Response letters are emailed directly to your students and copied to admin@transart.org. They become a part of the student’s record internally so that the institute can provide consistent support to students throughout the program. The pass/fail evaluation form is also required. We hope these examples will give you an idea of the kind of feedback students need at each level.

M503 Written Element “Critical Frameworks” Example

Follow up to fall graduate committee (student and advisors) meeting on Skype

hi nn,

i think my comments to you are fundamentally the same as the issues we discussed in the conference call with NN.  the bottom line for me is-i think you have a very interesting idea and i wish some of the most exciting parts as you were describing it made it into your intro- i think you could go a step further, if you know what i mean.

or, maybe you don’t, so, here’s what i mean: the idea of using the autonomic nervous system as a philosophical way around the problematic subjectivity of human emotions and the cultural relativism of ideas of right/wrong, good/evil not being the same in different societies/religions/belief systems- is kind of brilliant in the way we were talking about something being an experiment AND and art project.  in other words, on the face of it, you are sincerely proposing a solution to longstanding human problematic of good and evil.  on the other hand, the project is kind of critique- it raises more meta level questions like, can these reductive technologies really be used to resolve timeless philosophical issues?  and complex questions about the artist’s intentions- does daniel really think science can answer questions that philosophy, ethics and religion cannot?  does he really believe a prosthetic conscience can replace a person’s lack of moral compass as simply as a physical prosthetic replaces a limb? is he provoking us with his project- is he trying to solve these problems or just to get us to think about them in a different way.  is there an implied critique of our faith in science and technology. etc.

as i’ve mentioned, i think these are compelling questions, and i will continue to encourage you to include this level of inquiry/provocation/criticality more overtly in your research project.

intro: i think this is ok but you play it a bit straight. to be honest, you do your project a kind of disservice in writing so dryly about it.  here’s what i want to know as the reader (this is going to sound familiar) : why guilt?  why is this important?  why is it important to you NN.  there is one really interesting word in your intro and that word is: antiquated!  whoa, that is an opinion, albeit undefended in your text. it hints at the possible existence of a person with a whole set of opinions and critical ideas behind this veneer of the objective science writer.  why do you feel  the idea of a set of specific rules that define right and wrong is antiquated?  how have we modern people evolved past it?  is it technology that makes these rules obsolete, or something else about how we live now that makes that concept useless to you and a technological solution the attractive alternative?  is it a larger societal failure, like maybe no one has the moral authority to impose rules anymore?  now this is getting interesting and i want to know more.   this is where your project lives, right?  you have a criticism.  you are proposing a solution, perhaps with irony, who can say.

outline: ok, i’m not going to pick apart your whole assignment like i did that sentence, i think you get what i mean. the outline looks logical and well organized but just because this is a “research” paper doesn’t mean you don’t have to have a point of view- even if the argument and critique level is subtle and your actual intentions may differ from your stated intentions.  you can make it sound kind of logical and sober but actually i think your ideas are controversial and provocative.  (that was praise, fyi.)

bibliography:  i agree with what NN said, we need to have you reading some stuff more recent than william james…he mentioned joseph ledoux, right?  take a look at “the synaptic self,” the berkeley people told me to read it, maybe i’ll read it with you. did we talk about stanley milgram?  i think stanley milgram is GREAT for you to read for this project.  i am attaching an article milgram wrote about his famous “obedience to authority” experiments at yale in the early 1960’s, and you can easily find out a lot more about this experiment online etc.

in addition to the obvious similarities with your project- trying to understand complex questions about ethics and the nature of evil using the reductive methods of experimental psychology- milgram’s work created its own ethical issues by subjecting people to stress and trauma in the context of an experiment in which they were deceived as to its true nature. you might want to think about those issues also?

feel free to write back with questions, comments etc.




M503 Semester 1: Critical Frameworks (30CR) written element (10 page paper)

Response to draft

Dear NN,

thank you for submitting your written element document. Here are my observations and suggestions:

The way in which you connect your art work with the research is clear to me and makes sense. The research question that guides your enquiry is also clear, in addition to be conving and relevant. You also bring in an excellent theoretical background. So you have some of the essnetial ingridients for a good paper. What is lacking is a structure: a structure that allows readers to navigate through your argument, a structure that takes your reader from a point of departure to a conclusion.

As a reader, I would find it helpful if you started out with a succinct empirical observation concerning the replacement of sacred figures by dwarfes. This is, indeed, a highly surprising and unusual phenomenon, and therefore requires a paragraph on what you have observed. What happened, where, when, etc. Just a paragraph on the story of the dwarfes colonizing graves. When I read your text, I asked myself why people would have sacred figurs in their gardens. I did so because I started from my own lived experience in this country, where people have dwarfes in their gardens. Only at the beginnin of page 2 I learn that the dwarfes are placed on graves, and only then the replaced sacred figures make sense to me! So I suggest you write about this phenomenon first of all in a descriptive way, sharing your observations with the reader before you ask your questions.

Next, I would encourage you to define an outline, i.e. a sequence in which you line up your questions in a logical fashion. Just as an example, you state:

“I suppose it is clear that we are dealing with an image that is beyond the appearances, an image that is knowable only if we think of it as origin.”

This sentence might be a whole section in which you write about various ways of understanding images, and then put forward your arguement that the dwarf images can best be understood if we think of an image as origin (rather than appearance etc.) Then you go on to focus on time, and how the various understandings of images relate to understanding time. Then there is the question of the sacred and the profane (the angels / the dwarfes). Then there is the question how the art historical canon looks at images, how selections are made (“dwarfs that were never perceived as objects worthy of note and attention”). To each of these sections, you relate the source you are using (for example, to the question of time, Deleuze, Nietzsche, etc.) — and so on.

I think you are making really good points, and the sources you use are very relevant (also demanding — particularly to bring together primary sources of the calibre you work with! But it seems that you have a good grip on them), and this can become an exceptionally good paper. What it most needs at this point is a solid structure.

Hope the above is of help.

Best wishes,



Response to additional draft requested:


Dear NN,

thank you for submitting your written element paper on moodle.

I have read it, and here are my comments, suggestions and observations.

The essay addresses the nature of the image in a fashion that seeks to create an understanding of the image as origin (as in the title). This is a worthwhile endeavor, and many of the thoughts are original and of great interest, as is your critique of art history in relation to its understanding of the image.

The main point you will need to address to finish this paper is to (a) insert your thoughts and your critique into a more coherent structure, and (b) to attend to a number of formal matters.

(a) The introduction (a preface, as in your paper, is different from an introduction) is better now in so far as it says more about the ways in which dwarves replace sacred figures. Towards the end of the first paragraph, you state that “it is clear that we are dealing with an image beyond appearances, an image that is knowable only if we think of it as origin. This is the key sentence in the introduction, but you need to work your way up to it step by step following a logical line of argumentation. What I see you do is work with associative statements and whose inner relationship to one another is not always clear.

I suggest you continue developing an argument throughout the paper. There should be some linear sequence in an academic paper, a section where you prepare your argument (think about what the reader needs to know in order to follow you); then substantiate your argument, then come to a conclusion in which you state what can be learned from the argument. In the main body of the paper, you should work with the literature that you list in the bibliography. You should cite quotes that are relevant to your argument. While you do include quotes in the text, and also references to authors, these are not referenced.

I think the authors you refer to are all extremely interesting and also relevant to your topic. You criticize art historians rather polemically, and you should find a way of connecting your critique to that of others, so that you make it clear you are not just voicing a personal dissatisfaction, but making a larger point. To suggest that art historians per se are incapable of developing a new perspective on the image (as you state on page 2) is not appropriate for a paper that is academic and thus bound by the necessity to substantiate an argument.

The observation about Nietzsche’s Zaratustra on page 2 is very good and promising and could be developed much further.

(b) Please use gender mainstreaming in your text, i.e. “he or she” where you write “he”, as art historians, viewers, artists, etc. can be woman as much as men.

The paper would also benefit from a lesser use of the phrase “in other words” at the beginning of a sentence. There are many different ways in which you can introduce variety.

In summarizing, this paper is full of good thinking, and of intellectual passion, which is great. It lacks structure and the right use of literature in the text.

Hope this is of help.

All the best,


M503 Semester 1: Critical Frameworks (30CR) Written Element (10 page paper)

Response to final submission

Dear NN,

It is so great that you managed to complete your research paper after such a difficult semester. I read it with interest and I think I understand better what you have been going through psychologically to write the work. It reads well and is very interesting. I have a couple of comments which I hope will help strengthen your arguments and you writing and continue with this work in the new semester.

1.There is a great clarity of language, especially at the beginning, and it is fantastic to read your concern to understand the differences between grief, mourning and melancholia, which I think you explain well and fully grasp. There are, of course, various areas in which you could take your research work. The one that jumps at me is the idea and role of memory in grief and in fairy tales, and the potential for their construction (what in psychoanalysis is called a ‘screenmemory’). Maybe something to think about?

2. Having said that, I notice that you rely relatively heavily on Darian Leader, which is great to see. A little explanation of why use psychoanalysis may strengthen your position, as this field takes a very specific view on loss.

3. There are a couple of minor issues relating to style: the paper is a little too long (although I understand why, but I think it could be edited in parts, especially the one about the political issues in Venezuela), some of your sources could be researched deeper (Olga Weisfeiler and Jack Zipes, for example) and the films should be more fully referenced, footnotes should be consistent, some of your writing is too tentative (‘I believe’, ‘I feel’ etc, when you have enough evidence to assert your claim), the part about political conflict in Venezuela needs more precise historical context (dates, sources, etc), and the quote on pages 24-25 gets repeated on page 29. In general, quotes could be a little better introduced, especially the first one of Isabel Allende. She does not get mentioned in the paper. Is this something worth exploring? The quotes are fascinating though, I do acknowledge that.

4. I have two issues regarding content. the first is that I think you could have used visual examples, images in your paper. These could come both from your work or from that of others. The images could help you to create a more visual argument, espcially about the role of imagination in your practice. You write generally about creative practice and look at two time-based works (Pan’s Labyrinth and Persepolis) – How do these relate to your own work? In general, your argument could be strengthened with more examples. The fairy tale in the appendix is wonderful: why not analyze it more and perhaps use it as a case study to demonstrate the subversive role of fairy tales? The female character in it is so interesting… She leads me to my second content issue: femininity is not discussed at all, and surely, the fact that the lost relation is father-daughter would have a part to play. Moreover, when you talk about the melancholic, you write ‘he’ when, for this paper, it is a ‘she’!

I hope these make sense and that they help you with the work ahead in the new semester. I see that you have learned a lot this term and that, despite the difficulties, you have been able to carry on with this very deep project, which has been a privilege to advice. I very much look forward to hearing you for the advising committee this coming week and to see how we plan the semester ahead. Meanwhile, I will get on with your semester evaluation which I hope to also send to you sometime this week. Very well done, NN!


Best, as ever,




M504 Written Element “Critical Frameworks” Example

Process paper response


Dear NN,

Thank you for submitting your process paper. I see that you have given it considerable thought!

In my opinion, you transformed a difficult and unexpected challenge into strength (much in the same way that you write about in reference to conatus and human potential(s). That is, your unanticipated move and the consequences this had on your studio project became a catalyst for newly refined investigative purpose. I believe your project gained depth because of the way you integrated this shift. You have arrived at compelling insights; your deepened awareness of process as an end (or beginning) in itself strikes me as even more in keeping with your original intent of heightened consciousness.

It is intriguing that your project is, in a way, somehow more powerful because of its transient and symbolic quality (in keeping with the workings of mythology). Moreover, thus, it is exciting to see how you are reflecting now on signs, symbols, and mythology now—problematizing them in a healthy critical framework and examining how these things operate to construct and carry untold connotative meanings. This important criticality now emerges in your own voice. Concepts of construction/deconstruction; externality/internality; placeholding; privilege/protection/knowledge emerge in a way that is now all your own—and that is what process is all about. Exciting work and well articulated!

I hope you will consider taking this investigation further in your future work—the work of dismantling normative signs and symbols, deconstructing the naturalized. You are off to a fine start, and I perceive you have grappled with this in the best intellectual tradition—pushing yourself to question your own assumptions. Excellent!

I want to leave you with one long reference as you move forward. It is perhaps a bit of a departure here, but I think it may address something in your current process that difficult and yet beautiful ongoing challenge of uniting emotion and intellect. I’ll attach as a PDF, from Paulo Freire and his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

All the best for your future work, NN!


M504 Written Element “Critical Frameworks” Example

Thesis proposal draft response

M505 Semester 3: MFA Project Part 1 (60CR) Studio + Written Element (Thesis Part 1) Example

Response to thesis draft

Dear NN,

Thank you very much for sending me your lovely work. First of, a note of commendation on your attention to detail. I really like the idea of your handwriting font, and the parallel between the old and the new love letters. It makes it feel a work, as well as a research paper, something we discussed in our advisory committee. You have taken this advice forward really well, I feel.

There are a couple of recommendation I would like to make, mainly to make your report even stronger.

First, make sure that key sources on love (such as Ovid and Stendhal) are not missing from your discussion. I can see you have included Barthes, which is also essential, but any scholar in this area would wonder why Ovid and Stendhal are not there if they do not appear. I think a few more examples from the art world would also strengthen the work, locating it within a stronger context. Otherwise, it just seems a little free-floating and unaware of its place.

Second, a matter of style. I like your way of addressing, with the type font you have chosen and the lowercase (I just wrote lovercase! Freudian slip!). I always recognise your emails and they are as evocative as your voice. I wonder if this can be countered in the old letters. That is, whether something around font and type can be done to give voice. Do hey need to be in your signature lowercase?

Third (and last), while your work is wonderful and beautifully reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project – although along historical love arcades –, I think you may want a little more critical outlook. After all, and although this operates as a work, it is a research paper! I think you are already onto this, though, as you begun to do it in the introduction and the conclusion and images will, no doubt, add to this analysis and evaluation. For this reason, the introduction and the conclusion need to be extra tight: they need to provide the thread linking all the report together, operate as introduction and conclusion and explain all your choices (images, layout, and, especially, I feel, choice of specific love letters). This is quite a tall order, I think. Is it worth considering an analytic interlude in the middle of the old/new love letters? This could provide the reader with a different way of reading them, a before and an after, a different relation to the text, and to you. Also, do the illustrations need to be at the end? What do they illustrate? Could they be lover’s gifts, or demands, perhaps?

And, as my gift, I am sending you my favourite quote by Lacan which, incidentally, is his own (and of course twisted) way of expressing love: “I love you, but, because inexplicably I love in you something more than you – the objet petit a – I mutilate you.” (Seminar XI). Sometimes, this is what I feel I am doing with my feedback to you!

I hope you are well, and that this is of help.

Best wishes,


M506 Semester 4: MFA Project Part 2 (60CR) Written Element (Thesis Part 2) Example

Response to final submission

Dear NN,

You have produced a phenomenal work, one that is complex, sophisticated, shows mastery over the subject you chose and fits so well with your concerns as an artist. I am very proud of your work and it is a pleasure to see it complete. I am afraid that, in terms of feedback, I have very little else but praise! I especially like the juxtaposition of old and new letters and how we leave the work in the middle of a conversation (via skype). I think that this is pretty much all one can say about love, as the conclusion is not but a new beginning, or a new circle around the same problem. This openness in your work shows sophistication and command over the material. Your work, in the form of images and acts is very well situated among the old love letters. I can see you have followed Jean Marie’s advice and thought about loss and absence in the context of the Niagara Falls. Her point was very important and I think you have demonstrated your understanding of it very elegantly (it is one of my favourite images, together with the one of the phone, with the image of a hand, placed on your skin). Your sources are exquisit and show a wide range of approaches to love. I am glad you got to read Barthes, Ovid, Berger and Stendhal in particular, as they have added a pathos and an unsuccessful desire to categorise and quantify love which is so present in every discourse on the subject (including Sophie Calle, of course). And thanks for referencing me, your words are too kind.

With my editor hat (I can’t help it, sorry), I have three small comments that perhaps you want to amend to make the publication perfect (and it is very close to that!). On p. 43, the reference at the bottom seems to have sipped and merges with the page number. Felix Gonzalez Torres’ image on p. 98 needs to be landscape, I think, to work with the juxtaposition of your phones. I know this poses a design problem but I think the result will be worth it in terms of what it will bring. At the moment, we are seeing the work upside down, which means we are losing the same-sex, equality discourse inherent to the work. Even if the top and bottom of the page are black, even if you cut the clocks and place them on a different background, I think a lot will be added to the representation of the piece. There are small proofreading issues in the bibliography (p. 116, p. 117 in particular), which you may want to look at.

As you can see, I really had to scrape hard to give you feedback and that is because your work is one of the most developed I have seen for a masters program: it is playful, deep, concerned, artistic and, above all, shows mastery, which is exactly what the program aims to do.

Well done, NN. I hope we get the chance to see each other in Berlin outside of the seminar so we can celebrate your wonderful achievement.

Let me know if you want me to develop anything in this feedback further. I will send you an evaluation form very shortly. I can’t wait to see you in Berlin.


Bests, as ever,


M506 Semester 4: Final Evaluation Research

NN has had a very difficult semester, as she was denied entry into the UK after a trip. This caused a considerable amount of trauma but NN kept me informed of her progress, kept on working on her project and, after a short three week extension, submitted one of the highest standard and most sophisticated masters works I have read. I can see that NN has learned from the feedback both of her advisors gave her, and has developed various positions and added new sources to her work, thus enriching it and deepening her analysis. I suggested including works by Roland Barthes, Ovid, John Berger and Stendhal to provide a different view of love, one that is not so positive, or easy. The inclusion of their texts in her anthology and the images produced to contrast them show up different approaches to observing, studying and documenting the subject of love, including failed attempts and times where words fail. She has also included – as her studio advisor suggested – the trauma of being separated from her love and being relocated to Niagara Falls (of all places!) in her work, particularly in the conclusion and in one of the most successful images of the book, showing an understanding how love also entails loss and absence. For me, the most sophisticated element of the submission (apart from the structure, which is very well thought through), the one that shows real mastery over the subject, is the end, the realisation that one must leave any essay on love open, unanswered, the representation that what we are left with are feathers of a bird. NN does this by ending with an image of a skype conversation, as testament that love is in the interrelation and continuous work. The only change I would make is to rotate the image of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work on p. 98 to landscape, as I mentioned to her on my feedback. Her work shows confidence as an artist, and her photographs and actions are very well placed among the source material she cites. I really could not be happier with her work. NN has reached her goals as stated in the project plan in a sophisticated and elegant manner, exceeding my expectations on the presentation and the depth of her work. The structure, execution and finessing of her thesis are exquisite and I must commend her going to the level of detail of creating a handwritten font for it. What a fantastic work she has produced!


M506 Semester 4: Final Evaluation Studio

NN concluded her thesis year with a poetic work that explores the depths of love and the boundaries that exist in its expression. We had three very animated and always productive meetings this past semester via Skype on February 21st, April 25th, and June 5th. NN was always thoroughly engaged in discussion, actively seeking criticism and critique and as equally receptive for feedback. NN’s thesis project is realized through small, ethereal gestures. She confronted sentimentality head-on and succeeded greatly in conveying the love affair that we have with love. She confronted us with our nostalgic notions and was quite brave to wander into such dangerous territory that holds the risk of falling into an abyss of clichés. Her thesis show at MMX Gallery in Berlin July 2011 will hold a collection of works that are monochromatic and visually homogeneous one echoes off of the other. NN has brought together old and new technologies that reflect the collision between these technologies. She speaks to a post-penned era that has drifted away from the handwritten love letter and moves instead towards a missive that exists in email exchange and luv tweets. NN has made aesthetic choices that were well thought out and intelligent, maintaining sensitivity to scale, light and medium. Photographic wallpaper of a white wall covers a white wall (where there is nothing read that I love you), the body becomes a screen for a nearly invisible projection of love notes one only notices when they walk through its path and render the image visible (wish you were here), two stacks of embossed cards each equaling the weight of a human heart (real love) and a selection of Twitter posts (twitterpainted), draw us closer to a romanticized world that persuades us to stay and consider how we communicate such a base exchange of intimacy in all of its contemporary disposability. In essence, NN has embodied melancholy while maintaining a lyrical tenor that has carefully escaped the saccharine. Despite the unintended interruptions and upheavals that NN experienced this year, she accomplished very good work and came away with what will be a strong thesis project. I would encourage NN, however, to look deeper at the brief time she spent in Niagara Falls this semester. One cannot help but think of love and Niagara Falls as synonymous and this timely opportunity presented her with a way in which she might have entered her project through a back door. It was as though she stepped into her very own rabbit hole. If Christine aspires to continue with this project, Niagara Falls may very well serve as a bridge to extend her research and studio practice with this subject matter. Perhaps creating distance between her project and her experience in Niagara will help her to find a fresh perspective as NN moves forward post-graduation.


M506 Semester 4: MFA Project Part 2 (60CR) WrittenElement (thesis part 2) Example

Dear NN,

Thank you for submitting your thesis paper.

I believe you have successfully set-up and argued your claim, that is: though we are not always conscious of it, the systems that define our aural environments both influence our thoughts and actions. Your language is thoughtful and compelling, and you are persuasive in renderingpersonal choice and responsibility as an essential element of task (and skill) of listening.

You provide a clear and convincing depiction of the nature and full dimensionally of sound and its implications through well-chosen references. Your argument is substantiated through historical evidence, beginning with preliterate cultures, extended through Socratic practice, Animism, and forward. Importantly, you also address the problematique of cultural interpretation and subjectivity, and the complexity of sound as everything from a motivator or as a cause of anxiety. The research unfolds logically creating a firm foundation upon which to place your personal reflections and references to studio work.

You handle the interweaving story of your studio project with deft skill, NN. This is no easy task. Moreover, you have transformed a difficult experience into useful insight and meaningful reflection…and in the process realizing—in active form—the act of listening itself. Excellent work.

Therefore, not only is the claim well-substantiated and argued, you convincingly encourage the reader to ponder “meaningfulness” in listening and hearing as well—which, of course has far-reaching private and public implications and concerns all of us—and you do so both through scholarship and “real-life” experience. I would have liked to see a clear definition of “voice” as you contextualize it here—it is a flimsy term, I am afraid, and at moments weakens your otherwise lucid claims. But this stated, it is not so much a handicap as to threaten the overall quality of the thesis.

The reading affected me in the way that you intend, I believe. I was more conscious than usual of the soundscape within which I read and studied your words, and this in turn affected my response to my environment. I enjoyed the experience.

I have noted that you have developed an increasingly sophisticated and refined ability to make critical distinctions, and also to articulate them in a personal style that balances the scholarly with the personal in a compelling and authentic way. The following examples show your vital yet considered style:

“Sound’s seeping qualities make it hard to contain, locate, an identify with certainty. Mindful listening takes practice and the elusive qualities of sound only compound this challenge.” [and]

“While we rely less on our ears for daily survival than our ancestors did, I would argue hidden from our view is a discernible aural predator. Increased branding perpetuates a capitalistic worldview by funneling our listening attention toward commodities….Technological advances, while enabling an exponential growth of communication, have also contributed to our increased cognitive dissonance.”

[The bold indicates a parenthetical phrase—I have inserted the appropriate commas.]

As the above indicates, some formal matters need attention.

-Because you are using a full citations in your footnotes in tandem with a bibliography you do not need dates embedded on the text—and as used they are a bit confusing (I’m sometimes not sure what they refer to).

Two common errors that should be addressed throughout:

—parenthetical phrases: they need to be set-off by commas (see ex. below)

—use a comma to separate an introductory subordinate phrase or clause from the main clause. e.g., By the time my thesis was finished, I’d had enough of grad. school!

Also, the formal element of the writing has improved greatly, but a number of minor errors remain. I will point out some of them here—however, I encourage you to do a final proofread to catch all of them.

p.3 “…or a heighten states of awareness…” [do you mean: a heightened state of awareness?]

p.4 “…your lover has when they mention…” [correct re the singular: your lover with the plural: they]

p.5 “Voice whether spoken of internal has an immediacy that people are just unable to ignore.” [please review]

“…worlds most pressing issue.” [ world’s ]  / p.16 publics imagination. /

p.19 colleagues choice

“Sounds conceptually become creative interpreters when we transform sonic material into personally or socially significant.” [please review]

p.27 becoming to reactive myself. [too]

And so forth, I am confident you find the rest.

With the above stated, I recommend the thesis for approval.

This is good work, NN. I know, too, it has not been an easy road and I congratulate you on your stamina and commitment, and your willingness integrate the challenges into your insightful examination.