Statement concerning creative projects for MA and PhD degrees

Creative projects for master's portfolios and doctoral dissertations in the School of Arts and Humanities can be anchored in writing (such as poetry, fiction, drama or scripts), translation (of published and unpublished poetry, fiction, drama or essays), performance (whether musical or theatrical), and the visual arts (such as painting, photography, video or computer art). Because UT Dallas awards the MA and PhD in the Humanities rather than an MFA degree, creative portfolios and dissertations here are distinctly different from the projects ordinarily prepared for the MFA. The decision not to offer an MFA is deliberate: our program is dedicated to interdisciplinary studies, and our students are expected to cross standard academic boundaries and disciplines. They are encouraged to explore the arts and the humanities from literary, historical, philosophical and dramatic perspectives, from theoretical and practical approaches, and from creative and scholarly directions.

Writing a collection of short stories or poems, staging and directing a play, mounting an exhibition of visual works, presenting a musical performance or translating the work of a foreign author--any such creative project requires serious training and close familiarity with several media. Creative portfolios and dissertations presuppose a sophisticated level of artistic skill and accomplishment. Generally they take more time than traditional portfolios and dissertations, for they introduce a constant interaction between artistic practice and its theoretical implications, which often requires the rethinking and reshaping of existing methods of research and scholarship. Students should consider such projects only if they have shown particular aptitude in their respective fields and after they have produced significant creative work. As they consider undertaking a creative portfolio or dissertation, then students must include in their degree plans a minimum number of studios, ensembles or workshops related to the proposed medium (two for the MA and four for the PhD), and they should consult carefully with their advisers (or with professors with whom they have taken at least two courses involving creative projects and the development of a working aesthetic).

All creative portfolios or dissertations in the school must contain two distinct but equally important parts: a creative work (i.e., a creative performance, an exhibition or a substantial body of written work) and a scholarly essay (between 20 and 30 pages in length for a portfolio but, for a dissertation, usually three to four chapters that discuss the generation of the creative project and place it in a cultural, historical and artistic context).

Rather than attempting only to interpret the finished work itself, the scholarly essay submitted for an MA or PhD should address the creation of the art. Students should offer an intelligent discussion of the process through which the project was generated, and they should do so in theoretically informed language. Accordingly, the essay that accompanies the creative component (1) places the student's creations in the larger context of theoretical considerations and artistic practice, (2) addresses the specific artistic decisions the student made in the creation of the work, (3) examines the particular problems encountered in the making of the work, and, when appropriate, (4) reconstructs the creative process itself. The essay must demonstrate that the student understands the creation of his or her art and is able to place that art within a historical tradition (even if, for instance, the student has consciously decided to break from that tradition). Hence, the essay will often discuss topics such as the student's affinities with other artists and the theories evidenced in those artists' work. An advantage of our program is access to graduate courses that cover literature, history, philosophy and aesthetics. Consequently, the portfolio essay or the dissertation may move outside the boundaries of a single discipline, connecting artistic process to influences from areas such as history or philosophy.

Perhaps the best way to understand a creative portfolio or dissertation is as an advanced practicum that focuses on the creation of a particular work of art and that can serve as a model for further artistic creation. In their essays actual and in their work, students must demonstrate an awareness of the artistic climate within which the work was created, and do so in such a manner that the intended audience will be able to understand the various decisions reached by the artist from the initial moment of conception to the final implementation. The underlying rationale for all creative portfolios and dissertations is the assumption that the person who makes a work of art should be qualified to talk about that work in terms of how it was made and be able to anchor theoretical discussions of the work in actual practice. Accordingly, the aim of the scholarly essay is to provide the reader with a better understanding of the various complex layers that interact in a work of art.

There are many models for the finished product, but perhaps an example in the field of creative writing can help to illustrate the nature of a creative project. Let's assume that a student has chosen to prepare a book of poems as the creative portion of a portfolio. While writing the poems, the student carefully records the impetus for creating the poems and the various changes that were made in preparing each final draft. Recording these changes subsequently becomes the foundation for a section of the essay that deals with the reconstruction of the creative process. Additionally, in a related section, the student uses the information collected to help explain why revisions were undertaken and how the decision to make those revisions came about. An appendix consisting of a sequence of drafts for one or more poems might, in some instances, illustrate further the actual construction of the book of poems. Beyond reconstructing the making of the poems, the student also includes a section that specifically places his or her writing within the larger context of the national and international poetic scene. This section might discuss, for instance, how other poets have influenced the student, how her poems exhibit specific affinities with other poets' work or how the aesthetic theories and practices of other poets and scholars have influenced his own poetry. In short, the scholarly essay provides readers with the frame of reference within which the poems were written. Furthermore, the readers have an opportunity to gain insight into the creative process as seen through the eyes of the poet, as the poet links his or her practice with theory.

In writing portfolios or dissertations, of course, students may choose among different formats for connecting their creative efforts to a scholarly framework. For instance, in the case where a student is creating a portfolio of paintings or photographs, study of 19th Century art history and philosophy might provide the groundwork for the research component. Parallels and distinctions might be drawn, for example, between the 19th Century and the present--in terms of approaches to the medium of painting, attitudes toward subject matter, or social and cultural contexts. In the final section of such a scholarly essay the student might articulate the specific nature of the creative project, connecting artistic process to the philosophical and historical models established in the first part of the essay and thereby placing the creative work in a larger context. Such a model permits a focus on the area of research as parallel to, but separate from, the creative project. In another writing model, though, a discussion of the work itself might precede and then merge with a scholarly investigation of related creative activity, theoretical perspectives, and criticism from the field. This approach might be appropriate for artistic production that emphasizes a conceptual or process-based framework. In this format the artist might find that reflection on the creative process facilitates movement to related philosophical and art historical perspectives. In both the formats described here, the artist might note influences from art historical periods, major artists, or specific visual forms. Similarly, the artist might find that the writings of a philosopher, historian, critic, literary theorist or poet provide inspiration or insight into the direction of his or her own creative work. Writing the scholarly essay provides an opportunity for an investigation of influences, predecessors and historical parallels. Course work in the three areas of the graduate program offers an avenue for in-depth study of appropriate research material related to the essay or dissertation. Basically, then, the specific form of the scholarly essay or dissertation reflects the nature of the student's research and should convey an understanding of theoretical models related to the creative work itself. Ideally, the creative component of the master's portfolio or the dissertation culminates in an exhibition or performance on the UT Dallas campus.


Only those students who feel they have established a working aesthetic and who have accomplished an appropriate amount of work in the field they intend to pursue should attempt a creative portfolio or dissertation. To demonstrate their competency as artists, they must include in their degree plans a minimum number of studios, ensembles or workshops related to the proposed medium: two for the MA and four for the PhD.

As a student is preparing creative work for a portfolio or is beginning work on a creative dissertation, he or she will submit an appropriate proposal for the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee. All members of the supervising committee must sign the proposal to indicate that, in their judgment, the student has an appropriate mastery of the skills necessary to undertake and complete the project.

Normally master's candidates will use an independent research course (HUAS  6398 or HUSL 6394) to revise and complete projects for the portfolio, and doctoral candidates must enroll continuously in HUMA 8V99 while working on and completing a dissertation.

This policy statement was adopted by the Arts and Humanities faculty at its meeting of 9 April and concurred in by Dean Dennis Kratz on April 14, 1997.