Artists create their own credentials. Art schools and universities offer an array of degrees and certificates, and various artist societies allow members to tag on some initials after their names, but artists are esteemed based on the quality of their work, its influence on other artists, and where it has been shown and collected. No degree can confer value or importance to a work of art, although it may help artists obtain jobs (and keep them), at least as instructors in colleges and universities.
Job security is a relatively new concept in the ancient field of art, reflecting the increasing hold that higher education has over the arts. Traditionally students found their way to the studios and classes of eminent artists, learning through doing, watching, and instruction. However, baccalaureate and Master’s degrees in fine art have become the union cards for artists since the second half of the 20th century, offering equal parts general education (on the undergraduate level), critical theory (on the Master’s side), and studio classes. Over the past 50-plus years, the Master’s of Fine Arts, or MFA, has been described as a “terminal degree”—that is, the end-point in an artist’s formal education—but some people believe that this end-point comes too soon. A movement may be afoot to create doctoral programs in studio art.