Thesis guidelines 2013-14

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Steve Thesis Tutorials (group session)

11:00- 16:00

We meet as a group to look over each other's texts so far


11:00 intro 11:30 split into small groups to read and comment on each other's texts


15:00 meet as a group to review progress 15:30 set achievable aims for next meeting 16:00 end of session

From PZI MFA handbook 2013-14:


The Graduate Research Project and Thesis comprises a total workload of 36 EC (approximately 130 full days) for independent research, tutorials, the interim assessment, the production of work and a public presentation, and writing the graduate thesis.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the Graduate Research Project and Thesis students are expected to:

• Have undertaken analytical research into complex topics relevant to art practice.

• Realise ideas and intentions in a coherent, imaginative and distinctive body of work.

• Make work within a clearly articulated conceptual, aesthetic and critical framework.

• Critically reflect upon and evaluate practice against self-determined criteria.

• Demonstrate an understanding of research protocols and good research practices.

• Contextualise practice and writing within a field of cultural production.

• Communicate fluently in visual/spatial/material and textual modes

Guidelines (note these are master media design guidelines but also applicable to fine art ):


This Guide to the Graduate Research Project and Thesis brings together material from a number of sources already available to you, with additional notes providing more detailed information and advice. It is important to recognise that this is a guide. It is not a set of definitive instructions or rules. It contains some explicit requirements that you have to fulfill for successful completion of the Master Media Design at the Piet Zwart Institute, in accordance with widely accepted criteria adopted in Europe and the UK, following the principles of the Bologna Process and the Dublin Descriptors. However, much of what you will find here is meant to be indicative rather than prescriptive. It is up to you to focus your project on topics, ideas and issues you find interesting, to present your project in an appropriate form and to write a thesis that corresponds best to your practice- based research. You do, however, need to fulfill the requirements indicated here and in the Programme Handbook.


See handbook for assessment criteria


Whatever the nature of your practice, a number of factors need to be kept in mind when developing ideas for your Graduation Project:

a) The project has to have definable aims and objectives, against which it can be monitored and evaluated;

b) It has to have defined parameters in terms of time, media and the processes involved;

c) It needs to be manageable and achievable within the framework of six trimesters of studies at PZI.

These may seem obvious points but serious difficulties can arise if the proposed objectives are unable to be realised in the given time, or because particular processes or media have not been suitable or available in the way that was envisaged at the outset. This reinforces the importance we attach to formulating a clear and detailed proposal in the early stages. Please see the Graduate Proposal Guide for more information.


The written thesis is a crucial component of the Graduate Research Project and needs to be carefully planned from the start. What follows are some notes to guide you in the construction of your thesis, according to a chosen format. Make use of the guidance available in other informational documents – including the PZI Programme Handbook and the PZI Graduate Research Project Proposal Guide.


The main purpose of the thesis is to articulate in writing the issues, questions and ideas that inform or shape your practice. Think of the thesis, regardless of what form it takes, as a parallel activity to the body of work you are developing for your graduation – a parallel text supported by substantial research, a bibliography and images. The thesis can combine different kinds of discourse, each of which may have different, yet overlapping, functions (see examples under “Thesis Formats” below). With your writing tutor, you will establish which form of writing is most appropriate for your practice, develop a relationship between writing and practice, and learn to consider your writing as an integral part of your practice, as a medium of reflection and production.

II. THESIS FORMATS The written thesis is produced in parallel to your body of work. It is meant to demonstrate your ability to articulate aesthetic and critical issues that emerge from your practice, as well as historical and theoretical contexts that you are responding to and are aiming to shape. The horizon of the written thesis, like the graduate project you exhibit as a requirement for your degree, is that it is suitable to be read by professionals, peers, and a broader public. The role of the written thesis in relation to exhibited graduation project may vary:

1) It can take the form of a report on your research and practice. Here, research is open to interpretation, but you must be able to articulate your research clearly. It will be presented alongside a body of work that is directly addressed in the report.

2) It can take the form of an analytical essay exploring related artistic, theoretical, historical and critical issues and practices that inform your practice, without necessarily referring to your work directly. The essay will, however, be evaluated against the exhibited body of work, and you will be asked to articulate in the Graduate Research Project Proposal and in the final assessment how your written thesis informs the aesthetic, theoretical and technical choices in your body of work.

3) The presentation of a text as a body of creative written work is possible, but requires close consultation with your advising tutors and your writing tutors. With this option, you will have to establish whether your graduation project and thesis are one and the same, or whether they form two distinct components. The form that your text may take is more open, but you are required to demonstrate research, as well as critical and theoretical mastery of the concepts that inform the choice of form.

4) A combination of options 1), 2) or 3) is also possible, in which case the text as body of work is distinct from the part that constitutes a report or an analytical essay. In this case, the roles of the different textual materials comprising your thesis should be clearly articulated in your Graduate Research Project Proposal.

Examples of what the different formats could include, are:

A descriptive account of developing ideas, processes and products, along with an analytical critique of your work and its formative processes.

A narrative that traces a web of relationships – contextualizing your work in relation to other practitioners, practices and artworks, situating your work within relevant theoretical, philosophical, aesthetic and other fields of knowledge.

An in-depth reflection on an artistic, literary, design, technological, historical, critical or other practice which is inspirational to your own.

A more creative or poetic discourse that may be analogous to, or have structural affinities with, your body of work – shedding light on the themes, methods and visual signs that you have been exploring.

A series of diagrams, tables and visualizations charting the progress of ideas and forms using textual alongside other material.

A piece of artistic writing experimenting with formats of creative writing, authorship or publishing.


The thesis presented as part requirement for the award of the Master Media Design contains between 7,000 words and not more than 8,000 words, not including the bibliography and iconography. In the case that you choose to combine your graduation project and thesis, meaning your entire graduation project is text- based, the number of words appropriate to your writing will have to be determined with the course director, your advising tutors and your writing tutor.

With the report on practice and research (option 1) you are required:

To provide an analytical account of the development of your work (thinking processes as well as material processes) in relation to the aims and objectives identified in your Graduate Research Project Proposal.

To locate your work in relation to appropriate contexts (for example: relevant theories, ideas, historical and/or contemporary artistic, technological and design practices).

To evaluate critically your body of work as a whole, against clearly formulated criteria.

With the analytical essay (option 2) the requirements are very similar:

To provide an analytical account of the development of artistic, technological and design practices, theoretical, historical or cultural phenomena (thinking processes as well as material processes) in relation to the aims and objectives identified in your proposal.

To create appropriate contexts for your practice (for example by writing about relevant theories, ideas, historical or contemporary technological and design practices).

To evaluate critically your body of work as a whole, against clearly formulated criteria.

With the text as a body of work (option 3) the requirements are again somewhat similar:

To demonstrate, by way of your artistic or experimental writing, an analytical approach to the development of artistic practice, theoretical, historical or cultural phenomena (thinking processes as well as material processes) in relation to the aims and objectives identified in your proposal.

To create appropriate contexts for your practice (for example by supplementing your work with an experimental form of writing which develops relevant theories, ideas, historical or contemporary artistic, technological and design practices).

To critically evaluate your body of work as a whole, against clearly formulated criteria.

However, you will need to provide a preface or appendix if your approach does not perform the above.


You are required to deliver 6 copies of the thesis in a suitably bound form (one for each of your two advising tutors, one for your writing tutor, two for the archive of Piet Zwart Institute, one for the archive of the Willem de Kooning Academy). You will be required to upload the thesis on the course wiki. Furthermore, you are required to email the final version of the thesis to the PZI office. In most cases, where objects, artefacts, installations, or other material forms constitute part of the assessable body of work, these elements must also be effectively documented and the documentation submitted alongside the written thesis. This is important for two reasons: a) to demonstrate your skills in documenting and presenting work in a concise and portable mode; and b), to provide a lasting record of your submission for teaching and archival purposes. Please note that the entire document may not exceed 1MB in digital form, so this means the images will need reworking for the digital version of the thesis. Make sure to take enough time for printing and binding your thesis as well as for the resizing of images – this always takes much more time than one expects. The delivery deadline is final and technical problems with printing, binding, or formatting the digital version of the thesis will not be taken into consideration. Please also note that both in the Graduate Research Project Proposal and the thesis particular importance is attached to the correct use of English, a clear layout and structure, and the accurate, systematic and consistent use of the Harvard citation system. The assessment panel may decide that work not conforming to these requirements will need to be resubmitted.


Reviewing Aims & Objectives

Your aims and objectives will already have been established at the proposal stage. You may need to indicate how these have been modified as the project evolved, and the reasons for these modifications. If you elect the option of writing an analytical essay (option 2) or a text as a body of work (option 3) in which you do not address your own work directly, the relation to the development of your body of work should be addressed in a preface or appendix.


Your thesis must include a description of the development of your thoughts and research methodology – how you set out to realise your aims and objectives, the methods you have employed and your reasons for tackling the project in this way. You need to give the reader a clear sense of the evolution of ideas from initial stages through to the final products or outcomes. In the case of a report (option 1), make sure you describe not just the way in which technical problems were solved, what media you used and the kind of processes that were involved, but also the thinking that went on. This thinking is complex and dynamic. It is grounded in your interests, beliefs and in your previous experiences with materials, processes and ideas. Try to provide an accurate account of these cognitive and material processes. For instance, describe the following: the work itself (e.g: what it is made of, its dimensions); the decisions you made when making it; the things you learnt as the project progressed; the ideas you had but didn’t pursue, and why you didn’t pursue them; the ideas you did try but which didn’t lead anywhere; the ways in which images and forms changed and developed over time; the research you undertook – what you looked at, read and investigated – and what questions concerned you. Also describe what problems you encountered and how you re-evaluated research aims and methods along the way. In the case of an analytical essay (option 2), make sure to describe how you identify the field of knowledge that is essential in the development of your thesis, and what research method you adopted in gaining it. In the case of a text as a body of work (option 3), make sure to describe how the text as work relates to your practice, and also the concepts that shape the text, in your preface or appendix – unless it is self-evident in the text intself. Here again, how you identify the field of knowledge that is essential in the development of your text, and what method you adopted in the writing of it, is important, as well as your formal choices in the text. Remember that all of this needs planning from the outset. How are you going to document and analyse your writing process? Keeping a journal; making notes as you go along (regarding studio visits); keeping copies of drawings, diagrams and plans; photographing different stages of the work; making video documentation; retaining copies of computer images and texts as they are changed and developed; tracing the development of your research through references, quotes, illustrations and bibliographies – these can all be used later as you form the report into something articulate and coherent.


All ideas and practices are related to other ideas and practices. They do not exist in a vacuum. They arise out of a matrix of influences, experiences, contacts and references. It is important to trace these inter-connections in order to locate your work within a relevant context, and to demonstrate your knowledge of the field in which you work. How you do this, and what kind of context you establish, will depend on the nature of your project and practice. You will need to provide a historical framework for your work – to identify relevant precedents and influences – and to position your work and ideas in relation to appropriate aspects of contemporary culture. In order to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about the particular fields of art within which you choose to work, you will need to identify and discuss relevant theories, debates and issues. You should also demonstrate your awareness of related ideas, practices and practitioners. Sometimes this will mean making wide-ranging connections and references, drawing upon many disciplines and bodies of knowledge. For instance, a filmmaker might need to refer to cultural theory, anthropology, film and media theory, history of film and art, psychology and sociology, in order to describe the web of connections, ideas and influences surrounding the making of a particular film. In other cases a more concentrated and compact context may be most suitable. For instance, a painter exploring a particular kind of minimalist abstraction may only need to make references within the field of art history and aesthetic theory, with reference to contemporary painting practice and practitioners. What is important is that issues and ideas are analysed and explored in as much depth as possible, and that your knowledge is convincingly demonstrated.


At the Master level, the engagement with a broad and relevant body of knowledge which already exists on your chosen field of research is essential. Mastering this knowledge is a requirement and must be demonstrated, not only through notation, but through a critical review of sources. Sources may include books, elements visually rendered or otherwise contributed to your chosen field of study. A critical review involves a summary of arguments that shows awareness of logical flaws, counter-arguments and insightful interpretations of the broader ramifications of your sources. The key is to be as clear as possible regarding what constitutes knowledge in outlining your methodology. Wikipedia is normally not an accepted source of factual information. While you are researching online, try to follow through to otherwise published sources, as online sources are unstable. Always include access dates if sources are only available online. This cannot be your main source of information. Your bibliography should follow the Harvard method of reference. There are numerous websites outlining the standards of the Harvard method of reference.

Evaluation of your own process

Your thesis should include a rigorous and honest evaluation of the body of work and the writing you have produced for your graduation, and the processes of development and thinking that have lead to its final form. If you have not elected the report as a format (option 1), this may be done in a preface or appendix to your text, in which case it will be less detailed. Here, the issues to be raised can be communicated indirectly through the analytical essay or text as body of work, as long as it is visible that you have reflected on them, and have indicated how in the preface or appendix. You need to indicate strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, and the criteria you are using for making judgements. Criteria will vary from project to project. Communication with an audience, solving particular technical problems, constructing an artefact for a particular site, expressing a particular thought, mood or emotion, constructing a narrative, mounting a social critique, making something that is aesthetically stimulating or 'beautiful' – these may or may not be important factors in your evaluation. You must decide and explain why you have selected these criteria rather than others. You will also need to refer to your aims and objectives. To what extent have these been achieved?

Make sure also to reference other work in the field. How have other artists tackled similar or related projects? What comparisons can you make? What is distinctive about the work you have produced or the approach you have taken, as compared with what others have done? Be as comprehensive as you can in your evaluation. Include all those factors that come to play, rationally and intuitively, in how you decide what has 'worked' and what hasn’t.


Your thesis should be presented in a form that clearly demonstrates the qualities and information we have indicated above. It should be carefully organised, effectively constructed and appropriate to the nature of your practice and research. While a ‘book’ format may be perfectly suitable, other possibilities should be considered. For example: a book with a supplementary portfolio of visual documentation; a book with CD or DVD; a large format book or portfolio with diagrams, drawings and other visual material; a boxed collection of printed texts, documentation and samples of materials; an artist’s bookwork taking a more unusual form. This is only an indicative list.