Advice on Critique: InterArts Thesis Week

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The fall semesters in the InterArts Department are intense for every year of the three-year program. No group knows this more than the Third-years ready to present their Thesis Projects before faculty…and a live studio audience of classmates, advisors, and the general public. The InterArts Thesis Critique Week is one step in a complex, nerve-wracking, and ultimately gratifying journey towards the elusive MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts & Media, or Interdisciplinary Book & Paper Arts–depending on one’s concentration.

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Let’s enter the mindset of a Third-year student (…well, it’s easy for me…) to better grasp the nature of a Thesis Presentation. For one, this project you are about to unveil is an extension of your body of work from the past two years in the InterArts Program. It is work that rests on the foundation of art theory, readings, experiments, collaborations, and insights you have gained while being here. In other words, you should know this project inside and out. So, relax, all right? Take a breath. Smile. Enjoy yourself.

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Each Thesis Presentation is forty-five minutes long–fifteen minutes of explaining the work and thirty minutes of open critique from any willing member of the audience. These forty-five minutes tend to warp as you field questions and defend your work. Any given critique lasts for hours and no time at all. My recommendation then? Don’t worry about the time. What matters more than minutes is the feedback you’re receiving from a variety of perspectives. A long-time instructor may suggest looking at a group of post-WWII French existentialist performance artists for inspiration. A first-year student may ask, “What the heck am I even looking at?” The response will vary. Be on your toes for anything that can come your way. Remember: any opinion is a valid opinion (especially to the one who expresses it).

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In the end, the Thesis Presentation is about your work. You’ve wrestled with the concepts of making your art for years now–honing your methods, developing new works, discovering new tools to investigate your questions about the world. If you stand at the podium, Thesis project in hand, know that you are an MFA candidate. Believe it, because you are the genuine article (…you didn’t think you got this far just on your looks, did you?!). You’ve earned your spot. Fear and anxiety will always be connected to critique, but they can be moderated with the understanding that everyone who responds to your work is trying to help your work. It’s the fundamental concept of graduate study.

So, toughen up to any biting comments…but take note of what they’re indicating in your work for improvement.

Admit that you have not read that particular esoteric Scandinavian philosopher…and promptly write the name down to do so and figure out why your work relates to it.

…and don’t forget to have a little fun. I mean, this is art, right? Passion, whimsy, drama, absurdity–they are just as much parts of your work as debate, labor, research, and fact. Smile while you present. Relish it. Breathe it in. You only do this InterArts Thesis Presentation once.

All right, are you ready? Good. Because your time starts…now.

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