Senior Thesis in Studio Art

College Guidelines for Honors Work

See Honors Work details on the Academic Deans website.

Senior Thesis in Studio Art

The thesis in studio art consists primarily of a body of visual work, supplemented by a ten- to twelve-page written document. This is a full academic year commitment, starting in the fall of the senior year. Seniors undergo a rigorous selection process before being chosen to continue with a thesis process. Selected students work closely with faculty to develop their writing and research alongside their artwork. The final artwork is exhibited in the College’s Art Museum.  

Questions Frequently Asked by Studio Art Majors 

What are the expectations of an art major?
As an art major, you are expected to be regularly engaged in a studio practice. In addition to regularly producing new artwork, you are expected to be critically engaged with your work through art history, philosophy, theory, and other related disciplines. 

Is a thesis project right for me?
The senior thesis is a significant amount of additional work on top of the normal workload completed by all art majors. Thesis candidates must be highly organized, write well, and be competent makers. If you are a double major, pursuing teacher licensure, or became a major late in your college career, consult with the department about whether thesis work would be a good fit for you. A senior thesis most rewarding for students interested in pursuing a career in fine arts, showing their work in galleries, and becoming a practicing artist. 

What makes me eligible to do a thesis? 
All studio art majors are initially eligible to begin the thesis process. In the middle of the fall semester, the department determines which students have shown appropriate progress to continue a thesis project for the rest of the academic year. Another progress check takes place in spring. 

Is the decision reconsidered throughout the year?  
The initial decisions are firm, and cannot be appealed. However, selected students are continually evaluated throughout the school year. If the student is not making regular progress with both her studio work and writing, her committee can decide to take away thesis eligibility. A full thesis committee evaluation happens in the middle of the spring.    

Will I still have an art exhibit if I am not chosen to complete a thesis?
Yes. A senior exhibition of your work is a requirement for the major. The art majors exhibition runs concurrently with the thesis exhibition in the Blanchard Gallery. This exhibit has its own reception and is attended by the arts faculty and community.

Will not being chosen to do a thesis affect my chances of getting into graduate school, residencies, or other art-related programs in the future?
No. The most important factor for future opportunities is the quality of your work. Participating in the thesis program is a wonderful way to be prepared for the next steps in your career, but by itself it does not indicate whether you are a good fit for the program/opportunity you are applying for. Whether you graduate with or without honors, programs look at your portfolio first and foremost. If they like what they see, they look at other factors such as GPA, letters of rec, cum laude, awards, etc.

Questions Frequently Asked by Thesis Students 

How often do we have critiques? Should I be meeting with my committee outside of those times? 
In the fall there are three ARTST396 critiques. 
In spring, there are three ARTST396 critiques and a final thesis defense. 
Outside of that, you are responsible for taking initiative in scheduling individual meetings with committee members and other faculty as needed. Constant and consistent work is essential. Use your breaks well, as these are the best times for uninterrupted work. Plan shorter visits home for the holidays, so you have the better part of January in the studio. Plan to stay on campus for spring break. 

What is the written thesis about?
The 10-12 page written segment of one’s thesis may discuss the following:

  • visual and formal elements
  • meanings created by those elements
  • creative process (technical and developmental)
  • concepts and inspirations
  • other artists/art movements that are relevant to the artwork (with endnotes and bibliography)
  • philosophical analyses
  • self-critique and future directions

How do I approach the written thesis? When are the written drafts due?
Draft due dates will be posted in the 395 schedule. Have a proofread draft by each of those deadlines and make an appointment with your committee member(s). You do not need to meet all three members for every draft until the early April deadline when you want to meet with each of your committee members (two from the department and one outside the discipline). Be sure to give 5-7 days in between sending your draft and the meeting date.

When should I meet with my outside reviewer?
As soon as you choose your outside reviewer (November) you should invite him or her for a studio visit. In the spring, your reviewer attends one of your 396 critiques. The outside reviewer is a great resource for guidance on your written thesis. Set up appointments with your reviewer to develop your writing throughout the year.

What happens during the final critique in the Museum?
This final critique is considered as a “defense” for your thesis project, and it is a lot like other group critiques you have had countless times over the years. There are only two differences. 1) The critique begins with your presentation of the thesis project as a whole and some works you choose to discuss. This should take approximately 5 minutes. 2) Questions from faculty and your peer students refer to both artworks and a written thesis. Other than these two points, the rest of the critique runs very similar to what you already know.

How much of our presentation refers to just our work that we are presenting in the show versus our body of work as a whole?
It is up to the student to present what she wants to discuss in this final critique of her college life. This can include work that is not in the show. All the important works she has made should have been discussed in the written portion of her thesis, so she can talk about any of those works even if they are not part of the exhibition. 

What is the criteria for honors and grading? 

  • Honors: In accordance with the guidelines set by the Dean of the College and the department, honors is awarded to students whose final work (both exhibited artwork and written thesis) are of exceptional quality, and whose overall conduct during the thesis process has been exemplary.
  • Grade: Those students who conduct a year-long thesis project receive one grade for both semesters. This grade reflects the overall quality of the artwork, studio practice, and writing, as well as the student’s commitment to deadlines, organization, responsible studio conduct, and communication with all committee members. Work leading up to the thesis exhibition is considered part of the grade.