Date of Award

Spring 5-30-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


Graphic Design

First Advisor

Bethany Johns

Second Advisor

Lucinda Hitchcock

Third Advisor

Keetra Dean Dixon


Humans have always done things with things. It’s at the very origin of who we are as a species: we’ve gone from being bipedal homonins to people who live in complex societies by making rocks into tools. Things can serve a practical function, but they also carry cultural and symbolic meaning: they can tell our personal stories, allow us to connect with each other, and be the outer manifestations of our inner lives. The things we use in our every day lives, by implying a set of actions we can take when interacting with them, participate in shaping our reality: all things contain a set of implied behaviors, rules, customs, morals and beliefs.

How to do things with things is an invitation to look at things as clues with which to investigate reality, and to then go ahead and make new things to invent new realities. If our culture, norms and sense of self are embedded in our things, there’s good news: they are all malleable. We can take things apart and put them back together to look at ourselves from a new perspective. We can (literally) objectify any concept or idea to try it on for size. We can make things that allow people to try entirely new and unexpected behaviors and ideas.

Doing things with things is a practice of performativity; it looks at everything around us—from the clothes we wear, to the tools we use and the spaces we inhabit—as a set of messages, stories, and behaviors. In doing so, it’s an invitation to experience and engage with complex ideas and concepts in a way that is not abstract but, instead, embodied. If we can wrestle with the inter-personal, behavioral, socio-psychological and historical aspects of being human by literally interacting with them, we can actively participate in making new versions of all of them and maybe, in the process, become new more-multidimensional humans.



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