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From BFA to MA in Art History


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Hello all,

I was wondering if anybody might have some advice regarding making the leap from a BFA (major in drawing) to an MA in Art History? I have a few art history and critical theory courses under my belt, but I have to admit that my grades in some of them suffered as I was so focused on my studio practice at the time. I left undergrad with flying colors in those studio courses though, a handful of scholarships and awards - though I'm not sure those will be very helpful. After a few years off (I graduated in 2012) and maintaining a studio practice, I've concluded that studying Art History is where I want to go next. Without significant writing and research experience and those few less-than great grades, I'm nervous about applying to any programs. What can I do to help myself out? I've been considering taking a few courses at a community college (writing, German or French, a humanities course, and an art history course or two) to give myself a leg up and dust off some skills. Is that a worthwhile idea? I've peeked around at a few different programs and schools, but for the time being I'm just worried about getting myself, my skills, and my qualifications up to par rather than getting into a specific program. ANY suggestions or input would be greatly appreciated!

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Your best bet, IMO, is to take art history classes at the community college over the summer (try to take 2 or even 3 if you can), and do really well in them. If you want to apply to an art history MA, you need to demonstrate that you can do well in those types of classes. This way, if you do well, you can explain that you were focused on your studio practice and use the good grades from the community college to demonstrate reinforce that. Otherwise, there's no reason why they're going to take you at your word regarding those grades (especially if you don't have a letter of rec from an art history prof., which you could also get by taking the community college classes).

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Just to add a couple of thoughts:

Switching from another field into art history isn't impossible, but I think it's really important to have a clear understanding of WHY you want to swap practice for history. You should also have at least some overall ideas of your research interests - specific periods, theories, regions, media, artists, issues (or a combination of the previous). You don't have to have a full THESIS idea at this stage, but the goal is to be able to talk and write about your interests and how you hope to expand upon them in an MA program. I second @modmuse's recommendation of taking art history courses, and I encourage you to choose and use those courses as springboards for finding potential research areas, if you don't already have one. It also can't hurt to do some outside reading on your favorite topics to give you more background - you could even ask your undergrad professors (or better yet, potential MA advisors) for their recommendations of materials you should read. Keeping in mind why you are leaving studio practice and what research fields you might want to specialize in for an MA program could really help you both in selecting and applying to schools (including writing your SoP), as well as steering yourself in a clear direction as you move forward.

I suggest, too, looking at the profiles of current students at the schools you are considering to get an idea of their backgrounds. Some universities are more open to "non-traditional" students than others - that is, they may have accepted students with a background in studio practice, like yours, or from other disciplines. It might help, too, to contact a few of these students and ask how they handled switching fields in both applying and choosing where/what to study.

Edited by MaytheSchwartzBeWithYou
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