Cereal in Serial in Parallel: InterArts Thesis Work

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Last semester, I wrote about my performance research in cereal-making (…for a refresher in what I’m talking about, read about it here). In that post, I described my starting point and hopeful trajectory toward the end of my third year. Now, having lived in my work for the past few months, I have to report that Thesis has taken a surprising path…into a veritable garden of forking paths, to give Borges props.

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The rundown of an InterArts Thesis year follows a certain arc:

  1. Spending the summer prior reading a ton to inform your work.
  2. Presenting said research in a presentation for Thesis Crit Week (reference here).
  3. Feeling the creeping panic that you need to do more research because you don’t know as much as you think you did.
  4. Juggling your life and work as the calendar pages flip and graduation moves closer.

It seems melodramatic to think that your artistic career depends on your Thesis. However, it is also ridiculous to shrug off your year-plus thinking, writing, and making with a flippant well, it’s just school attitude.

You need to get out of the academic mirror maze. In fact, you need to break as many mirrors in said maze as you can, bad luck be damned. The work you make is in series and in parallel to everything before it–theories, other artists’ work, pop culture, life. The trick is to absorb as much as you can, accept that you can’t know it all, and move forward with your business.

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The moving-forward part, the most crucial part, is both the easiest impulse to ignore and the hardest action to start. Once you start though, the momentum is liberating. Take my work. Before, I took the nebulous concept of industry through performance and tried to relate it to the history of my hometown, Battle Creek. It didn’t work. I theorized too much. I allowed my schooling to get ahead of my hands. I felt awkward in my own work. I petered out. I started reading more, and making less.

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I broke out of my paralysis of analysis with a suggestion from a friend. He saw me turning into a recluse in my own work, and asked the simple question: have you tried making the cereal? You know, the cereal you’re obsessing about? I scoffed the idea. I wasn’t a baker. I can’t make my own recipe. My friend came right back, quipping that I wouldn’t be a maker of anything if I kept my nose in art school books. Ouch. The bristling honesty of a true friend.

The funny thing is that I listened. I needed the risk of failure to propel my work. So, I set out to make my own cereal. A simple cereal. I took a shine to that name, so A Simple Cereal became my new Thesis project.

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The lesson here is that each path, every path, all the knots and tangles and dead ends and oxbows, are necessary in the process. I lost myself in the bramble of academics, but slashed a new path out like some machete-wielding jungle explorer, happy to have gotten caught in the thicket because he can see his escape route from the clearing on the other side. Everything that came before makes the person you are in the present, the person still blazing into other unknown territories. Still moving forward, and that is the key.

My Thesis work is stronger now because it is hard work. Hard work is the best work. It is the challenge to make yourself better at what you make. The challenge is daunting, but it is the most rewarding. We’ll see, Prospective Students, how I do at the finish line of the Thesis Exhibition. I’m on the right path for now, and that’s something in and of itself.

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