To most students, a senior thesis means writing dozens of pages in the library. But to Yale’s senior art majors, a thesis takes the form of an embryo-shaped chair next to a bookshelf filled with pink objects representing flesh, or of an animated film featuring talking animals accompanied by audio clips taken from YouTube videos of people narrating their trips to the zoo.
“Practice: Yale Undergraduate Senior Projects in Art 2013” presents the senior theses of the 23 art majors graduating this year. The exhibit, which spans three levels of the Green Hall Art Gallery, features a variety of media including painting, photography, illustration, video, animation, sculpture and typography.
Within the art major at Yale, students choose to concentrate in one of four areas of study: graphic design, painting and printmaking, photography or sculpture.
Ilana Harris-Babou ’13, an art major in the painting and printmaking concentration, made a video with an audio track comprised of instrumental versions of rap songs as her senior project. Harris-Babou explained that she is one of a number of seniors whose final project explores a medium other than the one in which she concentrates.
She added that the wide range of media in “Practice” illustrates a broader trend in Yale’s art major toward a more interdisciplinary process.
“The distinctions of media are becoming decreasingly relevant to how people form their own artistic practices,” Harris-Babou said.
Hana Omiya ’13, an art major concentrating in painting and printmaking, said her real interest lies in illustration and drawing. Her senior project involved illustrating autobiographical children’s books about growing up with parents who own a sushi restaurant.
Omiya described the four areas of study in Yale’s art major as traditional, adding that illustration and animation are often considered commercial and are not given the same attention as a more traditional medium like painting. Autumn Von Plinsky ’13, an art major in the painting and printmaking concentration whose senior project consisted of traditional landscape paintings, said Yale’s art major focuses on pushing students conceptually without emphasizing how their work might lead to a career.
“It’s art for the sake of art,” Von Plinsky said of the school’s approach to the major.
Similarly, Austin Lan ’13, who is double majoring in computer science and art, with a concentration in graphic design, said Yale’s art major is much less preprofessional than comparable programs. She noted that many of Yale’s art students double major in other more traditionally academic fields.
“A lot of Yalies come from very geeky backgrounds where our parents want us to pursue profitable jobs, ones that are more intellectually than creatively stimulating,” Omiya said. “It’s a lot of expectations to battle against.”
Lan said the conceptual focus of the Art Department is evident in its course offerings, which do not include more practical, preprofessional courses such as furniture design. Omiya attributed the limitations of the Art Department’s course offerings to its being a department in a primarily academic university rather than in an arts school.
Harris-Babou said she has found pursuing art at a large university to be more enriching than it would be at an arts school.
“I knew I didn’t know enough about the world to know what I wanted to make art about,” Harris-Babou said.
Aaron Seriff-Cullick ’13, an art major in the photography concentration, said Yale’s undergraduate Art Department also benefits from its ties to the School of Art, with which it shares a building. He added that he has been attending guest lectures and critiques hosted by the School of Art since his freshman year.
Seriff-Cullick, whose thesis is an autobiographical video, said students were given the freedom to pursue almost whatever project they liked for their senior thesis. He explained that in addition to participating in a weekly senior seminar, students were assigned individual advisers with whom they met every week of the semester. Before unveiling “Practice,” the students presented their work to a panel of critics consisting of a professor from each of the major’s four concentrations, as well as one additional art expert, Omiya explained. The evaluations of the panel of critics, the students’ advisers and the director of undergraduate studies in the Art Department, Lisa Kereszi, together determined what grade each project received, Seriff-Cullick said.
Seriff-Cullick added that his class considered giving its show a specific title that might tie the projects together thematically, but that he thinks this kind of imposition would have proven more destructive than unifying.
Von Plinsky said that although students’ projects were conceived independently and without an overarching idea, many students happened to produce work that involved humor. She said she has noticed a tendency towards satire among her class.
“It’s the humor of intense people who realize that they’re intense and that not everyone understands them,” Von Plinsky said.
“Practice” closed Tuesday.