(Be-Yond) How to Write Your MFA Thesis in Art (And Beyond)
OK, so, its time for an update, perhaps this is a little bit over due? Compassion people, compassion.
The original title of this post is: “How to Write Your MFA Thesis in Fine Art (And Beyond)”, it remains the most visited and frequented blog post that I have written… ever. I originally published this “mini-guide” to my personal website in November of 2014. It remains in the top search results on the subject however something fun happened in recent years. When I later brought the paper over to the Academic Commons it quickly bypassed my personal website and resides as the top search result on google. So, Yay!
The post was written at a time when I was teaching an MFA thesis course between the years of 2011 – 2019. I believe that it still holds a ton of useful value. I want to stretch it further as I feel that this can help anyone with their writing practice. Apply the techniques for a blog post, an essay, a thesis and even the inspiration towards a dissertation. The keyword is practice –
Here is the original post below with a few adaptations for 2020..
I enjoy writing, and I find the process to be fun. Do you? I know that writing takes regular practice and it has always been an essential part of my learning process. Writing helps me to “see” and organize my thoughts. This allows me to edit and become clear about what it is I am expressing and or trying to say. Practicing writing helps me identify mistakes as well as further emphasize what I really want to explore and write about. When a topic of interest strikes me the process is effortless. I notice how I feel about the topic and this is a key factor as to how quickly I will get working on as essay, blog post or tutorial. This is something I have identified in myself over time and through repetition, how about you? Writing induces and activates new awareness. In my experiences as a college art professor, I have taken notice of a few consistent patterns when it comes to more formal writing, especially a final thesis deadline. For some, the thought of generating a final graduate thesis can be a daunting thought in and of itself. Associated with that thought may be an outdated feeling that your body still remembers. This outdated association can be especially frustrating to the point of extreme procrastination. If you are unaware that you are the cause of this feeling then you will continue to perpetuate it. Sound familiar? If you choose to enroll into an MFA program you will be required to write a final thesis. This will be an in depth description of your concepts, process, references, discoveries, reflections and final analysis. The best part of writing a final thesis is that the writer gets to create, format, define and structure the entirety of it. Throw away any pre-conceived and or outdated perceptions of what you think you should do. You must take responsibility for your writing the same way that you discipline yourself in the creation and production of your art work.
Where do you begin?
Your final thesis is an official archival record of what you have completed, explored and accomplished during the duration of your MFA program. Not only will your thesis be written for yourself, it will prove and back up your convictions, theories, assessments and statements for other people. It should be known that the content in this tutorial could also be applied to other writing needs that may be similar to the MFA thesis structure. An MA thesis or undergraduate BFA thesis can also easily follow this format. By all means, you can share it and remix it.
A regular writing practice must be established. This means, you will need to create a plan for how and when practice will take place. The calendar on your mobile device or the computer that you use will work just fine to remind you of these dates and times. Thirty minutes of practice twice a week can work wonders in the installation of a new habit. Are you up for that? Perhaps there is a way to make this decision seem effortless, keep reading.
You can get started right away. Technology in this area is very accessible and helpful. With use of a blogging platform such as word press one can privately or publicly begin their writing practice and archiving process. Even setting up a basic default blog will due just fine. You can always customize and personalize it later. If a blog does not interest you (but I do hope it does) a word processing document will due just fine. Either way, choosing to wait until your final semester to get started is a really bad idea and poor planning. Are there exceptions to this statement? Of course, and perhaps you will redefine my outlook, and prove me wring, but until I experience this from someone, lets make some longer-term plans.
I taught an MFA and MA thesis course from 2011-2019 at LIU Post in NY but this format transcended into my CUNY courses as well. The course put an emphasis on content and exposure to help students generate their final thesis. The course revolves around several exercises that contribute to the process as a whole broken down into individual isolated parts. Much like your thesis itself, this process is modular, meaning many parts will come and work together to make up the whole. One of the first exercises that I do with this class is identify a thesis template format. This is the basic structure that I have students brainstorm via a series of questions that I ask them. Keep in mind; you most likely already have a default version of this template. This could be the writing format that you learned in high school and had redefined by a professor in college. You may have been forced to use it or suffer the consequences of a poor grade solely on that formatting restriction. This feeling and program may still be running inside of you. So how do we deal with this? Together as a class we discuss and record the answers directly onto a chalkboard (a dry erase board or word document will also due just fine) I ask one of the students to act as the scribe to record the list manually while notes are individually taken also. I later put the information into a re-capped blog post on our class blog. Are you surprised that I use a blog for my class?
The format for an MFA thesis in Fine Art (applied arts & digital) will in almost all cases coincide with a final thesis exhibition of completed works. This formats fits accordingly with the thesis exhibition in mind. This is a criteria break down of the structure of the paper. It is a simplified guide. Add or remove what you may for your personal needs.
Individual Exercises to Practice-
The following exercises below were created to help practice and expand thinking about the thesis format criteria above. It is my intention to help my students actively contribute to their thesis over the course of the semester. The exercises can be personalized and expanded upon for your individual needs. I feel that weekly exercises performed with a class or one on one with a partner will work well. The weekly meetings in person are effective. Why? Having a classroom or person-to-person(s) platform for discussion allows for the energy of the body to expose itself. You (and most likely your audience) will take notice as to how you feel when you are discussing the ideas, feelings and concepts that you have written. Are you upbeat and positively charged? Or are you just “matter of fact” and lifeless in your verbal assertions? Writing and speaking should be engaging. Especially if it is about your work! The goal is to entice your reader and audience to feel your convictions and transcend those feelings directly. Awareness of this is huge. It will help you make not only edits in your writing but also make changes in your speaking and how you feel about what you have written.
The spoken word versus the act of writing? I have come across many students and colleagues who find that they write much differently than they speak. I feel that writing needs to have a consistent flow and feel fluid to keep its reader(s) engaged. Speaking well and articulating oneself clearly is also something that takes practice. I have found that sometimes recording my words and thoughts via a voice transcribing application is helpful to get ideas out and into a more accessible form. A lot of transcribing software is free for most mobile devices. Much like voice recording the powerful enhancement is to see your words take form after you have said them. You can simply copy and paste the text and edit what is valuable.
This essay is also a work in progress. It’s an ongoing draft in a published format that I will continue updating with new content and fresh ways to simplify the exercises.
I appreciate your feedback!
Experimental fun using data bending, remix processes, hacking and an old typeface found in the public domain.
Been doing some ink jet printing experiments as well with the idea of single run off of each print. Perhaps its just for fun during the experimentation process. Lets see where it goes!
Double Check Please!
Mellow Mannered Portrait Riffings
The NET-ART OPEN-CALL for Submissions continues this semester!
Spring 2020 Edition
What does this mean? What is NET-ART on the Commons?
The NET-ART 2020 academic calendar is now accepting submissions on a rolling proposal basis in the following criteria:
Looking for useful tools, apps & tutorials to get your submission started? CLICK HERE!
Looking for examples of “what” has been submitted previously? Explore here!
Submissions may be generated by CUNY faculty, students of all levels, alumni & community members. CUNY classes/courses may also submit collaborative proposals as a group. CUNY faculty & students may also collaborate with others from outside of CUNY as well.
All submitted works will be featured and published as individual blog posts as well as added to existing galleries on the NET-ART website.
Depending on the submission’s proposal, relevant and in context, various submissions will be published and exhibited as an individual page created specifically for the project.
All submissions should be described in written detail with a clear vision, context and meaning. Supporting images and links should be provided as well.
Authors of the submissions and their collaborators must be willing to participate, respond to comments and expand upon their projects with incoming queries via the commons, twitter and beyond.
The purpose of exhibiting submissions in various categories displays a platform for creative and experimental methods of pedagogy. Please consider how your work will contribute to a larger whole that will be archived for teaching, learning, reference and posterity.
We anticipate your submissions!
Question, Proposals & Submissions can be sent via e-mail or via Twitter to: