T minus 3 months to test day

My 26th birthday was on Monday. July 16th falls at the best time of the year: the biggest summer blockbuster is always released during this week, and this year it’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” You’re probably asking yourself, “Do you have tickets for a screening of the ENTIRE trilogy, concluding with the midnight premiere of the final movie?” The answer is yes, yes I do. Consequently, this week is always the high point of my summer– it’s all pretty much downhill from here.

This year, passing the high point of the summer is slightly more nerve-wracking because I am now beginning my free-fall towards comps. I actually have slightly less than 3 months to test day, as it takes place during the second week of October (this year, it will be between the 8th and the 12th). I’m hoping that I am doing ok– I’ve read 13 books now and have written the equivalent of 3-4 page papers about each them on this blog. My major advisor/proctor asked for 5 sources for each of my 5 questions (totaling 25… oy), some of which can be articles and some of which can be used for multiple questions. Before the summer is out, I need to write 3-page papers on each of the questions for my proctor to read, which will help him point me in the right direction for what he will be looking for. I am hoping to do the same for my minor advisor (assuming he answers my email about Skyping next week…).

However, I will be back in school on August 27th with a full-time class load, which means that my comps reading schedule will be complicated by my class reading. My tentative plan for this is to get my school reading done during the week– which is going to mean I am going to be largely skimming a lot of the readings– and then dedicate my weekends (and any other free time) to comps. Because I am going at a slightly slower pace than I would like due to the fact that I feel like enjoying my summer a bit, I am probably going to be ramping up my reading even more in the next few weeks– ideally 3 books/articles a week instead of 2. And I now need to read with purpose. This begs the question: just what are comps, and what the hell kind of test gives you the questions beforehand? 

Comps is short for “comprehensive exams.” My understanding is that comps are a standard occurrence in most graduate programs (master’s or doctoral level, though there is a lot more studying required from the latter) and passing is a requirement for completion of the degree. At my school, I have to pass comps in order to register for thesis hours for the Spring. We prepare 5 questions with the major advisor (my questions deal mainly with Surrealism, with one semi-Dada question), and 3 with the minor advisor (mine will revolve around feminism, minor history, and regionalism). On my exam, I will be asked 3 of the 5 major questions, and 2 of the 3 minor questions. I only have to answer one of each, and I will be given 2 hours for the major, 1.5 hours for the minor. I am sure my brain will feel like it did after I took the GRE, which was akin to a wrung sponge, and I am already anticipating the completion celebration: much drinking and a lot of Sims 3 Supernatural, which comes out September 4 and I can’t play anyway until I finish comps.

I’m feeling slightly panicky about my current state because I have not written out my major questions, nor have I picked 5 sources for each. And my minor questions are still in the formation phase. Therefore, I want to take the rest of this post to write it out so that I can process and feel like I have a solid direction, and I’m going to keep adding to this post even after I publish just so I can keep track.


1) Discuss the art of Giacometti, Picasso, Masson, and Miro using Nadja (Andre Breton) and Story of the Eye (Georges Bataille) as bases for comparison.


  • Andre Breton, Nadja
  • Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye
  • Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois, Formless: A User’s Guide
  • Simon Baker and Dawn Ades (eds.), Undercover Surrealism: Georges Bataille and Documents
  • Andre Breton, Surrealism and Painting

2) What are the motivations and implications for an artist rejecting that they are a Surrealist (such as Kahlo, Magritte, and Carrington) versus declaring oneself a Surrealist (such as the artist I am writing my thesis on)?


  • Natalya Lusty, Surrealism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis
  • Andre Breton, Surrealism and Painting
  • Andre Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism
  • Whitney Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement

3) Surrealism and feminism were both originally considered marginal movements– how do their ideas strengthen one another?


  • Natalya Lusty, Surrealism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis
  • Andre Breton, Arcanum 17
  • Andre Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism
  • In Wonderland catalog
  • Whitney Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement
  • Annette Shandler Levitt, The Genres and Genders of Surrealism

4) How did Duchamp, Picabia, and Tzara change or develop during the transition between Dada to Surrealism? Note: None of these artists became Surrealists, though their ideas changed from their Dada origins.


  • Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art
  • Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia
  • Amelia Jones, Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada
  • Janine Mileaf, Please Touch: Dada and Surrealist Objects After the Readymade

5) Discuss the work of the following Surrealist photographers: Cahun, Miller (who are both women), and Boiffard.


  • Natalya Lusty, Surrealism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis
  • In Wonderland catalog
  • Rosalind Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths
  • David Bate, Photography and Surrealism: Sexuality, Colonialism and Social Dissent


As I stated previously, I don’t have solid questions yet, but I’ve gotten some great ideas from the books I have been reading (especially West of CenterAmerican Women ModernistsGender Trouble, and Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari). So I’m just going to throw some stuff out there.

  • Did the “free-spirited” nature of the artists of the American West aid in the progress of feminism?
  • Can Butler’s ideas about gender and performativity be applied to Surrealism and its artists?
  • Are there factors that are pushing the art history of Denver from a minor history to a major?

Well, I need to go to bed now so that I can survive the “Batman” onslaught tomorrow. Good night, m’dears!


6 thoughts on “T minus 3 months to test day

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