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Skidmore College

Essay Component of the Senior Thesis Exhibition 2020:  Guidelines for Seniors

The capstone experience for the art major consists of two parts: the Senior Thesis Exhibition (STE) and a short essay. Each of you will select and present a body of work representing the culmination of your study in the studio arts and write a short essay.  You will select a writing mentor from the studio art faculty who will serve as a guide in the process of formulating ideas and writing your essay.  The process of writing the essay accompanies and informs the preparation of your work for the exhibition but will not be displayed with your exhibition in the Tang.

What is the purpose of writing the essay?

Writing and discussing your ideas with a mentor will strengthen your creative process.  As you formulate your essay, you will refine your ability to think critically and communicate effectively about your artwork and creative process. An initial meeting with your writing mentor will help you focus your efforts.  In December, your outline for the essay will be submitted to your writing mentor.  You will make drafts and refine your ideas during spring semester.  The essay will be used as one tool for evaluating your capstone experience.  Both the essay and the exhibition will be graded pass/fail.


Artists’ writings cover a wide range of styles and intents.  The essay is seen as a culmination of your writing experience in the major and may take different forms. Throughout the art major, students may write statements of intent, critical evaluations, analytical papers, response papers, journals and/or descriptive or expressive essays.  Because there is no one standard convention of writing within the arts, you may select the best form of writing in context to your art practice, including, but not limited to the following examples:

  • An artist statement provides an introduction to your work.  In addition to documenting the important concepts embodied in your work, your artist statement might include your overall vision as an artist, your creative process, and/or your interaction with specific materials and processes.  An artist statement is not a biography but might include biographical information pertinent to the concept/process of the work.  You might discuss sources of inspiration and artists who have influenced you.  Artists often maintain and revise these statements throughout their career and may be required to submit the statement to apply for graduate school, residencies, exhibitions, or grants.  
  • A reflective essay may critically analyze the experiences of why and how:
    • a.  the tools, processes and/or techniques you have chosen and the impact those choices have had on your work.
    • b.  the connections between different studio areas and the role the combined materials and processes of those areas plays in your work.
    • c.  the influence of art historical and contemporary art perspectives and how they are manifested in your work.

Department faculty expect that you will write papers that are well-crafted, concise, clear, consistent in style and grammatically correct. The Writing Center is available to students for help with these issues and students are encouraged to take advantage of this service.


The essay should be 300 to 1000 words on one or two sheets of 8.5 x 11-inch paper, typed, and in 12 pt. legible type. This format requires that you be concise with your thoughts and words.  (For example, this document is approx. 1100 words.)


By Friday November 8, all senior art majors must confer with a potential faculty writing mentor for the essay and return their forms to the art office with the faculty member’s signature.  Essay Mentor Forms will be available at the meeting.  Faculty are advised to work with no more than five seniors each year. The faculty member’s primary role is to help students with content and effectiveness. Meetings between mentors and students will be dictated by individual progress and requirements. Outlines are to be completed by the end of the fall semester and first drafts are completed by February 21.  The final essay is due to the writing mentor by April 20.  Label information is due to the Art Department Office April 24.


A single grade of pass/fail will be assigned for both the essay and the exhibition since the STE is a noncredit bearing requirement for graduation. Essays will be read and evaluated by the faculty advisor. Any essay considered failing would be discussed with the student in time to rework and improve it. If a student is unsuccessful, the advisor will notify the department Chair by April 27.

START YOUR ESSAY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  As you make your work, take notes, write outlines, do research, keep a journal.  Allow yourself time to develop, alter and correct your writing as your work changes and progresses.  Your Faculty Essay Mentor will advise on content.  Mechanical/structural problems should be discussed with the Writing Center.

Consider the following rubric as you work:

FOCUS, PURPOSE, THESIS - The essay should contain:

  • a major, easily identifiable and sophisticated idea that relates to your art
  • in-depth understanding and thoughtful, unique explorations of the topic
  • inventive, original content which is colorfully and thoroughly articulated
  • a strong voice which demonstrates a full understanding of the ideas and how they are essential to your art work
  • evidence of research that is integral with the student’s own interests

A problematic essay might be confusing in its major ideas, lack insight, clarity or originality. Ideas may be general, not explored to full potential or predictable. There may be a simplistic view of the topic, be difficult to understand and lack effort or comprehension.


  • be evident, understandable and appropriate for the thesis
  • set up an introduction and bring thoughts to a conclusion
  • move logically from idea to idea and point to point

A problematic essay might have passages that are unclear or lacking insight. There might be too much or too little information.  The structure may wander, jump around or be non-existent.

SUPPORT AND DEVELOPMENT of the essay should:

  • use examples to support ideas without factual errors
  • clearly synthesize knowledge from other fields into studio practice
  • carefully document ideas and quotations

A problematic essay might only refer to sources common to studio arts and  use weak or too few examples. Documentation of ideas and quotations may be lacking or only occasional. There may be no references or examples to support opinions and ideas.

 MECHANICS AND PRESENTATION of the essay should:

  • use appropriate and sophisticated vocabulary and terminology
  • have correct grammar, sentence structure and punctuation
  • show evidence of editing and proofreading and formatting
  • use active voice where possible

A problematic essay might use limited and inappropriate vocabulary.
There may be errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation. There may be run-on sentences.