The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

Cool Thesis of the Week: Lucy Bellwood Creativity and Comics

Each week, The Quest profiles the thesis of one senior whose work is worth sharing with the Reed community. The purpose of this column is to increase awareness among Reedies of the work being done in various academic fields and to make disparate forms of scholarship accessible and understandable to all.

Lucy Bellwood

Lucy Bellwood '12 straddles two worlds.

To most, comics are the funny doodles of cats and dysfunctional families in the morning paper, never given more than a few seconds’ thought each on the way from the news to the crossword. To some, they are weekly stories of caped superheroes, designed for little more than to fuel the imaginations of young children.

To Lucy Bellwood ’12, however, comics are an intimately expressive art form that represent a unique medium for capturing a personal reality. They are also a perfect demonstration of what it means to engage in the creative process. Both these topics will be addressed in Lucy’s Studio Art thesis, which she is working on with Professor Pato Hebert. The thesis will comprise a written portion, which will muse on the creative process, and an art portion, which will be an original graphic novel written and illustrated by Lucy. Lucy says she plans to reference her comic in the written thesis and use it as a lens through which to look at creativity as a whole.

Lucy, who hails from Ojai, California but is also a citizen of the U.K., laments that “there is a cultural, national, and educational divorcing of creativity from our everyday lives.” As an artist, she says, she has become fascinated with this issue. She makes a habit of asking people the question, “what stops you from being creative?” She reports that many people tend to view creativity as something that can be done as a reward after real work is done, rather than as work that can be valued in and of itself. It also is seen by many as an unattainable, “magical” exercise in which normal people can not succeed without a certain natural genius. This “genius” allows the exceptionally gifted to produce art with little effort, as though through divine inspiration. However, says Lucy, this “cult of genius” misses the truth about creativity, and pushes people away from challenging themselves. “Because of the idea of genius,” she explains, “we don’t conceive of…hard work.” Instead, she asks, “what if we view the pursuit of genius as something that takes work?” Lucy describes her conception of the creative process as one of constant reinvention and reconsideration, a “weird process of collecting fragments” where ideas can come from anywhere. What is most crucial, she says, is to always be receptive to ideas and to constantly put hard effort into making these ideas into reality.

However, Lucy says, there is also one more ingredient to the creative process: “You can’t be creative without drawing on personal shit.” Much of the best creativity, she says, happens when artists “get into uncomfortable personal bits of their lives.” This is what she will attempt to do with her 25-page short comic, the artistic portion of her thesis. This comic will deal with Lucy’s own “exploration of these creativity/genius/art/religion/etc-type questions.” Lucy also is working on a graphic novel, called “Wherefore,” which will deal with her experience as a member of two cultures, British and American. The first 12 pages, which Lucy wrote over the summer and which are currently on display in the Art Building, introduce the characters and themes; the rest of the book will go on to trace a trip Lucy took back to England and portray the drama of being caught between two worlds. “Britain and the States are pretty similar,” she explains, but they are “just different enough…that there’s this antagonism.” Lucy recalls one particular incident, when she was told by a fellow Englishman, “I don’t know where you’re from, but you’re not from here.” As she puts it, “I’m always yearning for the other place,” but ultimately, she does not want to choose one over the other. She hopes her book will show “why embracing multiplicity can be a benefit.” [For more on Lucy's show, see page 4.]

Lucy says she is not entirely sure of every specific of the graphic novel in its final form, but she is looking forward to the creative process in making it. Though she knows there will be frustrations, she hopes her philosophy of creativity can guide her to continue creating, so that even when things seem hopeless, she can say, “if it’s hopeless, it doesn’t matter!” Though she may have “a little voice” in the back of her head giving constant criticism, she hopes to discover through her written thesis and her graphic novel “what happens when we embrace all that shit the little voice says,” and tell it: “Cool! Let’s draw anyway!”

Do you have or know of a thesis that compels attention? Just want to see your face in the Quest? Email ablum@reed.edu with “Cool Thesis” in the subject line.

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