Frequently Asked Questions

What is the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke University?

The MFA is the terminal degree in the fine arts. The MFA in Experimental and Documentary brings together two forms of artistic activity — the documentary approach and experimental production in analog, digital, and computational media — in a unique program that will foster collaborations across disciplines and media as it trains sophisticated, creative art practitioners. It is a two-year degree program requiring 15 courses (37 credits) over 4 semesters: 10 required courses in prescribed sequence and 5 electives. Each student’s culminating project will be exhibited in a Spring MFA Exhibition. A written thesis on the project will also be required. Fifteen students per year are to be admitted. Students will create work that has impact within and outside the academy — art that matters — including innovative hybrids of documentary expression, experimental media, and new computational technologies.

Why this program?

The increased importance of various forms of media, especially on the web, has produced a population thoroughly engaged with the newest forms of creative visual and audio production. Smart, talented, socially aware applicants are looking for innovative MFA programs to express their involvement in the world. In the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts program, students will learn to produce hybrid forms of artistic expression that embrace new approaches to history, memory, community, interactivity, and the archive. The combination of the experimental and the documentary arts creates a unique MFA degree program.

Who should apply?

The MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts is best suited to accomplished students and artists who desire advanced experience in the production of innovative photographic, spoken word, film, video, and computational digital arts in conjunction with a challenging intellectual immersion in philosophy and critical theory. Many applicants will have completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, while others will have degrees in the History of Art and Visual Studies, Photography, Film, New Media, Music, Narrative Writing, Theater, or Documentary Studies. Still others will have attained a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science or Computer or Electrical Engineering.

What will this degree prepare students to do?

As a terminal degree, the MFA provides a rigorous academic experience that prepares graduates for careers in higher education — teaching in film, digital media, documentary arts, and art departments, among others. Many graduates will pursue careers as creative artists in combination with full or part-time teaching. Graduates might become teachers, documentary filmmakers, web developers, publishers, multimedia producers, practicing artists, and entrepreneurs.

What is unique about this program?

There are many successful MFA programs in film/video, computational or new media, documentary studies, and documentary film. No MFA in the country, however, offers experimental film and computational art production and documentary studies. The foundation of the program is the vital synergy of experimental and documentary practices, which has a seminal relationship stretching back to the early twentieth century. With its purposeful balance of thinking and making, the MFA is distinctive and timely. The program attracts artists and intellectuals who recognize the potential of new and experimental forms of creativity to be a powerful force in community life and the public realm.

What about course offerings and faculty?

Duke’s extensive background in documentary studies, film and video, visual studies, computational and experimental media provides a solid foundation for the MFA program. A rich array of graduate courses serve as elective classes. The six required core courses plus four thesis project courses have been developed specifically for the MFA students. Eleven regular-rank faculty members are involved with teaching the required courses for the MFA program. They are affiliated with the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies; the Center for Documentary Studies; the Program in the Arts of the Moving Image; the Departments of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering; Information Science + Information Studies (ISIS); and the Program in Literature. The MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts continues to work with departments and schools across campus to expand faculty involvement. The program also enhances teaching and courses through visiting artist/lecturer programs.