Guidelines for Writing an MFA Thesis Paper
By Richard Gantt
Here are some thoughts and guidelines for writing your MFA thesis paper. First of all, it will be useful to you if you have a clear idea of your paper's importance in the scheme of things.
Since we stress your studio work – its evolution, production, content, formal and technical concerns, and its exhibition – it is tempting to undervalue the written paper. However, since the MFA is an academic degree, the paper is the formal record of your accomplishments toward that degree. In fact, in the future, it will quite likely be the sole record of your efforts. The works themselves will scatter after the exhibition closes. Their number will diminish as time passes. The slides that you so carefully prepare and submit have a short life by archival standards. Your paper, due to its exacting standards of production and professional maintenance in the library, is likely to be what lives beyond the collected and individual works, the slides, and even you. Recently a researcher came to this campus to find out about an artist and writer of international reputation who received her MFA here in 1952. The work that constituted the thesis is now gone. The faculty who taught the artist are all dead. The written thesis is the surviving witness to the artist's early involvement in the arts and her first professional experience. So perhaps with this in mind, it is easier to gauge the significance of your paper and the care you will want to take with it.
The Graduate School provides guide sheets for its requirements for written submissions. Even if someone else is typing your work or putting it into the proper format, get your own copy of the requirements from the Graduate School. Read it for yourself and see that its standards are followed. If your paper fails to meet any of these standards it will be rejected. They WILL check your paper, and their standards and deadlines are not flexible.
Writing about nonverbal work can be exasperating, but there are simple ways to start which will help you. It is reasonable to divide your attention on your art into areas that you will want to comment upon. What is important? – media, formal properties (size, scale, color, texture, line, shape, space, etc.), subject, autobiographical aspects? If you describe your art by keeping your observations focused on topics you will be a long way toward completing the main labor involved in the production of your paper. Each topic will cover a significant aspect of your art, and together they will form the paragraphs that will give your paper structure and needed clarity. Remember, you are writing for others. If your readers find that they cannot trust your paper because it is unfocused, rambling or contradictory, they are not likely to trust that your art has any consequence. You wouldn't either if you were encountering the material for the first time in someone else's paper.