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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, June 16, 2024

Peace in the unknown: Maddy Noah looks back on her time at Tufts

Graduating combined-degree student Maddy Noah speaks about her art practice and lessons learned in her 5 years at Tufts.

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Maddy Noah is pictured.

As the time comes for seniors to move their tassels, many are looking back on their time at Tufts with a newfound perspective. Certainly, no college experience is without its twists and turns, mistakes and lessons and memories and discoveries. This is deeply true for Maddy Noah, a graduating senior in the SMFA combined degree program. Reflecting on her five years at Tufts, Noah spoke about her unconventional college experience and what lessons and memories she will take with her as she leaves Tufts.

From start to finish, Noah’s experience at Tufts has been a unique one. While pursuing two degrees with majors in studio art, environmental studies and philosophy, Noah has also participated in clubs ranging from the Daily to Boxers on the Hill. Additionally, she worked as a tour guide at the Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses for four of her five years at Tufts.

Recounting her diverse interests and experiences at Tufts, Noah expressed that she has learned to be comfortable with having an unconventional path.

“I think I was scared [at first] to do something unconventional. And I’ve realized that a lot of what I do is unconventional and that’s totally okay,” Noah said. “I think for a while, I was not really sure what I was doing. And now I’m not sure what I’m doing still, but it’s not terrifying [anymore].”

Some of Noah’s experience with unconventional learning came from her experience at Tufts during the COVID-19 pandemic. She spoke about how the quarantine protocols while living in a dorm influenced her artwork and studies — in particular, the hurdles of making art in Harleston Hall.

“My second semester of my sophomore year, I took a paper-making class. … I was making paper on the floor in my dorm room and I was boiling cabbage in the Harleston kitchen to make dyes,” Noah said. “It was truly a harrowing experience.”

When in-person art classes returned at the SMFA, Noah enrolled in courses where she could get her hands dirty and create things that she could not in her dorm. Eventually, though, she returned to her primary medium of film photography.

Her practice centers around the concept of distortion and plays on what the viewer considers to be real. Noah dove into the thoughts behind her work.

“I’m really interested in making weird photos and playing with what photography is ‘supposed to be,’” she said. “Thinking about photography as a historical method of capturing what’s real about the world and capturing the world as it is. But inherently in photography, everything is about distortion. Even the lens itself is a means of distorting how we see things.”

She will graduate having completed a thesis in studio art entitled “I Am Like You, You Are Like Me.” This project consists of a collection of nude portraits of Noah and her friends in snowy outdoor settings. The work focuses on bringing down barriers between people, showing that we are alike in that we are bodies within nature. Her website expands on this.

We are nature itself, one with the raw power of the trees and the harsh chill of the wind. There is no separation between me and them, there is no me versus them,” the website reads. “There are only bodies in the cold; interpreted, distorted, reworked and humbled before the lens.”

When asked what she hopes her audience takes away from seeing her work, Noah expressed how she hopes to inspire peace in confusion and distortion.

“I want people to be a little confused by what they see and learn to be okay with that. I don’t think art should be concrete in its answers,” she said. “I think that it’s more exciting when things are left up to the viewer and left up to interpretation.”

Beyond challenging her viewers to draw conclusions, Noah’s work also serves as a unique coalescence of her three majors. Combining studio art, environmental studies and philosophy, Noah has curated a unique perspective.

“I would say my environmental studies work does influence my art to a certain degree. A lot of it is situated in nature and in fostering a deeper connection with the external world,” she said. “So thinking really critically about how we’re looking at the places that we spend time in and connecting to nature. But I think that also ties a lot into my philosophy work. So they all kind of inform each other.”

Additionally, she spoke to the fulfillment she has experienced from pursuing interdisciplinary fields in the Tufts combined degree program.

“Being able to foster an interdisciplinary practice has been really important for me,” Noah said. “Feeling like there is a place for all of my weird ideas to come together has been really exciting and something that I’ve loved about being [at Tufts].”

Although much of her intersectional work was done at Tufts, Noah also studied abroad in Ireland at the Burren College of Art in the fall of 2023. While abroad, she took courses exclusively in studio art. She reflected that this experience gave her the time to think and synthesize many of the things she had learned at Tufts in the years prior.

“It was really nice to be able to synthesize and integrate everything that I learned about and was learning about continuing to learn about and care about. It was so perfect,” she said.

Looking ahead, Noah is planning to hike Mount Kilimanjaro with her mother this summer following graduation. In terms of her future career, she hopes to continue her art practice no matter where the journey takes her.

“I would love to be able to work in the art world in some capacity in the future and obviously have my practice continue, regardless of where I’m working and what I’m doing,” she said. “For me, being in connection with art is what I want to do with my life.”

As many graduating seniors including Noah can attest, college is a journey. Many of the lessons learned occur outside of the classroom as students learn about themselves and what they hope to do with their lives. Noah spoke to the wisdom she has acquired while at Tufts.

“I would say my biggest piece of wisdom is to be okay with not knowing and to learn how to be comfortable in being uncertain because I think that’s what a lot of life is,” Noah said. “If you can get over the initial fear of it, it can actually be really liberating.”

Walking across the stage at graduation, students carry much more with them than the diplomas in their hands. For Noah, the biggest piece of wisdom she will take with her is reflected in her artwork: become comfortable with the unknown. Change is constant; you will not always know what you want to do, and that is okay. This advice is especially true for Noah and her peers who are stepping off the Hill and into the unknown.