How to Write Your MFA Thesis in Fine Art (And Beyond)

You asked for it, now here it is! The ChatGPT revision of this timeless classic! Let’s write our MFA thesis in 2024..

*For the original version published here on 11/10/2014 -> click here – (wow, a lot has changed in the world of technology since the original publication of this guide!)

*For a revised version of this original publication – please visit my 2017 version of the public paper here on the CUNY Academic Commons –


In the ever-evolving world of technology, writing an MFA thesis in Fine Art has transformed significantly since the original publication of this guide in 2014. Writing remains a critical part of the creative process, enabling you to organize thoughts, identify mistakes, and express ideas clearly. A well-crafted thesis not only documents your journey but also showcases your concepts, processes, references, discoveries, reflections, and final analyses.

The Challenge of Writing an MFA Thesis

The idea of writing a final graduate thesis can be intimidating. The pressure to produce a comprehensive and insightful document can lead to procrastination and frustration. Understanding that you are the source of these feelings is crucial to overcoming them. Embrace the opportunity to define and structure your thesis, just as you would with your artwork.

Where to Begin

Your MFA thesis serves as an archival record of your academic journey, demonstrating your dedication, theories, and assessments. This guide can also be adapted for MA and undergraduate BFA theses. Regular writing practice is essential. Utilize technology, such as blogging platforms or word processing software, to establish a consistent writing routine. Avoid delaying until your final semester to start writing—long-term planning is key.

Establishing a Regular Writing Practice

Incorporate regular writing sessions into your schedule using digital calendars or reminders. Even 30 minutes of practice twice a week can establish a productive habit. Technology can aid in this process; platforms like WordPress allow for private or public writing practices and archiving.

The Format of an MFA Thesis

Your MFA thesis will likely coincide with a final thesis exhibition of your completed works. The following format provides a simplified guide that you can adjust to meet your specific needs:

1. Description/Abstract: Introduce your concept and body of work. Be concise and objective, incorporating fragments of your current artist statement where appropriate.

2. Process, Materials, and Methods: Detail your working processes, techniques, and materials. Explain your choices and their impact on the viewer’s perception of your work. Highlight any personalized techniques and discoveries.

3. Resources and References: Discuss historical and cultural influences, referencing artists, art movements, and databases. Explain how your research has shaped your ideas and decision-making process.

4. Exhibition Simulation: Describe your plans for the final thesis exhibition. Explain your installation choices and how they will interact with the exhibition space. Include floor plan sketches if applicable.

5. Reflection: Reflect on your learning experiences during the program. Discuss your successes, areas for improvement, and future professional practices. Consider your plans for teaching and your professional outlook as an artist.

Individual Exercises to Enhance Your Thesis

These exercises are designed to help you actively contribute to your thesis throughout the semester. Weekly in-person meetings or discussions can provide valuable feedback and insight.

1. The Artist Interview: Interview a classmate, professor, or admired artist. Prepare 15-20 questions about their concepts, materials, and processes. Document and reflect on their responses to inform your thesis.

2. The Artist Statement & Manifesto: Create a one-page artist statement or manifesto. Update it annually to reflect your growth and evolving perspective. Consider making it public to hold yourself accountable.

3. Reactive Writing: Maintain a journal or blog documenting your reactions to museum visits, lectures, and screenings. Reflect on these experiences and edit selected passages into formal essays.

4. Tutorials & How-To Guides: Write detailed tutorials or guides about your artistic processes. This practice clarifies your methods and vocabulary, aiding both your thesis and teaching endeavors.

5. Reviews & Critiques: Write reviews and critiques of art that both excites and challenges you. This exercise helps you articulate your preferences and strengthens your critical thinking.

Further Experimentation

Consider using voice transcription software to capture your spoken ideas. This can reveal differences between your spoken and written communication, aiding in refining both.

This guide is an ongoing work in progress, continually updated with new content and simplified exercises. Your feedback is appreciated as we strive to make this resource more effective for your academic and artistic journey.

By following these steps and utilizing the exercises, you’ll be well-equipped to write a comprehensive and impactful MFA thesis that not only documents your journey but also solidifies your concepts and artistic voice for future endeavors.