In the midst of one of the worst recessions in generations, some are questioning the merits of higher education—especially higher education in the arts—in light of skyrocketing tuition costs and burdens of student loans.
Screenwriter/playwright Amy Tofte, a 2011 MFA graduate of CalArts’ School of Theater (Writing for Performance program), has words of advice and encouragement for those pursuing advanced degrees in the arts: “WE NEED YOU. BAD. We need you so fucking bad.”
In the essay Defending my M*ther F*cking Arts (MFA) Degree for the LA-based Bitter Lemons website, Tofte touches on issues of higher education, arts degrees and the recent ranking of CalArts as “Most Artistic” in the country by Newsweek/Daily Beast.
…No matter what you think of this “Most Artistic” list, isn’t the important thing that post-secondary schools out there, maybe ones you wouldn’t expect, are fostering outstanding creative/artistic environments? I think it’s a damn good thing. You go, Emerson College (#2 on the list).
I am proud to have CalArts on my resume and, indeed, in my blood. And I will boldly say that while my student loans are steep, I don’t know how I can put a price tag on what happened to me as a person and as an artist in the last three years. My school gave me an environment to explore and make progress in giant leaps rather than baby steps.
We know we need new voices. We know we need artists putting themselves out there who are willing to fail. But we need more than that. We need artists who are THINKING about their art and where art fits in the world. We need artists who can make the case, write the kick-ass proposal to get the funding, deliver creative insights worthy of a TED presentation that enlighten the general public. We need creative thinkers attacking their art with the passion of a warrior and the courage to invoke change. Now more than ever, we need artists capable of transporting art to a level that is vital while also accessible to the world.
Without a rigorous school environment, it’s much harder for emerging and young artists to pursue this task. Inside the walls of a school, you are king (or queen) of your own creative castle. The process of making the artistic vision in your head a reality can be more fully supported and developed in the right educational setting. And once you get the feel for it there, you’re much more likely to do it anywhere. You’ll accept no other way of doing business. And if you can also talk and write intelligently about your art, if your critical mind can match the fervor of your inspiration, you’ll have a better shot at continuing in the arts once you graduate.
The LA-based Tofte has had her work produced all over the country, most recently at this past summer’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a contingent of fellow CalArtians. Her play Flesh Eating Tiger, which examines a relationship under the influence of addiction with bits of dark comedy, earned raves across the pond.
Bitter Lemons is dedicated to professionals and advocates of the theater scene in Los Angeles and beyond. Its contributors and followers debate current theater/arts-related topics as well as share information resources with classified postings, event listings and a system of aggregated reviews for theater productions. Bitter Lemons: Bringing Los Angeles Theatre together. Whether It likes it or not.