Thoughts on Thesis: Amanda Tobin '17
Issue   |   Wed, 01/25/2017 - 00:07

Amanda Tobin ’17 is an Art major. Her thesis examines her life story and faith through a variety of artistic mediums. Her advisors are Dave Gloman and Doug Culhane from the art department and Daniel Hall from the English department.

Q: What is your thesis about?
A: I’m a Studio Art major, and basically I call it a visual memoir. I’m making art, and telling what a life story is — specifically, my life story. I’m going from my childhood, my first, earliest memories, up until stuff that happened a month ago, and last summer. And I’m a Christian ... my faith is actually a huge part of it too, so it’s kind of exploring this interweaving of experiences that we have as human beings, and things with my parents and friends and foster family, and basically how that all interconnects to my faith over the past three years, which is when I truly became a Christian.

Q: How did you come up with this topic for your thesis?
A: Long story! So I actually used to be an Architecture major, and then I double majored. But ever since I was little, I wanted to do art, and I’ve just been making it forever. [For] the architecture degree, I finished all the courses and the credits that I needed, but in order to completely finish the major I needed to do a thesis for it. I really wanted to do an art thesis, and there was no way I could do two theses ... I had just taken a memoir writing class, and I was so intrigued by the idea of personal story. We had written a bunch of memoiristic pieces, and also read actual writers’ published memoirs, and I found it so interesting how even though everyone has their own experiences, we’re all different people, we all have our own books, if you will, with different things written on the pages. There is so much you can glean from other people’s stories, that either can connect across cultures or across ideas or religions, or, I don’t know, just being a human ... I just love connections between human beings, because I find life so fascinating, how our lives are all intertwined together. So I was thinking, what if I just put them together?
I also really wanted to talk about my faith, too, because it means so much to me, especially because my family isn’t really Christian, and it’s been really hard for me to talk to them about what it is to follow my faith when they are kind of mad about it … Art is a way for me to express the importance of my faith to me, but also it’s an act of worship to me, too. As I’m making art and thinking about my life, I’m also just dwelling on how awesome God is to me, which is really cool.

Q: So what has the thesis process been like? When did you start it, and where are you now in that process?
A: I actually was here this summer — I got funding to start it a bit earlier than other people … I started off with more of a research-based project, and I studied two different artists, Frida Kahlo and this guy named Samuel Palmer. And it was interesting, because Palmer was this Englishman from the 1800s, and Kahlo was a German Mexican woman from the 1900s. They were very different politically, culturally, and racially … I studied their life stories and art seperately, and then made connections ... I just thought that was really cool, and thought that was what I wanted to do too, evaluate my life and make art about it.
I have three advisors, and I meet with at least one of them every week, and basically I just make art ... I start out with ideas, and I just make a series of works, and then I talk about them with my professor. We go through critiques, like any normal art class would, and talk about the ideas I’m having — what’s working, what’s not working, how can I push it ... all these different things. Basically, I just make a bunch of stuff, and kind of open up different doors, walk through those doors, make more stuff and open up new doors, and I’m just exploring this giant mind castle, which is cool.

Q: Has anything surprised you, either about the process or about yourself that you’ve discovered through your thesis?
A: It’s funny, I was just talking to my professor two days ago. The art that I’m making now — if I were to walk into my thesis studio, as it is right now, a year ago, I would have been like, what is this crap? My idea of ... art itself has changed so much … I used to be very focused on, I guess what people would call realistic art … I started out with self-portraits and “normal” things that everyone would think about when they think about traditional art. But then I started using different colors — I have a painting of me, with yellow and blue. It was actually the first series I did, and it was on different emotions — that one was joy, and then there was one on depression, and it was just these different colors I associated with different feelings and conditions. Then I was like, whoa, I don’t have to be super realistic ... I’ve actually started incorporating different mediums together. I’ve done … a painting, that’s also a sculpture, that’s also an installation, and lot’s of different types of things that I never would have expected to be doing ever before. And it’s been really cool to just see how my idea of what art is has developed … what is it to me, why am I making something and not making other things, why do I decide to use this medium or this type of lens to look at this part of my life as opposed to something else. It’s gotten a lot more deep and philosophical and metaphoric than I had expected it to be, which has been an amazing way for me to grow as a student, but also as an artist and a human being. I’m tackling these really big ideas that I never thought I would, but I’m thankful to Amherst for being so accommodating.

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to a junior considering writing a thesis?
A: So many things come to mind. I would say, definitely go after something you’re really passionate about … it’s not all fun and games, but it’s come to be something that means a lot to me, and not even just for myself. I’ve been sharing my work with my friends, and having conversations with people. It’s been a really beautiful way to share my life story and who I am as a person … The passion behind my thesis is something that I think every student should have behind their thesis. Find something that you really, really love, and something that on the days where you just want to go to bed, or don’t want to work on your thesis, or you’re mad, or you don’t like what your professor said about it … you’re not going to throw it out the window, and say, okay, I don’t care, never mind.