Yesterday, my colleague, Deb, and I had a brief conversation at the copier (if you work at a college, you probably understand those brief, but often insightful conversations that happen at copy machines — if only our meetings could go the same way….) about the field of art. Deb tells her students in her art classes, that 95% of those who get MFA’s in art quit “doing art” five years later. (Deb — I know you read my blog, so if I am misquoting you, please let me know!) That’s a lot of people who quit. Now, according to Deb, these are not people who are not making money from their art. This percentage represents people who have stopped doing art all together.
Wow. That seems like such a high number for such a passionate field.
Yet, I have heard similar things about MFAs in writing. I may be speaking out of turn here, because I don’t have an MFA. However, I have heard (and no, I don’t know where or if these stats matter or count or are accurate), that 90% of students who get MFA’s have stopped writing five years after graduation.
If this statistic is accurate, I’m wondering a few things. First, what does it mean to stop writing? Does it mean, to stop publishing? Stop writing on the job? Stop writing for a publish or perish college institution? Or does it mean, stop writing literally– never pick up a pen or pencil, never touch a keyboard, never read another literary journal to get insight or inspiration?
If it does mean that students who graduate with an MFA often really do STOP WRITING, then I guess I have to ask, why? Do they get overwhelmed with life? with work? Do they end up in field that does not support or appreciate creative works? Do they crave that university setting that will give them more time to write, and then end up doing the crazy adjunct stint (speaking from experience here — I did very little writing when I was an adjunct). Do they get discouraged about the world of publishing and its rejections? What happens?
This post full of questions comes at the end of a long day of teaching and attending meetings. It also comes right after I received a rejection in my email for my second chapbook manuscript. I am not upset by this rejection. Deep down inside, I know the manuscript is uneven. But I also know that here at JCC, I am a big fish in a small pond and that my colleagues support me no matter what. I also know that Anthony supports me, and I know that my family (in their mixed up, baffled way) supports me. Heck, I just realized that Charly, one of our new kittens, supports me. She insists on sitting on my lap when I type! (I also caught her chewing on my manuscript the other day, but perhaps she is telling me something I should know…)
Maybe people just stop working in the field of art because of lack of support. And for some reason, I find that the saddest reason of all.