What They Learned: Amolina Bhat ’23

For her thesis, the double major in philosophy and sociology argues that the process of interpretation is not, and can never be, completely satisfied or complete in art.

Amolina Bhat, a double major in philosophy and sociology, always had an interest in art, whether she was creating it herself or admiring the works of others. At Haverford, she was the student co-manager of the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery.

“Through the position, not only did I learn some of the processes that go into the creation of various types of exhibits, but also got the opportunity to interact with visitors on a daily basis,” Bhat said. “Some of the questions I answered in my thesis such as: why people feel uncomfortable entering spaces of “high art” (even when admissions charges are nonexistent) and how to make spaces where art is shown more accessible to non-art students or professionals, arose from my position at the gallery. I am extremely grateful for my time spent at the gallery not only for serving as substantial inspiration for this thesis but also for introducing me to some wonderful people who I hope to stay connected with for years to come.”

In her thesis, Bhat argues that the process of interpretation is not, and can never be, completely satisfied or complete. “Art is meaningful because it changes us and it encourages us to do the work to remember that we can be changed. While this understanding may initially generate uneasiness, the conversations we have with each other can alleviate this feeling through the realization that we are not alone in our experiences.” 

Bhat developed her thesis topic throughout the fall of her senior year, settling on a specific question right before winter break. 

“I met with Professor Jerry Miller, my first reader, several times during the first semester to discuss what interested me in the authors and theories I was reading and interpreting and he talked me through the process of narrowing down the idea I truly wanted to discuss,” said Bhat. “Throughout the spring semester, we met on a more regular basis to discuss sections of writing I sent him the week prior. The process with Professor Miller was less about editing and more about creating. Our meetings would often consist of him asking me questions (which he is incredibly talented at) which served the purpose to guide my next few weeks of reading, thinking, and writing. Through our conversations, I uncovered what about the “common thought” of art interpretation truly bothered me and what I wanted to provide as an alternative avenue.”

One of Bhat’s biggest takeaways was the idea that nothing she wrote or produced ever is or has to be final. This is integrated in the argument of her thesis and also how she found the confidence to continue her thesis process in general.

“I can continue to come back to the ideas and arguments I made in this thesis and continue to modify, revise, and improve because I will continue changing because of the circumstances in my life and the people I continue to meet,” said Bhat. “This understanding that nothing ever remains final, ended up being very liberating to me because I was no longer worried about this thesis being the last word I ever said about aesthetics and philosophy.”

Bhat’s thesis research continues the work done by other authors (such as Maggie Nelson and bell hooks, among others) to supplement the genre-blurring integration of theory and memoir/personal non-fiction. 

“This genre, by integrating the deeply personal with abstract thinking, I believe, makes theory (and philosophy) more accessible and promotes deeper conversations within ourselves which ultimately, was the goal of my project,” Bhat said. “The other central argument of my thesis is the blurring of lines between emotion and the “academic” and between the natural sciences and the humanities. I argue that there ought to not be such a strict delineation between “objective” rational thought and subjective, interpersonal ones. I think this broader argument actually has implications for academia as a whole which supports extreme delineation between subjects and often subordinates the humanities because of their ties to the interpretative, and thus personal, aspects of ourselves and the world. My thesis works against these boundaries and encourages us to see that all processes of learning are interpretative and subjective, at least to some degree, and are actually all tied to the emotional. Thus, it is not helpful to subordinate the humanities and praise the natural sciences (and social sciences) for being purely objective because this is impossible and prevents some aspects of academic exploration.”

Bhat will soon begin a position as a paralegal in the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

“While this position and my thesis topic are not clearly related, I do believe the processes I worked through during the thesis process (truly figuring out what I wanted to write about and making sure I was being genuine to myself and my intentions) will be important for whatever position I end up performing in the future,” Bhat said. “I am also just super grateful that I was able to delve into a topic that I care about deeply and spend a lot of time thinking about in this thesis process, even if it isn’t directly related to my future career. As I will likely continue exploring the field of law for my career, I am interested and excited to continue using interpretative skills and takeaways I gained through my thesis process, in the interpretation and application of law in the future.” 

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.