Choosing Art Pieces for Your College Application Portfolio

Student, Emerson College

Calling all creative spirits! If you’re planning to apply as an art-related major for college, there’s a good chance you’ll need to submit something to showcase your talent. Whether you plan to major in creative writing, film production, painting, or game design, the art you include in your portfolio is important. Here are some tips for selecting your best work for your college application.

You’re proud of it

You probably don’t want to submit a project you want to burn to ashes. As a starting point to narrow down your choices, consider the creations you’re most fond of. Think about the work that electrified you with excitement! Was there a screenplay you stayed up all night to write because the story and characters were that compelling? Or a painting that symbolized a significant moment? If it holds a special place in your heart, then it comes from a place of passion. And the most meaningful, beautiful art is filled with passion.

Technique is key

However, though passion is important, you also have to consider the more technical aspects of art. What is the aesthetic quality? Does the work demonstrate significant talent? If it’s a photograph, evaluate the exposure, composition, color scheme, and depth of focus. If it’s a short film, do the same for lighting, sound, editing, dialogue, plot, acting, and art direction. Have your skills improved over the years? If so, it might be a good idea to look at your more recent art works that demonstrate a tighter grip on the craft.

Captivate the audience

Think about the artistic greats: Vincent Van Gogh. Frida Kahlo. J.K. Rowling. Martin Scorsese. They are artists whose works give the audience something to marvel at. Their works are practically living, breathing creatures. This is why their art is so enduringly popular. Consider if there’s a piece that gives you the sense of being “alive.” Is there a piece that is particularly compelling to look at, read, hear, and/or experience? You want to grab the attention of the admission team, so they can’t keep their eyes off your work.

The purpose

Behind all great art, there is a purpose. The college admission team is going to be looking for more than a pretty image—they’re going to be looking at how you communicate ideas through art. The application might even call for providing an artist statement of what your project (or projects) intends to convey. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this work?” “What should viewers take away from the piece?” and “What does the art mean?” Did you create a sculpture to highlight the beauty of friendship? Did you write a screenplay to illustrate the need for peace in the world? You may be thinking, “My work isn’t deep at all. I don’t even think it has a meaning.” This is understandable. Sometimes, as artists, we don’t realize what the true meaning of our work is until after we’ve created it. So take a step closer to the soul of your art and think what it says about your experiences, humanity, the world, and life in general. Thoughtful works of art will resonate with the admission audience.

One of a kind

In a sea of applicants, you have to realize what sets you apart as an artist—and use that to your advantage. Do you rock at Claymation videography? Or can you tell a story with a series of haiku poems? If you have a special talent or characteristic in your art, don’t be shy about showing it off. Embracing your uniqueness will help you stand out as an applicant. Of course, maybe you’re not a master of Claymation or haiku poetry. But that’s okay. You don’t have to have a super-specialized skill to be unique. Because you—yes, you—are unique. Pick something that resembles who you are as an artist and a human being. And let your you-ness shine through.

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