UC Berkeley Art Practice
Department of Art Practice at UC Berkeley

MFA Degree Description and Requirements

Visual Art

Visual Art

MFA Degree

Why an MFA Degree? An MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) degree is for those who wish to expand their creative practice into more serious directions. Generally a two year post-bachelor program, The MFA is a terminal degree, meaning that it is the highest achievable degree in the Arts. This opens the door to a number of different opportunities and possibilities that individuals would not otherwise have access to. For example, to teach Art at the college level, one would usually need to have completed an MFA degree program. It is also true that Art institutions take note of where and with whom artists studied (in much the same way that academics do) such that receiving an MFA degree from a well known school can create opportunities that otherwise may not have been available.

In many cases it is not required that applicants hold degrees in the exact field they are pursuing an MFA. For example, at UC Berkeley, the Art Practice MFA program has welcomed and accepted individuals whose undergraduate study was in the social sciences (such as anthropology), creative writing fields (such as poetry), or even individuals with computer science backgrounds. What is required, however, is that applicants actively maintain a rigorous creative practice within their chosen mediums and disciplines.

MFA programs usually culminate in some type of final project, presentation or performance. The UC Berkeley Art Practice MFA is no exception; The end of the two year program culminates in a show at the internationally recognized Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). For more information about the specificities of our MFA program, please contact department administrator Alecia Suazo at asuazo@berkeley.edu

Master of Fine Arts Curriculum

Our MFA Classes Inspire and Challenge our students to develop a rich artistic practice deeply engaged with their chosen discipline. Rooted in peer-to-peer discussion, the curriculum of the Art Practice MFA program revolves around a core set of required classes. Starting in the first semester, students participate in two weekly classes together:

Studio view of Xandra Ibarra’s [M.F.A. 2020] studio at the Richmond Field Station, with works in progress.

Studio view of Xandra Ibarra’s [M.F.A. 2020] studio at the Richmond Field Station, with works in progress.

Throughout both years of the program, students participate in an Independent Study course, in which they make their own work while regularly meeting with a faculty advisor about their progress. Students also take electives throughout their first year of the program, which can be any upper-division or graduate level course campus-wide (given the consent of the instructor). With art practice becoming an increasingly multi-disciplinary field, these electives help enrich students artistic research and technical proficiencies. 

During the second year of instruction, students are provided the opportunity to teach as Graduate Student Instructors (GSI's). More information can be found here. In both years of the program, students participate in MFA gallery shows. Students present their second year Thesis s in the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) at the end of the Spring semester. 

Selecting an MFA Program

When you seek out the perfect MFA program to advance your career as a professional artist, many factors such as location, cost, academic focus, studio resources, and resonance with the program’s faculty, ethos, and history come into play.

UC Berkeley’s Art Practice MFA program is committed to artistic innovation and intellectual rigor. We emphasize critical thinking and strongly encourage work that rethinks context, material form, and conceptual approach. The program aims to broaden the productive, conceptual, and critical faculties of students in their pursuit of careers as professional artists.

The department’s faculty consists of internationally established artists. All students work closely with individual faculty members through a system of independent study and the M.F.A curriculum. All graduate courses are taught by tenured faculty. Every student is guided through the program by a faculty mentor, who serves as that student’s artistic and academic advisor.

The program emphasizes creative research and material practices within a highly rigorous conceptual and critical approach, and is designed to prepare students for a professional exhibiting career and for teaching at the college level. The curriculum emphasizes the richness of UC Berkeley’s broader research community, and close working relationships with faculty. Opportunities exist for assisted and faculty-accompanied travel abroad.

The MFA Program celebrates interdisciplinarity, with a facility to pursue and realize ideas through the most appropriate media. Students test ideas and work in a wide range of media and disciplines, which include but are not limited to broadly defined areas of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, video, printmaking, digital and new media, performance, and social practice. MFA students have enrolled in courses offered in Physics, Asian Studies, Rhetoric, Film and Media, Peace and Conflict Studies, Art History, Anthropology, Music, Environmental Science, Botany, Mathematics, Middle-Eastern Studies, Religion, Classics, English, Architecture, Philosophy, Engineering, and Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies.

The MFA Program offers unique teaching opportunities. In their second year, MFA students are invited to teach their own section of our undergraduate foundation course, Art 8: “Introduction to Visual Thinking.” Opportunities exist to teach this course again, and/or other courses during summer sessions.

We offer our MFA students professional development support, including privileged applicant status to a number of studio residency programs and grant programs. In consultation with a faculty advisor, each student will select and work closely with a thesis committee consisting of departmental and external members.

We offer our students semi-independent studio facilities, with each student matched to a studio that best suits their work. Ten studios are located off-campus, at the Richmond Field Station. Two art studios are located on-campus in Wurster Hall.

In addition to exhibiting in the Art Practice department’s Worth Ryder Art Gallery, MFA students are assisted in displaying their work in an array of regional venues. The second-year MFA Show is held at the newly-reopened Berkeley Art Museum, and students work closely with museum curators and staff to select and install their work.

MFA Degree Resources

Art is the moving part
— Greg Niemeyer

Art Practice takes pride in the fact that we can fund the tuition of our MFA students with grants. Our students are also eligible for several Graduate Student Instructor positions, which are well paid. Many awards and grants are also available to support the individual practices of MFA students. Of course, all art studios including Ceramics, Printmaking, and Media Labs are freely accessible to all MFA students.

For more information and online application, please go to the Art Practice MFA Graduate Division page.