Friday, October 05, 2007

RE: It's the Sheepskin, Stupid

Today Mike Johnston of "The Online Photographer", a wildly popular photography blog, posted "It's the Sheepskin, Stupid." He says, in part.
To this day, virtually every job I come across in the photography field that I'd be a good match for lists an MFA degree as a minimum requirement. The irony is that with the depth of my experience and knowledge in the field, I could probably teach at most photography MFA programs. But not being an MFA myself, I can't actually get a job teaching anybody.
There were 25 comments at the time I read it, and here is what I replied:

For better or worse, one has to deal with this as with many other things. That's just the way they are, but not necessarily fun, or right, or the way they will remain. What you have commented on is the result of a culture of scarcity.

In the case of positions in various institutions dealing with art, there is necessarily an elite, who get ensconced and then brick up the doorway into a narrow slit, partly because they need to (not enough demand and therefore very few opportunities on the inside) and because they want to (if it was hell for me to get here, then by damn I won't let just anyone in -- they have to suffer too, just like I did, and should be just like me, because I am obviously a superior being or I wouldn't have gotten here).

Much in the software world used to be like this, and still is in stuffy backwaters, but things are changing there, and in many other aspects of life. With new technologies and global markets we have new opportunities, and this, as we can see by the presence of "The Online Photographer", various forums and online magazines, image publication sites and online galleries, is being felt in the photography world as well.

If one wants to work in a museum with terrazzo floors, marble columns and hushed silences, then there will always be the prerequisite of acceptance by the priesthood. Too bad. Humans are like that. I decided long ago that anyone who didn't have the good sense to hire me was someone I wouldn't want to work with anyway.

Paul Graham, the web startup funder, has a good essay on similar topics in his world. Here are some of his thoughts on degrees and opportunities:
In a big, straight pipe...the force of being measured by one's performance will propagate back through the whole system. Performance is always the ultimate test, but there are so many kinks in the plumbing now that most people are insulated from it most of the time.

So you end up with a world in which high school students think they need to get good grades to get into elite colleges, and college students think they need to get good grades to impress employers, within which the employees waste most of their time in political battles....

Imagine if that sequence became a big, straight pipe. Then the effects of being measured by performance would propagate all the way back to high school, flushing out all the arbitrary stuff people are measured by now. That is the future....

What students do in their classes will change too. Instead of trying to get good grades to impress future employers, students will try to learn things. We're talking about some pretty dramatic changes here.
Mike Johnston and his readers perform. That's OK by me. We can wave politely at the faces behind the glass in the fortresses as we pass by.

(See Paul Graham's essay "The Future of Web Startups"
and Mike Johnston's post "It's the Sheepskin, Stupid".)


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