Dear Pepper: To what extent?

Dear Pepper is a monthly advice column by Liana Finck. If you have questions for Pepper about how to handle difficult situations, send them to dearpepperquestions@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Dear Pepper,

You—as a comic strip dog/dog in comic strip form—seem like the perfect creature to ask about a riddle I’m struggling with. I’m a writer, an artist, and a teacher.

Woman with glasses, beret and graduation cap.

Sounds like a great combination, until you try to put it into practice. I have an MFA in creative writing, but I often run into obstacles in academia and the literary world when I try to: A) Publish hybrid text-image books. B) Teach a hybrid text-image course, such as comics or graphic literature. C) Find a secure, full-time job.

Person lies on the ground after crashing into a roadblock.

For example, I recently proposed a comics course in both English and visual arts, and the chair of the art department asked, “Do you have a degree in visual arts?”

University chair sitting in a chair.

I found her answer frustrating. I already have an MFA in creative writing, and all the content I’ve ever produced has been comics and visual storytelling. Plus, most of the “greats” in comics don’t have MFAs! Do I need to get a second MFA to be taken seriously by both the art world and the literary world? I started looking into programs and realized that I actually like being a student. If I can find funding, I wouldn’t mind getting a fine arts degree. Is that crazy? Is that a waste of time? Is that backwards? (I’m 32.) Am I giving in to the pressure of academic gatekeepers?

Let me know what you think, Pepper! Master of (Not Enough) Fine Arts

Dear MFA,

I think about this in two ways. First, no, I don't think it should be necessary to have a degree to make comics or to have a career as a comics artist.

A rolled up diploma.

I’m less sure about the academic part. Having a degree in something doesn’t make you better at doing it, it just makes you better at teaching it to students, because you were a student of it yourself. If this seems like an unconfident answer, it’s because I secretly don’t have much respect for academia. (I am a dog, after all.) I wasn’t really an academic type myself, to be honest, I went to art school.

Artist smokes a cigarette and paints on a large canvas on the floor.

I hope you enjoy art school more than I did. And I think you will. You love learning and have enough life experience to know exactly what you want to do with your degree. Do some research first. Someone told you that you’d be more likely to teach a class or two if you had an MFA in fine arts. You should ask her—and anyone else who might know—what doors this degree might actually open for you. If the extra degree seems like something that would advance your career, go for it! Going back to school for a few years seems a lot easier than spending the rest of your life railing against the system. And thirty-two is young! That’s only four and a half in dog years. And while I personally didn’t enjoy being a student, being a professor—for this dog cartoonist with a BFA and the freelance lifestyle—sounds downright dreamy. Ivy, brick, glamorous, all that.

To leaf through.

Honestly,
Pepper

PS Can I recommend a really good comic about art school? It's “Wendy, Master of the Artby Walter Scott.

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