Bachelor of Fine Arts graphic design graduate learned who she is through trial-and-error

Madison Bartlett will continue creating with her trial-and-error method after graduating from the University of Iowa.


Rohan Abernathy-Wee

Madison Bartlett poses for a portrait at Art Building West on Sunday, April 30, 2023.

Zhenya Loughney, Arts Reporter

Cedar Rapids native Madison Bartlett can’t remember a time when she wasn’t surrounded by art. Bartlett said it has always been her outlet for self-expression.

Barlett’s identical twin is pursuing a degree at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and her uncle is a tattoo artist. In the past, her grandmother taught ceramics at a local community center. Starting out as a self-taught artist in a family full of artists, Bartlett has never felt discouraged in her craft.

“My family really made me believe it was something I could do,” Bartlett said. “It was never like that conversation I think a lot of people have with their parents where they have to sort of persuade them that art is a legitimate option.”

Bartlett initially didn’t know which art form she wanted to pursue. After graduating from Washington High School, Bartlett applied to Grinnell College, the Kansas City Art Institute, and the University of Iowa. Ultimately, she chose the UI. Bartlett said the university gave her the opportunity to explore and find her main craft while taking courses to learn new skills.

“While I knew I wanted to do art, I wanted to explore other things. I am putting myself through college, so cost is a huge thing for me,” Bartlett said. “After touring colleges and seeing Iowa’s program, I went to one of their interest days for 3D design. After seeing that, I felt like Iowa was a good fit for me.”

Making art alongside her twin sibling, Hunter Bartlett, has been Madison Bartlett’s life-long passion. They both learned how to draw together by watching animated classics like “Sailor Moon” and “Arthur,” which strengthened their passion for creating art.

Bartlett started as a double major in English and art education. However, she fell in love with the social work major after realizing education may not be for her. After taking more art classes, Bartlett officially decided to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design and she stuck to it.

The faculty in the art department never inhibited her creative endeavors and offered support whenever it was needed, Bartlett said.

“There are so many great classes,” Bartlett said. “Every member of the graphic design faculty is amazing, talented, and wants nothing but the best for everyone involved in the program.”

Bartlett’s Bachelor of Fine Arts exhibition, “Scraps,” took place in the Art Building West’s third-floor atrium from April 17-21. “Scraps” displayed Bartlett’s scattered childhood living in near poverty. The exhibit hosted a 30-foot banner taped to the ceiling depicting drawings of the objects most important to her childhood.

The windows held translucent childhood photos of Bartlett and her twin that she edited over. On the wall was a paper cutout that cast a shadow of the words “I can only remember bits and pieces. How about you?”

On both sides of the paper cutouts were drawings of animated frames depicting Bartlett picking up the childhood version of herself.

“Scraps” was a therapeutic project for Bartlett. She said she was able to better understand her past and come to terms with who she is as an artist and person.

“I feel compelled to create. It’s a natural part of who I am,” Bartlett said. “It’s my number one outlet. In the same way some people feel compelled to write or journal, drawing is very therapeutic for me and a necessary part of my thoughts and emotional regulation.”

She originally planned on heading right to graduate school, but now Bartlett is choosing to take a gap year to regroup and reset and hopes to be back at the UI in fall 2024.

“If you start something creative, it’s important to start with a general idea of the end goal in mind,” Bartlett said. “Refusing to be flexible and refusing to collaborate and listen to those around you is really negative. Refusing to change and refusing to reexamine your own work is robbery.”