Senior art majors reveal thesis projects with metropolitan inspiration

Clara Bartlett

For Whitman’s visual art majors, a thesis is not made of paragraphs and footnotes, but of charcoal and pigment.

The “Visual Art Majors Senior Thesis Exhibition” opens tomorrow, April 20 in Sheehan Gallery. This opening is the culmination of months of creativity and long hours spent working in Fouts Center for Visual Arts, where each senior visual art major has a studio. The majors will give a Juror’s Talk at 5:30 p.m. in Olin 130, followed by the exhibition opening in Sheehan.

Credit: Ethan Parrish

Art major Megan Oost discussed her senior project and the extended process of its development.

“I think one of the most gratifying aspects of the senior thesis has been to see the evolution of such a large scale project,” said Oost. “The sustained attention and concentration that I have been able to devote to the work for the show has allowed me to work through ideas in a really helpful way. I have been able to experiment with materials in materials; make things I know don’t work, or that I hate––and then have time to re-work and edit until I am more satisfied with what’s in front of me.”

Julia Schneider, whose thesis seeks to deconstruct typical imagery and stereotypes of homelessness, spoke about the challenges of preparing a senior art thesis for public exhibition.

“One thing that has been hard throughout the whole process is knowing that about 1,500 people from campus and the community will not only see my thesis, but have an opinion about it. It’s really daunting, especially in comparison to a thesis paper, which only a few people are required to read. The public nature of it has always made me a little nervous because not everyone is going to like it. But learning about the gallery process, from writing a cover letter to the gallery director, to planning out our exhibit space, to installing our work, has been an invaluable learning experience,” said Schneider.

Credit: Ethan Parrish

In preparation for the upcoming “Senior Thesis Exhibition”, senior art majors sought creative stimulation in New York City last November. Their trip, made possible by a Teagle Grant, allowed senior art majors to push the development of their theses to exciting new levels. Nine seniors, including Sam Alden, Sarah Canepa, Kelly Douglas, Binta Loos-Diallo, Hayley Mauck, Megan Oost, Julia Schneider, Amanda Villaseñor and Kiley Wolff previewed their thesis work at the Whitman Undergraduate Conference in a segment titled “Reflections from NYC.”

Schneider explained the difficulty of choosing a project, and discussed the ways in which her visit to New York provided clarity and focus for her thesis.

“Before the New York trip, I really had no idea what I wanted to do for my thesis,” said Schneider. “I was having trouble narrowing down what media I wanted to use, as well as what type of content I wanted to address. During the trip, the Met had two Chuck Close portraits. He does large scale, hyper-realistic paintings of people’s faces. They were so spectacular to see in real life, and they stood out to me the most in terms of inspiration for my thesis.”

Whether meeting with artists, or soaking up the New York art scene in galleries and museums, for these nine senior art majors, the trip offered new perspectives that shaped the development of the senior art theses.

Credit: Ethan Parrish

“It’s a lot to process, all the art we saw in New York,” said Wolff. “There was a great diversity in the art of the pieces and work we saw. I guess what I found most inspiring about the New York trip was that there were just so many directions you could take.”

Oost agreed with this assessment.

“It’s just nice to see artists that you feel like are amplifying an aspect of what you’re doing and putting it on a larger scale. It’s a way to push what you’re doing and think about it in different way,” said Oost.

Other seniors were inspired not only in looking at works, but also by meeting other New York artists.

“I met with Lisa Hanawalt, a cartoonist I really admire,” said Alden. “Something she said that’s been rattling around with me for a while is that the kids who survived after art school were the ones who had learned how to keep making art even when there wasn’t someone telling them to do art. So I think that for this thesis, I really wanted to prove to myself that I could draw something insanely large, even though there wasn’t explicitly anyone telling me to do that.”

The “Visual Art Majors Senior Thesis Exhibition” will commence on Friday, April 20 with a talk from a thesis juror at 5:30 p.m. in Olin 130, and an opening celebration to follow in the Sheehan Gallery.

Credit: Ethan Parrish