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Thesis in the Spotlight: Harleigh Shaw

Publication date

April 11, 2019 7:00 PM


Tess Martin

Harleigh Shaw

Harleigh Shaw, senior writing an Honors Thesis in for her Studio Art major.

When students think about undergraduate Honors Theses, they typically think about large quantitative or qualitative research projects in which the finished product is countless pages of hypotheses, explanations, and analyses. For Harleigh Shaw, a studio art major with a concentration in digital art, that is not the case. Under the direction of her committee, including Kevin Jones, Associate Professor of Art, Rick Snow, Professor of Practice of Music, and Maxwell Dulaney, Assistant Professor of Music, Harleigh’s thesis “Invisible Aesthetics: Sound as Material” involves research outside of the traditional notion of a thesis and challenges conceptions of how we experience art.

Harleigh is “exploring the relationship of sound and the body, particularly within the arts context” through her Honors Thesis. She is interested in how sound can be felt in addition to being heard, and her research explores how sound can “enhance the sense of immersion” in the artistic experience, surpassing the visual senses alone. Beyond this, Harleigh analyzes the relationship between sound and the body in video art, examining how sound can function to amplify or distort identity. In that context, she explores how politics and gender play a role in sound, and it is here where she draws upon her gender studies minor since the notion that sound can be felt has often been dismissed because “feeling is feminine.” As a creator of sound and video herself, Harleigh has greatly enjoyed this research so far.

Before beginning her thesis, Harleigh developed an interest in sound and art through making sound for videos and when she began to conceptualize sound as something separate from the videos. After this, she started taking music classes and learning about sound more technically and studying experimental music. Last summer, she unofficially started her research, grounding it in a philosophical understanding of concepts of affect and conscious and unconscious perception. Beyond reading artists’ accounts, theory, and philosophy, Harleigh also saw works firsthand in exhibits, which she felt allowed her to write more effectively and persuasively about these concepts. Her thesis is also informed by her own experience as an artist, as she is creating an exhibition of sound and video for her Bachelor of Fine Arts requirement.

The idea of writing an Honors Thesis appealed to Harleigh for many reasons. First, she was excited at the prospect of learning that is self-led. More broadly, Harleigh was excited about creating a year-long project that would allow her the chance to dive into one specific topic. Harleigh advises future thesis writers to “pick something you want to research all the time”, so that isolating time once or twice a week to do the work does not feel as burdensome. She also notes that organizing and saving sources from the start will save a lot of time and effort later on.

Though Harleigh’s process may not be typical amongst thesis writers, it is for her project and her fields of study. Her passion for her research, interdisciplinary approach, and dedication to exploring her topic demonstrate ideal qualities of a fascinating and meaningful Honors Thesis experience.

You can see Harleigh's work in the BFA exhibition April 11-18 in the Caroll Gallery, and you can also come hear more about her thesis this Sunday (4/14) at the Honors Thesis Forum at 12:30 PM, on the Creative Arts panel. Find more information about the Forum here.