is the Difference between the BFA and the BA?
- Wesleyan University: Art & Art History
- Anoka-Ramsey Community College: Associate in Fine Arts Degree
- NYU Steinhardt: Department of Art and Art Professions
- Columbia University: The PhD Program
- Inside Higher Ed: For Artists, M.F.A. or Ph.D.?
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