The Artist’s Life: Three art majors discuss their senior theses

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Starting Friday, April 13, this year’s senior art theses will be on display in the List Gallery. Whether their medium is graphite drawing or ping-pong ball sculpture, all nine artists will each be given three days in which to present their final project. The Daily Gazette interviewed three seniors– Danielle Borgaily, Becket Flannery, and Heather Reese– in order to better understand the creative process and what is like to be an artist at Swarthmore.

No thesis looks like another. Borgaily’s project is a compilation of “several different series, which generally translate into character sketches or storyboards.” Various individual works of either sculpture or drawing come together to form a cohesive group with a definite story. Flannery’s exhibit employs a unifying story of a different sort. Loosely using the myth of Oedipus, he explores “visuality and blindness” in a variety of two and three dimensional media. Borgaily, on the other hand, playing with “old medical illustrations and word or image association,” created “whimsical as well as grotesque” graphite drawings on paper and rice paper sculptures. As is evident in these three artists’ final products, Swarthmore students have an extensive and quirky amount of creativity to offer.

Despite the wide variety of art to be displayed, all art students go through a similar process of deliberation and agony over their theses. According to Reese, art theses are just like any other theses: they often go off in an unintended and unforseen direction. She described the process of working on her thesis as “a series of challenges” as she strove to discover what sort of work she enjoyed and had the confidence to pursue. Borgaily echoed this sentiment as she recalled the transition that she had to make from completing very specific assignments for class to creating something wholly her own. She was forced to ask herself essential questions such as, What did [she] really want to make? Why did [she] want to make it? Why would other people want to see [her] work?

To answer questions of personal and artistic motivation, the Swarthmore faculty were largely available to shape and critique ideas. Flannery recalled the help he received in retrieving an “obscured original thread [of an idea].” In his opinion, this process of losing and finding, adding and stripping is necessary for the creation of art. “Often lessons are lost in memory for a long time, even years, until they resurface in a work, perhaps having transformed into another idea entirely,” says Flannery. Faculty can play a key role in drawing these ideas out of hiding. Yet, much of fruitfully creating art lies in personal reflection and individual work. Faculty members may serve as guides and inspirations, yet responsibility rests on the students themselves. As Reese noted, art students are “pretty much on [their] own,” utilizing the faculty when faced with a “specific question.”

Although all three seniors were ultimately pleased with their artistic experience at Swarthmore, Flannery voiced his concern for the physical limitations of the facilities. Cramped for storage and working space, he found the facilities “much too small for someone to prepare an entire show in, especially with nine people working in a huge variety of media.” He eagerly awaits an expansion of the senior studios which would be better suited to “the creative process.” Still, within close quarters, art students are able to form a support system to help each other through the completion of their theses.

Reese, also a Biology major, intends on joining the Peace Corps; Borgaily hopes to soon go to graduate school and perhaps work for Pixar Animation; Flannery plans on maintaining a low profile and developing his craft before making any major career move. Whatever the future brings for Borgaily, Flannery, and Reese, the influence of their experience of creating art at Swarthmore will remain.

The List Gallery exhibit will last until May 14. For a detailed schedule of when particular artists’ work will be displayed, visit the Swarthmore homepage.