While researchers in academic disciplines work to construct new knowledge based on facts, artists and designers seek to create aesthetic works of design or performance. The creation of a new work of art – whether it is a piece of music, a sculpture, a play, a landscape design, or a poem – relies on research to ground the work in the human experience, to connect it to the work of previous generations or other cultures, or to find the best design solution.
The first step for research in the Arts is to determine the subject of the project. Perhaps you want to write a novel that takes place during the Protestant Reformation, or maybe you want to design a garden for an elementary school. Then you need to clearly identify problems you will encounter: How did people speak during the 16th Century? How do children interact with natural spaces? Your research project will involve investigating the answers to the questions that arise through the course of creating your work of art. Research into cultural history or interpretation will resemble research in the humanities. Research to identify the best design to address a sociological issue may require research in the social sciences.
The following timeline is an example of how you might advance through research during your undergraduate career. To develop your personalized timeline, meet with a member of the OUR Staff or talk with your adviser.
Step 1 (generally freshman year)
- Take general introductory courses across fields to explore different areas of interest and approaches to art.
- Freshman seminars give you an opportunity to explore a narrow topic in depth.
- Attend lectures, exhibitions, and performances.
Step 2 (generally sophomore year)
- Take in-depth seminars on artistic production and historical/cross-cultural courses.
- Build relationships with your professors by discussing their work and your interests.
- Participate in artistic productions and activities on campus.
Step 3 (generally sophomore or junior year)
- Continue to take courses to hone your artistic vision and skill.
- As you prepare for your senior capstone production, performance, or exhibition, work with your faculty mentor to determine a plan for any necessary research.
- Consider developing a topic or finding a mentor to help guide the research for your capstone project.
- Apply for funding to conduct research either in St. Louis, across the country, or abroad during the summer.
Step 4 (generally junior or senior year)
- Take an independent study or senior thesis course to complete your capstone project.
- Share your research with the WashU community.
Find out more information about capstone requirements for specific majors from department websites:
The Sam Fox School also runs programs in Research & Creative Activity that can connect design students with research opportunities.