Founded in 1981 as the first of its kind, Bard MFA is a nontraditional school for interdisciplinary study in the visual and creative arts. It has set the standard others have followed. 

The Mission of the Bard MFA

In 1979, poet Robert Kelly wrote a description of “A New Kind of MFA Program” in which he set out some key precepts (items 1-5) for the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. Over the intervening thirty-five years, the Bard MFA has engaged with and acted on these initial five principles. In 2015, the Graduate Committee augmented the description of the Program’s mission (items 6-14).    

  1. The Bard MFA will be a place where the arts meet in persons, not in theories or skills.
  2. The Faculty will be drawn from resourceful artists active in their fields.
  3. The conversation among and between the disciplines is a shared project of learning and discourse.
  4. Students in one discipline shall also be exposed to the steady commentary and support of artists from other disciplines – whose perceptions, founded on a life of work and thinking, will be of direct and material value to the work going on. This will mean an abhorrence of abrupt specialization
  5. The Program is thus devoted to the pluralism of competing pleasures that will reach new kinds of audiences based on the common humanity of maker and perceiver, and the immense diversity of the means between them. 
  6. At the core of the MFA Program is a concept of the artist as a participant in the task of making fluid, flexible communities across the disciplines and beyond. These communities are both physical and virtual. They are based on evolving friendships built on reciprocity, trust, shared interests and pursuits, rather than on competition or homogeneity of thought.
  7. We believe that artists can best find their relation to the materials and forms of a chosen field by an experimental practice challenged and guided by conversations with other artists. 
  8. We believe that ongoing intellectual and critical support and care between and among students and faculty are the most constructive and most rewarding ways of animating and preserving a creative life.
  9. We prioritize dialogue and conversation over hierarchical instruction, believing that authority is best dispersed over many voices rather than located in a single individual’s mentoring position. Thus, students make active choices about which voices are most compelling or significant to the making of their work.    
  10. We understand that each discipline has distinct material and temporal requisites and histories, while at the same time participating in the general shaping of culture. There is no set canon, but rather a constant, changing contribution or citation of possible resources, critical and creative, from one person, faculty or student, to another.
  11. We believe in localities, differences, singularities, over received ideas and consensus in relation to what is relevant or good. 
  12. We endeavor to remain responsive to the needs of the Program, believing that changes are best made from within, in accordance with needs as they arise. This organic approach is the crux of our pedagogical practice, based on the belief that conversation, critique, focused attention and dialogue among those directly involved are the most effective ways to discover what works and what needs to be altered in the procedures of the Program.  
  13. We accept that artists are persons with active lives outside of the task of art-making, and support the variety of life choices each person makes in relation to earning a living, partners, families and so forth. We believe that learning to think as an artist, making forms from materials, is one route to a fulfilling life.  
  14. We believe that artists can contribute both directly and indirectly to the making of informed, engaged and curious publics beyond criteria of market-driven success. Further, we believe that the creative life is essential to the life of the planet and to the political and social wellbeing of its living inhabitants.

June 2, 2015