Written Elements: Second Year MFA

Length of Papers
Unless otherwise stated by your advisor, your submission should be around 20 pages or 6,000 words (not including bibliography, footnotes, illustrations, etc.) for a project report and 20-40 pages for a thesis in ordercover your topic in sufficient depth. To submit more or less you must have permission from faculty in advance.

Language
For students with English as a second language, please note faculty has the option to require that you engage a professional proofreader or tutor if they deem it necessary.

Format for Option1 and Option 2
You are required to submit a DVD of Mac compatible files containing all appropriate written elements and full documentation of the practical element(s) of your MFA thesis project at registration in the final summer residency. A PDF is required for the Transart Institute Online Thesis Library. The PDF should be included on the DVD containing your thesis paper and documentation of your studio project. In addition the PDF should be linked from or uploaded to your Transart blog.

OPTION 1: PROJECT + REPORT
Information on the Project Report option (Presentation from Sarah Bennett)

If you choose this option your studio project is the research: you are expected to produce an exhibition of artefacts, or performance, or other appropriate form of presentation as your research submission. This should include, or be accompanied by, evidence of the methods and processes you used in the development of the work (e.g.: visual or other research, drawings, sketches, maquettes, drafts, scripts, storyboards, photographic documentation, video, CDrom, sound recordings, notebooks, sketchbooks, contextual references and any other related items).

This submission is supported by a Project Report of 5,000 – 7,000 words. The project report needs to be carefully planned from the start. What follows are some notes to guide you in its construction. The purposes of this report are as follows:

  • to review and evaluate the aims and objectives set out in your MFA Proposal. The aims of your project are best thought of as the broad goals that you wanted to achieve, while the objectives should be seen as the specific steps and targets you need to reach in order to achieve your aims.
  • to provide a credible account of the development of your work (please include your thinking processes as well as material processes) in relation to the identified aims and objectives. The ‘evidence of process’ which you have uploaded over the duration of the course should be of some assistance in relation to the development this narrative. Wherever possible focus on specific instances of what you have done and don’t be afraid to be quite detailed if you feel that doing so will allow you to make clarify a particular point. Try to avoid making generalisations about your practice, and write with the work (or its documentation) at hand. This will assist you to write about the work, rather than around it.
  • to place the work in relation to appropriate contextual fields (e.g.: relevant theories, ideas, historical and/or contemporary art and design practices). By doing so you will help to clarify your own position in your field.
  • to provide a critical evaluation of the project against previously established and clearly formulated criteria. These should be established by you in conjunction with your advisory team.

The project report should run alongside your studio project itself.  It should provide a clarification of the practical work that you have undertaken. The report can consist of several different modes of discourse, each of which will have different, yet overlapping, functions. These might include:

  • a descriptive account, consisting of developing ideas, processes and products;
  • a more poetic discourse that that may be analogous to, or have structural affinities with your practical work, thus allowing the project report and the project to be read as a coherent compositional whole.
  • a reasoned critique of the work and its development;
  • a narrative that to locates your work in relation to relevant aesththetic, technical, theoretical, philosophical, or other disciplines or fields of knowledge;
  • a narrative that traces a web of relationships and situates your practice in relation to a broader arena of endeavour, either artistically or otherwise;
  • a sequence of charts, diagrams, tables or visualizations which detail the development of your ideas;
  • a range of interpretations of the importance of the work. This could come about as a result of incorporating feedback from your audience, or reviews of your work.

Relevant threads should be woven into a coherent piece of writing that shows the evolution of the project, and improves both your understanding, and the reader’s understanding, of what has been acheived. Your project should act as a guide to your project, but should not seek to gloss over anything or explain anything away,  or, as Wittgenstein suggests: ‘Don’t apologise for anything, don’t obscure anything, look and tell how it really is’. This can also be thought of as a hermeneutical activity along the lines of Umberto Eco’s idea of the ‘open work’ or Barthes’ notion of the ‘writerly text’. You should be aiming to produce a satisfying composition, in both senses of the word.

The project report is also an opportunity to demonstrate your research skills and show how your work fulfills the assessment criteria.

Aims & Objectives
Your aims and objectives will have been established at the proposal stage (see advice above). You may need to indicate how these have been modified as the project evolved, and the reasons for these modifications. It is expected that your project will change and evolve, but it is also expected that you will be able to articulate how and why those changes took place.

Provide a clear Account of the Development of the Project
Your report must include a description of the development of your project – how you set out to realise your aims and objectives, the methods you have employed and your reasons for tackling the project in this way. You need to give the reader a clear sense of the evolution of ideas from initial stages through to the final products/outcomes, moving beyond a simple “The Making Of…”

Make sure you describe not just the way in which technical problems were solved, i.e.  which media were used and the processes that involved, but also include the thinking that went on. This thinking is complex and dynamic (and can be usefully understood within Donald Schön’s three categories: knowing in action, reflection in action, and reflection on action. Your thinking is grounded in your interests, beliefs and in your previous experiences with materials, processes and ideas. Try to provide an accurate account of these cognitive and material processes. For instance, describe: the decisions you made and why; the things you learnt as the project progressed; the ideas you had but didn’t pursue, and why you didn’t pursue them; the ideas you did try but which didn’t lead anywhere; the ways in which images and forms changed and developed over time; the research you undertook – what you looked at, read and investigated – and what questions you were asking and why. Doing so can often lead to some surprising connections, which in turn can lead to a much deeper understanding of your practice.

Make sure this element of your report is as precise and as honest as possible. This means you may need to describe phases when your thinking was confused and uncertain, when you weren’t sure what to do or what direction to take. And how you moved on from this into a clearer or more certain phase. Be as clear and concise as you can, but don’t try to overly tidy up the messiness of your processes Try to give the reader an insight into the intuitive aspects of your working and thinking. And if chance, spontaneity and play are important, describe these factors and the roles they have in the project.
Remember that all of this needs planning from the outset. How are you going to document and examine your practice? Evidence of process is important here: Keeping a diary; taking notes as you go along; retaining your drawings, diagrams and plans; photographing different stages of the work; shooting video documentation; keeping copies of computer images and texts as they evolve and developed; tracing the development of your research by keeping references, quotes, illustrations and bibliographiesand earlier versions of your report – these will all be useful as thethe report develops.

The key factor in this strand of your report is to be both descriptive and analytical. Telling the reader not just what you did, but why and how you did it.

Contextualization
Your ideas and your practice are related to other ideas and practices. All of this emerges from a complex web of influences, experiences, contacts and references. It is important to examine these connections in order to locate your work within a relevant context, and to demonstrate that you have knowledge of the field you work in. How you do this, and what kind of context you establish, depends on the specific nature of your project and your practice.

You will probably need to supply a historical context for your work – you should identify relevant precedents and influences – and also be prepared to position your practice in relation to relevant aspects of contemporary and/or historical culture. Demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about the particular fields of art which you work in, and identify and discuss relevant theories, debates and issues. You should also show your awareness and evaluation of related ideas, practices and practitioners.

This may mean making wide-ranging connections and references, which draw upon many disciplines and bodies of knowledge. For instance, a film-maker might refer to cultural theory, anthropology, film and media theory, history of film and art, psychology and sociology, in order to describe the nexus of connections, ideas and influences which inform the making of a particular film. In other cases a more compact context may be more appropriate. For instance, a painter exploring a particular kind of minimalist abstraction may only need to make references within the field of art history and aesthetic theory, with reference to contemporary painting practice and historic practitioners. In each case what is important is that issues and ideas are analysed and explored in as much depth as possible, and that your knowledge is convincingly demonstrated.

Evaluation
Your report should include a rigorous and honest evaluation of the project and the body of work you have produced. You need to indicate both strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, and the criteria you are using for making judgements. Criteria will vary from project to project. Communication with an audience, solving particular technical problems, constructing an artefact for a particular site, expressing a particular mood or emotion, constructing a narrative, making something that is aesthetically stimulating or ‘beautiful’ – these may or may not be important factors in your evaluation. You must decide and explain why you have selected these criteria rather than others. You will also need to refer to your aims and objectives. To what extent have these been achieved? Have you achieved something other than what you expected to?

Make some reference to other work in the field,either contemporary or historical as appropriate. How have other artists tackled similar or related projects? What comparisons can you make? What is distinctive about the work you have produced or the approach you have taken, as compared with what others have done? What are the differences and similarities between your work and theirs? Are your motives for working this way the same as theirs?
Be as comprehensive as you can in your evaluation. Include all those factors that come into play, rationally and intuitively, in how you decide what has ‘worked’ and what hasn’t.

Documentation
Your project report should be presented in a form that clearly demonstrates the qualities and information we have indicated above. It should be no less than 5,000 words in length, and no more than 7,000. It should be carefully organised, effectively constructed and appropriate to the nature of your practice and research. While a ‘book’ format may be perfectly suitable, other possibilities should be considered. For example: a book with a supplementary portfolio of visual documentation; a book with CD-Rom or video; a large format book or portfolio with diagrams, drawings and other visual material; a boxed collection of printed texts, documentation and samples of materials; an artist’s bookwork taking a more unusual form. This is only an indicative list,the only stipulation here is that the format in which you submit in is, in your judgement (and that of your advisors) suitable for your chosen subject.

On the other hand, don’t produce a complicated or unorthodox report just for its own sake! It needs to be relevant and appropriate to your project. It must also be well-made and durable – it will need to be handled by a number of people involved in the assessment process, and it should be available for teaching and archive purposes later.

For referencing and bibliographical information format please consult with your advisor.

OPTION 2: PROJECT + THESIS

The Project Thesis is normally equivalent to not fewer than 6,000 words and not more than 12,000 words supported by visual material.
To undertake a thesis you will need to focus on a topic that you find interesting and worthy of in depth research and investigation. It may be of relevance to your practice, or be used as a means of discovering more about a field which relates to your practice. You must identify explicit aims and objectives, establish clear parameters for your study and make sure that you demonstrate your research and your ability to be critical, and to analyse, conceptualise and contextualize your subject. The dissertation should also contain a review of the knowledge that already exists on a particular subject.

Remember there are different approaches you can take to making an argument and to your dissertation. The most obvious approach is to set out to convince someone else of the value, importance or validity of an idea, view or position. This may be in positive form where you are establishing the merits of a point of view, arguing for it, or it may take a critical form in which you are opposing or arguing against a particular idea or position. These are often employed together to make a case.

Another approach may be to explore an issue or idea or topic. This is argument as discussion. A way of clarifying what you think about something based upon careful research and sensitive enquiry. It will probably involve sifting through evidence (critical writings in books, journals and exhibition catalogues, statements by artists/designers, images and artefacts encountered in exhibitions or in the commercial world), making sense of this material, and structuring your discussion as a coherent whole.

Whichever approach you take you will need to establish at an early stage what knowledge already exists around your chosen topic. This will enable you to gain a picture of the ideas, arguments and issues that are already in the public domain. This will allow you to avoid simply re-inventing the wheel, and instead make a genuine contribution to our knowledge of the subject by opening up new lines of enquiry, approaching the subject from a slightly different perspective, or making new connections or drawing new comparisons.

It is important to keep in mind that the thesis provides an opportunity to explore and examine a topic in much greater depth than is possible in earlier modules. Your text must amount to more than a descriptive account of existing ideas or a survey of events. You must demonstrate your ability to define clear aims and objectives, to undertake effective research, to think in a critical and analytical manner, to provide evidence to substantiate your argument, to evaluate what you do, and to present all of these in a lucid and coherent text, with relevant supporting imagery or other supplementary material.
All argument involves formulating or reformulating ideas, interpretation, analysis and critical thinking. Keep asking questions of the material you are gathering. Don’t accept at face value statements made by other writers, critics and practitioners. Ask why they are saying what they are saying? Do their statements make sense? Compare and contrast statements made by different authors. Examine what a practitioner does as well as what they say. Analyse artefacts and related processes with the same depth and rigour as you examine ideas or texts. This will all help you to understand the debates and differences of opinion surrounding a subject, and demonstrate to your readers and examiners your knowledge and ability to think analytically and critically.

Connecting Art and Research Projects
You must include a chapter of roughly 600 words connecting the art and research projects. This should be placed wherever you feel is most appropriate within the larger body of the text. Please consult your advisor if you have any difficulty with this.