As a newly minted honors graduate from Wright State University bearing a bachelor’s degree in studio art with a concentration in photography, Frances Smith and her feelings can be summed up in one word – grateful.
Smith is grateful for her faculty advisers who helped her grow and grateful for the opportunity to do an honors thesis that challenged and inspired her.
“I have learned how to organize and stick with a project, solve visual and conceptual issues, prepare and realize an exhibition, and — perhaps more than anything — how to adapt to unexpected obstacles,” she said. “Although I have yet to experience the art world outside of school, I believe the feedback I have received and the growth I have made have been crucial in preparing me for the future.”
Smith said she owes a lot to her instructors and advisers, especially associate photography professors Tracy Longley-Cook and Ben Montague.
Smith grew up in Urbana. She graduated from Urbana High School in 2015, the valedictorian of her class, and came to Wright State on a full scholarship.
When she arrived, she was excited to be able to try painting, printmaking, photography and sculpture, which she had never done before. Along the way she fell in love with the camera.
Smith said she became interested in photography because it felt like she and the camera were collaborating.
As an honors scholar, Smith was required to complete a senior capstone project. But since she was the first honors art student, there was no existing curriculum for completing the honors thesis as a studio art major.
Glen Cebulash, chair of the Department of Art and Art History, developed a project outline that fulfilled the honors thesis requirement by having Smith complete a portfolio in her studio concentration. She had to propose the topic, which would culminate in an exhibition and defense of her work.
“I believe this curriculum is highly beneficial for the art student as it requires him or her to engage with multiple other aspects of being an artist in addition to research and writing,” said Smith.
She said her thesis, titled “Alter Egos: Perceptions of Identity,” is an exploration of her struggle to understand and make peace with her inner self.
“I wanted to investigate this topic not only because it is close to my heart, but because one of its key issues — reality versus fiction — is a particularly relevant one for photography,” she said. “Each image is an amalgamation of self-portraits. I am most interested in the tension between the serene and distorted elements of the figures and in the transformation that occurs within each image.”
Smith advises future honors art students to take full advantage of their thesis projects and feedback from their faculty advisers.
“This has been the best opportunity I have had in school to get an idea of what it is like to be an artist and to begin forming relationships in the local art community,” she said. “In addition, I have found this project to be a tremendous fountain of ideas for other work. Even though I have graduated and the project is technically complete, I have so much more work I would like to do to expand the portfolio.”
Smith was selected by the faculty as this year’s outstanding graduate in the B.F.A. program.
“Wright State was lucky to have her as a student, and now alumna,” said Longley-Cook. “I expect nothing but great things to come from Frances’ future endeavors.”
Smith, who graduated May 4 with a 4.0 grade point average, said she plans to keep taking photos.
“I want to become engaged more with the art community here in Dayton,” she said. “I’m going to keep photographing and see where that takes me.”