Fall 2016 Newsletter

Colby College Dissertation Residency: July 2016

Jeff Siemers
Cohort ’14

"All famous artists spend their summers in Maine"- David C. Driskell

Dr. David Driskell giving a talk at the Colby College Museum. Photo by Simonetta Moro.

Dr. David Driskell giving a talk at the Colby College Museum.
Photo by Simonetta Moro.

IDSVA held the Dissertation Residency for third-year students in a new location: Colby College in Waterville, Maine.  The residency moved from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where it had been held for the last several years. Colby College provided an attractive campus with comfortable living accommodations and ready access to the institution’s collection of contemporary art and its fully resourced research library. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Colby College experience was the carefully crafted balance of study and discussion that led to the fulfillment of the residency’s purpose, to thoughtfully engage students in the groundwork for dissertation preparation.

Visiting faculty Paul Armstrong, Nancy Princenthal, and David Driskell provided essential lectures from the perspectives of a theorist, a biographer, and an artist as they pertain to the development of a dissertation methodology and topic. Dr. Paul Armstrong, Professor of English at Brown University, opened the week by giving a theoretical framework through literary history and a cognitive approach to research.  Nancy Princenthal, a New York-based art critic, discussed her recent biography on Agnes Martin and demonstrated what a biographical approach to dissertation work might entail.  Artist David Driskell presented his work and theorized the visual experience in painting.  All three carefully intertwined the aesthetic discussion towards the consideration of dissertation opportunities. Students were able to closely engage with faculty throughout the residency while taking full advantage of the Bixler Library and Colby Museum. Rich discussion provided ample opportunity for students to ponder the various approaches of the faculty but also to probe the potential ideas for their own research and future writing.  

Professor Chris Yates and students at Colby College. Photo by Gabriel Reed.

Professor Chris Yates and students at Colby College. Photo by Gabriel Reed.

The week at Colby College was also speckled with engaging community events. The entire cohort visited the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and attended an evening artist talk, mingling with the unique community of artists at a celebratory dinner beforehand. IDSVA President George Smith invested time in meeting with students individually.  IDSVA core faculty Christopher Yates and Simonetta Moro facilitated roundtable discussions for potential dissertation topics and introduced the concept of “scaffolding” the dissertation. Fellow students asked questions to sharpen the focus for research.  Each student presented the independent study paper they developed in the Spring term as well and, through the presentations and questioning, progressed considerably in formulating the question and intertextual research.

As a third-year student I came to the final residency expecting to be challenged and inspired in usual IDSVA fashion. I was not disappointed. I gained a greater appreciation of the scope of the dissertation and yet I was urged, as Umberto Eco advocates, “to write a dissertation that I can write.” I also continued to build rich relationships with my fellow students and faculty while wrestling within the grand spectrum of ideas. Whether over a morning coffee or evening drink, I have found it essential to develop a learning cohort that provides the opportunity for ideas to germinate.  It so happened that a quaint campus in Maine provided a place to cultivate these concepts and broadened us as artist-philosophers.

IDSVA student preparing for presentation. Photo by Gabriel Reed.

IDSVA student preparing for presentation. Photo by Gabriel Reed.