Preserving Ideas: Why Write at RISD?

Writing about, around and through your work is an essential part of graduate education at RISD, and the creation of a written thesis is a graduation requirement for master’s degrees. 

The approach at RISD is to think of the written thesis as a natural and necessary extension of studio practice. In the process of organizing and articulating thoughts in the form of writing, students often discover the core concepts and basic rationale underlying their work. In fact, as much as the work drives and directs what you write about it, the act of writing about it will help further clarify your conceptual thinking.

“The written thesis constitutes a space that’s aligned with and dependent upon the work students do in the studio,” notes Interim Dean Brian Goldberg. “Yet it’s distinctly different, subject to other limits and terms. The thesis book becomes part of the archive – part of RISD’s permanent, public record.” Each thesis book is catalogued and available at the Fleet Library at RISD, meaning it can circulate and become part of a broader discourse beyond RISD.

Students work with a thesis advisor and often turn to the RISD Writing Center for additional assistance in thinking through and producing a final document. Thesis review committees typically include selected RISD faculty along with outside professionals from a wide variety of fields, which creates a rich and rewarding environment for critical dialogue.

“The process of writing a RISD thesis is rarely straightforward, efficient or methodological,” notes Anne West, an adjunct faculty member in Graduate Studies and author of Mapping the Intelligence of Artistic Work: An Explorative Guide to Making, Thinking, and Writing. “As we search with words, we find our vision and voice in the intimate tension between sensations and writing, in the insistence of our questions and insights born from experiments, in comments offered during critiques and in the rigor of our research.” The ultimate goal at RISD is less to explain the work than to “write together with it,” as West puts it.

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The Graduate Thesis Exhibition attracts large crowds during its two-week run at the RI Convention Center.