What Is An MFA Thesis?

Victoria Hely-Hutchinson

The below is taken from the SVA Photo, Video and Related Media Department information packet on the MFA thesis process. The second year of the program is heavily focused on the process so I thought I ought share what it’s all about.

What is a Thesis?

The thesis project is the main and most significant aspect of your master’s year work. The thesis project is a creative endeavor and an original investigation of a specific viewpoint. Because the MFA degree is a terminal degree in this field, it is expected that the project be at the highest level of visual artistic work. It must be a cohesive body of work. It must bear up to the scrutiny of the creative community, and further our understanding of its specific investigation.

The project follows as a result of the candidate’s thesis proposal as a unique body of artwork, demonstrating the capacity to push the limits of what is possible in the multi-­‐faceted realms of the visual arts. It will be understood and evaluated within the terms that you yourself define. This definition comes from your written proposal as well as your thesis statement (which are due in mid-­‐ November and mid-­‐March respectively). They are meant to direct and define the goals and terms, which render your work significant.

The main component of the thesis is a body of work completed by the student during the spring semester that employs photographic, video, film, computer-­‐ generated images, or related practices. Accompanying this portfolio is a supporting paper that documents and assesses the development of that work.

An independent committee of three faculty members will evaluate the finished project through a process called “Thesis Orals”. The student will supply their paper to the committee prior to the student presenting their project in front of the committee. While subjectivity is inherent in such judgments, be assured that the committee’s demand for quality will be unbending. Any student who does not receive a passing grade for thesis will not be eligible for degree conferral.

Preparation

Together, a portfolio, thesis proposal and thesis paper reflect an academic year’s worth of intensive exploration and accomplishment. The spring semester of your second year will be an intense period during which creative work and production develops into a cohesive whole. This process begins long before the spring semester – in the summer of your first year at the latest. Before beginning of the fall semester of your thesis year, you should already be examining your work critically, considering what creative direction you might be heading into and where you are aiming to be in six months. Discuss your work and ideas with the Chairperson, your peers, critique instructors, and your other sources of creative inspiration. Get your creative juices flowing and focus your thinking into a raw concept for your project. Remember that it is always best to set realistic goals for the size and scope of the project based on your personal funds, necessary equipment, and other resources.

Fall Semester

Thesis Proposal

The thesis proposal is a carefully thought out plan for your master’s thesis project, and will be due during the week of November 15th. (If you are planning on working with video in your thesis project, you must commit to video by October 2nd, 2010). Your proposal should state the medium and general format of your intended thesis project, to be completed during the spring semester. It should reflect the research and consideration you have given to the formulation of your project, the project’s central idea(s), as well as the specific means you intend to utilize in order to synthesize or realize these ideas within the proposed format. This proposal should show an awareness of the historical and cultural context in which your work is situated as well as its influences, and personal or social factors that bear upon its significance in a larger cultural milieu.

All thesis proposals must be written in proper English and should be copy edited for spelling and punctuation. Your thesis proposal should function as a strategy or game plan that facilitates, directs, and focuses the body of your project. It is meant to serve as a plan for you and your faculty, as well as a reference for understanding the ideas, goals, and intentions of your project. A preliminary visual representation of your work is required with the thesis proposal. You may also include visual references of others’ work if beneficial to the overall understanding and concept, however this is not required.

Spring Semester

Students entering their thesis project semester (typically spring of 2nd year) must also have completed all required coursework, have a B+ average to date (3.3 GPA), no outstanding incomplete grades, and no student account “holds” for failure to meet financial obligations.

Thesis Paper

The thesis paper is a supporting document and should not eclipse the artwork. Nonetheless, an MFA degree requires verbal and written evidence of both intelligent, creative decision-making, and an awareness of the historical and contemporary context of the work.

Your thesis statement (paper), which will accompany your thesis project, should state the form (medium/format) of your thesis project, as well as the main idea or ideas that you have explored. It should locate your work within a historical and cultural context and state the reasons, personal or social, for addressing these concerns. It is expected that your thesis project will make a contribution to the culture it addresses. It should, therefore, place itself within a larger sense of the world and your personal concerns should be articulated with an awareness of their historical position. This statement need not be long, but it should be clear and focused. This statement will serve as an archive or notation of the project you have completed and should compliment the more extensive analysis you have outlined in your proposal.

Statements should be in clear, concise English and copy edited for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. This statement need not exceed five pages in length. The faculty committee on your Orals panel will have read it and will use it as a guideline to understanding and interpreting your project. Each student’s final thesis statement will be bound and archived with a record of your project. Visual representations, either photos or diagrams of your work or others, may be incorporated into the paper but are not necessary.

Thesis Oral Presentation

Each candidate will be required to present and orally defend their work in a twenty minute closed session before a committee of three faculty members on Saturday, April 2nd, 2010. As stated previously, your thesis paper will be given to the committee prior to the oral presentation so that the committee will approach your work with an awareness of your ideas.

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