Knowing our history: An examination of arguments over the terminal degrees of artists in the 1960s in America | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 2, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 2045-5879
  • E-ISSN: 2045-5887



Recent debate has arisen regarding the utility and value of a Ph.D. for the creative artist, where the M.F.A. most often serves as the terminal degree in the field. Yet many engaged in the debate surrounding this degree on the horizon are unaware of the historical discourses that both gave birth to the current-day terminal status in the United States as well as similarly questioned the purposes of the Ph.D. more than 50 years ago when a decision was upheld by the College Art Association in 1960 that the M.F.A. be the terminal degree for artists rather than the Ph.D.. In this article the author reviews the proceedings of three arguments set forth either for or against the Ph.D. at the 1959 Midwestern College Art Conference that informed the College Art Association’s decision, arguments made by Dr Manuel Barkan, Dr Louis Hoover and Dean Kenneth Hudson. Through an interpretive textual analysis, this article examines in-depth the language and logic of the ‘winning’ argument in favour of the M.F.A. as terminal. This debate in 1959 has yet to be critically examined by scholars, and includes conceptions of the artist that continue to be held to this day. The author here examines how arguments particularly by Dean Hudson, which represent the ‘winning’ stance that the M.F.A. be considered terminal, served to romanticize the artist while pitting him against the goals and practices of the academy, arguments that the author believes still linger today and that continually require committed critical examination by both sides of the debate. Such scholarship recognizes the indispensible role that knowing our own history plays in the descriptions, metaphors and images of the status quo that we ourselves construct about the artist in the university even today.


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